Although I had never watched "Dancing With The Stars" before, Hines Ward being one of the contestants changed everything. Of course I have to watch it now - Steeler Nation owes Hines nothing less. And as I've watched it over the past five weeks, it is evident that Hines' work ethic is paying big dividends, and that the judges are noticing.
I remembered that Chad Ochocinco was on the show in a previous season, and thought that it would be interesting to see how he had fared on the show, and how it compares with Hines. So I typed some queries into Google and started watching and reading.
Before I go any further, I have to confess that, given that I've only been watching football since the Steelers/Cardinals Super Bowl, and since I only watch games that the Steelers are in, I had a somewhat skewed view of Chad Ochocinco. I never knew him as Chad Johnson, and so the almost cartoonish, over-the-top diva that I have observed in the past two seasons is the only side of Chad that I have seen. I gathered that he was a pretty good receiver, but I've mainly noticed his whining to Carson Palmer to get the ball (and dropping it half the time when it is thrown to him,) his boastful trash talking to teams the Bengals are about to play, his entertaining but pointless celebrations, and so on.
So it was quite a surprise to me when I researched Chad the football player and discovered his distinguished career prior to the 2008 season. The thing that was especially astonishing was reading about his almost compulsive work ethic. I will confess that what I expected to find was a gifted player who had relied too much on his talent and had consequently not fully realized his potential. Apparently I completely missed the mark in the years prior to my new-found Steelers fandom. As a result, this article isn't quite what I expected to be writing when I thought of the project. (I do think it would be fair to say that Chad Ochocinco is not as good a football player as Chad Johnson was.)
But it was interesting to find that Chad barely made it through high school. Because of this, although he was recruited by some top schools, he couldn't get into them because of his grades. He went to one small school that agreed to take him, but managed to get thrown out. A high school counselor who had taken an interest in him helped him get into another small school, and he did just enough to stay through his junior year, and then declared for the draft. Hines, on the other hand, was one of Georgia's top scholar-athletes in high school, and had his choice of the schools that recruited him. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in consumer economics, and was a member of Phi Beta Sigma, a fraternity that promotes scholarship and service.
I also noted that Chad Johnson, although he should have run a faster 40 time than Hines did at his combine, in fact ran quite a poor one (4:54) relative to what he should have, and, according to at least one source, "moped his way through the rest of the drills." He was drafted at the top of the second round (pick #36) by the Bengals - Hines, because of injury concerns, was a steal 3 years earlier at the bottom of the third round (#93.)
But back to "Dancing With the Stars." A few words of explanation might be useful for those of you who wouldn't be caught dead watching the show. There are 11 couples to start. Each couple is comprised of a 'celebrity' and the professional dancer with whom they have been paired. The professional dancer choreographs the dance each week, teaches it to the celebrity, and dances it with them on the program. It behooves the professional dancer to suit the choreography to the skill set of the celebrity, and in fact you can see that some of the celebrities, particularly in the beginning, aren't doing much at all, while their partner is doing all sorts of crazy stuff.
Each couple's dance is preceded by a montage from the week's rehearsals designed to display their discouragement, their mistakes, and so on. Beginning with the second week, one couple per week is eliminated on the basis of a combination of the judges' scores and the popular votes. The three judges are Carrie Ann Inaba, a dancer and choreographer, Bruno Tonioli, a dancer and choreographer, and head judge Len Goodman, a British ballroom dancer, judge, and coach. The three judges were the same for both Season 10, (which was a year ago) when Chad appeared, and this season. The scores are always in the same order - Carrie Ann, Len, Bruno.
Chad was paired with Cheryl Burke, a professional dancer who had already won in two previous seasons. Chad and Cheryl made it to the semi-finals, but no farther. I watched their first five dances, and compared the scores and comments to those for Hines and Kym so far. Before we get to the comparisons, I'm going to give you my impressions of the two of them as potential dancers. (Disclaimer - I am not now nor ever have been either a professional dancer or a professional football player, so take this assessment as you like.)
Neither Chad nor Hines had ever danced, according to their declarations at the beginning of the competition. But Chad has done some end-zone dances, and in general just gives the impression of being much more at ease and fluid. It may partly be the age difference, but I think it is also the body type. Physically, Chad has a more suitable body type for dancing - longer and leaner. At least according to the official statistics, he is an inch taller and 13 pounds lighter - but more to the point, Chad has longer limbs and looks to me like he has more fast twitch muscle - not as good for bulking up, but better for fast movement. All of these things would indicate that he would be more of a 'natural' dancer than Hines. I'm also guessing that he has far less wear and tear on his body, from a combination of the age difference and their different playing styles. (Hines is 35 - Chad was 32 last spring.) Chad also appears to have very few inhibitions, which would be an advantage when trying something completely new in such a visible situation. It is fairly evident that he likes the spotlight. Hines seems to be quieter and more of a private person. All else being equal, you would think that Chad would easily excel in the competition, and would do better last year than Hines is doing this year. So let's see how it has gone so far.
