Photographer: Brandon Showers
For nine seasons, the stunning Lindsay Arnold, 23, has wowed audiences on the ABC hit show Dancing with the Stars. This year she gets the chance to impress an entirely different batch of fans —lovers of the Chicago Cubs as her current partner is David Ross, a newly retired catcher of the championship team and the first major league baseball player to appear on the show.
Dance has been part of Arnold’s life since she was four-years-old growing up in Provo, Utah. Her life changed when she auditioned for and succeeded on Fox show, So You Think You Can Dance in 2012. It was then when she cast aside her plans to become a physical therapist and devoted her time to dance. After people from DWTS saw her perform, they offered her a position on the show. In 2015, Arnold married her childhood sweetheart Samuel Cusick. The wedding video montage can be seen below.
The sunny and bright Lindsay Arnold spoke with TheCelebrityCafe.com about her love of dance, the process of how the behind the scenes dynamics of DWTS works, what makes a dance a favorite for her to perform, if she ever disagrees with a judge, a funny story about an epic dancing fail, how the dancers get along when the cameras aren’t rolling, what she likes to do for fun, how she is becoming a baseball fan and more.
TheCelebrityCafe.com: Hi there. How’s it going, Lindsay?
Lindsay Arnold: Good. Thanks. How about you?
TCC: Very well. Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to be with us today.
LA: Of course. Thanks for having me.
TCC: So where are you originally from?
LA: I am from Utah. Provo, Utah.
TCC: And when did you start dancing?
LA: I started dancing when I was about four years old. I honestly don’t even remember my first class, because I was that young. All I can remember in my life is growing up and dancing. And it’s a little bit funny, because I’m the oldest in my family. I have three younger sisters who all eventually started dancing. But my mom didn’t dance, my dad didn’t dance. She kind of just put me in classes, I think, probably just to get me out of the house so that I was doing something. And then I ended up really loving it and doing well at it, so I stuck with it.
TCC: Now, which kinds of dance classes have you taken?
LA: I grew up taking all styles, so jazz, ballet, hip hop, contemporary, Latin, ballroom. I really grew up doing all styles. And since then, I do more primarily ballroom now that I’m on Dancing with the Stars, but it’s fun because I do have those other dance styles in my roots, and sometimes I get a chance to do them, and it’s really exciting.
TCC: Now, when you’re young and doing and doing ballroom dance, did you have a steady partner or did you change it often?
LA: It changed often until I turned 15, then I had a partner for all of my years in high school. And he actually is on troupe this season on Dancing with the Stars, which is really exciting because we get to work together again. Yeah, when you’re growing up in Utah and you’re a girl dancing ballroom, it’s hard to find a boy partner that wants to stick doing it. Sometimes they’ll do it for a year or two. They’ll kind of test it out, feel it out, but then they’ll eventually want to go back to sports or do something, so it’s hard to find a committed partner but once I found my Lee, we traveled all over the world to compete in some of the biggest ballroom competitions out there.
TCC: What were some of the competitions that you won when you were younger?
LA: We won the US nationals and then we placed 14th in the world championship in Blackpool, which was pretty fun for us. It was the first time we had ever even danced in a competition outside of the U.S. and we ended up doing very well. So, very fun.
TCC: What were some of your first professional dance gigs?
LA: The first television show I ever did was So You Think You Can Dance. That was right out of high school. I auditioned for the show actually while I was still in high school high school, in the fall, and then come summer, I made it on the show. And right after that, I actually went on tour with So You Think You Can Dance for the entire fall. And then, while I was on tour, I got the call from Dancing with the Stars saying that they wanted me to be on the show. It was awesome because it kind of all just fell into place the way that I wanted it too.
And I didn’t really expect for it to happen like that, because I actually had plans to go to college. I was enrolled in school. I had a full academic scholarship. And it was like, that’s what I was going to do. I was going to study physical therapy and I was just going to do that. And then all of this stuff happened for me. And it just kind of went from there. I got very lucky.
TCC: Where were you going to go to school?
LA: Utah Valley University. It’s in my hometown.
TCC: And what’s the lesson that you learned from being on So You Think You Can Dance?
LA: I learned a lot on So You Think You Can Dance. First of all, it was the first time I was living on my own. I had to move out to LA while I was on the show. And I was living by myself, so I learned how to do my own laundry, how to cook food, how to — a lot of just things that you need to learn when you are on your own. So that was good, but as a dancer, I learned all of my — I wouldn’t say all, but most of my confidence performing on television came from So You Think You Can Dance. It was one of the most stressful situations ever. But each week I found myself getting more comfortable in front of the camera and really be able to show my personality through dancing. And I think that’s why I was able to get on Dancing with the Stars because the producers on that show saw that I was showing my personality and excelling in from the camera. And I had to obviously learn more as I got on Dancing with the Stars, but that was the start of it, and made me realize like, this is what I want to do for my profession. I really enjoy this and I believe that I can excel in it, and I did.
