Los Angeles Times

More Stars Go 'Dancing'


A new group of celebrities is getting ready to follow in others' footsteps. Literally.

Following NFL great Emmitt Smith's victory in November, the popular ABC series "Dancing With the Stars" returns for its fourth round Monday, March 19. Tom Bergeron and E! Entertainment Television correspondent Samantha Harris are back as hosts, and it's no surprise to find more athletes among the contestants. But the overall lineup is yet another diverse gathering.

Representing the sports world are boxer (and daughter of Muhammad Ali) Laila Ali, NBA veteran Clyde Drexler and speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno. The new "Dancing" group also includes singer-actors Billy Ray Cyrus and Joey Fatone, Miss USA 2004 Shandi Finnessey, ex-"Entertainment Tonight" anchor-reporter Leeza Gibbons, model Paulina Porizkova, actor John Ratzenberger ("Cheers") and former "Beverly Hills, 90210" star Ian Ziering.

Additionally, activist Heather Mills competes, making her the first "Dancing" contender with an artificial limb. She, like last season's Sara Evans, has had a very public marital breakup (in Mills' case, with music legend Paul McCartney).

As the competition episode moves to Monday, the results show airs each Tuesday, starting March 27. An admitted fan of "Dancing," Gibbons is glad she won't be eliminated for at least two weeks, since she's less than confident about staying to the end.

"One of the producers said that at its heart, this show is a fish-out-of-water story," she says, "and I thought, 'Man, they could not have snagged a better fish out of water than me!' I don't know the mambo from the merengue, I really don't. If they told me, 'You will fox-trot or we will take your children away,' I think I'd just let them have the kids.

"The second week of the show, I have my birthday," Gibbons adds, "and I am really looking at this as a wonderful opportunity to be fearless at 50. Especially as women, we worry so much about what people think of us. We're judged constantly, and here's a show you go on to be judged on something you don't do well. I figure this is a great way for me to deal with any control issues I still have."

For Ziering, still widely known from "90210" repeats as Steve Sanders, "Dancing With the Stars" will help fulfill what he always set out to do. His late mother enrolled him in performance classes when he was young. "First and foremost, this is a chance to make my parents proud of me," he says. "When all the other kids were playing sports after school, I wanted to sing and dance and act.

"My mom was always so supportive; she enabled me to pursue my dreams. I danced on Broadway as a kid, and she would never miss a show."

Cheryl Burke, Smith's "Dancing" partner last time, is now teamed with Ziering. Other reality-show offers have come his way, but he says, "I never cared to crawl through grass to eat worms, or to expose my dating life. For the most part, it just wasn't right for me. As the landscape of the entertainment industry changes, though, you really have to modify.

"'Dancing With the Stars' has become a phenomenon," Ziering says, "and when I look at that type of reality show, it's like a variety show. It's not whether I can hold my breath the longest under water."

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