Dancer and dog lover, Kym Johnson, has been waltzing her way into the hearts of Americans on ABC’s hit show Dancing With the Stars (DWTS) since her first appearance in the cast in 2003 with then-partner Jerry Springer. American audiences quickly fell in love with the dazzling dancer from “Down Under” and she has Jived and Hustled her way to becoming one of the top performers in the show’s history. Kym, along with fellow professional cast-mates Derek Hough and Raimondo Todaro are the only professionals in the history of the show’s franchise to have achieved three championship wins, and Johnson is the only professional dancer to win two different versions of DWTS, winning twice on the American version and once on the Australian version.
Born and raised in Australia, Kym started learning the art of dance at the age of three, training in all aspects of the performing arts including, singing, ballet, tap, jazz, and acrobatics. At 13, the talented teen was inspired to concentrate her efforts in the field of competitive ballroom dance, and a star was born. She then went on to be the Australian Ballroom Champion, represented Australia in the ‘World 10′ dance championships for two years running, and toured the world as a cast member of the modern ballroom stage show Burn the Floor. Television called and she soon was a regular cast member of Australia’s first three seasons of Dancing with the Stars, winning the top prize in season two along with her partner, television presenter Tom Williams. In 2006, during America’s third season of DWTS Kym came to America to partner with talk show icon Jerry Springer. They proved to be very popular with viewers and were the 7th couple sent off. Kym returned to the hit show for Season 4, this time partnering with N’Sync’s Joey Fatone, making it to the finals and taking second place. She continued to appear season after season, taking second again in season seven with partner Warren Sapp. In season nine Johnson was paired with former teen idol Donny Osmond and the two took the top spot, winning the coveted Mirrorball Trophy and making Kym the only dance professional to have won the title in two different countries. Two short seasons later Johnson, after losing out in season eleven with David Hasselhoff, was once again holding the top spot along with athlete Hines Ward. Not only did she win her record third championship, she and co-performer Mark Ballas each earned three perfect scores for their choreography and their freestyle routines, another first for Johnson as well as the show. Hot off her big season 12 win she was paired with David Arquette for this past Fall’s thirteenth season, coming in a respectable 6th place and marking her 10th season on the show.
During all of this she also managed to accomplish some personal goals. She achieved her lifelong dream and made her Broadway debut in the winter of 2009 in New York City, rejoining the cast of Burn the Floor. Kym has also enjoyed a successful hosting career, joining E! News as a ‘Special Correspondent’ for the 10th season of DWTS, where she delivered juicy backstage gossip while providing a “pro’s perspective” of the performances. Her perspective and talent has also led her to appear in three fitness DVDs including the highest selling U.S. fitness DVD of all time, Dancing with the Stars: Cardio Dance.
We were so excited to get to have a whole day with the busy star and the light in her life, her pup Lola, just before the next season’s cast is announced, in one of the most beautiful cities—Palm Springs. We met the pair at the Del Marcos Hotel, a mid-century masterpiece nicely nestled in the desert, where we got to know Kym and Lola better and, like audiences worldwide, fall in love with the adorable Aussie. With Lola perched perfectly on her lap we started to chat with Kym about her LIFE, her DOG, and the thrills of dancing among the stars!
LIFE+DOG: How did you get into dancing? Did you always know you wanted to be a dancer?
Kym Johnson: I started dancing when I was three with ballet, jazz, and tap. My mom was a dancer and she encouraged me to start at a young age. I did it for fun with other girls and those girls are still my best friends today. They’re like a second family to me!
L+D: When did you make the transition to being a professional dancer?
KJ: Well when I was 11 I was working at the Australian equivalent of Disney Land where I played Penny in Inspector Gadget. I would work during all of the school holidays. I always wanted to be in musical theater but my brother wanted to be in ballroom dancing because there was a girl at school that he liked who was a ballroom dancer. I always thought that ballroom dancing was not interesting. I was a “real” dancer with my ballet bun and didn’t take what they were doing very seriously. I would go with my mum to pick him up and I’d see how much fun they were having, so I decided to start ballroom for fun. I eventually started representing Australia in competitions and that is when my career really took off.
