Let me lead off with this: I don’t mind ringers. Actually, I appreciate 2-3 in each season, for the simple reason that it ensures that we get to see some good dancing and that the bar is set high for the competition. The show needs ringers just like it needs really bad dancers, and every skill level in between – it’s part of what makes DWTS work. The ringers please those who just love great dancing, and the inexperienced dancers ensure we get to see some good growth arcs.
Now what I DO mind is when someone who has enough experience to be considered a ringer tries to insist that they aren’t – in our experience here at Pure, this certainly does not negate the fact that they do have a bit of an edge, and it also tends to rub some viewers the wrong way. The viewers are not stupid – they know when their intelligence is being insulted by the machinations of the powers that be or a celeb that tries to downplay his/her experience level. And they especially don’t like feeling like they’re being lied to.
So an interesting discussion came about when Vogue posted this video of Danica & Val’s first rehearsal yesterday. In it, Danica seems to give the impression that she’s new to this whole dancing thing - lots of giggling, clueless looks, and “Huh? What?” It’s what you’d normally expect during the first rehearsal with a celeb who’s never danced before – but considering that Danica has had some fairly extensive ballroom training, it kind of bugs. We know for a fact that she’s taken lessons before – check out this clip of her on 20/20 back in 2008:
While working on Inspector Mom (the TV movie mentioned in the clip), she met Gocha Chertkoev, a Latin dance champion who was playing the role of a dance instructor. Presumably, she started taking lessons with him, as that’s who we see her dancing with in the clip. Some have argued that she “only took lessons for that movie”, and it was a “one-time thing” – but if that’s the case, then why is her picture plastered all over the newsletter from Gocha’s dance studio as recently as a year ago? And why is he plugging her book while she takes a cha-cha class?
Possibly worth noting: Gocha is also one of the judges on the Georgian version of DWTS, Tsekvaven Varskvlavebi. Regardless, I get the feeling Danica’s lessons with Gocha weren’t just a one-time thing – they’ve more likely been ongoing. She’s also had some dance training for another film, 21 and a Wake-Up, courtesy of Jamie Bayard (Lacey Schwimmer’s former swing partner, and of SYTYCD fame). She talks about in more detail here, on this now-defunct post at her website. Yes, I’m aware it’s in code – that’s the only way to access it now that it’s been conveniently removed from her website (thank goodness for caching!). You’ll see why in the excerpt below – pertinent parts in bold:
Says Danica, “I love to dance! I got hooked after learning to Tango for the TV Movie Inspector Mom: Kidnapped in 10 Easy Steps.”
“Gocha Chertkoev and Shorena Gachechiladze are worldwide ballroom dance champions, and I was so lucky to be trained by them for the movie. I was a fan of Gocha’s from his TLC series, Ballroom Bootcamp. He was a real find – a great actor and dancer! Since then, I dance whenever I can — I love it! I’ve even trained with Jamie Bayard from So You Think You Can Dance”
“Perhaps I’ll end up dancing on stage or in front of the cameras again soon. I’ve been asked more than a few times about Dancing with the Stars, but I think I actually have a little too much professional training this stage. And that’s fine by me – I’m not sure I’d like the judges’ on-stage criticism very much!”
Sorry, but I’m having a harder and harder time buying the whole “I’m new at this!!!” act of their rehearsal video, and this interview that she herself posted presents some pretty damning evidence that she is, in fact, a ringer. The rehearsal video itself is a bit shady, too – my boyfriend (who has been teaching ballroom for 12 years) even remarked that “It’s almost like she’s trying too hard to act confused for the first half – she clearly has danced salsa before, she’s following him pretty easily.” As for the second half of the video? “She’s already doing rumba walks with great hip action and transfer of weight, and she’s spotting turns like she’s been taught before. No way Val could have taught her that in one short rehearsal.”
So what’s my beef? The fact that Danica has had some pretty extensive ballroom training is being conveniently swept under the rug, while Meryl & Charlie get raked across the coals for being “practically professional ballroom dancers already!” If you’re going to cry that “DWTS is for celebs with no dance experience!” (not true, but whatever floats your boat) and that it’s “unfair” that Meryl & Charlie get to be on the show this season – then it’s only fair that you call Danica out, too. But for whatever reason, the two Olympians are the ones fielding most of the cries of foul from viewers, while Danica flies under the radar, with incriminating blog posts being quietly removed from her site and mentions of her previous dance experience being conveniently omitted from interviews. And to what end? I like to think that Danica herself is too smart and too confident to let a few cries of “Ringer!! RINGER!!!” deter her from being open and honest about her dancing. I’m leaning more towards someone from further up the chain at DWTS “gently encouraging” her to downplay her dance experience – it’s happened before. Sabrina mentioned in an interview once that she was told by producers to “dumb down” her dancing during the first few weeks of her original season, in order to give the impression of a much more level playing field. Sabrina (honest as a girl scout) didn’t comply, but it does set a precedent for what might be going on now with Danica – or it may even be someone from her own camp, such as a publicist, trying to paint a better picture of her client with regards to the show.
I guess overall, I’m just left feeling a bit…deceived by the whole thing. I do not like having my intelligence insulted, and trying to pass Danica off as a beginner to me is insulting. I’m left with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, as I did back in season 14 when Sherri Shepherd tried to downplay the fact that she took lessons at Maks & Val’s studio immediately prior to being cast on DWTS. In both Danica AND Sherri’s cases, I think the whole situation would be a lot better-received by fans had they just been honest about it from the get-go, instead of lying by omission, dodging questions, and dancing around the truth before finally coming clean. Hiding things implies some sort of guilt on the part of the hider. :-) I actually really like her as a person, and I’m hoping that Danica, in the interest of full disclosure, is able to be open about her previous experience – I really don’t think being labeled a “ringer” is going to hurt her OR help her. Ringers don’t always win, and they don’t always lose. Unless, of course, they’re paired with Derek – in which case they ALWAYS win…cause “Ugh, Derek always gets all the good partners!!!”, y’all.
So all of that being said…what do YOU guys think of Danica and her previous experience? Is she a ringer, or not a ringer? Vote in our poll and weigh in down in the comments!