Noah Galloway could’ve ended up on any number of adventure reality shows, roughing it in the wild and living up to the title Ultimate Men’s Health Guy, bestowed by the fitness-minded magazine last fall.
Instead, the Iraq war veteran and double amputee landed in a ballroom in bespoke suits doing the rumba on the 20th season of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
In either scenario, the Alabama native would’ve likely become a fan favorite for his quiet charm and his about-face story, having rehabbed his body and life after devastating injuries and depression. And in fact, viewer support from the “DWTS” audience has propelled him to a spot he never thought he’d see: the semi-finals of the contest, taking place next week.
He and his partner, Sharna Burgess, are among the four couples going head-to-head for the coveted mirror ball trophy. (This time it’s gold-plated to celebrate the series’ anniversary).
Galloway and Burgess, a five-time “DWTS” pro who’s appeared in live productions of “Burn the Floor” and “Simply Ballroom,” spoke to The Times about their experiences so far on the popular hoofing contest and their plan to dominate on Monday.
But no matter how far he goes, don’t expect Galloway to trade his Tough Mudders and 10Ks for salsas and tangos.
“Dancing’s too much work,” he said with a laugh. “I’m glad there are videos of all this on YouTube so I can watch whenever I want. I doubt I’ll ever do it again.”
LAT: Noah, how’d you get involved with the show? Were you hesitant to take part?
NG: After I made the cover of Men’s Health, a lot of shows contacted me. I would’ve loved to do “Survivor,” but I just couldn’t be away from my family that long without contact. I couldn’t justify it. Then “Dancing With the Stars” called, and they were interested in the fact that I was missing an arm. All I wanted to talk about was the fact that I’m an above-the-knee amputee. They’d already had (double amputee-model-Paralympian) Amy Purdy, but that’s a completely different injury. It’s common that people don’t think about the difference, but I wanted to call attention to the issue. And for years now, I’ve been challenging people to step outside their comfort zones, but I’ve stayed in mine. I thought it was time to try something new.
LAT: What’s been the toughest thing about the competition?
NG: It’s literally drained me physically, but mostly mentally. I wake up thinking about dance, I go to bed thinking about dance, I wake up in the middle of the night talking about dance. The performing aspect and being in character is the hardest thing for me. It doesn’t matter how quickly I pick up the dance steps, if I don’t look like I’m in the dance, it doesn’t sell it.
LAT: Sharna, what did you think when you learned you’d be working with Noah?
SB: I didn’t know anything until I walked into the room. I was at a boxing gym, so I thought I was meeting a boxer. Noah was introduced to me, and I didn’t even notice his leg. I saw his arm and I started thinking about what could we do or couldn’t do. It didn’t at any point frighten me. I just started thinking about ways I could stretch myself creatively.
LAT: As a choreographer, how have you confronted the physical challenges?
SB: I really went into this season thinking there are no rules and that we would just do things differently. I think the judges appreciate that. In a way, this is tailor made to fit Noah because we’ve just gone into each dance seeing what he’s capable of doing and going beyond what people would expect.
LAT: Noah, can you name one high point and one low point in the contest so far?
NG: High points were the contemporary routine for “Most Memorable Year” and the jazz routine to “Superbad.” Those felt so good. The low point was getting my tooth kicked out (by Sharna during a practice session). I have a temporary bridge in right now. I’ll go get a permanent replacement later.
LAT: You’ve seemed very confident – did you think you’d make it to the final shows?
NG: Nooooo. The most I thought I’d go is three weeks. I’ve never danced before and it’s not anything that comes naturally to me. Even now, I cannot do any dancing outside of this. When they ask me in a photo shoot to dance, like freestyle, I start sweating profusely. If Sharna hasn’t shown it to me, I don’t know it.
LAT: Sharna, can you give us any peeks into what’s coming for the semifinals?
SB: We’ll be doing a paso doble and a Viennese waltz, and I love that they’re so different from each other. One is more romantic and reminiscent, which is great for this moment in the journey. And the paso, Carrie Ann (Inaba) is our judge and we’re working with her to put this concept together. We’re finding something so epic and unexpected to show Noah in a different light. We’ll show his strengths in a different way. I think these are going to be entertaining and memorable pieces.
The show aires Monday at 8 p.m. on ABC.