L+D: What is your favorite dance?
KJ: I really like the traditional ballroom styles like Foxtrot. I love all of the old MGM movies with the Fred and Ginger style and I think that has to be my favorite.
L+D: What has dancing taught you in life?
KJ: I think from an early age you learn things about being an athlete, where you have to be dedicated and focused from the beginning and you’re taught discipline from the get-go. You’re also around your friends and it’s really a team atmosphere where you build lots of camaraderie. I would say every girl should go into dance.
L+D: Was Dancing with the Stars the first time you began to teach people to dance?
KJ: No I actually used to teach in a studio and I used to teach a lot of wedding couples, which I found to be great fun. It’s the most amazing time in these couples’ lives and I would have fun creating a special routine for them with a special song that they had chosen. A lot of people still ask me to do that for them today after watching me on DWTS. I also toured the world with a show called Burn The Floor where I got a lot of my instructional training skills from the director. A lot of what we did in the show was very flashy, which helped me tremendously with choreographing and teaching on DWTS.
L+D: How does it feel to watch your celebrity partner transform on the dance floor?
KJ: It is one of the most rewarding experiences and I feel so privileged that I get to do what I love for a living. To take someone who hasn’t been a dancer and slowly see this progression and ultimately turn them into a ballroom dancer is so incredible. Every celebrity is so different no matter who you have and even after 14 seasons it never gets old. From Jerry Springer to David Hasselhoff and Hines Ward, it is a great challenge because you have to adapt the way you teach with each person and you have to figure out what makes them trigger. A lot goes into each routine behind the scenes that the viewers don’t really see, and it is a challenging but fulfilling undertaking for all.
L+D: Do you do all of the choreography?
KJ: Yes. We work on all the choreography ourselves and adapt the pieces to each of our partners. We also choose the costumes and music and are, in that way, in charge of our own destiny on the show.
L+D: What do you think sets DWTS apart from other reality competitions?
KJ: I think that people can relate to the show because a lot of people would like to dance. With these celebrities, people are used to seeing them in their own field but in DWTS they are just like the people at home and completely out of their comfort zone. I think it really helps the audience relate to them.
L+D: What is a typical day like when you’re working on the show?
KJ: Well I am normally up by 7:30. I take Lola to daycare and then head straight to the studio by 9 where we work for at least 6 hours every day. If I have the energy I’ll then go do pilates or fit in a class during the beginning of the season. Once things get going, the classes and pilates usually fall by the wayside as things get really intense!
L+D: How often are you in Los Angeles working versus the celebrity’s hometown?
KJ: Well that’s the thing… if you have a celebrity that is not based in Los Angeles, then all the work is done at their home. You spend the entire three week initial rehearsal time in their town. I’ve been in Florida with Joey, Dallas with Marc Cuban, and Chicago with Jerry; and you’ll stay in that town for the entire time. It’s a lot of fun! You are there with a producer and you really get to know your celebrity partner well. Sometimes they’ll take you out on the town and show you around so it’s kind of fun to go out of town for a bit. During the live shows, we spend Sunday night through Tuesday’s show in LA and then take the red-eye flight back to their town to practice for the next week. And then most of the time you are sitting at home listening to music and getting inspiration and ideas for costumes and routines.
L+D: What is your favorite thing about being on DWTS?
KJ: There have been so many amazing things. I love the family aspect of the entire cast. Everyone who does DWTS mentions the incredible family environment of the show. Even though you’re competing there is so much support! When the other contestants are out on the floor everyone is standing and cheering them on. A lot of the professional dancers are my very good friends and I have remained incredibly close with the celebrities that I have been paired with.
L+D: How long did you do the show in Australia before coming to the United States?
KJ: I did three seasons of the show in Australia before coming here. The show actually started in the UK, and then came to Australia soon after before coming to the states. I came to the U.S. show during their third season.
