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Mark Ballas' 'DWTS' journal: The last dance

11:10 AM, Nov 25, 2010   |    comments
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By Mark Ballas, Special for USA TODAY

Professional ballroom dancer Mark Ballas is a two-time winner on ABC's Dancing With the Stars, having guided Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi to the mirrored ball trophy in Season 6 and partnered with Olympic gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson to win Season 8. This season Ballas is partnered with Bristol Palin, daughter of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Ballas, 24, also a musician and singer, is writing a twice-weekly behind-the-scenes journal about the show for USA TODAY. Here's his latest report, written hours after he and Palin placed third overall for the season.

Nov. 24

What a fantastic ending to an incredible journey!

For Team Ballin to close out the season with the last dance, which was quite possibly our best, was so poetic. It really was a fitting end to a wild three months, and that last dance felt like our encore, like it was meant to be our moment to take a bow for our fans. This season Bristol and I progressed every single week, and to go out with not a care in the world and just have fun was awesome!

Knowing that the results were out of our hands and that we had done everything we could allowed us to let go and cut loose. How crazy was it that on our last dance, after the scoring had pretty much determined our fate of third place, that we just went out and had a blast? And we killed that Cha Cha Cha! I couldn't have scripted a better ending for us if we weren't to win.

While my competitive nature from being a professional dancer with years and years of competitions under my belt has me always wanting to win, I really am pleased with where we placed.

While I adore Kyle (Massey) and hate that Derek (Hough, Jennifer Grey's partner) now has one more mirror-ball trophy than I do after winning two in a row, I'm thrilled for Derek and my family. Derek (three trophies) and his sister Julianne (two trophies) were raised by my parents, who trained all three of us. We're as close as can be and truly are a family. And our family just won our seventh Dancing With the Stars title in only 11 seasons (Derek's three, two for me, and two for Julianne)!

Let me touch on that for a moment. While a lot of luck came our way for winning seven times, it truly is a testament to the incredible talent of my parents. They imbued us all with technical perfection and championship discipline, giving us the tools to shine. After all, they were the eight-time undefeated Latin Ballroom World Champions. I think a little of them rubbed off on us, don't you?

And it's not just us they trained. Take this season, for example. Throughout the years, my mom has also trained Dad, Chelsie (Hightower), Maks (Chmerkovskiy), Tony (Dovolani), Anna (Trebunskaya), Louis (van Amstel) and Karina (Smirnoff). That's a ridiculous nine out of 12 pro dancers from Season 11!

I enjoyed this season so much. Sure, it's always fun for a dancer to dance with a Ferrari. But there's really something special you experience through teaching, which I got to experience this season with Bristol. And I don't mean just showing a few dance steps to someone. I'm talking about the joy of turning someone into a beautiful dancer. That's something my mom talks about that I now can relate to.

This season gave me a whole new perspective on success. Dancing with a partner whose middle name should have been "Adversity," I began to notice that it's easy to point fingers at the mistakes people make and that worrying about what the critics will say only removes the enjoyment from what you're trying to achieve. As the season progressed, it became clear to me that success belongs to the person who is actually in the arena fighting their way through the challenges, adversity and yes, even their accomplishments. And oh, how I loved the arena this season!

The thrill of this season for me was in the battle. How bland life would be without the tastes of both victory and defeat each week. Bristol and I faced our adversity, doing the best with what we had and where we were at on her learning curve. The turning point came Tuesday night when Bristol turned to me and said, "The only thing we can control is our having fun, so let's just focus on having fun now."

At the end of that dance, looking at the accomplishment shining through on Bristol's face, I realized in that very moment that the true measure of victory is giving it everything you have so that you have a chance to become the best you can be. That way there are no regrets. Success truly is in the doing, not necessarily the winning.

I guess that's the lesson from this season: Focus on what you can control, and enjoy life and every moment while you can. Bristol and I have thousands of moments we'll treasure from this season, and we're eternally grateful to all of our fans for the opportunity to bring you on this exciting journey with us. Please take advantage of the time you have to be with your loved ones this Thanksgiving, and don't forget: Go Team Ballin!

Nov. 21

I can't wait for Monday night!

Immediately following Tuesday night's show, I grabbed a bite to eat and then went to the rehearsal studio to choreograph our freestyle dance. The dance has been in my head for months now and I'm excited to perform it with Bristol on Monday. As a dancer and choreographer, this really is my moment to shine. We have complete creative license to do whatever we want, and I've fared well in my previous two trips to the finals (with Kristi Yamaguchi and Shawn Johnson). Let me assure all the fans who have voted for us that we are working hard to hold on to that respect you have given us via your vote and to make you proud. Monday can't come soon enough!

