• Kristyn Burtt

Ray Leeper Jazzes Up the Ballroom for the 'Dancing with the Stars' Finale



On Monday night's Dancing with the Stars finale, the show is expected to be jam-packed with performances from the freestyles to Cher to Ne-Yo and Pitbull. There's also a new tour number choreographed by So You Think You Can Dance jazz choreographer, Ray Leeper.


Leeper spoke to Dance Dish last week about returning to the show after a long hiatus. He choreographed the opening number in Week 4 on Season 17 to "Move" from Dreamgirls.


"It was a while ago," he reminisced. "I just watched it again recently and Tony [Dovolani] was in it."

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He teased what DWTS viewers can expect this time around because not only will they see it on Monday's show, but it will be a number for the winter tour. The dancers involved in the number will be the pros going out on the tour.


"Expect to see the pros doing what the pros do best. It's an all-pro piece. So I was asked to come in and work my magic in collaboration with them. It's a Latin fusion, even though the song itself is a Cha-cha. You will see a lot of Cha-cha in there, but also some of my jazz moves as well with the staging. There are also certain things I've done with the men that are definitely not ballroom."


To assist with any ballroom questions he might have were Jenna Johnson and Brandon Armstrong, who were there by his side in rehearsal.


"This is what happened last time that I worked with the pros because the last number I did was a pro routine as well. They put you in a room with two of the pros and you create a skeleton [routine] on them," he shared. "So I had Jenna and Brandon, and I've worked with Jenna so many times before, so it was super comfortable and fun. And I said, 'Can you try this and try that and try this?' And they make it look fantastic within seconds."


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Like other outside choreographers this season, Leeper was brought into DWTS by supervising producer Justin Mabardi and associate creative director Brooke Wendle.


“Justin and I worked on a couple of shows together in our pre-television days. He connected with me at the beginning of the season and mentioned that he wanted to work me in sometime this season," Leeper explained. "It landed just right and it was really good to do a pro routine because it was purely dance — purely dance for the pros for the tour with no glitz, other than what they're wearing. There's not a lot of extra stuff going on besides the movement."


The number was pre-taped last week, so Leeper was able to see the incredible work the production crew does on a weekly basis. He had high praise for DWTS director, Phil Heyes.


“Phil Heyes is awesome. I worked with him on X-Factor in the U.K., and also on American Idol a couple of years ago. He's lovely and he shoots dance beautifully. It's always exciting to see your work through their lens and really be happy with it. He did a great job shooting the piece for sure," he said. "The amount of support and organization that happens over there is amazing. I only did 90 seconds of television, but they make you feel as if you're the only one with anything on the show."


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Leeper also understands the iconic nature of DWTS and he was thrilled to be back in the mix for a second time. He's part of a legacy over 28 seasons.


"It's just a privilege to be invited. I just want to do the best job I can and try to uphold the standard that they've established over 28 seasons — and not screw it up," he laughed. "The pros do their own choreography, for the most part, week-to-week, so not many outside choreographers get a chance to do Dancing with the Stars. I feel honored to be invited."


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