The contestants on the current 24th season of the popular dance competition show are stronger than ever this year, and although there were a few frontrunners right out of the gate, there have been a few stars who've surprised us week after week and have drastically climbed the leaderboard. As the remaining seven couples gear up for their seventh week in the ballroom next Monday, ET's breaking down exactly what it takes to impress each individual judge, in hopes of getting one step closer to taking home the coveted mirror ball trophy.
Dance pro Sharna Burgess, who is paired with professional bull rider Bonner Bolton this season, recently stopped by ET's Los Angeles studio for a Facebook Live interview, where she revealed the judges are all "looking for different things."
"Len [Goodman] is always looking for that technique," she explained. "Bruno [Tonioli] is looking for the personality. Carrie Ann [Inaba] is looking for those lifts."
Troupe dancer Alan Bersten (Heather Morris' temporary pro fill-in for Maksim Chmerkovskiy this season) echoed Burgess' statements during his exclusive sit-down interview with ET, saying, "Just Carrie Ann specifically, no lifts in ballroom dancing. That is the No. 1 concern… no lifts."
And Tonioli had no problem admitting what he does and does not like in the ballroom when we caught up with him backstage at the show. "The thing I really can't stand, people that don't put their passion and emotion [into it]," he revealed. "Go wrong, but do it with passion."
Strategy #2: When choreographing each routine, focus on your partner's strengths.
Choreographing is no easy task when it comes to creating a dance for non-trained dancers. Let's not forget that the dancers choreographing these routines are ballroom professionals -- they've spent years training with different partners, not to mention most of them have mastered a slew of other different genres, like ballet, hip-hop and contemporary. That being said, it can be quite difficult to just focus on the basics and not wow the crowd with all the tricks they've previously grasped and performed with fellow professional partners.
While it's good for the pros to challenge the celebrities to step outside of their comfort zones, it's important to take note of what they can and cannot do. Burgess, for example, has been really great about that this season. Bolton suffered a near-fatal accident last year when he was bucked off the back off a bull, resulting in a number of injuries and surgeries. He still has a lot of pain, and is unable to execute the flips and tricks competitors like Simone Biles and Normani Kordei have perfected.
"You have a routine, you have an idea of what you want when you walk in the room, but you can't get married to the steps," the red-headed beauty explained. "Because if that doesn't look good on them, you have to find another option."
Strategy #3: Work on your chemistry.
Connecting with your partner is key! If you're not getting along in rehearsals, or there's any type of tension, it will show on the dance floor. That's why it's important for the pros to always make sure their partners are happy, and have a clear understanding of the routine's vision. Is this supposed to be sexy, or is it emotional, or maybe a mix of both?
"Julianne [Hough] I feel is more, as well as Carrie Ann… they like the emotion," Bersten said. "I feel Julianne really likes the connection between the couple."
A perfect example of this is the contemporary number that Rashad Jennings and Emma Slater performed to a cover of Katy Perry's "Unconditionally" during week 4. The NFL pro dedicated the dance to his father, Albert, who lost both of his legs due to diabetic complications. It told a story, and everyone in the audience felt the emotion, thanks to #TeamShadSquad's strong partnership and undeniable connection.
Hough gave the pair a 10, saying, "I can't even talk right now. Do you feel that? What you just did, I have no words for."
Strategy #4: Know when to incorporate lifts, and when to avoid them.
When your competitors are jam-packing their dances with surprises, it's easy to want to take your choreography to the next level by adding advanced moves. But you have to be sure the star is mentally ready to take that next step.
For example, during this week's show, David Ross and Lindsay Arnold received the second lowest score of the night (29/40) from the judges. The reason? Despite the strength of their actual tango steps, the horizontal lift they attempted was extremely shaky.
In the interview package, viewers saw that the former MLB pro was having a difficult week, caused mostly by heightened stress from traveling and, of course, the pressures of long rehearsals, which every pair faces at least once in the competition. But, had Arnold waited a week or two to showcase this lift, they most likely would have been able to perform it with no problem.
"I think the week just caught up with me," Ross told ET backstage following their performance. "I had no energy last week, no entry."
"It gets tough. Any person that's on this show will tell you there's, like, a middle of the compensation hump that you have to hop over," added Arnold. "It's hard, especially [when you're] traveling."
Strategy #5: Don't get bummed if you receive a low score from the judges. Accept their critiques and encourage viewers to vote!
Ever wonder why you don't really hear the majority of the dance pros interact with the judges after listening to their feedback? It's all part of strategy!
"I try not to interact with the judges because it never goes down well! You accept it, listen, and at the end of the day, they're hired for their critiques and they're watching the dance and they're all going to say something different," Burgess shared. "You have to accept that they all have their opinions of your dance and just nod, smile, take it on the chin and try to work and be better, so they don't say it again. That is my view of the judges -- just be gracious and take it."
And if the judges don't love your routine, it's absolutely necessary to emphasize the importance of voting to your fans on social media.
"[Fan voters] have a huge amount of power in the end," Tonioli said. "Especially with the finale, when our score doesn't count."
"The final freestyle dances usually get the public," he added. "They just get on their phones and that's what gets you the mirror ball."