Take one part "So You Think You Can Dance" and one part "The Biggest Loser" and you get Oxygen's new dance/weight loss competition series "Dance Your Ass Off" where 12 plus-size contestants (totaling nearly 3,000 lbs.) work to lose weight while also excelling on the dance floor. Male and female contestants will be judged every week on the dance routines they perform with a professional dance partner as well as their weekly weight loss with the ultimate winner dancing away with a trimmer waistline and $100,000. Host Marissa Jaret Winokur and Executive Producer Sally Ann Salsano talked to our Jim Halterman about the new reality show hybrid that premieres tonight on Oxygen.
While some weight loss shows stress that being thin is the primary goal, "Dance Your Ass Off" is comes with a different perspective. "I think this is more about having people be healthy and having a good time," said Salsano. "When most people are overweight it's like they never think like 'Oh my god, I'm going to be this skinny minnie in a bikini.' And that's not what this is about. This is more about I'm going to get healthier and I'm going to have fun doing it."
For Winokur, a Tony award winner for the Broadway production of "Hairspray," relating to what the contestants must feel being overweight was not difficult at all. "I would've been a contestant on this show if I wasn't an actress," she admitted. "I think this show promotes the fact that if you just dance every day and if you feel good then it's almost like a win/win situation. When you start feeling good, then you start looking better. And you work harder to feel good because you're looking better."
Winokur added that she gets a lot of satisfaction from the warm response she gets from fans. "I kind of experience that on a daily basis. I'll be shopping literally at Costco, and people will stop me and just be like 'Oh my gosh, what you did on 'Dancing with the Stars' was amazing!'" When she first met the group of "Dance Your Ass Off" contestants, she realized in some way she was an inspiration to them. "It's really exciting to be able to be a mentor to a group of people and actually be with them on a daily basis rather than just like meet them at Target."
In terms of the competition itself, Winokur said it's not primarily weight loss or dancing that keeps the contestants from being eliminated. "It's like a total combo platter I'd say just because you will see in some weeks the weight loss will keep a contestant in and some weeks the dance scores will keep a contestant in."
Since the health of the contestants is a huge concern for everyone involved, the twelve men and women do not go through the experience on the show without supervision. Besides nutritionist Meg Werner Moreta and fitness trainer Lee Wall, Dr. Robert Huizenga is on hand to monitor the overall health of the contestants. Of Huizenga, Winokur said, "he was really there for everything; not just like 'You need to lower your cholesterol.' He was like 'Those meals, let's work on that.'" The host also said she wasn't immune from picking up tips from the doctor and the others helping the contestants. "I was learning stuff watching the packages right before they would dance. There were so many different things. They would say 'What's your favorite meal?' And then they would help them recreate their favorite meal but healthy. So it definitely has a diet component but it's not like 'Here's the food. Eat this and you'll be fine.' It's definitely like 'We're going to teach you how to eat properly and help everybody at home.'"
Salsano explained that while her daily duties are as Executive Producer of the show, she was not the one who originally came up with the idea for "Dance Your Ass Off." "The idea actually originally came from Lisa Ann Walter [who serves as one of the judges along with choreographer/dancers Danny Teeson and Mayte Garcia]," Salsano explained. "She's an actress who was in a movie and she was dancing, dancing, dancing. And her whole body completely changed by doing that. And she just was like 'Hey, this is something good here and I'd love to inspire people.' And that's basically where it came from. And then I heard about it, and then we brought Marissa in. And it just became a total love fest." The three women had more in common than just wanting to put a show together. "Marissa, myself and Lisa Ann are all three people who have completely struggled with our weight and hate going to the gym. So for us it was like hey, this could be fun. And we're all suckers for reality TV."
In fact, being a self-professed reality show junkie, Winokur chose not to be able to see the rehearsals of the contestants so she could have honest reactions during the show's tapings in front of a live studio audience. "I never wanted to know how they were doing during the week on weight loss and I didn't want to know because I truly got excited... I was loving the show so much that I just wanted to be part of it watching it."
With the contestants living together in a loft, they not only have access to a gym for workouts but to the healthy cabinet of food and the "cheat" cabinet that housed tempting items like cookies, donuts and other unhealthy snacks. "The goal was to tell these people it's all here," said Salsano. "It's all here like it's in a 7-11. It's in your cabinets at home, it's in your kids' lunchbox, whatever it is. It's all here. You don't have to make that choice. And to be honest with you, you'd think it would've played a lot more of a role but it never played as like a mean villain. It played as like their friend from home who was like 'I'm still here. Do you want to play with me or not?'"
Winokur also added that in terms of timing of "Dance Your Ass Off," things couldn't have happened at a better time. "This show was probably the perfect show for me to do as a new mom because being the host it wasn't 18-hour days for me. For the contestants it was, but for me it wasn't. I would go on Tuesday and I would go by the loft and visit the contestants. 'Dancing with the Stars' I was on set for... I couldn't have done it as a new mom. So this job was the perfect job."
"Dance Your Ass Off" premieres tonight on Oxygen at 10:00/9:00c.