Thursday, December 13, 2007

At Disney, dancing with the Terps

About 40 students stepped into their own singing and dancing Disney fairytale late last month while background dancing in a taped Dancing with the Stars Christmas special.

Students danced alongside professional dancers and celebrities the last week of November to film a Dancing with the Stars Christmas routine in Disney World set to air on ABC before the Christmas parade on the 25th.

"It was just an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," junior criminology major Laura Perret said. "We were there with some of the best dancers in world. They were five feet away from us. It was awesome."

The Ballroom at Maryland club got in on the star-studded dance-a-thon when they competed in Columbus, Ohio, last month, where they met Tony Dovolani, a professional dancer who appears on Dancing with the Stars. Dovolani was in need of backup dancers, so he invited students from Purdue, Georgetown and this university to take a flight to Disney World for the show, students said.

The dancers flew down to Orlando on their own dime, but once they arrived, their hotel rooms were paid for and they received free park passes.

The group of about 100 back-up dancers learned a sequence of three different dances over the course of the next two days, learning the steps for salsa, meringue and swing dance routines students said.

Junior business major Alex Schotz, who only took up dancing since he got to college, said the steps were relatively simple compared to competitive dances he is used to.

"Here we practice several times a week," Schotz said. "We are used to complicated routines. For the Christmas show, we were doing overly simple choreography and footwork. I was not intimidated at all."

Rising in the dark the next day at 5 a.m., the dancers joined celebrities like Drew Lachey and Joey Fatone in front of Cinderella's castle. Despite the balmy Central Florida temperatures, the castle had been transformed into a faux winter wonderland decked out in glittering Christmas decorations, students said.

The student dancers played fill-ins on the lower area of a two-tier sage as the celebrities and professional dancers danced above.

Students said the group was soon moving in sync to a medley of "Jingle Bells", "Winter Wonderland", and "Let it Snow" performed by singer Jon Secada.

Rain caused a brief delay at about 8:30 a.m., giving the students time to enjoy a few rounds on the Splash Mountain ride before getting back to work by the time the park opened, the students said.

Once park visitors showed up, the dancers soon had an audience to cheer them on. The display was topped off with an appearance by - who else? - Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and a fireworks display met with cheers from the crowd.

Students said the filming took about eight different takes, as the directors wanted to make sure they saw the routine from every angle and that each pair was moving together with everyone else.

For Schotz, the numerous amount of takes was tedious, he said. "It was really exciting at first, but we did the same dance over and over again," Schotz said. " I felt like this is cool, it's going to be on TV, but 20 times later, it lost its excitement. I felt lost in the crowd; it was hard to be seen."

Joey Fatone and Drew Lachey did their best to lighten the mood, going back and forth arguing and joking with each other, Ballroom at Maryland President Laura Anthony, a senior finance major, said.

"The way Joey acts on TV is the way he acts in person," Anthony said. "He's pretty funny rehearsing; the whole time he was cracking jokes. He was really nice."

For junior marketing major Michelle Orr, coming into contact with so many professional dancers was the biggest thrill.

"It was a lot of fun," Orr said. "I was more struck by the dance professionals than the celebrities. We all really idolize a lot of the professionals. It was exciting to meet and dance with them."

Though they were not paid, the trip was not without its benefits. The dancers took pictures with celebrities, met professional dancers, and got their 15 minutes of TV fame. Schotz even stayed a few extra days after filming wrapped to enjoy the free park passes.

The entire experience was surreal for Perrett.

"It was the best time of my life," Perrett said. "At the same time, it was almost dreamlike with all these people you have only seen on TV before and you are actually dancing with them and being on TV with them."