Dancing With the Stars is a popular ballroom competition on ABC with a bit of a twist — each competing pair includes a professional dancer and a celebrity (though class of fame is often disputable.) Each week the pairs are assigned a dance to learn and create a routine for. Through a combination of judges’ scores and viewers’ votes, contestants are eliminated weekly until a champion couple is left standing.
DWTS often puts emphasis on the physical challenge of dancing. Competitors who train hard look much more toned and tight by the end of the season, and the dancefloor is usually slick with sweat after each performance. A DVD fitness series seemed to be a natural expansion of the franchise. So far, there have been 6 separate discs released under the brand name, all of them featuring partnerless choreography and taught by popular dancers from the show. Right now we’re going to look at 2 such DVDs: Dance off the Pounds with Kym, Lacey and Dmitry and Fat Burning Cardio Dance with Edyta, Kym and Chelsie.
Important Note: I am in no way a professional physician and my recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt. If you are planning to start exercising, you should consult a doctor for information on health and safety.
Dancing with the Stars: Dance off the Pounds
The Scoop: 2009 Directed by Cal Pozo and starring Kym Johnson, Lacey Schwimmer, and Dmitry Chaplin
Courtney’s Review: Set on the DWTS stage, this disc contains 3 15-minute dance lessons (Swing with Kym, Jive with Lacey and Quickstep with Dmitry) and a 5-minute cool-down stretch, clocking in at 50 total minutes. I would suggest playing the cool-down twice, before and after the other workouts so you can get a nice warm-up stretch as well.
First up is Kym’s Swing routine. Full of high kicks and bouncy footwork, this is probably the most energetic but least difficult of the 3 dances. Kym (who won the most recent DWTS season with Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward) has a warm and sunny personality, which is sometimes encouraging but can be irritating when you’re struggling to do just one more run-through and she’s giggling like a kid at Disneyland. But most importantly, she gives very clear instructions and cues, making it hard to get lost along the way. There are 2 male back-up dancers who provide slight modifications that make the choreography more masculine, so any dudes planning on trying out this DVD can follow them.
Next is the Jive with Lacey. A lot of these moves are variations on the swing moves, but at different intensities. Again the choreography is bouncy, but a lot faster and with more shifts between big and small motions. Of the 3 segments, this ranks just in the middle for both energy and difficulty. Lacey is fantastic at calling her cues with clarity, but her actual instruction isn’t quite as detailed as Kym’s. Luckily, the Swing section is a great introduction to the Jive, and if played in that order its easy to pick up the steps. The male back-ups do return and are now joined by 2 female back-ups. For the life of me, I’m not really sure why the ladies need to be here; Lacey’s already doing the feminine part, and they don’t perform any modified moves for beginners. Maybe the producers wanted to justify their paychecks.
Last, but not least, is the Quickstep with Dmitry. This is the least energetic of the dances, but that’s a good thing. The footwork gets tricky pretty fast, and that’s even before you perform it at full tempo! The energy picks up about halfway through the routine, when suddenly there are a ton of quick hops and pendulum kicks in rapid succession. Dmitry’s probably the toughest of the instructors to follow; his accent is a bit distracting and he doesn’t always make it clear when he’s starting from the top of the routine. But he oozes charisma, and when you get more comfortable with the steps you can really appreciate how much fun he’s having, joking around with the lady back-up dancers (the men do not return here.)
The cool-down section has all 3 dancers pass off instruction duty. It’s pretty much a short selection of stretches for the whole body, but it feels really good after 45 minutes of cardio!
Outside of the instruction and actual workouts, Pounds does leave a lot of room for improvement. There’s very little variation in the movements throughout all 3 sections, so it gets boring fairly quickly. The stage set, lit up with bright neon beams, is an eye-sore; and the music, while fitting the dance styles, doesn’t stand out as particularly exciting or stimulating. I only noticed one seam in the editing, which is impressive – I like thinking the instructors didn’t get any breaks while filming.
This DVD is great for beginners. Learning the choreography can be frustrating at first, but as long as you put effort into the motions you should get a good sweat going. You’ll really get what you put into it. But for people who aren’t new to fitness, it isn’t a super awesome workout. It hardly provides any sort of muscle training, and as for cardio, you’d do better on the treadmill for 45 minutes. This was my own introduction to getting fit, but I’ve since outgrown it.
