Kathryn Burns and Brittany Cherry in the 'Dancing With the Stars' rehearsal studio. Photo credit: Instagram/Kathryn Burns.
If you've been missing the big opening numbers on Dancing With the Stars the past two weeks, that is all about to change with Monday's show. Kathryn Burns, a two-time Emmy winner for choreography on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, will be taking charge with the first group number of Season 28.
Burns is not a stranger to DWTS, though. She choreographed Carly Rae Jepsen's performance for "I Really Like You” back in 2015.
Dance Network caught up with Burns on Friday before she went into rehearsal in the ballroom for the first time. Her preparations for Monday's show took an unexpected turn, but she was rolling with the changes with her usual great sense of humor.
Dance Network: How did the opportunity come about for you to work on Dancing With the Stars?
Kathryn Burns: My agent submitted me. My agent said that they submitted me for the opening of Dancing With the Stars and I thought, Well, that would be amazing, but that's insane. And here we are.
They have a new creative team, Supervising Producer Justin [Mabardi], and Associate Creative Director Brooke [Wendle]. She was a choreographer on E!'s The Funny Dance Show and we were both choreographers on that. She was able to vouch for me and say I was a good person. So there you go.
DN: This is the first big opening number of the season. Describe the number you have created.
Kathryn: It's going to be a high energy, fun number — a jazz-ballroom fusion. It's Movie Night, but it's not a throwback. I think they're letting the pros and their numbers be the nod to Hollywood week. This is just fun and glamorous.
There was a whole different creative vision that we've been working on for weeks, and at the last second, got scrapped. We thought we were full steam ahead and then; it was a totally different thing. When I had my first rehearsal with all of the amazing dancers I had hired and a few dancers from the show, I literally hadn't choreographed a step. It changed that morning and I had a meeting at 1:30 p.m. and then rehearsal at 3 p.m., so I got into the studio and said, "let's play."
DN: I was going to ask you what your biggest challenge was working on this, but...
Kathryn: There you have it. It's interesting because Brooke and Justin brought me on for comedy and the story and that's not what this is, but it's really fun. I mean I love a strong jazz number, so it's been a treat because you obviously have all the ballroom experts.
I found that a lot of old-school jazz steps remind me of Paso doble basics. There's a lot of jazz fundamentals that are similar, but totally different from ballroom, so it's fun to find the fusion of them both.
DN: I see that Brittany Cherry is also assisting you.
Kathryn: She's assisted me at other jobs and I had originally hired her as one of the dancers, but I wanted to give her a really cool full-circle moment to assist and be another side. She literally grew up on the show. It's so nice to have someone understand that this is a Slingshot — everything has a name in ballroom. I was able to pick up the terminology quickly because of her.
DN: How did Dancing With the Stars exercise your choreography muscles different than scripted programming?
Kathryn: I always approach it the same. I listen to the music. For me, that's the most important part is that it has to match the music for me... which reminds me, I haven't gotten the recording of what the band is doing yet. We'll figure it out because we're in the ballroom tonight.
Since we're in one location, it's all in the ballroom, I still want it to feel dynamic. Phil [Heyes], the director, and Justin are so collaborative, they are open to me pitching camera moves. I'm trying to make sure that the camera moves as it would if it was a scripted show.
DN: How much time did you have to pull this all together, especially with the last-minute concept changes to the dance?
Kathryn: Usually I have the dancers for eight hours, but on Dancing With the Stars, they can't rehearse that long because they are in other numbers. So, we had three-hour rehearsals. I've had two three-hour rehearsals and then we have a two-hour rehearsal today [Friday] and then tomorrow are plugging in all of the pros. Then the celebs come in for a sec, and then we are live, honey! [She laughs.]
I like being up against the deadlines, to be honest, and then you're not so precious about everything. If you have all the time in the world and all the options in the world, chances are you're not going to get anything done.
DN: How many dancers did you hire?
Kathryn: It's a fun mix! There's Ashley Everett, Meagan Kong, JJ Rabone — all diverse, amazing dancers who are multitalented and can do tons of styles. Vlad [Kvartin], who used to be in troupe, Paul Karmiryan is there, Kayla Radomski, it's a bunch of people who have worked on the show over the years.
Mandy Moore and I end up working with a lot of the same people because we love dancers who can act. It makes a huge difference.
DN: Did you ask Mandy for any advice before taking on this project since she spent years on the show?
Kathryn: I did. I told her that it's so interesting that we switched gears. She's in scripted land and I'm doing the opening of Dancing With the Stars. (Mandy is currently working on NBC's ‘Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist.’)
She's been a part of that show for so long and her presence and legacy is still there. But when you get thrown into something, you just put on your, your multitasking hat and try to minimize drama — just get the work done and then you focus on the next task at hand.
And the task at hand is to deliver a full minute-and-a-half dance extravaganza!
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