L+D: What is your favorite show(s) to watch on TV?
KJ: Well my favorite show was always Brothers and Sisters but that is unfortunately not on anymore. I used to watch that every Sunday night and relax before the hard week and next big show. Now I watch The Celebrity Apprentice on Sunday nights instead. I have to say my guilty pleasure is all of The Real Housewives series. I love them all, and Beverly Hills is my favorite. I do love just putting the TV on and chilling on the couch with Lola after having a crazy day.
KJ: I love all music and have a very eclectic taste. I’ll go from Frank Sinatra to Jamarouqui. I love it all!
L+D: Where would you like to see your career in 10 years?
KJ: I would like to do more hosting and presenting. When I get kicked off the show early I work for E! News as a correspondent and I would love to do more of that. Another possibly is having my own dance studio. I’d also like to do more of the cardio/Latin dance fitness DVDs that I have done with DWTS in the past because it’s a great and fun way for women to work out.
L+D: Who inspires you?
KJ: My mum. She has been a massive inspiration to me and she has been an incredible force in my life. Jane Fonda has also always been a huge inspiration to me and someone I have always looked up to.
L+D: How did you meet Lola?
KJ: I was actually on Broadway doing a show after Donny Osmond and I had just won DWTS. It was around Christmas and I was walking down the street and saw an adoption place and Lola was sitting there waiting for me. I had been wanting to get a dog for a long, long time but I was worried about having enough time to devote to one. But it’s the best thing I ever did and you just have to make it happen and make it work. She used to actually come to the show with me when I first got her and she would sit in my dressing room while we performed.
L+D: What is your favorite thing to do with her every day?
KJ: We love to go walking and occasionally we go hiking in Runyon Canyon or we’ll walk around the neighborhood. Of course, she is the best cuddler in the world and when I come home from a hard day of rehearsals and she comes home from a day of frolicking with her friends at daycare, we just like to kind of veg-out on the couch and watch shows and listen to show tunes. She watches me choreograph.
L+D: What has your dog taught you in life?
KJ: SO much! Of course she has taught me to have a little bit more patience and I think she is a great precursor to having kids! She’s taught me that things happen and you have to deal with it. She has helped me be more spontaneous as well as be more calm. And of course, she has taught me to enjoy the smaller things in life.
L+D: What is your favorite memory of Lola?
KJ: When I got to introduce her to my mom. It was such a happy Christmas when they met and Lola was seen as a wonderful addition to the family. It’s funny because my mom came over when I was dancing with Hines Ward, and when I hurt my neck my mom had to take on the role of grandmother and walk Lola and help me take care of her. Lola knew I was hurt and was the best support.
And this is a funny story… One night when we were performing for a live show I went back to my dressing room and Lola was not in her crate. I started frantically looking for her everywhere and I had this awful feeling that any minute she was going to go bolting across the stage during the live show. It turns out that Mary Murphy from So You Think You Can Dance was at the show and had snuck in to my dressing room and had taken her into her room because she loved her so much.
L+D: How did Lola get her name?
KJ: I named her after Barry Manilow’s song Copacabana. I want to get a photo of her with feathers in her hair and have Mr. Manilow sign it!
L+D: What is your favorite memory of any dogs in your past?
KJ: Lola and me on Broadway. I have a picture of her on the stage with me and I call her my “Broadway Baby.”
L+D: What is your favorite thing about dogs?
KJ: Just the love that they give. It’s unconditional. I’m always happier with Lola. She is my best friend.
L+D: Have you always had dogs?
KJ: Always. I remember when I was growing up we had a beagle and I used to take her out and have entire conversations with her and tell her everything. She was the best listener. I’ve always talked to my dogs!
L+D: If Lola could talk, what would she say?
KJ: Oh she would definitely have an attitude. I think that she is a total little human who would have a lot to say. And I know she would tell me that she loves me.
This article was written by LIFE+DOG editor Ryan Rice.
To read more from Ryan, visit his blog on our site.