We have four dances this week, and you know one of them is the freestyle, which we will dance on Monday night. Another dance is the "Redemption Dance", which is a dance chosen by the judges that they thought we could have done better at earlier in the season. I'm looking forward to that dance as well, as Bristol has come a long way since the beginning.

Aside from the show finals on Monday and Tuesday, I'm looking forward to an exciting week.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I am looking forward to the time I can spend with my family, as I am sure you all are. My mind seems to be rooted in reflection the past few days and this will be a particularly thankful Thanksgiving for me. I've always known and treasured the impact my mom has had on my life and during this season of DWTS, she has been my rock. With my move into my new home and the pressures that the season brings, she's always there to lean on. Thank you, Mom!

I am so thankful to be on a show that millions of people are able to release the pressures of their everyday life while allowing us to entertain them. That really is a performer's dream and goal, to whisk the audience away on a journey where they lose themselves and their troubles for a moment. Thanks to you all. You are the treasure in our success!

As for Bristol, she knows how thankful I am to call her my partner and friend. What Bris doesn't know is how thankful I am for what she has taught me this season. It can be summed up in two words: determination and respect. Everyone goes through his or her own version of pain and endurance issues on the show - both the celebs and the dancers. Some pain is physical, for others it's the pain of stress, and for some it's the pain of having your life taken away from you as you prepare each week.

Bristol deals with a special pain of having people wanting and hoping for her to fail and dealing with hate issues no one should ever have to encounter. But probably her greatest source of pain is hearing what is said about her son. Fortunately, she has this miraculous way of dealing with it and focusing on getting better each week and proving to herself, that despite all that noise, she is a woman to be respected.

Our country was built on people taking advantage of the basic freedom to do everything in our power to excel with the God-given talents with which we have been blessed. During this season, I've seen firsthand how those rights shouldn't be taken for granted, much less allowing others to take that basic human right away from you. Thank you, Bristol, for helping me understand how important that freedom is.

This season we've been challenged physically, most certainly verbally by the haters, questioned whether we are good enough, tough enough, and worthy of staying in the competition. Heading into the finals, I'm proud to say we answered them all. Amongst all the controversy, people have let us know how much they appreciate and respect us for simply doing that and how it has inspired them in their own lives. Thank you to all who have supported us on our journey. I hope you have been as rewarded for it as I have been.

Since you know what I'm thankful for this time of year, what are you thankful for? I ask that all of you appreciate your time with family and friends and tell your loved ones that they are cherished. I cherish that I have to run to rehearsal to prepare Team Ballin for our awesome fans this week!

Nov. 17

Amazing.

I wish I could express how incredible and satisfying it feels to make it to the finals. It's been an extraordinary journey with Bristol thus far and I'm so excited for her to bring this chapter to a close on our biggest stage. I don't think another contestant in the history of this show has ever had the journey from start to finish that Bristol has had, progressively getting better every single week.

I'm so very grateful to our fans! Thanks to our supporters, we're able to continue on. We've been working hard and are happy to be here. Aside from doing the best we can it truly is out of our hands. That's why it's such an honor to have the opportunity to make a run at the mirror ball trophy. And once you get to the final, all bets are off. I've been there with Shawn (Johnson, who won Season 8) as the underdog. It's anyone's game!

As you can imagine, it's been somewhat tense backstage. These past few days, I've pretty much turned on my iPod on and chilled out. The goal is to stay upbeat and loose. All of the couples deal with the pressure differently, but most of us zone out. If you don't try to distract your mind, you'll go crazy!

Take last week, for example. Before the Results Show. After I went to makeup, I returned to my trailer to change into my show wardrobe. I opened the trailer door and found a crowd: my managers, Bill and Steve; my mom Shirley; Bristol, her parents Sarah and Todd and her cousins Brandy and Greg. They were all hanging out, talking out their nerves and recounting all the fun moments from the season. (Plus, Mama P told me she loves reading the journal, so I have to give her a shoutout!) I've definitely enjoyed getting to know Bristol's large family and they've been so warm, sweet, and kind to me, and I'm going to miss seeing them every week.

Remember last week when I was freaking out about having two dances? Well this week - the finale! - we have four dances! That's four dances to choreograph, learn, rehearse, tweak, and perfect in five days. One of our dances is a freestyle dance. I've always had an idea in my head of what our freestyle dance would be, and I'm really excited that we get to perform it.

