Exclusive! Louis Van Amstel on Margaret Cho’s Transformation, SYTYCD, and Pro Dancer Drama
Every Dancing With the Stars fan knows the story of Kelly Osbourne's life-changing transformation thanks to the help of DWTS pro, So You You Can Dance choreographer, and fan-favorite Louis Van Amstel. But Louis didn't stop with Kelly: On DWTS Season 11 he was paired with stand-up comedienne and Drop Dead Diva star Margaret Cho, then a larger lady renowned for her dirty jokes and in-your-face personality. Anyone who knew Margaret's work was shocked to see her softer (and skinnier!) side come out over the course of her DWTS run.
Yesterday, Louis chatted exclusively with Wetpaint Entertainment about backstage DWTS drama, why ballroom dancers struggle on SYTYCD, Margaret's metamorphosis, and his upcoming guest role on Drop Dead Diva, which will air Sunday, July 17, 9 p.m. ET on Lifetime.
Remember: If Drop Dead Diva isn't already appointment viewing — though why wouldn't it be? — you should definitely watch this week to see Louis reunited with the new, slimmer, and sweeter Margaret.
Wetpaint Entertainment: How have you been since Dancing With the Stars Season 12?
Louis Van Amstel: Busier than ever. But it's all good things. I'm absolutely not complaining. It's really my dance fitness program [LaBlast] that is taking on a life of its own.
What in particular about LaBlast has taken up your time?
If you have a business that's beginning, and the big companies are starting to discover this could be a worldwide phenomenon...they want you to do this and that, and travel the world. That's what I'm doing... This country is unfortunately facing obesity, and I think people are realizing that dance is the best way to lose weight because it's fun, and I have a program that fits that need.
You also choreographed for So You Think You Can Dance recently. How do you find choreographing for So You Think You Can Dance compared to Dancing With The Stars?
It's different... This week on So You Think You Can Dance it was very challenging. They had never done Tango, ever. So I thought, you know what, you're going to have to rise to the challenge. I am not going to make it easier... If you have trained dancers that are out of their comfort zone, it is a completely different challenge than someone who has never danced before, where you have to just teach them how to dance. It's different, but I love both, I absolutely love both.
Speaking of trained dancers being out of their element, we've noticed that ballroom dancers don't normally do well on So You Think You Can Dance, even when they are very skilled. Do you think they're at a disadvantage?
There are two big disadvantages they have. [Ballroom dancers] do everything with our partners. One partner, and we repeat over and over. So, they're not used to doing things alone. So, especially when they fall down to the bottom three, they have no partner. They have to use their individuality to show off their talent, and that's harder.
The other thing is that ballroom dancers, because we compete to become world champions, we are so focused on one style that we don't do other styles. A Contemporary dancer automatically does Jazz, and some kind of Broadway. That is already three styles in one, and you can push it in different directions, and they oftentimes do Hip Hop, too. But our dancers stick with Ballroom, because we have pretty much five or ten dances within our style. When you do Contemporary, you do Contemporary... When you do Ballroom, you do ten different dances with all different characters, so that's why they focus on that style only.
On Dancing With the Stars you've been paired with a lot of actresses, comediennes, and other performers who have big personalities, but not necessarily the physical fitness that other stars have. Is that what you prefer, or is that just who the producers pair you with?
That really started happening in Season 9. I had Kelly, then I had Niecy [Nash], then I had Margaret. All three had never, ever seen the gym from the inside. They all had weight issues. Especially Margaret and Kelly; they were not happy with who they were deep inside. I am so proud of these two women, because they changed their lives for them, finally, and they're happy now.
When I did Drop Dead Diva with Margaret, I finally saw the person that I met on the outside... I'd seen Margret as a comedienne use profanity, cuss — it couldn't be dirtier. As a person, she's so sweet, humble, quiet. She's a listener, she's not a talker. And seeing her on the set of Drop Dead Diva, I thought there was a calmness about her, there's a sweetness about her that you now see on the outside, too. She's just happier. And don't forget her body. She looks so good. And I think the producers of the show also put her in the show more, and softened her character up a little bit, because she changed. Or maybe she changed her character, to a woman that loves herself, and not just a comedienne assistant.
It was really fun to be on the set, because I'm a huge fan of the show. I'm like the number one fan of Drop Dead Diva, I love what it stands for, the subject matter, the comedy and drama combined... It was fun to see, knowing Margret as a person, seeing the character now compared to how the character was a year ago. I think it's quite different.
We definitely saw a totally different side of her on Dancing With the Stars.
I think one of the things that she realized was that being overweight was almost like a security blanket, like it makes the jokes more fun. I think she realized that the jokes come from within. They have nothing to do with the physical appearance. Now she's happy, and I think she's funnier than ever, actually, being cleaner.
You're obviously a fan of Drop Dead Diva. Do you have any other shows you like?
I'm absolutely so disappointed and sad that they took Brothers and Sisters off the air, I absolutely love that show. On a fun note, I love Wipe Out. I've already said, I want to do a celebrity one. They should do one where they take two or three people from all the ABC shows. I so want to do Wipe Out, you have no idea.
Before Dancing With the Stars you worked with a lot of the pros who are now on the show as their coach, right?
Yes. ABC doesn't talk a lot about that, but yes, I coached ninety percent of the dancers on the show right now.
What has it been like to watch your pupils become your colleagues and co-stars on DWTS, which is a huge phenomena?
Now it's great, but in the beginning — let's say between Season 3 and Season 10 — there were conflicts. You get the dynamic that I had been the coach then [before the show], but now I'm not. And then some [of the pros] feel, in their minds, that they're more celebrated than others, and others feel that now they want to compete with me. I'm not doing Dancing With the Stars to compete with someone else. My job is to develop, and create a journey for my celebrity, so that I can truly help my partner and make her as good as I can. And when we do group numbers, it's to create the best number for the show, because we want to entertain. So, there had been conflict...
But now, in the last two seasons, the pros have now found their own self, and their own route, and their own niche, and it's really good. I think people see it, and the celebrities feel it, and the celebrities have more camaraderie, and we all help each other.
A lot of pros have started to branch out into other projects, and are seeing success there. Do you think that's part of why they're less competitive on the show itself?
If you're very competitive by nature, in the end, there is some insecurity there. If you're insecure about yourself, you focus on your product, your dancing, your art. You have to be pretty secure about who you are as a person to be able to say, "I'm not trying to put you down, or beat you, I am just focusing on my heart." It's not easy to do, sometimes.
For more on Louis, follow him on Twitter @louisvanamstel. Thanks to Louis and his management team for their cooperation.