Costa Mesa dancer performs with the stars

Hot off the heals of dancing featured roles in “Step Up” and Florence and the Machine’s music video “Spectrum,” Costa Mesa ballerina Tara Gusman took her dance career to the primetime TV screen this month on “Dancing with the Stars: All-Stars.”

According to Nielsen Media Research, 12 million viewers watched Gusman, 24, in the season’s first “Macy’s Stars of Dance” performance, which opened the live results show Oct. 2 on ABC.

“The ‘Macy’s Stars of Dance’ is a really big honor for the choreographer,” Tara Gusman said in a phone interview. “And, if you’re a dancer in it, you are considered one of the ‘Stars of Dance.’ So for me, doing ‘Macy’s Stars of Dance’ is huge, because only the best dancers get picked for that.”

The segment airs two to three times per season and has featured the likes of Travis Wong and Tiler Peck from New York City Ballet, Gusman said.

During the Oct. 2 segment, choreographer Shannon Mather transformed the “Dancing With the Stars” stage into a “Hunger Games"-themed battle zone equipped with smoke, fire, special effects and epic battle scene music.

The futuristic standoff featured the industry’s best talents, including nine dancers from “So You Think You Can Dance” — all battling for dance floor supremacy.

Decked out in Capitol-style make up and avant garde costuming, Gusman was one of 19 dancers — and one of three on pointe — representing three “districts” of dance: contemporary, hip hop and ballet.

“I was excited to dance with a different group of people and just all professionals and people who work in the industry and [to] do something different than I do was really exciting for me, because I have an appreciation for all forms of dance,” she said.

“I was really interested to see what the hip hop dancers and contemporary dancers were going to be like with ballet dancers in the piece they were in because that’s not something you do every day,” she continued. “Usually, you do a hip-hop dance, or you do contemporary. It’s very rare that we all dance together.”

At her side was a familiar face — dance partner Jason Glover, a Top 8 contestant from “So You Think You Can Dance.” Glover, 24, and Gusman both dance together at Festival Ballet Theatre ballet company in Fountain Valley.

“If I had to partner with somebody else, I might have freaked out,” she said. “In such a hectic environment, I felt very comfortable that I had somebody I trusted holding me and partnering me who is a good friend of mine.”

But for Gusman, the cherry on top was meeting the judges and hosts in passing, as well as Sarah Palin and “Dancing With the Stars: All Stars” contestant Apolo Ohno.

Mather, whom Gusman teaches for at Mather Dance Company, encouraged her to audition for the role.

“I found out that night actually,” Gusman said. “They picked me pretty quickly.”

“Part of my excitement with getting the job was seeing if I could dance at that caliber, seeing if I could prove to myself — I don’t need to prove anything to anybody else — that all of my ballet training can be beneficial for everything else too,” she said.

Gusman has studied classical ballet technique for more than 19 years. At age 15, she left home to train on full scholarship at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre with hopes of joining the company.

Although she did earn her first professional adult credit as a slave girl in ABT’s Le Corsaire, she was not chosen to join the company.

Feeling discouraged, Gusman decided to take a four-year break from ballet to nurse a back injury.

“Ballet is such a hard world,” Gusman said. “And, I think I ultimately just got burned-out and I wasn’t sure that I loved it anymore.”

“I should not have let somebody make one decision that effected my whole life. But, you know what? That’s the path that I took and it brought me to where I am now and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

During her ballet purge, she landed a featured dance role in the “Movin’ Out,” a musical featuring some of Billy Joel’s works, European tour. But, the tour was canceled mid-rehearsal.

In May 2009, she headed back to California, where she met her husband.

“The moment I met him, for some reason, I felt the need to dance again,” she said.

More than two years later, Gusman is still dancing with more passion than ever.

“I just want to keep doing as many projects as possible,” she said. “I mean, more things like Florence and ‘Dancing With the Stars.’”

“My ultimate goal is I want dance until my legs fall off, and then I want to be an artistic director.”

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