This is my seventh season and I've been fortunate enough to win the mirror ball trophy twice. But I'm proudest to have done what I believe is the true testament of this show: taking a non-performer and turning her into a dancer. And despite my previous successes, this is my most rewarding season. It feels great that all the hard work we've put in is paying off, and Bristol and I will do everything we can this week to give you our best dances!

Nov. 12

I need more time in the day!

Between rehearsing with Bristol for 8 hours a day, interviews for the show, interviews with media, fittings, finishing decorating my new home, finishing my CD recording, planning my upcoming music tour, plus anything else that pops up, I really need a little time to eat and sleep. But, that's the double-edged sword I'm willing to deal with.

We strive for the finals and to win, and once we're on our way, there seems to just not be enough time in the day. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have it any other way. Doing what you love is a blessing and I'm grateful to all of Team Ballin's fans for keeping us busy. We're having a blast and working our butts off for all of you.

This week (Monday night) we have the Waltz and Paso Doble. By Friday, we already had the basic routine of the Paso down, so we have to learn and perfect the Waltz over the weekend. These two dances are very different. The Paso is the bullfighter's dance, aggressive and arrogant. The Waltz is slow and smooth, like you're dancing on a cloud. Both are dances that Bristol has the ability to do well in, and we're doing everything we can to make the finals.

Speaking of the finals, we're only one week away from it! It's incredible how far Bristol has come in the three months that I've been teaching her.. When we met, she had absolutely no dance background and now she's blossomed into a beautiful dancer, capable of pulling off many disciplines of dance. To think she did all of this with zero performance experience is remarkable! Bristol's had a tough road and she's handled it better than anyone could imagine.

I really think that any of the four of us semi-finalists can get eliminated this week. Yes, Bristol and I are at the bottom in the judges' scores, but we continue to get votes from the fans. Remember, all of the four remaining celebs have dances that are strengths and weaknesses, so you really never know how Monday night will fair.

Did you catch us on Larry King Live on CNN? I loved meeting Larry, and it was a pleasure to do his show. He's an icon in the entertainment business, and doing these shows really are a perk that I enjoy about my career. Last week Ellen (DeGeneres), this week Larry. Who's next week, Oprah? I need to get somebody on that!

Even though the show ends in just over a week, I'm doing a lot to stay busy during the hiatus. I'm joining the cast of the ballroom theatrical show Burn The Floor for three weeks, where I'll be singing and dancing for audiences in Raleigh, Houston, and Pittsburgh. Then, I go directly into an eight-week music tour, where I'll be playing the songs off my new CD, The HurtLoveBox, in music venues throughout the Midwest, East Coast, and South. I hope to see you at a show!

NOVEMBER TV CALENDAR: What's on tonight?

Nov. 10

And we live to see another week!

Am I surprised that we keep making it through despite scores at or near the bottom each week? Absolutely not. This show is driven by the fans' voting, and Team Ballin has great fans.

Bristol did great this week and I was proud of her. She deserved higher than the judges gave her in the Argentine Tango, and Carrie Ann's 7 in the Samba was wack. She definitely deserved higher.

I was irritated because I made a mistake in our Samba. What's fun about making mistakes in front of 20 million households? Nothing. We got turned around in our routine so we ended up being on the wrong side of the floor. The room we practiced in was tiny compared to the ballroom, and we only had 20 minutes. Oh well. We did our best and that's all we are focused on.

Everyone is tense backstage. How about that ongoing battle between Maks and Carrie Ann? Awk-ward! I don't think Maks was out of line. In fact, I think it was awesome that he spoke up. As professional ballroom dancers, we're all extremely competitive and take great pride in our work. When we get slammed, we take it personally. We have to, because dancing has been our entire lives and we put so much into it.

I was really excited to go to a concert not once, but twice this weekend. Florence and the Machine (NOT Florence Henderson!) was one of the best live shows I've ever been to. So awesome! I went twice: Sunday with Chelsie and Monday with Derek.

This week we have two dances again: the Paso Doble and Waltz. She'll do really well in Paso because her demeanor, which is very straight-faced, matches the expression and motivation of the dance. And we just performed the Viennese Waltz a few weeks back, so I expect Bristol to really challenge for the finals.

Did you like my pro dance to John Legend? It was really cool to be able to dance with Jeanine Mason and mesh two styles. She won So You Think You Can Dance Season 5, and is clearly very talented. And John Legend is amazing. I love the song we danced to, Ordinary People.

