When a Disney+ pop-up ad prompted me to watch the 31st season of Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) two months ago, I was surprised and confused. How could the show I watched years ago—one I used to convince my mom to push my bedtime—still be running?
I’ve never been a dancer, and I’ll never be one. Len Goodman would take one look at my pancake hands, collapsing form, and mistimed steps and kick me off his dance floor. However, after only one season of commitment, I might be DWTS’s biggest fan.
Even though other dance shows—such as World of Dance—are facing cancellation and struggling to keep viewers, DWTS lives on 17 years later.
The season wrapped up on Monday with Charli D’Amelio and Mark Ballas taking home the 31st Mirrorball trophy. But runners-up Gabby Windey, Wayne Brady, and Shangela all deserve recognition for their efforts this season.
DWTS has mastered the pivot. Their rotations and adjustments are as effective and brilliant as the ones judge Derek Hough critiques on Monday nights. Season 31 keeps the ballroom style and the overdone dance competition format relevant by providing an inclusive cast and an addicting atmosphere.
This season saw the first drag queen star in franchise history: Shangela. The inclusive star casting didn’t stop there.
Daniel Durant, a deaf actor, competed all the way to the semi-finals and Selma Blair danced despite her multiple sclerosis diagnosis until her self-elimination in week five. Charli D’Amelio represented the younger demographic at 18 years old and was the youngest competitor this season. Cheryl Ladd, on the other hand, topped the age chart by competing at 71.
These stars were also joined by current pop culture icons such as Gabby Windey and Wayne Brady. Windey had just finished waltzing her way through the most recent season of The Bachelorette before starting DWTS.
The bonds the cast fosters despite their many differences shows the audience the importance of inclusivity and friendly competition. Watching the cast’s reaction to Selma Blair leaving the season to focus on her health put tears in my eyes.
This inclusivity gives the audience the representation they want, making the show engaging for all demographics. This brings me to the second thing the show does to stay fresh: create an engaging atmosphere that sucks its audience in. DWTS has never been more accessible and addicting.
This year, the franchise moved from cable to Disney+. It played on the platform live at 8 p.m. Monday nights, but also remains available for streaming later. This season, there are no ads and viewers have the chance to pause and rewind as much as they want. Getting addicted to ballroom dancing has never been easier.
On top of that, the judges have made audience education a priority. Helpful dance lessons from Derek Hough are sprinkled throughout the episodes to teach us what the judges are looking for in each dance. Somehow, I’ve become an expert in the Rhumba, Quickstep, Paso Doble, and Argentine Tango without ever touching the dance floor. The show has become the lifeline keeping ballroom dancing alive and thriving in popular culture.
DWTS is a whole production, and the dancing is barely half of it. The costumes, live music, and set designs are captivating even on their own. When stacked with the ever-so cringy but comforting banter from hosts Tyra Banks and Alfonso Ribeiro and the obnoxious enthusiasm from the judges, this show becomes an over-the-top reality TV masterpiece.
I cannot count the number of times judge Bruno Tonioli fell off his chair while passionately praising a couple’s dance. Nor can I imagine how Charli D’Amelio managed to remove all the yellow face paint from her Marge Simpson costume.
Somehow, this show balances absurd costumes, eccentric personalities, and tear-jerking performances from an inclusive cast to produce two hours weekly of impeccable entertainment.
If DWTS continues to be inclusive, addicting, and a tad obnoxious, it’ll have no difficulty dancing its way into the canon of America’s best reality TV of all time.
Dance, dancing, Dancing with the stars, diversity, Inclusivity, representation, TV show
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