Dance like nobody’s watching? Not for Mark Ballas, who regularly waltzes, whirls and twirls on Dancing with the Stars, with up to 27.5 million viewers nationwide. Partnered with Candace Cameron Bure, the actress best known for her role as “D.J.” on Full House, Ballas is gearing up for his 14th consecutive season on DWTS. But there’s more to this professional ballroom dancer than his two championship trophies and impressive dance moves. For this season, which kicks off on Monday, March 18, he shed 20 pounds and finally kicked his smoking habit. We caught up with the 27-year-old dancing pro to talk weight loss, teamwork and why twerking isn’t quite for everyone. Plus, get his go-to recovery smoothie recipe below!
When did you start becoming passionate about dancing and performing?
I grew up in a very musical and dancing-orienting family. My grandmother was a famous flamenco dancer way back in her day. And I think that’s where it started for my dad’s side of the family. My dad is an amazing guitar player and a great dancer, and my mom, to this day, is still one of the most iconic and best female Latin dancers who ever lived. I kind of fell into ballroom dancing because of her. At that time I was doing a lot of jazz, ballet, tap, contemporary, hip-hop, stuff like that. I was at an event with kids my age also doing Latin and ballroom dancing and I was like, “Wow, this is a great way to meet the ladies!”
“After Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I was at the heaviest I’ve been in my life. I got on the scale and was like, no, this isn’t me.”
The truth comes out! So, how is your training going with Candace?
Brutal! We’re getting in shape in addition to training Candace. It’s tough because I train Candace in the mornings and then I go straight to the gym. It’s a lot but we’re getting there.
What does your training consist of when you’re at the gym?
It’s a mix of things. If I dance in the morning, I won’t do cardio when I go to the gym because dancing for four to five hours gets you pretty warm! Usually we do a lot of TRX and core work and weightlifting, too.
How do you fuel up for training?
It’s taken six weeks to prepare for the premiere. After Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I was at the heaviest I’ve been in my life. I got on the scale and was like, no, this isn’t me. I dropped 20 pounds and now I’m putting muscle back on. Until the premiere, I’m watching what I eat with a fine-tooth comb. I’m juicing in the morning with Pressed Juicery. If I have a snack during the day, I’ll cut up an apple or do a handful of organic almonds or cashews. Within 20 minutes of working out at the gym, I’ll do my protein shake. It’s a lot of liquid throughout the day between the protein smoothie and the green juices, but then I’ll do a solid dinner meal like grilled organic chicken with vegetables and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Do you have a go-to pre competition snack or meal?
I don’t like to eat too much before I dance. I usually won’t eat three to five hours before I perform, but if I need something I’ll do a salad — and no snacking! Since I dance on Monday nights, I’m going to switch my cheat day from Sunday to Monday. I’ll eat super clean on Monday during the day and then after I perform, I’ll let it rip!
What’s your cheat meal?
Pizza time! For me, pizza is my weakness. I love pastas, too, and Mexican food.
You recently succeeded in quitting smoking. What did it take to finally achieve this goal?
It wasn’t a dramatic coughing thing, but I could definitely feel it in my stamina. I didn’t want to get to the point where I couldn’t dance or move comfortably. When you’re over 25, you really start to notice a change in your athletic body. I wanted to live a healthier lifestyle, so I used the Nicoderm CQ patch to quit and now I’ve been smoke-free for eight months.
In your experience, what’s the hardest thing for a new performer to learn?
The hardest thing to teach someone is natural rhythm, like being able to count music and being able to hear “one-two-three.” I have had a couple partners on the show who haven’t been able to hear the beat at all, so we’d have to come up with creative ways to get from A to B. If we’re ever doing side-by-side choreography, I have them slightly in front of me so I can see them out of my peripheral and, if their timing is whack, I can follow that.
The other thing is learning how to show your emotional side via the dance. The actors and actresses are good at that because they are used to acting. It’s very much the same thing with dancing — it’s not just the steps and being physical. The storyline of the dance, you have to put it through your body rather than on your body. It has to come from the soul. You may have a dancer who can spin 30 times on one leg, do backflips, jump into the splits, grab their ankle and pull it past 90 degrees, but if they can’t make you feel something with their facial expressions, with the way they move or the way they touch their partner, then it’s great but not excellent. You want to fully connect with the music and make your audience feel something.
Do you have a favorite — or most dreaded — dance on DWTS?
I appreciate all the dances on the show for different reasons. The one that’s most suited to my personality would probably be the Jive or the Lindy Hop because I’m a fun, outgoing and loud person. I also love rhythmic dances like the Cha-Cha. I really love the Samba if I’m doing it professionally but teaching an amateur the Samba is so hard. When you get the Samba it’s like “Aw man, here we go — this one’s tough” because it’s got a really specific bounce action to it. If you don’t nail the bounce and coordinate your hips with your knees, it looks crazy.
So we have to ask: How do you feel about twerking?
It’s funny that this whole twerking thing has become a big deal now because it’s been around forever. When it’s done well, it’s incredibly sexy and cool and it’s kind of like, “Wow, how are you doing that rhythm with just your lower back and your backside?” But I’ve got to turn the other way when you’ve got these people who are like “Look, I’m twerking! Werk! Yaas! Werk!” and they just can’t do it.
Any tips for us non-dancers who are scared of embarrassing ourselves?
The number one tip is not to be embarrassed! When you go and take a class or if you’re practicing at home or going online to pick up moves, you have to, at times, look silly. It’s trial and error. You have to be willing to try things. And have fun with it! If you’re having a great time and learning something new and being active, whether it’s to lose weight or be social with your friends, there are going to be times when you look ridiculous and you’ve got to be prepared for that. Only then can you refine it and make it look great. You’ve got to make mistakes to create something beautiful.
What are you looking forward to most about this season?
I’m looking forward to the challenge of taking someone with zero dance background as far as she can go. Candace has never danced, but she’s really fun, very sweet, very up for the challenge, and she’s a natural mover and very athletic. We have great chemistry in the studio and I think we’re going to have a great journey together. You better vote for us!
To watch Mark Ballas and Candace Cameron Bure shimmy, shake, and try to win it all, tune in to Dancing With The Stars on ABC on Mondays at 8 p.m. EST.