It was so nerve-wracking this week. It's great to be in the studio working on my CD, releasing stress and relaxing to my music. While it's not quite a vacation, it certainly is a nice way to break up the monotony of the season.

Nov. 5

Good morning from Burbank airport!

It's 6:00 a.m. and it's been a long week. Actually, it's been a long month ... okay, it's been a long season! I'm checking in from the airport t, but my destination is a secret. Bristol and I are traveling for the show this weekend, but it's a short trip as I'm gone for only 30 hours or so.

After we rehearse all day and night Friday and all morning and afternoon on Saturday, I fly back to Los Angeles Saturday evening. I'm heading back for my fitting for Monday's show, and also to see Florence (Henderson) and The Machine perform at The Wiltern Theatre.

Remember a few weeks back when they performed on DWTS? I'm a huge fan and can't wait for this show on Saturday night.

Last entry, I told you that our first dance for Week 8 is the Argentine Tango. We were in the dance studio choreographing and learning that routine for eight hours Wednesday, followed up by another long day on Thursday. I now know what our second dance is - the Samba.

While Bristol picked up the Argentine Tango quickly (remember how well she did with a similar dance two weeks ago with Tango, earning us the encore?) the Samba provides a new challenge to her.

We learn of our music at the beginning of the rehearsal week, but we won't know our Samba song until 20 minutes before we have to dance it live in front of 20 million people. Think about that for a moment. It's genuinely terrifying to a non-dancer. But I'm used to it because that's how all ballroom competitions are. I try to downplay not having the music in rehearsal though, because it's really not a big deal. Bristol has musicality, so I know she can adapt to whatever song they give us.

Thursday, we taped Ellen DeGeneres' show, which was a lot of fun. She just cracks me up! It airs Monday, and if you watch, notice that I spent most of the segment laughing. I couldn't stop picturing Jim Parsons (from CBS' The Big Bang Theory) getting scared in the segment before ours. It was so hilarious! We danced our Cha Cha from the group dance this past week. Bristol really did a great job.

Last Monday was DWTS' 200th episode extravaganza. We had a party after the show to celebrate with the entire cast and crew and all the previous dancers (both celebs and pros) came out. It was great to see everyone and I'm thankful to be on a hugely successful and fun show that's had such longevity.

In order to keep this momentum going, it's time to board my flight so we can get back to work and stay in this competition another week.

Nov. 3

I'm exhausted.

Seriously, I'm absolutely exhausted! What a crazy ride this season has been. There have been so many ups and downs that it's been a train wreck on the emotions. Everyone counts us out and we survive every week. Why is that? It's the fans.

Bristol has such an endearing quality about her that is extremely relatable, and it's amazing how many fans support us because of it. I think because her family is in politics that just the mention of her last name causes a reaction, and she carries herself with such class and grace that you can't help but root for her.

Did you see my reaction Tuesday night when we were saved? It was quite the celebration on my end. That's not because I don't believe we belong. It's actually because I'm so grateful that the fans allows us to continue to work hard and progress each week.

Everyone on the show is so tired and stressed. The mood backstage was pretty relaxed Tuesday night. That's partly due to the exhaustion from the grueling schedule and partly due to the fact that everyone is doing very well recently and is at peace with their fate. If you do your best and score well, but still go home, you can sleep well knowing that you did your very best, left it all on the dance floor and have no regrets because it wasn't meant to be.

For this next week we have two dances, but I only know one of them as of right now. First up: the Argentine Tango. Bristol should do well with this step because she likes these kind of dances, which are aggressive, serious and sexy.

Unlike this past week, our second dance is an individual, not with the group. But I don't know what that one is yet, so I'll have to tell you this weekend. Again, two dances equals twice as difficult. Just taking the time to learn two dance steps, let alone getting them ready for competition, requires a lot of time management. But we'll pull through.

On Thursday I get a nice treat. Bris and I are taping a segment of Ellen, which will air on Monday. We're actually going to perform our Tango on her show, which we did very well with two Mondays ago. You know, the dance we got the Tuesday encore for. That should be fun, especially because I love Ellen (DeGeneres)DeGeneres I've been on her show four times previously. Ellen's one of my all-time favorite people. I'd love to dance with her on DWTS! Who do we have to talk to about making that happen?

My record is coming along. It should be finished this week, actually, and I'm really happy with how the songs are coming together.

I'm off to bed before I get back at it on Wednesday. After all, Wednesdays are like my Mondays. But Team Ballin doesn't have a case of the Mondays. Keep those votes coming in!

 

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