As seen on TV, dancing pros are stars of this show

Edyta Sliwinska partnered actor George Hamilton, boxer Evander Holyfield an other celebrities on "Dancing with the Stars."
Edyta Sliwinska partnered actor George Hamilton, boxer Evander Holyfield an other celebrities on "Dancing with the Stars." Richard Beland

Who would’ve guessed 10 years ago that ballroom dancing was primed for a renaissance? But “Dancing with the Stars” made the pasodoble and rumba a television sensation, and some of the show’s veterans have taken the glamor and glitter on the road.

“Dancing Pros: Live” will let audiences pick dance-off winners during two Sunday shows at the Knight Theater. Drew Lachey, winner of season 2 of “Dancing with the Stars,” hosts. The headliners include Chelsie Hightower, a pro from “Dancing,” and Ryan Di Lello, a finalist from season six of “So You Think You Can Dance.” Karina Smirnoff, another “Dancing” pro, will head the judging panel. And five couples made up of prizewinning professional dancers will compete for the viewers’ votes.

Edyta Sliwinska, who partnered boxer Evander Holyfield, “All My Children” star Cameron Mathison and John “Cliff Clavin” Ratzenberger during 10 seasons on “Dancing,” is a performer and co-host for the live show, which she helped create. She talks about the dazzle of ballroom dancing and the labors of the celebrities who try to master it on TV.

Q. What does having an all-pro cast add to the live show?

A. As much as the celebrities do a great job (on DWTS), and we admire the journey they go through, seeing actual pros do what they do best is incredible. The dancers are all at a very high level. It’s difficult to pick the winners. On TV, audiences have their favorites, and maybe you vote for someone because you loved them on their TV show or wherever you know them from. But here, all the couples start on even ground.

Q. What’s it like as a pro dancer to work with celebrities who may or may not have much talent for this kind of performing?

A. You have to not only be a dancer, but you have to be a teacher and a mentor and, very often, a psychologist. Because the celebrity is going through a journey and mental struggle. It’s very difficult to put yourself out there – to do something completely out of your comfort zone.

Q. Since the pro dancer working with each celebrity creates the choreography, how do you figure out what will work for your partner?

A. It takes a while. It’s very individual. We have three to four weeks before the first performance, and this is when you teach the celebrities the first dance. But that’s also when you find out what they’re good at, and how to structure the choreography to play to those strengths. George Hamilton (Sliwinska’s season 2 partner) had had a dislocated shoulder in the past, plus problems with his knees. In terms of physical abilities, he was limited. But his personality was so interesting. And acting-wise, he added so much to his performances. I had to structure every performance almost like a scene in a movie, with characters and a story line. That really worked for him.

Q. Thinking back to your partners or to other celebrities on the show, did any particularly impress you for throwing themselves into it?

A. Cameron Mathison, my partner (in season 5), was taping his soap opera at the same time. Every week, we would fly in to New York so he could work on his show. We’d practice at very odd hours so we could work around his schedule. Then the day before (“Dancing with the Stars” in Los Angeles), we’d fly in for the rehearsal and the show. Then we would fly back to New York. I don’t know how he did it. I was incredibly tired, and I wasn’t doing half the work he was doing.

Q. You grew up in Poland, and it seems like a lot of ballroom dancers come from Eastern Europe or Russia. Is that my imagination?

A. No, that’s right. Ballroom dancing is more popular in Europe in general. Maybe that’s changing now because of “Dancing with the Stars.” Just like a lot of little girls here take ballet classes, they take ballroom classes in Europe. And in Europe, it’s absolutely normal for little boys to go and dance. It teaches them now to socialize with girls and be polite around girls. My husband (former DWTS pro Alec Mazo, a Belarus native) jokes that the reason he got into ballroom dancing was because of girls. What better place to hang out with pretty girls than in dance class?


‘Dancing Pros: Live’

WHEN: 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.

TICKETS: $20-$84.50.

DETAILS: 704-372-1000; www.carolinatix.org.