A former Dancing With The Stars dancer spills on the blood, sweat and tears behind the making of the show

In a new regular column for Now To Love, former DWTS dancer and judge Carol-Ann Hanna takes us backstage to reveal what really goes on behind the scenes.
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Well, there are six sleeps to go until the glitter, sequins, spray tans, fake eyelashes and hair extensions come out again for the seventh season of Dancing With The Stars.

Come Sunday, April 14, we’ll see 12 new couples take the floor.

I’ll be there in the audience, after tearing up the dance floor with Roger Farrelly last year, and in this new column I’ll be taking you through the dancers’ rollercoaster journeys from opening night until the final when we see one couple walk away with the glitter ball trophy.

Let me begin by giving you a little bit of background into what goes on behind the scenes before the first live show.

The dancers met their celebrity partners in February. This gave them a lot more time than in previous years to prepare for the first live show.

The dancers are chosen on compatibility with the celebrities; a lot of stuff is taken into consideration such as height, personality, compatibility and availability for training so there is quite a bit of science behind the pairing of the dancer and celebrity.

Once the dancers have been given their contracts they start straight away with putting together choreography. They also start thinking about music and outfits.

Once they meet their partners and start training them there is little time for anything else in either of their lives, and this is how it will be for the next three months.

Carol-Ann partnered Roger Farrelly on the show last year.

For the celebrity this is something very new to them and it’s hard work. It’s physically demanding and it’s also about learning to allow someone they barely know right into their personal space, and dancing in that close proximity. This all takes quite a bit of getting used to.

For the initial training weeks the couples concentrate on the first two weeks worth of dances. This season the dancers have been given a few more dances in advance which has made it easier for them to choreograph and organise things ahead.

The dancers and celebrities spend about 20 hours a week practising in the dance studio and then they spend their entire weekends at the TV studio (another 30 hours), doing camera blocking rehearsals and dress rehearsals. There are also costume fittings, spraytan sessions and nails to be done.

No one knows what order they will be dancing in until the morning of the Sunday live show, when they will arrive at the TV studio for serious full show rehearsals.

There’s a lot of time between each rehearsal so the dancers and celebrities get to know each other very well. It really is like a big family. I know that sounds like a cliché but we do become close from spending our entire weekends together. The dancers and celebrities eat all their meals together, get dressed together, play jokes and pranks on each other but, most of all, they really support each other.

Although everyone wants to win, surprisingly it is not really a cutthroat, competitive feeling in that green room. That’s not to say this year won’t be, though, as each year is quite different.

Live show days start early for the dancers, who start the rehearsals for the opening numbers, which are choreographed and led by former dancer and talented dance producer, Nerida Cortese.

The celebrities join them at around 9am and the rehearsal for the entire show starts right away. The couples all watch each other on the monitor in the green room and video one another’s performances so they can see what the viewer at home will see.

Next it’s dress rehearsals and then before you know it you’re sitting down to dinner and watching audience members on the monitors start to arrive for the show.

I remember sitting there last year with Vanessa Cole (who partnered Chris Harris) and the adrenaline starting to pump for both of us. This was it!

The first show is incredibly exciting. The celebrities are nervous and concerned about how they will go, but for the dancers this is nothing new and they can’t wait to get out there!

This year I think we have the most incredible mix of celebrities. What a fabulous job MediaWorks has done pulling together such a fabulous team.

I have seen some of the couples dancing and all I can say is that they made the right call in giving the couples the extra preparation time this year. It has meant there will be a much better quality of dancing right from show one.

I spoke with Amelia (who partnered David Seymour last year) after she’d just been told who her partner was this year. She was excited to be doing the show again.

There are some new dancers this year, which is great to see, along with some DWTS veterans like Aaron Gilmore and Jonny Williams, among other very experienced DWTS professional dancers from previous seasons.

Over the next few weeks I’ll keep you in the loop about all the goings-on behind the scenes – including the ups and downs, the stresses, the blood, sweat and tears and everything in between.

Here’s to a great seventh season of Dancing With The Stars!

Carol-Ann has appeared in four seasons of Dancing With The Stars. In the very first season of the show, in 2005, she took rugby legend Norm Hewitt all the way through. They won the series with a spine-tingling Paso Doble, which featured a version of the haka. In 2006 and 2007 she was a judge, and last year she danced with The Rock’s Roger Farrelly. Carol-Ann has retired from dancing.

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