Illustration of JoJo Siwa and Jenna Johnson as the first same-sex dance pair on "Dancing With The Stars."
"Dancing With The Stars" has been airing on television for over 15 years, but the pair of JoJo Siwa with Jenna Johnson are just now breaking barriers as the first same-sex dance team. (Illustration by Leigh Desorcy, Montserrat College of Art)

JoJo Siwa Is Breaking Barriers on This Season of ‘Dancing With The Stars’

As part of the competition show’s first same-sex dance pair after over 15 years on television, the former ‘Dance Moms’ star hopes she’s part of a gateway for acceptance among her young audience.

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Illustration of JoJo Siwa and Jenna Johnson as the first same-sex dance pair on "Dancing With The Stars."

As part of the competition show’s first same-sex dance pair after over 15 years on television, the former ‘Dance Moms’ star hopes she’s part of a gateway for acceptance among her young audience.

“Dancing With The Stars” premiered its 30th season on Sept. 20, but one of the partnerships looked different than usual. JoJo Siwa, who came out as queer earlier this year, was partnered with Jenna Johnson, a female professional dancer, and the pair has made it to the finals set to air on Nov. 22. During their run on the show, they have brought incredible choreography to life and made history while doing it.

Siwa recently opened up about her experiences on the show. When she first heard that she could choose the gender of her professional partner, she jumped on the opportunity to have a girl, knowing that the pairing would be incredibly important. While guest co-hosting “Entertainment Tonight,” she explained, “It was like, ‘Whoa, I’m changing the future,’ because I have such a kid demographic. It’s making it acceptable, and I love that and I’m so proud of that.” It’s true that her presence on the show as part of a same-sex couple has meant a lot to the LGBTQ+ community. People on various platforms have discussed how inspiring it is to see LGBTQ+ youth being given a chance to be not only accepted but celebrated as their unapologetic selves.

Although Siwa knows her work is important, she also acknowledges that it has been challenging. In the same “Entertainment Tonight” interview, Siwa recognized that her background in dance would work against her when the judges were scoring and people at home were voting. In Siwa’s defense, she is very out of practice, and even if she was not, ballroom dancing is nothing like what she is used to. (Unrelated, but the argument that arose because of this reminded me of Zendaya’s stint on the show. For context, she had to explain to the audience that hip-hop and ballroom dancing were actually polar opposites, and she had to unlearn a lot of hip-hop techniques to master ballroom dancing.)

The one thing Siwa’s appearance on “Dance Moms” has probably prepared her for, however, is the demanding practice regimen followed on “Dancing With The Stars.” Siwa has gone in every day since the show premiered to practice, subsequently suffering from bruises, blisters and frustrations alike; dancing as a same-sex couple comes with navigating some tricky logistics. The lack of height difference makes it hard to know who should be leading, and the signature lifts seen in ballroom dancing are hard to execute when neither partner has the same power as a male counterpart. Nevertheless, after endless practice sessions, they make it work, landing their moves every week.

The pair’s first dance in the competition was a quickstep to “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” Even in the first week, viewers could see Siwa’s professionalism and the pair’s enthralling energy. When Johnson slips and falls, Siwa is able to help her recover seamlessly. They snagged the highest score of the night.

The following week, they danced a cha-cha, lighting up the stage with gorgeous coordination, emphasized turns and majestic arm movements. Siwa and Johnson took turns leading the other, culminating in a final simultaneous dip. Next, they turned heads with an Argentine tango. This dance showed them tackling (successfully) large lifts for the first time, but their eye contact is what made it truly memorable.

In Week 4, they did two dances: a Viennese Waltz as Cinderella and Prince Charming and a Paso Doble as characters from “Descendants 2.” The former demonstrated Siwa’s skill as she led Johnson through various spins, and the latter was a robust showcase of the pair’s ferocity. The Paso Doble was a little more child-friendly than typical, but it makes sense given that Siwa is only 18-years-old.

The pair’s captivating foxtrot for the next week took inspiration from the Pink Ladies of “Grease” and earned them their first perfect score. They continued their perfect streak during Horror Week, in which they performed a haunting jazz routine as Pennywise and Georgie from “It.” The following week saw the pair dance a tango that landed them in the bottom two for the week, to Twitter’s dismay. I will admit, though, that this dance did not captivate me the way their previous performances had; it seemed too … raunchy, but not in a good way.

On Janet Jackson night, Siwa and Johnson performed a complex salsa and a sharp rumba — the latter as part of a dance-off that they won against Olivia Jade and her professional partner, Val, who is also Johnson’s real-life husband. Siwa and Johnson officially made it to semifinals, where they performed a beautiful, heart-wrenching contemporary in honor of Siwa’s late grandfather, as well as a smart and sexy Argentine tango. Both dances earn them perfect scores, yet again. The pair is safe to proceed to next week’s finals!

While they are not guaranteed a win at the finals, the pair makes dancing appear effortless; they sweep eights, nines and 10s from all the judges, thanks to their gracefulness and strength. Their connection and chemistry while moving is evident even if their bodies are not physically close to each other, which crafts a partner dynamic that compels audiences. Each week, their footwork gets sharper, their emotional ties to the music gets more raw and their technical skills shine through their routines. The pair is proving over and over again that a same-sex couple can execute ballroom dancing to the same, if not higher, level as the stereotypical heterosexual dancing pair.

Writer Profile

Esha Shah

New Jersey Institute of Technology
Biology

Esha is a biology major with plans to go to medical school. Writing allows her to make sense of the confusing and incredible world around her, ranging from neural regeneration to songwriting techniques.

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