TCC: Who are some dancers and choreographers who you admire?
LA: Oh, that’s so hard. So many. And the cool thing is that I’ve actually gotten to work with a lot of them. When I was on So You Think You Can Dance I worked with so many choreographers, I can’t even name all of them. But a lot of which I grew up watching and dreaming of working with. People like Mia Michaels, Mandy Moore, Tyce Diorio, just a lot of people that you see doing great big things, and you only wish that you could work with them one day, and I actually now — Mandy Moore worked with me on So You Think You Can Dance and now she’s the main choreographer on Dancing with the Stars, so I continue getting to work with her and it’s incredible. And then also, dancing alongside the other pros that are on the show, that are on Dancing with the Stars. I grew up watching Val and Karina and Max compete in ballroom competitions and just trying to be like them, and now I’m dancing alongside them. It’s really cool. It’s very inspiring.
TCC: That’s wonderful. So you didn’t have to actually audition to get into Dancing with the Stars being on So You Think You Can Dance took care of that.
LA: Yeah. Exactly. I think they watched me on the show and when I was about 14 years old, I grew up training with Mark Ballas. He was one of my coaches. So he would come to Utah very often and work with me and my dance team, and remember they had a guest performance they wanted to show off some of the Utah talent. So they invited me and my dance company — we were about 14 or 15 — and we performed on Dancing with the Stars when we were kids. It was just a guest performance, so they kind of had me on their radar because I had performed on the show before, but then I think when they saw me on So You Think You Can Dance, they said that they wanted to use me and that’s how they contacted me.
TCC: Now how are the partners determined for Dancing with the Stars?
LA: We don’t take part in that decision-making, but it’s very much dependent on personality, look, age and the producers know all of us as pros very well, they know our strengths and our weaknesses. They know the kind of people that we can work with and we can’t work with, and then also a lot of it is age. For the most part they’re usually not putting older people with the young pros, but sometimes they do and it’s really interesting sometimes how they pick and sometimes we don’t really understand but then as the season progresses we start to see like, oh, okay, that makes sense. Our personalities really match together. So it’s based off of so many different things and we, as pros, have no say in it all. We don’t have any say and we have no idea as well. We’re just as surprised as you guys are when we meet our partners because they keep us out of the loop on that.
TCC: How is each dance selected each week?
LA: The producers will pick the dances for us. So basically you’re never going to do a style twice in a row, they usually try to spread it out. There’s some weeks where, if it’s a themed week — like coming up we’re going to be doing a week about our celebrity’s most memorable year and so they pick a song that they feel represents their most memorable year and then at that point we just choose a style that works to that song. So that’s not necessarily assigned to us. It kind of goes back and forth, but usually the producers are picking the music for us and telling us the dance style.
TCC: Could David Ross pick “Take Me Out to the Ball Game?”
LA: Oh my gosh, no. I don’t think — after we danced to “Go Cubs Go” I think he’s done with baseball songs. I think he had his a fair share of that kind of song. So yeah, no. I don’t think we’ll be seeing any of that.
TCC: Now, what is the process involved once you are assigned a dance? Do you work in a room first or do you go directly to a studio?
LA: Okay, so yeah, what they usually do is they’ll reveal the song and dance to a sound camera. So after the show Monday night, we’ll show up to rehearsal on Tuesday and they’ll send me an email of the song and the dance type and I’ll read it to David, and then we got to get start over right away. I mean you can’t take any days off when it comes to DWTS. No time to really think about it. You just have to be on at all times. And the hardest thing for me is that I choreographed all the dances. All of the pros choreograph their own dances. So it’s important for us to really be on top of it. Because you have very little time to choreograph, and then also turn around and teach it to your celebrity. You have to be ready at all times.
TCC: How much time do you spend practicing?
LA: We like to rehearse at least four hours every day, and as the season progresses and we started having two dances a week up to eight hours a day. It’s really between you and your partner, you just kind of find an amount of hours that works. Some celebrities can’t go for that long, some celebrities can’t last a four-hour rehearsal, so you have to go shorter, but typically you’re trying to get four hours done.
TCC: Which is your favorite kind of dance to perform on the show?
LA: That’s really hard question. I’ve tried to really think about it, but it changes every season plus, it depends on who my partner is. Whatever dance they feel like they’re the best at and they enjoy the most, that’s the one I enjoy that season. If one partner really hates the paso doble even though that’s one of my favorite dances, I’m not necessarily going to enjoy dancing it with them because I know that they not having fun. So for me is really like, whatever my celebrity is enjoying, that’s my favorite band, because I really enjoy watching them progress and get better and also have fun doing it, because that’s what the show is all about.