Dancing with the Stars: Fat Burning Cardio Dance
The Scoop: 2010 Directed by Cal Pozo and starring Edyta Sliwinska, Kym Johnson and Chelsie Hightower
Courtney’s Review: Despite being from the same franchise, using the same basic format and sharing a choreographer, director and 1 instructor, Cardio actually differs a lot from Pounds. The 3 dances here aren’t closely related, so there’s much more variation. All of the dancers, even the back-ups, are women; men will likely not be interested in this. But most importantly (to me,) the action has been moved from the ugly stage to a clean, simple dance studio. Mine eyes doth approve!
Similar to the previous installment, there are 3 15-minute dance lessons and a 5-minute cool-down. This time we’ve got Mambo Mix with Edyta, Hollywood Jazz with Kym and Hustle & Pop with Chelsie. You should do you’re own stretches and warm ups before starting, but the cool-down really is a refreshing cool-down after dancing.
Edyta’s Mambo Mix section is low-impact cardio, but the steps are very challenging and really work out your core. The combined mambo and salsa moves call for a lot of hip-rocking and body-rolling which you will definitely feel in the morning. There are a few sudden changes in pace that threw me off my first few times, but the frustration proved to be excellent motivation to keep practicing until I get it right (still not there, but improvements have been made!) Making it all the more infuriating is Edyta herself, who is so frakking good at moving her body that not even the 4 back-up dancers can keep up! She does have a few issues with calling her cues and breaking down some of the more difficult steps, so it’s imperative to really watch her, even if it means you have to stop dancing yourself (keep your heart pumping with touch-steps until you can jump back in.) Despite this, she’s got a calm attitude that will put you at ease, even while you’re seething with jealousy over how much better a dancer she is than you.
Kym makes a comeback in the next segment with Hollywood Jazz, featuring choreography inspired by Golden Era films and Broadway musicals. I have zero talent for jazz so this is the hardest routine for me, but going by other reviews it seems like most people had more difficulty with the Mambo Mix. That said, this will definitely have you moving faster and sweating more. It contains a ton of kicks and quick steps, and you might recognize some classics like the Charleston and the Suzy Q (which were also featured in her Swing on Pounds.) Kym’s much less manic on this disc than the other, but she retains her clear instruction. Near the final stretch, she’s so out of breath she mixes up some of the combos’ names, but it’s a welcome mistake as it shows that she’s really getting a workout herself.
Chelsie’s Hustle & Pop segment, last on the instant play, is a fun combination of disco and old school hip hop moves, with some line dance thrown in for good measure. Definitely the lowest of the 3 in terms of difficulty and highest in energy. The moves aren’t broken down but you’re probably already familiar enough with them to easily pick them up. There are a ton of jumps, turns, step-touches and lunges involved, as well as a good bit of arm-waving and booty-shaking. As an instructor, Chelsie does a superb job of cuing and pumping you up, and her enthusiasm is infectious without ever becoming annoying. You may not have trouble learning these moves, but you will have a hard time not smiling while performing them.
The cool-down focuses more on actually cooling you down than stretching. It’s mostly comprised of doing a few smaller moves while bringing the heart rate down, with just a few deep stretches tacked on at the end. You may want to continue with your own stretches after it ends.
Overall, Cardio is an improvement in the DWTS home fitness franchise. There isn’t a single noticeable blip in the editing, the music is more upbeat and fun, and the bare-bones studio set is beautiful rather than distracting. But the real upgrade is in the variety that Pounds lacked. Whereas the older DVD feels repetitive, the dances here are diverse and get you’re body moving in a lot of different ways. Even though I feel my abilities are too advanced for Pounds, Cardio still makes my muscles burn in the best way. I recommend it for intermediate-level dancers and fitness fanatics looking for something a little different from the treadmill or elliptical.
One last thing worth noting: there is a running theme in the Cardio DVD. Hollywood Jazz is obviously based off of musical-style choreography, Mambo Mix has a combo called the “West Side Story Step” and Hustle & Pop features the “Grease Step.” Nice touch!