As it happened, they were both given the Cha-Cha. (Each week the contestants are given one of two dances, presumably so that the audience doesn't have to watch 11 versions of the same dance. Thus the fact that they had the same dance was a coincidence.) Here are their scores, and some of the judges' comments. Scores are out of ten, one from each judge:
Chad Ochocinco - 6/6/6
Len - "You're a rough diamond at the moment, you need a bit more polish and you're going to sparkle. You've got great potential."
Bruno - "I can see you have a huge, huge talent, yet untapped. You have a natural feeling for music, a natural sense of rhythm, yes, but you're a bit rough...But you can dance, and I can't wait to see you again."
Carrie Ann - "There is some sort of raw something happening there that is going to take you very far."
But it wasn't all praise - Carrie Ann pointed out that he forgot some of the choreography in the middle, and Len said that he really needed to improve his posture.
Hines Ward - 7/7/7
Carrie Ann - "It was the sparkliest cha-cha I've ever seen - you are just exuberant and your smile lights up the whole stage. You were in control out there - normally we don't see that until the third show."
Len - "It was clean, it was crisp, you were confident. I thoroughly enjoyed it, well done."
Bruno - "So nimble, so light-footed, the timing was excellent."
As with Chad, it wasn't all positive - Len said "You've got to work on your posture, you've got to get cleaner foot work." Bruno - "You really have to work on the posture - you lean forward. I know you can have a much better hip action."
So both men were commended and told that they had a lot of potential, and both were also told that their posture was a problem.
Chad Ochocinco: Foxtrot - 6/5/5
Len - "There was little in that I can talk about to give you any encouragement. It was terrible posture, - it was like the snow - you're just glad when it's all over."
Bruno - "You looked uncomfortable. It was cumbersome and ungainly, no musicality; you have to reboot, refocus, start again."
Carrie Ann - You have got to start understanding your movement and letting it go. You're thinking too much. Dancing is a lot like football - you have to just be in the moment. You're thinking they're two separate worlds - they're not."
It wasn't all negative - Bruno said "There is something there we want to see;" Carrie Ann said "You have great potential. There's something about you, the way you move, that draws us in." But they were clearly disappointed in what he did that week.
Hines Ward: Quickstep - 8/7/8
Bruno - "Forget about part-time lover [they danced to Part-time Lover] - more like full-time dancer! You led with ease and confidence - I particularly like some of the fine details you put in. You put in the nifty footwork - the rond de jambe going backwards, which is very very hard." [A rond de jambe is a ballet term for a particular circling leg movement.]
Carrie Ann - "I think Emmitt Smith just had to retire his little title of 'Twinkletoes' - [Smith won the trophy in Season 3] - that was amazing. Your posture, your technique, your hold, the way you changed directions with ease and grace and control - phhh!" [She was apparently at a loss for words.]
Len - "Your frame was terrific - and it's a hard thing to maintain that. You had good movement on the floor - I was very impressed."
There were no negative comments.
Chad Ochocinco: Paso Doble - 7/6/7
Bruno - "The power is back! The presence is back! The termination is back!... what a difference! That's the way to go."
Carrie Ann - "Somebody really wanted the girl, because you used that energy, you were focused on her like a laser, and all of it worked perfectly."
Len - "Much better than last week... I thought you came out with determination, you dominated the dance, well-done."
Again, it wasn't all positive - Bruno - "Be careful because at times you still dance like a crackhead [at least I think that's what he said - his accent gets pretty thick when he's excited.] The lines were better, although sometimes you lose it and it's all over the place." Carrie Ann - "You still have to work a little bit on your shoulders." Len - "You've got to work on your posture - that's one of the big keys here."
Hines Ward: Samba - 9/8/8 [this was the first 9 given this season]
[It was 'Story Night,' and Hines' "story" was to honor his mother.]
Carrie Ann - "Hines, you're dancing the samba like you've been dancing it your whole life. Good job!"
Len - "The story was upbeat, the dance was upbeat - it's obvious Carrie Ann is proud of you; your mother's proud of you, and I'll tell you what, I'm proud of you."
Bruno - "This samba was like an uplifted expression of happiness."