TCC: Are there any dances that you particularly do not like performing?
LA: I think it goes the same with that. It changes every season cause, I mean within the first couple of weeks you start to notice your partner’s strength and weaknesses and you go, “Ooh, that dance is not going to be good on them,” because you see how their body moves. What’s necessary for each dance is kind of pick a partner and go, “Okay well, that dance was going to be definitely really tough on them.” Or, “This dance is going to be a little bit easier.” My least favorite dance particularly one that is the hardest to teach because it’s just — it makes the process a little bit more grueling. But at the end of the day, that’s what the show is about. And we have to put in the work and then it pays off.
TCC: How many seasons have you been on the show?
LA: This is my ninth season.
TCC: Wow. Who have been your partners?
LA: My first partner was Victor Ortiz, who is a boxer. And then I was partnered with Alek Skarlatos. I was partnered with Wanya Morris from Boyz II Men. Calvin Johnson from the Detroit Lions. And then, now David Ross from the Cubs [laughter].
TCC: Do you have any favorites?
LA: Obviously, I cannot — I seriously love each of them for completely different reasons. It’s really fun because I’ve had some of the most different partnerships. I mean, every single partner that I’ve had in every season that I had, it’s been completely different. But I love that because it’s making me grow and it’s making me have to become a better teacher, become a better friend and a better listener and just pay attention to personalities more, and help them kind of understand how the show works. But, yeah, it’s hard to pick a favorite because, seriously, they’ve all been so different. I have been very lucky to have really awesome people to work with. And they’ve all been so pleasant and just really great throughout the competition.
TCC: What is the process for getting your costumes?
LA: I design the costumes each week. So, basically, after we get our song and our dance and we kind of decide what the storyline of the dance is, I will have a phone call with the wardrobe department and we’ll discuss what we want, colors, fabric, design. Usually, we’ll draw up a picture of what we want on a little paper. And then, they’re amazing. They literally can whip up anything in one or two days. So they whip it up, we have a wardrobe setting, we do any adjustments and then, yeah. Pretty much it.
TCC: What do you like best about the judges?
LA: The judges are fun because they bring different personalities. And it’s also really exciting to work really hard all week and then have them either give really good praise or to give constructive criticism. And that’s always the best thing. Well, it’s the best and the worst because I don’t mind being judged as long as it’s something that we can go back and work on. So I really do appreciate when the judges come up with really constructive criticism because that’s something that the celebrities can take away. It’s hard sometimes when the criticism is more just about preference, which is really hard because celebrities take that hard. They listen to what the judges are saying and they want to be better. So I appreciate it when it’s stuff that we can actually go back into the room and work on.
TCC: Have you ever disagreed with the judges’ feedback?
LA: Definitely [laughter]. Oh yeah. I definitely have disagreed with the judges, and I think all of us pros have because it is hard. I mean, we’re also dancers, so we see it differently, maybe, than they do, and like I said, a lot of judging, when it comes to dancing, is based off of preference. It’s not like there’s a number score that can determine every single thing that happens in dancing. It’s hard when judging. It really is about what they like more, what they like less, and “oh, that wasn’t really their type of style,” so it’s hard and we obviously disagree on a lot of things sometimes. But at the end of the day, they are the judges and they’re the ones that we want to get good scores from, so we really have to make sure we listen to what they’re saying and take what they have and try to make it better.
TCC: Have you ever had an epic fail professionally?
LA: Oooh. Yes. I think. I mean I’ve had a couple of things where I’m pretty much — a couple of embarrassing moments. We’ll say that. There was one routine that we did on the show, we were in dress rehearsal and I had a solo moment during it, and I had to do this big fan kick thing. It was huge and everybody was watching me do it, and it was full costume. It was right before the show, and I do my fan kick and my feet slipped out from underneath me and I fell so hard flat on my back and everyone was dying laughing. And then, to make it even worse, the producers put up the video on the big screens and put it on replay for the next five minutes. We all just had to sit there and watch and laugh. And it was hilarious. But I mean, I guess that’s not really an epic fail. It’s just a great story that I get to tell for a while, so I had fun.
TCC: It’s a fun one. That’s actually a better kind of story.
LA: Yeah, exactly.
TCC: Injuries are so common with dancers. Have you had some big injuries?
LA: I’ve been extremely lucky not to have any huge injuries. I mean, little things here and there and things that bother me, but I haven’t had anything huge. And I’ve been very lucky for that because, like you said, dancers get injuries and it sucks because that means you can’t work and you can’t do what you love. So it’s really important that we take care of our bodies and try to stay in the best shape that we can so we’re not getting stuck not dancing because of an injury.
