Thursday, December 13, 2007

Disney kingdom even more magical when one gets to be part of the show

Source: Dancing with the Stars winner Drew Lachey was among the celebrities I met during my adventure at Walt Disney World.

Note: This is not me.....

was a "magical" Christmas experience: dancing with the stars, hanging out with Drew Lachey and the Cheetah Girls and riding Disney rides in formal attire. (Note to the young girls: Drew's a sweetheart.)

One good thing about harboring low expectations is that occasionally, a much-anticipated event far exceeds them. My husband, Greg, teases me about my half-empty glass, but I'm pleasantly surprised when things turn out better than expected.

After we signed up to participate in the Dancing with the Stars 2007 Walt Disney World Christmas Day parade television special, I tried not to get too excited. I worried about tripping on my dress or not being good enough to keep up.

Our trip was a whirlwind. We visited Epcot for a while Nov. 27, followed by all-day rehearsal at Coronado Springs the next day and the Magic Kingdom taping Nov. 29.

We danced for seven excruciating hours Nov. 28. I never knew my feet could hurt so badly. When I took my shoes off for the evening, my poor toes slowly spread from their V-shape caused by my closed-toe ballroom shoes.

The amateur couples started rehearsing at 11 a.m. with undefeated world professional rhythm champion Tony Dovolani. After dinner, the rest of the professional dancers and celebrities began trickling in. During breaks, most of the dancers and celebrities were kind enough to hang out, pose for pictures and visit. There was even a surprise visit by an eye-blinking, lip-moving Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse in ballroom attire.

We had our picture taken with Cheetah Girls' Sabrina Bryan, season-two winner Drew Lachey (Nick's brother and 98° alum) and season-five winner Helio Castroneves. We also met professional dancers Edyta Sliwinska, Derek Hough and Julianne Hough.

Other professional dancers were Kym Johnson, Alec Mazo, Cheryl Burke, Mark Ballas and Elena Grinenko.

It was wonderful to watch the creative process unfold throughout the day. We learned a 16-second salsa routine, which we rehearsed at least 100 times to a Jon Secada Christmas medley. We also got to do a little freestyle swing and finished with the merengue.

Some of the amateur dancers were pulled onto the stage and had an opportunity to showcase their talents. I was just happy we didn't get cut from the show. We got back to All Star Sports at 9:30 p.m., had pizza and ice cream and visited with new friends from the Bethel Road Fred Astaire studio. We formed a natural bond; only four couples from Ohio participated. We fell asleep at about 10:30 p.m., only to receive a 4 a.m. wakeup call. We boarded buses to the Magic Kingdom at 5 a.m. I cannot begin to describe how magical the park appeared before the sunrise -- decorated with Christmas lights, in true Disney fashion.

Amateur female dancers were requested to wear red or green dresses. I didn't become aware of the color preferences until after we got to Orlando. Fortunately, though, I had two red dresses with me. Men were requested to wear tuxedos with white dress shirts. We later learned they needed a black shirt. Prior to the taping, the male amateurs were given red ascots to wear -- think Freddie from "Scooby-Doo."

We rehearsed for a couple of hours before being fed breakfast in Adventure Land. Unfortunately, the rains came, causing a three-hour delay in taping. They sequestered us in a four-room building for most of that time.

Eventually, we were allowed to explore the park a little. Greg and I took advantage of the free time and rode the Pirates of the Caribbean ride dressed in our finery.

When it was time to tape, we walked single file from Adventure Land to the castle. It was amazing to see the sea of red and black attire. The park sold separate tickets for the taping of the show. Spectators encouraged and cheered us on, making us feel like celebrities, too.

I can't wait to see the show on Christmas Day. Professionals were on the stage, with amateurs below, in front of the stage. Viewers might not see us on television, but I'm hoping the cameras caught a panoramic view of the ballroom dancers so I can say I was on national television. The show airs at 10 a.m. Dec. 25 on ABC.

If not for my three beautiful and wonderful children, I might consider giving up my day job and becoming a professional dancer. I would lose weight and travel the world. I'm thankful for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a chance to play Cinderella and my weekly ballroom lessons with my handsome prince.

Tara Stubbs-Figurski is a ThisWeek staff writer.