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America’s Sweetheart Dorothy Hamill Goes Dancing

By Brandon Penny | March 18, 2013, 4:30 p.m. (ET)


Nearly four decades after winning women’s figure skating gold at the Innsbruck 1976 Olympic Winter Games, Dorothy Hamill is replacing her skates with a pair of dance shoes as she goes for the gold — er, mirror ball trophy — as a contestant on season 16 of Dancing with the Stars.

“America’s Sweetheart,” as Hamill became known after winning her gold medal, is the third Olympic figure skating champion to compete on the show. Kristi Yamaguchi won the mirror ball trophy in season six and Evan Lysacek finished as the season 10 runner-up.

Hamill, now 56, will face a diverse cast this season, including two-time Olympic gold medalist gymnast Aly Raisman, comedian Andy Dick, Super Bowl champion Jacoby Jones, country singer Wynonna Judd and seven others.

The live season premiere is at 8 p.m. EDT tonight on ABC, with Hamill and professional dance partner Tristan MacManus performing a contemporary dance. Days before the premiere, Hamill spoke to TeamUSA.org about the differences between skating and dancing, the advice she received from Yamaguchi and so much more.

Fans can vote for Hamill online or by calling 1-800-868-3409.

Is this the first time you’ve been asked to do Dancing with the Stars?

I was first asked years and years ago, but I was in the middle of a tour and it was one of the early seasons. I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a chance to do it so I was really thrilled when they asked me this year.

What were your first few days of dance training like?

They were a little bit tough in that we knew what our first dance was supposed to be, but we didn’t have music. So, Tristan was showing me some partnering moves and steps for different dances, but it was a little difficult for him not knowing exactly what to teach me, knowing that eventually down the road we’d have to do jive and tango and foxtrot and quickstep and all that, but we didn’t really choreograph anything. Once we got out music, which was about four or five days after, there was a little more we could focus on. 

Dorothy Hamill, seen here rehearsing with professional dance
partner Tristan MacManus, will make her dancing debut at
8 p.m. EDT tonight on ABC.

What sort of similarities are there between figure skating and ballroom dancing that have helped you?

Those are the things that Tristan and I are trying to figure out. In terms of similarities, there’s music and dancing is supposed to be fluid, but as far as the balance and the technique and timing and where your weight is, all of that is entirely different. In skating, it’s all about power and athleticism and higher jumps and spins, and the technique used in ballroom is entirely different than you would use on the ice. So I’m trying not to make it an Olympic sport — not that it’s not physically difficult and demanding; it’s just so different with the forward motion we have and the speed we have and leaning into the circle, our turns are done completely differently. I don’t want to say I’m unlearning what I did in skating because it’s so opposite I shouldn’t have to unlearn it, I should just learn how to do this other kind of turning. That’s easier said than done because I’m an old horse and I’m having a hard time trying to relax and trying to be comfortable and doing the technique properly. The first week isn’t so bad because we have contemporary dance, so it’s a little more free-form and more about body movement as opposed to technique and the steps the way foxtrot or jive or those other ones are.

Have you spoken to Kristi Yamaguchi or Evan Lysacek about their experience on the show and, if so, what sort of advice did they give you?

I’ve spoken to them both and I’m going to call Kristi. She had given me a little bit of advice. She said listen to your partner and she said it’s really hard, and I don’t think she meant physically. That’s a given, that is hard. But it’s hard translating things that would be natural to us because we’ve spent so much time ice skating; they don’t really work when you’re trying to dance. It’s very frustrating. And I spoke to Evan right after he heard that I was doing it, so we plan on talking again, too. I’m looking for any and all advice.


Do you think it’s a good sign for you that Kristi won season six and Evan finished second in season 10?

I’m hopeful, but I know that Kristi Yamaguchi can do just about anything. She’s such an amazingly talented young lady. And I was so impressed with Evan. You could really see his growth from the first time he was on the dance floor to the last. But I’m from a different era of skating so I never learned a lot of the quicker steps and the quicker choreography. We were a lot more basic back in the ’70s. All I know is I have a really great partner, he’s very patient and he’s helping me to learn and do the best I can. That’s the best I can hope for right now!

You’re the third of 13 U.S. figure skating Olympic gold medalists to be on the show. Of the remaining 10, who would you like to see on the show next?

Oh, boy. I think Scott Hamilton would be terrific, but with his family and his health I don’t know if that’s something he would be able to do, physically. I’d love to see Dick Button do it! He is so amazing. I think that would be fun. He would be hilarious, but I think he might have had some ballroom dance training so that might be cheating. He’s very theatrical and I think he’d be wonderful at it.

Speaking of the 13, 2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes sent me a question to ask you. She wants to know, “What has been the best part about learning how to dance so far?”

Oh, fun! The best part is — well, I haven’t learned the traditional ballroom dances, and I think that’s going to be really fun for me because I’ve always really admired and loved watching ballroom dancing on TV. But the best part right now is having a partner — somebody to hold your hand, help you when you freak out. In skating, you skate over there, but in dancing your partner takes you over there. That’s a hard habit to break, too. I’m always wanting to just go and lead myself.

Which is more physically demanding, figure skating or ballroom dancing?

For me, skating is. At best, one is always trying to push and to gain speed and to control and lean on the edges and make it look effortless. So I think for me, physically, skating is harder. But that also could be because I don’t know the proper technique for dance, so if I were doing it properly that could be more work. But for right now it’s more uncomfortable not knowing which foot goes where, so I don’t quite make it through a whole routine without stopping because I get frustrated. I feel like a fish out of water.


You’ve met most of the other celebrities competing on the show by now. Who do you think is your biggest competition?

That’s a tough one. They’re all so darling, and I’ve been a huge fan of Jacoby Jones; watching Aly win the Olympics last year; Lisa Vanderpump — I’m a huge fan of her show; I’ve worked with Wynonna at a Cleveland Clinic cancer benefit last November; Andy Dick, I’ve watched him over the years and he’s really such a nice guy. Pretty much, they’re all so nice. They’re just nice people. Biggest competition I would think would be somebody like Aly because she’s, what, 21, (Note: Raisman is actually 18) and fresh out of the Olympics, and she’s on the floor, so she’s not used to the moving ice. People can say that about me, I’m used to moving. But I’m of course the oldest one in the competition, which is really terrifying. I think the toughest competition is going to be in my head.

During your skating days, you started a number of new trends — from your hair to your glasses to the Hamill camel. Any thoughts on what sort of trends your dancing will cause?

Oh my goodness. I don’t think there’s going to be any trend other than maybe people will think if I can do it, if I can take on something I’ve never done before, maybe they won’t be afraid to step out of their comfort zone and do something, whether it’s a new sport or a new activity.

Your first dance is contemporary. How would you describe that style?

Well that’s a good question. When Tristan opened the envelope, he said contemporary, and I said, “Great, what’s that?” and he said, “Well, I don’t really know.” We went to Wikipedia and tried to figure it out. I guess it’s more of a freestyle as opposed to a classic, traditional ballroom or Latin dance. It’s modern contemporary or pop music. I try and relate it to if I were walking through my routine on the floor, which of course doesn’t translate, but that would be the best way for me to describe it. It’s more about body movement and expressing yourself with body and movement, as opposed to the traditional holds and steps and timing. It’s new this year to Dancing with the Stars. And so far it’s treating me better in the last couple of days than in the beginning, when I was very self-conscious and sort of inhibited. So, I’m getting there!

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