Interview with Show's Creator
Every season of America's Ballroom Challenge is itself a challenge for Executive Producer Aida Moreno. We recently sat down with her to find out what's new with this year's show.
This year's show has gone from five hours back down to two. How come?
Like a lot of people, we were hit hard by the economic downturn and the sharp drop in the stock market. That combination made it impossible for us to raise the funds needed to produce a five-hour series. So we decided to make a virtue of necessity by packing all the action into one two-hour extravaganza.
How will you fit it all in?
For years, our viewers have been telling us that their favorite part of America's Ballroom Challenge was the "show dances," in which each couple has the floor all to themselves. So we decided to make those solos the focus of this year's show. We still taped the group competitions, where six couples all occupy the floor at once. But instead of presenting that part of the competition in its entirety, we're dipping into it selectively, giving viewers just a taste of the earlier rounds in each style.
Any regrets about this change?
Oh sure. One of the things we loved about the five-hour format was the opportunity to give each of the four dance styles its own night in the spotlight. We'll miss that. On the other hand, packing all the "show dances" into two hours makes for a breathtaking show.
Will there be enough time for anything else, like exhibitions?
We had to cut out the behind-the-scenes pieces we've included in previous years. But we do have enough time for about half a dozen exhibitions in addition to the competition itself. That allows us to feature some wonderful performances by Pro-Am couples. One of the things I'm proudest of is that America's Ballroom Challenge has always taken the time to showcase up-and-coming talent in the ballroom world. People always marvel at the grace, poise, and showmanship displayed by these young dancers. And viewers will not be disappointed by the exhibitions put on by this year's youth couples. They're pretty special.
What other changes are there in the show?
Well, the show was shot in a new hall this year. For many years we shot in Battelle Hall at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. But this year Battelle was being renovated, so we moved into a new, larger hall at the Convention Center. On the plus side, this allowed us to have a bigger audience — which means louder applause, bigger cheers, and more crowd excitement. But it posed certain production challenges, too.
Well, the new hall is really too big for our purposes, so one of our challenges was to curtain off a whole section of the hall in order to turn this really big room into a smaller, more intimate one. On top of that, the new hall has no balconies.
Why is that a problem?
To get the kind of look we want for the show, we have to place most of our lights and many of our cameras well above the dance floor. In the old hall, we could take advantage of the balcony to do that. This year we had to rely on things like lifts and towers to get our lights and cameras up high enough. That increased the set-up time and the technical difficulty of the shoot. Fortunately, I've got a crackerjack crew, including our Lighting Director, Chas Norton, who's been working with me on ballroom dancing shows for PBS for more than 25 years. As usual, the crew was up to the task. The show — shot in stunning HD — is gorgeous.
You have a new host this year as well.
Yes, we're delighted to welcome Jean Louisa Kelly to the show. Jean is best known as the actress who played Kim Warner in the long-running CBS sitcom Yes, Dear. But she has a tremendous amount of singing and dancing experience going back all the way to her days as a child actor in New England musical theater and on Broadway. She's also a Massachusetts native — born in Worcester — and, as the daughter of two teachers, grew up watching public television on WGBH/Boston. We're thrilled to have her — and to welcome back Ron Montez as co-host. As always, he'll provide the all-important insider's perspective that only a former ballroom dancing champion can.
I understand you were recently honored by the ballroom community.
Yes. In 2007, I was inducted into the US Dancesport Hall of Fame. It was in recognition of the impact I've had on ballroom dancing — not only through this show but also its predecessor, Championship Ballroom Dancing, which ran on PBS for about 20 years.
"Hall of Fame" has a nice ring to it. That's quite an honor.
It is, and I'm very grateful for it. But the award really reflects the contributions of many different people and institutions. I would never have been able to make all these programs without the incredible dedication and professionalism of my crew — many of whom have been with me for more than 20 years. The success of these programs also hinges in large part on the heroic efforts Sam Sodano and his people make in putting on the Ohio Star Ball every year. And PBS deserves a lot of credit, too, because it gave ballroom dancing a television home when no other network would.
But ballroom dancing TV shows are the rage, aren't they?
It's true, these days ballroom dancing shows are very fashionable and popular — every network wants one. But people forget that PBS was there first. We've been showcasing ballroom's best for nearly 30 years now. The two PBS ballroom shows have built public interest in the sport, and the exposure on our programs has really nurtured the careers of many of today's ballroom stars. That's why we're in the Hall of Fame — not because of one little Portuguese producer but because of the collective efforts that have helped competitive ballroom dancing become the phenomenon it is today.
Read more to learn about Season 3 of America's Ballroom Challenge.
America's Ballroom Challenge is a production of Moreno/Lyons Productions, LLC, and is presented on PBS by WGBH Boston
Updated February 9, 2009.