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Corky Ballas, father of Dancing with the Stars‘ Mark Ballas, is all about dancing

by Donalevan Maines

WEB EXCLUSIVE

When Mark Ballas was growing up in England, same-sex ballroom dancing was only natural because girl dancers outnumbered budding Billy Elliots by 14 to 1. However, his father, veteran dancer Corky Ballas of Houston, says you never see same-sex pairs in U.S. dance competitions.

Corky, a three-time world champion in International Latin dancing, was born on Christmas Day 1960 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in downtown Houston. His father owned and operated Dance City USA, a 64,000-square-foot facility in Windsor Plaza that was the largest dance studio in the world. It employed an astounding 125 dance teachers—many of them gay, says Corky. “In this business, it’s mostly gay men,” he explains. “They’re fun and they make you laugh.”

From the age of two, Corky hung out at Dance City USA and danced, danced, danced, even though he was heckled for it by some boys at school. “They tried their stupid crap,” says Corky. “They called me gay and homo, but I didn’t care. I didn’t let it affect me. They had other things to pick on me about as well. I wore coke-bottle glasses and I was short as hell.”

His story is similar to Patrick Swayze, whose mother, Patsy, taught ballet at Dance City USA. Swayze wrote in his book, One Last Dance, published shortly before his death in September 2009, that Houston bullies “assumed you were gay if you were a dancer. I remember getting jumped in the back of the church.”

Corky trained many of Dancing with the Stars’ pro dancers, including its two-time champions Julianne Hough, her brother Derek Hough, and Corky’s only child, Mark.

In the show’s seventh season, Corky competed alongside his former pupils when he partnered with Academy Award-winner Cloris Leachman, who was 82. This season, Corky’s partner was Florence Henderson, age 76. “They keep giving me the golden oldies,” he laughs.

Corky and Henderson were eliminated in week five of what many have called DWTS’ most surprising season. In predicting who would be eliminated, he says, “I’ve been wrong every single week.”

Corky’s next TV appearance will be on the December 10 broadcast of the Hollywood Christmas Parade on the Hallmark Channel. It will premiere about the same time that Corky begins his new job as a dance instructor at D’Amico Dance, 11151 Westheimer Road in Houston. It’s in the Market at Westchase, at the corner of Westheimer and Wilcrest, adjacent to Whole Foods.

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

He’s No Levi Johnston

A conversation with Mark Ballas from ‘Dancing with the Stars’
by Donalevan Maines

Mark Ballas and Bristol Palin’s wildly popular performances on ABC’s ninth season of Dancing with the Stars made many Americans grateful that real elections aren’t conducted via cellphone.

Smooth-chested Mark Ballas, the Houston-born TV hunk who partnered with Bristol Palin on this season’s Dancing with the Stars, remembers competing against many same-sex duos in dance contests in England after he and his family moved from Katy to London when he was just three.

The subject comes up in conversation with Ballas because this year’s Israeli-TV version of DWTS includes a female same-sex duo. When will U.S. television be ready for same-sex dancing? “I have no idea,” says Ballas, who stars in Broadway’s scorching Burn the Floor December 14 through 19 at the Hobby Center in Houston.

OutSmart spoke with Ballas on November 16, just hours before he and Palin were voted into the finals of DWTS along with his best friend Derek Hough/Dirty Dancing star Jennifer Grey and Lacey Schwimmer/Disney Channel actor Kyle Massey.

That night, Schwimmer told Access Hollywood she would volunteer to be the first pro dancer to be part of a same-sex dance couple in the U.S.

In the days that followed, DWTS and ABC-TV were pressured to add a same-sex duo by judge Carrie Ann Inaba, Brandy’s pro partner Maksim Chermovskiy, and Gilles Marini, the naked co-star of the first Sex and the City movie, who placed second on the eighth season of DWTS.

Oh, and Ryan Seacrest reported on his radio show that actress Portia DeGeneres, wife of Ellen, was being considered as the first celebrity to compete with a same-sex partner on America’s DWTS.

“They’re planning to feature a same-sex couple,” Seacrest told her. “You’re at the top of the list.”

She replied, “You never know.”
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Mark Ballas has been dancing all his life.

Mark Ballas says he didn’t let taunting bother him as a boy dancer in England. He had the advantage of going to the Italia Conti Academy, a renowned theater arts school, and he enjoyed nurturing parents and the peer support of Derek Hough, a fellow DWTS champion. Hough moved from Utah to England to study with Mark’s father, Corky Ballas, when Derek was ten and Mark was eight.

Entering this season, Ballas had won DWTS twice, first with figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi (May 2008), then with gymnast Shawn Johnson (May 2009). Hough had also won twice, with model Brooke Burke (November 2008) and singer Nicole Scherzinger (May 2010).

Hough made his Broadway debut last January when he stepped into the final four performances of Burn the Floor during its New York run. DWTS pro Maksim Chermovskiy has also performed in Burn the Floor, calling it the most difficult thing he’s ever done, but extremely rewarding because of his work with other professional dancers.

The sensuous style of Burn the Floor is called “international dance.” It consists of five Latin American dances and five ballroom, or “standard,” dances that have become household names, thanks to DWTS. The cha-cha, samba, paso doble, rumble, and jive are considered Latin American styles, while ballroom dances include the waltz, fox-trot, Viennese waltz, tango, and quickstep.

“It will be such a big difference from choreographing and mentoring,” says Ballas. “I can slide in there, have them teach me the steps, and just do it.”

His famous father said, “It will be like a duck to water. In five minutes, he will be seamlessly integrated into that show.”

While in Houston, Ballas also hopes to play after-show concerts of songs he wrote for his debut solo CD, The HurtLoveBox, which drops in January. “It’s John Mayer meets Maroon 5.

“I’ve been playing guitar just as long as I’ve been dancing,” he explains.

As a musical theater actor, he’s toured as the understudy for the role of Ritchie Valens in Buddy—The Buddy Holly Story, and he’s played the lead role of Tony in the musical Copacabana. In week three of this season’s DWTS, bisexual comedienne Margaret Cho danced the samba to that show’s title song, “Copacabana,” shaking her groove thing in a rainbow-fringed flapper-style dress and dedicating her performance with openly gay pro partner Louis Van Amstel to viewers struggling with their LGBT identities and their loved ones.

Cho called it “the gayest thing ever on Dancing with the Stars.”

“I thought it was cool,” says Ballas, adding that he would love to get on board with the NoH8 campaign.

After Burn the Floor, he says, “My dream is to play Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. Those songs are timeless. I think it’s the best of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musicals. I’m a Christian, too, so I love the story.”

More info: burnthefloor.com.

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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