Which produces better dancers, the gridiron or the basketball court? Ask Peta Murgatroyd, she’s partnered with guys of all shapes and sizes in over thirteen seasons on Dancing With the Stars.
“Basketball players are so huge. I’ve danced with six-foot-ten, I’ve danced with Lamar Odom. It’s really difficult,” she recalls about her pairings on the show.
“I feel like the football players, number one, they’re shorter, and number two, they’re faster on their feet. They have this ability to move quicker in different directions and pick up the moves far faster than basketball players.”
One of her favorite dance partners was Green Bay Packer wide receiver Donald Driver, team record holder for most career receptions and receiving yards, and later a member of the 2010 Super Bowl winning team. “Donald and I had the best friendship. And semifinals week comes and we had our first fight there in semifinals, on the stage,” she recalls with horror. “He thought I was being too hard on him and he kind of cracked. We got over it in ten minutes.” They went on to win the finals.
Power forward Lamar Odom, who won two rings with the Los Angeles Lakers, was a different story. In 2015, he was hospitalized after being found unconscious at the Love Ranch, a Nevada brothel. But by the time he appeared on the show with Peta in 2019, he was well on his way to recovery.
“He did the best he could. I feel like he was still struggling [with] remembering and stuff like that,” she says of Odom. “I was just happy to be there with him, happy to go super slow through all the moves so he got it. And again, super tall, beyond tall.” The pair landed in tenth place. With Metta World Peace, the eccentric All-Star forward who won a championship with the 2010 Lakers, she landed in twelfth, out in the first round.
Then there’s Tommy Chong of the legendary stoner duo Cheech and Chong and comedies like 1978’s Up in Smoke. He was 76 years old when he appeared on Dancing With the Stars. And when Peta found out he was her partner, she was sure it would be a short season.
“It ended up being one of my favorite seasons because he’s such a wonderful guy,” she laughs. “He put me through hell with his memory. I guess the years of smoking and stuff like that, it wasn’t the easiest to get him prepared for a routine. It would be a lot of repetition. And then the next day it would be starting from the beginning again. He said he wasn’t smoking during the seasons. He got to the semifinals ‘cause everybody just loved him.”
Even as a child in Australia, Peta trained for hours a day, six days a week, to become a prima ballerina. At age 15, she was top of her class and getting ready to tour and audition in Germany and London. That’s when she was sidelined by an ankle injury she could not come back from.
It was heartbreaking but she gave up ballet, found ballroom dancing and quickly became Australian State Champion. She joined the cast of the dance musical, Burn the Floor in 2004, and toured the world for six years. When it finally landed on Broadway, she was lead dancer at the ripe old age of twenty-three.
“It was probably the pinnacle of my career. I felt like I had made it,” she recalls of her first big break and the grueling schedule. “I had a producer sit me down in a room before and say, ‘This show relies on you doing your best every night and not making a mistake.’ He looked me in the eyes and I was like, ‘Okay, no pressure on me at all.”
She met her husband on the show, dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, and now they have a son. What used to be her side gig, Peta Jane Beauty tanning products, is now her main gig. It’s fulfilling and she loves it, but she would go back and do it all again in a heartbeat.
“I’d do anything to be back on Broadway. It was one of the highlights of my life. I wish I could come back,” she says nostalgically. “The high point was to get those standing ovations. To see them stand up in such a prestigious theater, this was the highest it was going to be for me.”