Last season, Dancing With the Stars pro Mark Ballas was partners with arguably the most controversial contestant in the show's history. He recently opened up to Wetpaint about his relationship with Bristol Palin, his (surprising!) thoughts regarding the DWTS judges, the upcoming season, and his dream contestant: Jennifer Aniston.
Do you have any idea whether you'll be returning to Dancing With the Stars for Season 12?
They haven't notified us yet.
If they invite you back, are you planning on returning this season?
Yeah, we'll see where it leads to. You never know if you're gonna get invited back. We'll have to wait and see. And if they invite me back, of course I'll be there. Every season, I play residencies in California, so I'll be still getting the word out about [my] music, and then also my websites and everything will be [updated]. We're taking a very serious approach to getting my new album, HurtLoveBox, out there. As soon as the show is finished, we'll be doing a summer tour.
How does waiting to find out about Dancing With the Stars affect your planning process?
It used to really affect me, but now I'm just so used to it. I always assume that I'm going to be on. So, I prepare like I'm going to be on and get everything I need mentally and physically. And if I'm not on, then cool. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.
After growing up with Julianne and Derek Hough, you’ve competed against them on Dancing With the Stars. How do you support them while maintaining your own competitive edge?
We're just kind of used to that. At the end of the day, this isn't a real dance competition for us. You're taking a celebrity on a journey and helping them do well and improve in something they've never done before. That's what it's really about. It's not really about us. We've always supported each other and remained good friends.
Do you guys sometimes help each other choreograph?
No. We're not really allowed to help each other with choreography. What we're allowed to do is, say Chelsie or someone wanted some help with something, or Derek needed something. We would sit in a room and brainstorm together. Our partners are not allowed to be present when we do that, and we're not allowed to both be in the room helping a celebrity.
Does your approach to teaching change when you’re paired up with an athlete like Kristi Yamaguchi or Shawn Johnson versus someone like Bristol Palin, who doesn’t come from a performance background?
Absolutely. It's a completely different way of thinking and different way of demonstrating and teaching. It's a different intensity. You can't go as hard as you can with Shawn Johnson cause Shawn's an animal. Bristol's never trained like that before. So, you have to definitely change up the approach, have a lot of patience, and make it fun and enjoyable. I've learned that if the person is not having fun, it just blows [up].
You’ve been a part of a few different Dancing With the Stars controversies: First with the shocking Sabrina Bryan elimination, then most recently with Bristol. How does controversy on the show affect you and your dance partners behind the scenes?
Bristol's tough as nails, so it kind of rolled right off her back… and it kinda rolls right off my back too. Controversy? Really? What's so controversial about it other than the fact that her mom is a politician? Nothing. That's what everyone calls it: "Oh, it's a controversy!" But really, what's controversial about it other than the fact that her mom is Sarah Palin? She's just an innocent 19-year-old, very sweet girl who got the call and offer to be on the show, and like anybody else in their right mental state, [she decided to] take it. I just kind of ignored it. She improved. She got better. People found her journey endearing, and it was fun. We had a really great time, so I just kind of let all of that roll off my back.
How has your opinion of Bristol Palin changed since before you met her through the show?
I don't have preconceived opinions of people that I don't know. That's arrogant to me. It's ignorant and arrogant to kinda be like: "Oh, this person is..." but you don't know them. So, why would you have a preconceived [opinion]? I always have a blank slate, and then when I meet somebody and I spend time with them, then I'll make my opinion about somebody. To pre-judge someone before you know them, before you've met them, before you've spent any time with them and just listen to what media and press have to write is ignorant.
Is there a dream Dancing With the Stars contestant for you?
Yeah. Jennifer Aniston!
Why Jennifer Aniston?
I just love Jennifer Aniston. I think she's cute. I think she's funny. She's just so sweet and so nice. I met her once and she was very, very lovely. I should have said: "You should do Dancing With the Stars!" But, I didn't. I've been a big fan of Friends and her movies for a while.
How do you feel about celebrities with previous dance experience appearing on Dancing With the Stars?
It's a double-edged sword. I can see why some people get upset about it. I can see how some people don't care. It would be impossible to find everyone that hasn't taken a dance class. Most little girls take a dance class [sometime in their life]. Most little girls at some point do ballet. It's hard to kind of look for someone who's had zero [experience], but I can understand why somebody would get annoyed by Nicole Scherzinger or Jennifer Grey or what not, but you have to take it for what it is and watch their journey. Not everyone will be the same standard. It's more about the journey and the couple you want to get behind and support, and the bond the professional and the celebrity take on together. It's not always about the best dancer. You know, the best dancer doesn't always win. They have, but not always.
How do you feel about political figures appearing on the show?
I'm down with it. We have no say about who appears. We have no say about who our partner is. At one point, I was taking a lot of heat [about Bristol] – like people giving me crap. I'm like: "I don't know why you're talking to me." My job is to get in the room and show the girl how to dance. That's it. You have no say who you're dancing with. You have no say about anything whatsoever. You are told what to do, where to be, what time to be there, and you get in the room and you've just gotta go. You just gotta teach them how to dance. It's not like I'm going to forfeit and teach her badly. I'm going to make her look as good as I can. I think her journey from week one to week ten, or whatever it was, was a miracle. It was a freakin' miracle how far along she came. For people to say that she didn't deserve it just literally insults my 11 hours a day in the studio and my hard work, blood, sweat and tears and endless hours for 10 weeks straight. It just insults me as a teacher. It's got nothing to do with politics. I was in there every day sweating my guts off trying to make her as good as I could. And I think I did, and I don't think anyone could have done it better.
How do you start with a contestant like Bristol Palin, who doesn't have previous dance training and is not a performer?
Of course, you're kinda like "Alright, cool. We've gotta really break it down for her." I'm that type of person. I can literally sit there all day and watch someone do the same thing over and over and over again, and I won't lose my temper. I can just stay really patient, cool, and calm. That's why they partnered her with me. They couldn't give her to Maks. They couldn't give her to Derek. They're too intense. So, in that sense, we had such a good time together. We made it fun. If she ever got stressed out, or we started to get a little heated, I would break the session and we'd just take a break. I wouldn't carry on through it because that's when it starts to get uncomfortable. My approach was to make this fun and make this an experience she'll never forget. It also helps that we became great friends on top of it. We had a great time together. I miss her. I saw her every day for four months and all of a sudden she's just like gone. We still text each other and we go back and forth and what not. She's one of my favorite partners I've had on the show.
Many of our readers think that you and Bristol made a cute pairing on the show, any hope that your friendship with her will turn into something more?
No. No hope whatsoever. Let's put the nail in that coffin! (laughs)
Last season there was a lot of heat between some of the professional dancers and the judges. We’ve seen that before, but a lot of viewers were surprised by the exchange between Carrie Ann Inaba and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Do you understand where Maks was coming from?
Of course, I understand where Maks was coming from. It's difficult when someone is not a professional ballroom dancer. We can sit here and take Len's criticism all day, but then when you get criticism from two other judges that do not specialize in our craft, it can sometimes be like: "What are you talking about?" I totally understand where Maks was coming from. Does it make his behavior acceptable? No – but I can understand his frustration.
Want more Mark Ballas? Season 12 of Dancing With the Stars premieres on March 21, 2011!
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