The Dancing With the Stars Cast Reveals What It's Really Like to Train Amid a Pandemic

All 15 celebrity contestants on season 29 of Dancing With the Stars are subject to frequent COVID-19 testing plus newly-implemented social distancing guidelines.

By Amanda Williams, Jonathan Borge Sep 11, 2020 7:50 PMTags
Watch: What Tyra Banks Is Bringing to "Dancing With the Stars"

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3! 

Dancing With the Stars returns to ABC for season 29 on Monday, Sept. 14 and viewers might crave answers to one pretty significant question: How? The reality competition series is among the few in production amid the coronavirus pandemic, which means the DWTS cast and crew are subject to strict preventative measures to ensure everyone remains healthy and safe for successful live performances. 

A source previously told E! News that all of the contestants will be tested daily for COVID-19. And, the dancers will stay 8 feet apart from everyone but their partners at all times. In fact, they're each required to hunker down in Los Angeles where filming takes place, according to Good Morning America.

In addition, the pro dancers also have to live apart (even those who are married), and there will be no live audience this season. Let's not forget some unrelated changes: Tyra Banks is stepping in as the new host, while Derek Hough will take to the judging panel.

Meet the Cast of Dancing With the Stars Season 29

In an interview with E! News and various outlets during a press conference on Sept. 9, all 15 celebrity contestants opened up about joining the show at this strange time.

Below, the scoop on their training. 

Chrishell Stause

The Selling Sunset star shared she had a "moment of pause" when presented with the opportunity to compete, but her late mother helped her realize it was "the right thing to do."

"I know that she would have, you know, been the very first person telling me to like get out there and, you know, just give it your best shot and you're going to be great," she said.

Stause added that because of the rigorous testing on set, getting to let her guard down with her partner "feels like a little pocket of normal," adding, "it was actually a really nice feeling to walk into a room and be able to hug someone and to be able to not wear a mask with them."

Justina Machado

Though the One Day at a Time actress had initial reservations about participating this season, her worries disappeared since production has been "upfront" and "thorough" about COVID-19 precautions. "I feel really safe actually," she said. "I'm barely going anywhere. I see maybe a few people so it's kind of a relief to be able to be in contact with someone and know that you're safe."

She also noted that the cast hasn't met in person: "Everything has been over Zoom."

Skai Jackson

"Every day we have to be tested. I was tested at my home before we started, just to get in the flow of things and make sure no one had it before we stepped in the building," said the 18-year-old Disney Channel star, explaining nasal and spit tests are required along with daily well-being quizzes. 

"And then they keep cleaning our rooms before someone else goes in," she continued. "I am very pleased with how they are doing everything. They are very, very cautious. If we want to see someone dance, we could stand by the door, which we have done."

Johnny Weir

Weir said that while returning to Los Angeles was "a wild experience" and "a bit of a shock," ABC and Disney "have done an incredible job of preparing everyone for this." The ice skating pro added that their temperature is taken each time they enter the studio and "we only interact without masks with our partners."

Jeannie Mai

"Every day we get tested and every day we have to verify our results before we walk in," said The Real co-host. We're always masked, we don't really exchange interaction as much in the hallways, so I really just come in and see my partner and stay in our rehearsals for, you know, three to five hours a day."

"This is the most challenging thing I've ever done in my life," she added. "But it's probably the greatest experience for 2020 because I missed human contact."

Jesse Metcalfe

Fresh off of wrapping production for the third installment of Martha's Vineyard, the former Desperate Housewives star was used to following on-set COVID measures. "There was no hesitation whatsoever, you know, from a pandemic standpoint," he said.

As for the greatest challenge so far? "Moving my body in ways I'm not accustomed to."

Monica Aldama

"I feel very safe," said the Cheer coach. "We're kind of in a bubble and the protocols that they're taking are really good. The only downfall is that we really can't interact with the other people, but you know, that's just a sacrifice you have to make in this weird time." 

Though she won't have the roar of the live audience rooting for her, she has another confidence-booster in mind: "I'm just gonna try to create that energy ourselves."

Anne Heche

"One of the strict things about the COVID restrictions [is that] they have been taking a very intimate relationship between the dancer and the partner. It isn't like in seasons before because everyone was able to see each other and build each other up through the process. And it can't work that way this time," said the actress, who looks forward to infrequent and socially distant check-ins with the costume department. "I am embracing my inner showgirl."

Carole Baskin

Naturally, Tiger King star Carole Baskin is turning to her cats to stay focused in training. "I really think that the leopard gives me the most inspiration because they manage to do everything they do by just using the absolute least amount of energy necessary to achieve their goals so that they can achieve a far better goal," she said. "The way the leopard moves is something I want to bring to the dance floor."

Like most dancing newbies, she's had some flubs: "Yesterday I tripped falling into the security guard coming on my way out of rehearsals. It was like, 'Oh, I've just got so far to go.'"


"The training has been work, but my partner has been great," said the rapper. "I might have to buy her a car after this because I can't believe she is able to get me to move my feet on time." 

While calling the process an "adventure," he also revealed his first dance is set to one of his biggest hits: "Ride Wit Me."

Kaitlyn Bristowe

Bachelor Nation's Kaitlyn Bristowe is pumped to hit the dance floor. 

"I've just been so thrilled and excited to be here. I just love being in the dance studio, I'm putting in the hard work to see what I can do," she said. "What I'm the most scared of is letting people down. It's always my biggest insecurity if I, you know, disappoint myself or my partner. He's such a hard worker and so patient with me that I don't want to let him down."

Charles Oakley

For the former NBA pro, the focus is on the competition itself.

"I was a ball player and entrepreneur in lots of different things," he said. "This is something different, it's a challenge and I am handling it well. I love doing what I am doing for this show DWTS. I love being here and I am having a good time. I am in L.A., but we are going from A to B, there's no C and D. We are going from the hotel to work, back to the hotel, so it's a cool down period and I love it."

AJ McLean

Lucky for McLean, his Backstreet Boys band members are cheering him on from afar.

"The fellas are super, super supportive," he said. "They have all reached out individually wishing me good luck and telling me I can take this thing all the way. Kevin [Richardson] especially said to watch out for my knees because I have had knee surgery on both my knees years ago. Surprisingly, my knees have been the one thing that haven't been sore, it's been about everything else."

"I have spoken to Nick [Carter] about four different times because he did do the show years ago and he has been gracious enough to give me words of encouragement and mentally prepare me for what's to come if I am so fortunate enough to get the votes and make it to the end. I really appreciate that and I appreciate all the love and support from my boys as well as from all the Backstreet fans out there."

Nev Schulman

The Catfish alum has one goal in mind: bringing viewers joy. "I'm just so grateful to be given this opportunity. I want to have fun. I really think everyone watching also needs to just smile and have a good time," he said, explaining he wants to send "good energy out into the world" to get people's minds off of "countless issues and problems and concerns that we've all been facing."

Vernon Davis

The former NFL athlete revealed his partner is sharing plenty of helpful tips and reminders to keep him focused. "Just to keep my back up straight, my head held high, and just really make sure that I'm in tune to my posture and don't stick my butt out," he said, joking he's sore in unexpected places.