Gotta Dance

Area native, former “90210” star has come a long way; now she’s “Dancing with the Stars”

From News-Gazette/Savoy Star
By Erika Nelson, Savoy Star Editor

These days, Sadorus native and television actress Jennie Garth can be found dancing her way into living rooms across America as part of the cast of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

And while four weeks of rehearsal went into preparing for the dance competition show, the new season of which premiered Monday, September 24, attracting more than 21 million viewers and dancing its way to number one in the ratings, Garth’s original introduction to the world of dance came long before her first practice session with her “Dancing” partner, American choreographer and dancer Derek Hough. As a little girl, Garth’s first lesson took place on Bourne Street in Tolono under the tutelage of Christine Rich, owner and director of the Christine Rich Studio, now located in Savoy.

At the time, Rich’s studio was called the Bourne Street Studio. Jennie’s mother, Carolyn Garth, says her daughter has always wanted to take dance, so she enrolled her in a class.

“I had four daughters, and she was the last one,” said Carolyn Garth, a former Urbana High School teacher. “They all got the invitation (to dance). A couple of them quit, but this one stayed with it.”

Garth remembers her youngest daughter’s first day of dance class with Rich.

“I remember the instructor coming out and saying, ‘I thought you said she’d not danced before.’ I said ‘no,’ she hadn’t danced, and (the instructor) told me it looks as though she’s had lessons,” Garth said.

Rich also remembers having Jennie Garth as a student.

“(Jennie) was a very sweet girl; very, very cooperative,” she said. “She followed all the rules and tried hard. I have no wild stories about her hanging on the ballet barres upside down.”

Thanks to her early exposure, Jennie fell in love with dance, and Carolyn Garth said her daughter was always dancing to entertain the family.

“She really enjoyed it… she danced around the house,” Carolyn said. “I guess I thought she would grow up to be a dance teacher or a teacher. I never really thought she would be an actress. That sort of happened, but it was through dancing that she was discovered.”

After living in Arcola and Urbana, the Garth family moved to Sardorus were Jennie attended Unit 7 schools until she was 12 and the family moved again to Arizona. While there, says Carolyn Garth, her daughter danced until she was 15 and even taught a dance class for beginners. At the age of 15, Jennie Garth was approached by a scout at a talent competition – while dancing no less – and her acting career began shortly after that.

Jennie and Carolyn moved to California, where Jennie started taking acting classes and auditioning for roles. In 1990, she landed the role of Kelly Taylor on the Fox television series “Beverly Hills 90210.” Garth has since starred in the sitcom “What I Like About You” and over the course of her career has produced and starred in several made-for-TV movies.

But it was the opportunity to dance again that drew Garth back to the stage when the chance to take part in “Dancing with the Stars” came around.

“I’ve wanted to be a dancer since I was a little girl,” she said. “(The show) is a great opportunity to learn how to ballroom dance. It’s exciting for me.”

But the excitement of the show has been accompanied by some anxiety about performing live. Garth said that with the exception of the performances by the musicians, everything on “Dancing with the Stars” is done live. And the experience couldn’t be more different from what she’s used to.

“I’ve never performed live or danced live in the spotlight,” Garth said. “It couldn’t be more drastically different. Acting in front of a camera is a very sheltered performance. This is right there, out there for everyone to see live on national television. It’s the polar opposite.

Despite the pressure of the live show, Rich said she felt Garth did a great job during her first week.

“What she did (on Monday) was a very hard dance,” Rich said. “I could see the same personality was there; she wants to do a good job. All ballroom dance is very challenging, and (the judges) didn’t go easy on her. She got most of the nuances of it (the cha cha) and kept a performance face the whole time.”

In the four weeks leading up to the show, Jennie said she practiced “at a slow rate,” spending about two to three hours a day in rehearsal. Her practice time has since increased to four or five hours a day, and she has a full schedule on the days “Dancing with the Stars” airs.

“(This past week has) been a hard week because we’ve been going for three consecutive days,” Garth said Thursday, September 27, in a phone interview. “In order to get the show on live, we start getting ready at 8 a.m. The last few days have been grueling. And we now have four days to prepare a whole other dance. You’re trying to learn the steps and the other parts that go with it. Then there’s wardrobe and all kinds of things that go along with it, interviews and all kinds of stuffed packed into four days.”

This week, Garth says she will be performing the quickstep, a ballroom dance similar in speed to the foxtrot. Model Josie Maran was the first of the 12 celebrities to get kicked off after Wednesday’s results show, leaving Garth and her 10 other co-stars to battle it out for the judges’ favor and the viewers’ votes.

“I’m not quite into the flow of it,” Jennie said of the show. “(But) I feel OK about my positioning right now. I’m in the middle of the pack, which doesn’t bother me at all. I know this is going to be something I get better at as I go; the cool thing is watching people progress.”

Her mother, who was in the audience the first week of the show, said it’s exciting to see the joy Garth has in taking on a new challenge.

“It’s exciting to watch your child take on something new, challenge themselves and succeed and the excitement they get (from it),” she said. “I was a teacher, and I love watching anyone embrace something, give it a shot and (getting to see) the look on their face. Plus, I got two hugs from Wayne Newton (Wednesday) night,” she added with a laugh.

Looking back, Rich says what Garth accomplished demonstrates that no matter how young a student is, you never know where dance training will take them.

“Parents come to me and I say you never know if your child will ever be a professional dancer… this shows you that you never know how a child is going to use dance,” she said.

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