TCC: And you probably got a bruise on your butt after that particular fall.
LA: Oh, yes. Yeah. Bruises for sure. Bruises can’t even be considered injuries anymore for us dancers because they’re just all over all the time [laughter].
TCC: Who are some of your favorite pairs to watch in the history of the show?
LA: Ooh, that’s hard, that’s really hard, I watched the show from Season One, I mean I started watching it as soon as it came out, I watched every single season but, I think some of my favorites was Mark and Kristi Yamaguchi and Shawn Johnson was incredible, I’d love watching her, she was awesome. Hines Ward and Kym Johnson were awesome, I thought they were really, really great. And there’s definitely more, but they’re not crossing my mind at the moment but, it’s been really fun watching over the years, that’s why I can learn a lot and it really prepared me for when I got on the show, because I know what it takes, and I’ve seen the different things, what works and what doesn’t work, and that’s really important to know when you’re doing the show.
TCC: How does the dancers act towards each other when the cameras aren’t rolling?
LA: Oh, we’re all best friends, we all are so supportive of each other and we all hang out, have fun, we all help each other out. It is a competition, but at the end of the day we all are there to just help each other out. It’s tough and it’s hard and you need that moral support; I’m really lucky that I have people to work with that are so great and that we get along so well.
TCC: The last season you came in third, how did you celebrate doing so well?
LA: Well it was Thanksgiving like two days after that, so I stuffed my face with my family, I got as much family time as I could because I shortly after that went on tour, so it was really important for me to go home, relax for as long as I could, see my family, and then get back to work.
TCC: Do you feel pressure, not by just series regulars, but by also millions of Cub fans? Like my editor, Angela Corry, she loves the Cubs.
LA: Yeah, you know what’s been so cool about dancing with the first baseball player is the immense support that we felt from, not just the Cub fans, but from all MLB. It’s really cool to see these fans rallying behind someone like this. And it’s been very inspiring for me and has helped me kind of recognize how influential David was on the Cubs, because he has so much support, so much love behind him. All of his teammates are showing support and that’s really important.
Because that’s what we need to stay in this competition, we need the support from the fans, we need people voting and wanting to see us get better every single week and wanting just wanting to see at the end of this competition. And that’s the goal. And honestly, I’ve become a serious Cubs fan for life because of this, and just seeing how much they support their teammates is so incredible to me, and I’m so happy that we have their support.
DWTS: Lindsay ArnoldPhotographer: Brandon ShowersHair: J ZilkenStyling: Natalie SaidiMakeup: Chauntal Lewis
TCC: What do you like to do for fun when you’re not dancing?
LA: Spend time with my family and get some downtime. My family is very outdoorsy, we like to go boating, skiing. We’re from Utah, so we get all four seasons. So we’re boating, we’re skiing in the lake, and then we’re skiing on the mountains, we’re hiking. My husband is very outdoorsy as well. He likes to go fishing. Just anything outdoorsy. We love to get out and just have some fun and spend quality time together.
TCC: How do you like your fans to connect with you?
LA: I love the connection that I can get through social media with my fans, and I think that it’s so cool that we have that now. I think sometimes social media can be bad, but when I see it bringing people together, and being able to support and love each other, I think that’s so important. I think it’s great that we can use social media to uplift each other and to share who we are as people, and to feel that feedback and support. So I love all of the tweets that they send me, questions, comments on my Instagram posts, I love that, like it really does mean a lot to me.
And I know people probably don’t know that we actually read those things, but we do. And it’s really great to see their support. I also love when I hear from fans that they’re actually calling and voting. That’s one of my favorite things to hear is, meeting someone and having them say like, “I voted for you last night 12 times on my phone,” because I know that’s just extra effort that a lot of us don’t put in, and I appreciate that and I love that because we don’t want to go anywhere, we want to stay in this competition, and the fans are truly the people that we need to help us do that.
TCC: That’s wonderful. Well, is there anything you’d like to add?
LA: No, I think that was good.
TCC: Alright, I think you’re doing great. I wish you best of luck on this season in all of your endeavors. I hope all your dreams come true.
LA: Thank you so much. It was great talking to you.
Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.
Lindsay’s respect and enjoyment of her partner really shows. SO fun to see her dancing with David Ross and their Magic Mike number tonight. Love that she can be fun and sexy but recognizes boundaries!
I loved this interview and am a huge DWTS fan. Lindsey is a beautiful dancer and I love the way she connects with her stars. Interesting to learn about costume design and development. She always looks so classy. Must be who she really is.