For Hines Ward and partner, hours of rehearsing before the big dance
LOS ANGELES -- On Saturday night, Hines Ward and Kym Johnson had the chance to attend the world premiere extravaganza of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."
They took a pass, instead going to a performance of "Burn The Floor," an intricate dance show Ms. Johnson had been part of on Broadway two years ago.
"I thought it would either freak him out, or inspire him," she said, laughing. "Besides, this was more beneficial than a movie about pirates."
Even Captain Jack Sparrow would have a hard time disputing such logic. With three weeks left in season 12 of ABC's "Dancing With The Stars," the lady and the wide receiver are in possibly the tightest race in the reality show's history.
Five teams are left. Four include celebrities who have sung, or danced, or at least performed some sort of scripted talent on camera. Then there is Mr. Ward, the Steelers receiver.
"It's almost surreal," he said during a lunchtime break at CBS Television City, where "DWTS" -- and a slate of other shows ranging from "American Idol" to "The Price Is Right" and "The Bold and the Beautiful" -- is broadcast.
"I never danced a lick in my life, never slow- danced, never did any sort of routine where I had to remember a routine for a minute and 30 seconds. I'm still in awe, considering all the great celebrities."
The challenge is about to get greater. On tonight's program, he and Ms. Johnson will perform a foxtrot that she said includes some fun but "super-cheesy" elements.
"Hines is pretty much skipping around the floor, giddy."
Giddy might work for Mr. Ward, whose last two dances demanded keeping a straight face. "This week, Hines can go back to being himself; he has that great smile," his partner said.
Not so fun is the return of the "instant dance," where teams prepare a routine but are only told 20 minutes ahead of time what music -- which could vary in length -- they'll dance to. Theirs will be the jive.
"It's kind of adjusting on the run. ... But it's going to be hard on everybody," said Mr. Ward.
"I've been playing different music for Hines so he's not getting used to any one track," said Ms. Johnson, who carries around video of their performances and rehearsals on her iPad. "I think it'll be good because he won't have too much time to think -- he'll just have to feel it and dance it."
They've been putting in 10-hour days. It didn't help when, early last Thursday, Mr. Ward and an acquaintance giving him a ride home were pulled over by Los Angeles police.
The driver had reported her car stolen but failed to contact police when she discovered it had not been. Gossip site TMZ "just ran with the story," said Mr. Ward, adding that he did not consider the incident a distraction to this week's training.
At this point, the team is beyond Latrobe-training-camp levels of practice.
"He's like a machine," Ms. Johnson said. "Now is when you kick the work up another level."
"I've been blessed to have someone with a personality like my own; she's a hard worker," Mr. Ward added.
During intermission of "Burn The Floor," he said, members of the audience came up to say, "Man, you can win it."
For that he thanked not just his partner but the thousands -- millions? -- of votes cast by Steelers Nation each week: "It's just phenomenal."
His football teammates have been dropping by as well. Tonight's guests include safety Troy Polamalu.
"Even though I'm out of my element, I feel I have a piece of Pittsburgh here because I always see the Terrible Towel in the audience," Mr. Ward said.
And if they need a lucky charm, well, Barbara Johnson just arrived in LA from Sydney, Australia. Several seasons ago, she came to watch her daughter dance with Donnie Osmond. A planned short stay turned into six weeks, all the way to Kym taking the Mirrorball trophy with Mr. Osmond.
Should they reach the May 23-24 finale, "DWTS" fans might get to see something rather rare on the show. One of the dance choices would be the Argentine tango, which allows lifts.
"You're not dropping me," Ms. Johnson said to the man with some of the surest hands in the NFL.
Mr. Ward just smiled and said, "Don't worry."
First Published May 9, 2011 12:00 am