Again, there were no negative comments.
Chad Ochocinco: Rumba: Technical - 7/6/8, Performance - 8/7/8
[This week the judges gave two sets of scores. This has not been done this season, not yet, anyway.]
Carrie Ann - "Out of all the dances, this is your best dance, by miles. What I love the most is that your posture improved. The hip action was - whoo!"
Len - "Improvement in the posture, improvement in the dance, well done."
Bruno - "Those hips were alive. But not just that - you were fluid, you sustained the line; very few men do that, and I commend you for it."
The only negative comment was from Carrie Ann, who said "You still had a few awkward moments."
Hines Ward: Paso Doble - 9/8/8
Carrie Ann - "You were in the zone, my friend - that was a touchdown on the Paso Doble. You nailed it - you were in control and twirling her, stomping..."
Len - "You are the most determined of all our celebrities. You come out every week 100%. Keep it up. This competition, the longer it goes, the harder it gets. Work hard, because you're really doing great."
Bruno - "Oh yes, you do have the killer instinct, and we all saw it. As the song says, truly explosive." [They danced to a song called "Explosive."]
Again, no negative comments.
[James Harrison, James Farrior, Keyaron Fox, and Max Starks were in the audience. They were on the front row, about 5 feet from the closest judge, Carrie Ann. She admitted to feeling the pressure...]
Chad Ochocinco: Quickstep - 6/6/6
Bruno - "It was a little bit too wild. You went for the energy, but then you - it lost the refinement and lost the control. Your hold was terrible and your frame was terrible. I know you are trying hard - you had a bit of a breakthrough last week - but tonight it fell to pieces."
Carrie Ann - "It was strange, because I would think 'oh, oh, improvement,' and then 'what was that?' when you would mess up on a couple of steps... it's very uneven."
Len - "I thought your posture was better than the week you did the foxtrot, so you have improved. The big problem is that with the quickstep this part (the upper body) has to stay very calm, and your feet and legs are really working, and to divorce those two is a difficult job. But after all you did your best, I thought you did a pretty good job."
Hines Ward: Rumba - 9/9/9
Bruno - "Ease of movement, musicality, and just the right amount of sensuality to make all the ladies swoon! Well played."
Carrie Ann - "You make it look so easy - I'm getting worried for you because you make it look so easy, but that's a good thing. You have the best hip action I've seen in a long time."
Len - "It's not false - it has a naturalness, an ease and an elegance that is charming, and I think that's probably your best dance."
Cumulative scores thus far: Chad 94, Hines 121 [Chad's Week 4 score is the average of his 2 sets of scores.]
So what can we take from this? It may be the case that it isn't fair to compare scores across seasons - I don't know how much, if any, the judges alter their scores to reflect the rest of the competitors, and I don't know whether the general level of competition is stronger or weaker this season. But we can look at a couple of things to see what they tell us about Hines vs. Chad - the judge's comments, and what we are shown of the rehearsals.
The first thing we observe is both men were criticized the first week for their posture. In dance it is very important that you maintain a sort of invisible line that runs from your feet to the top of your head, and you don't want anything interfering with this - you have to stay very grounded. Both Hines and Chad stuck their butts out at first, and Hines was leaning forward as well. This was pointed out to both of them. Hines fixed it, for good, between the first and second week. Chad fixed it, partially, after the stinging criticisms of Week 2, but it wasn't really fixed, and crept back in when he got some positive feedback and stopped trying as hard. One of the rehearsal clips showed his partner trying to work on this, and he would just maintain that he wasn't sticking his butt out. So it isn't too surprising that it didn't get fixed.
The other big posture issue is the shoulders and arms. That's the 'frame' that the judges talked about. The shoulders have to be relaxed, but the arms have to be held out at shoulder level to provide a 'frame' for the woman. When Hines' partner Kym was working with him on this before Week 2, he pointed out that his shoulders were weak, as he had sustained, among other injuries, a separated shoulder and a sprained AC joint, and he had rotator cuff surgery. As a result, it was painful to maintain that posture for a minute and a half. But he also said that he wouldn't use that as an excuse, and he worked on it and fixed it.
Another interesting thing to note is head judge Len Goodman's comment about Hines that he comes out every week "100%." How strongly Chad came out seemed to be more reliant on what mood he was in and whether he was trying to prove something to the judges or to his partner. He commented after the Week 5 scores were issued "The judges are extremely hard on me, I'm not sure why that is." I think the answer to that is obvious - the judges knew he was capable of much more than he was producing. Carrie Ann's comment about football and dance not being two different worlds was right on point. The day after the Week 2 performance that fell flat Chad noted that Marvin Lewis had called him up after the show. Lewis told him that he needed to stop playing around and get serious. He also admitted that the judges' comments were "humbling" and he put a great deal more effort into the following week of rehearsals.
The celebrities on "Dancing With the Stars" are filmed every moment they are in the rehearsal rooms, which is where the show's producers get the material for the montage of the rehearsal week that is played prior to their dance. Since the main purpose of this show is to attract viewership, I'm quite sure that the footage they use is carefully edited to show the incidents that will be the most entertaining, sensational, and/or voyeuristic. I also suspect that the producers decide on a 'character' for each contestant, and look for footage to support that. Therefore, in this season, Kendra is whiny, Petra is sweet, Romeo is way cool, and so on. But although they can manipulate the footage they use, they have to choose a 'character' for each person that is pretty reflective of what the person is actually like, or they would have trouble getting enough material week after week.
Hines' character is the hard worker who is determined to succeed. It probably won't surprise you to hear that Chad's character was the mercurial narcissist who spent a lot of the rehearsal time flirting with his partner. The following comment was typical. Standing in front of the mirror, he ground his hips and said "How could I not get any woman? If you can't cook, long as you got good hips you'll be alright." I suspect that these comments could be viewed as 'many a truth is spoken in jest."
Cheryl had obviously done her research about Chad, because in one of their first conversations she asked him if he's going to trash talk to his fellow competitors. In the early days of the show she said that he was 'very serious about learning.' But he seemed to have underestimated the effort necessary. In an interview prior to the first show, he said "In football terms, I'm a rookie right now - a little tune-up, and by the time I hit the dance floor I should be a five-year vet." Apparently he thought a week or two of work and that would be that.
His partner commented later in the season "You never know what you're going to get when you walk into the studio - the one that won't talk or the loud one. It's exhausting." She also commented "Chad requires a lot of attention. If I'm not constantly laughing with him or cuddling him he thinks there's something wrong with me."
Hines' partner Kym said during the first week "When Hines walked through the door he had this gorgeous big smile and I thought 'he's so friendly and so nice' but I didn't really know who he was." Having ascertained that he was the one that 'gets the touchdowns' she said "So you're the star!" He said "Nah, nah, [but] I want to be a star in this." Kym had danced with Warren Sapp in a previous season, and she told Hines that they had made it to the finals. "I can do whatever Sapp can do!" was his immediate response, and he made it clear that he intended to win the competition - he declared "No one can outwork us!" In rehearsals, it is often Hines who is insisting that they do something again if he isn't sure that it is right. When Kym asked him if he had "a sexy, smoldering side" (in preparation for the rumba) he laughed and said "Not really."
Hines, like Chad, had also apparently underestimated how difficult learning to dance would be. During the Week 3 rehearsals for the samba he got very discouraged with how difficult it was, but said "I'm never going to quit - my momma didn't raise no quitter." During the Week 4 rehearsals he had several events in Pittsburgh, so Kym came along and they fit rehearsals in between his engagements. (He also said that he rehearsed with a pillow when they had quit for the night.) Between the music having no lyrics, (which were what he used to time his steps and so on,) the shortened rehearsal schedule, and the difficulty of the dance, he was even more nervous than usual, but he nailed it.
Interestingly, he is apparently suffering from performance anxiety, and said that he feels like throwing up before he goes on stage, but you would never know it to look at him. Chad, on the other hand, appeared to be thrilled to be on stage. That might also have been a facade, of course...
I really don't have it out for Chad whoever-he-is-at-the-moment. I find him quite entertaining. (He would never make a Steeler, though, at least not in his current incarnation.) I think it is probably a pity that the Bengals didn't trade him at the end of the '08 season when he wanted to leave. But the sad thing to me is to see someone who is massively talented but hasn't consistently lived up to his potential. It shows very clearly when compared to Hines, who I suspect is less gifted overall (both in dancing and football,) but who through sheer determination and hard work has excelled.
I'm very excited for next season (being of the number that refuses to consider the possibility that there won't be one) to see whether the dancing has brought a new dimension to Hines as a football player. No, I'm not talking about end-zone celebrations, although we might see a little fancy footwork out there. I think it possible that the dancing will prove to have been a great conditioning aid - an especially important thing in this off-season.
If you all are interested, I'll be happy to update this in a few weeks. In the meantime, vote for Hines! It's easy - just set up an account at abc.com, and log in on Monday night after the show and vote. Let's help him bring the mirror ball back to Pittsburgh!