Published On: Fri, Oct 5th, 2018

The dancers are small, but the rewards of Dancing With the Stars: Juniors were huge for choreographer Mandy Moore

There is no question for Mandy Moore, the choreographer who became famous for the Oscar-winning movie La La Land, who the stars are in Dancing With the Stars: Juniors.

It’s the 12 youthful celebrities, who range in age from 9 to 14, competing on the new reality show, a spinoff of long-running ABC series Dancing With the Stars. It debuts Sunday at 8 p.m. on Global TV.

“Kids are magic, they’re fearless, they love to learn. They don’t come in with a lot of preconceived notions about anything,” says Moore, who is also known for her Emmy-winning choreography on the grown-up DWTS as well as So You Think You Can Dance.

“We found the kids (on DWTS: Juniors) were really open to wanting to be better. If we gave them a criticism or a critique or asked them to do something better they really took it seriously to make it better for the next week.”

The “we” includes DWTS professional dancer Val Chmerkovskiy, and DWTS and figure-skating champion Adam Rippon, Moore’s fellow judges on Juniors.

Just don’t expect Len Goodman-style grumpiness or Bruno Tonioli-level antics.

The trio had lots of discussions about how to handle the young competitors, who are paired with equally youthful professional dancers and mentored by older DWTS pros.

The judges didn’t want to be patronizing to the kids, but “No one wants to see a kid cry.” At the same time, “I’ve found that kids love authenticity,” says Moore, who regularly teaches young dancers at conventions throughout the U.S. and Canada. “They can see when you’re being truthful to them and they can understand that.”

So the judges settled on helpful critiques prefaced with compliments about things the kids did right.

“We ended up being another set of eyes to help them get better.”

And get better, they did, Moore says. She believes viewers “are going to be inspired by these kids’ evolution through the weeks. They grew a lot. …

“These kids would come out and be pulling out these tricks or pulling out styles, where you would think, ‘How are we gonna get away with an Argentine tango with a 10-year-old?’ but we’re doing it.”

Another thing that impressed Moore was the camaraderie among the cast, “which doesn’t always happen on the big show.”

“That team dynamic between mentor and pro and celebrity was really beautiful to watch … the way they would care for each other and hold hands when someone was eliminated (and were) literally screaming their faces off” when their friends performed.

“That’s a thing we all should remember: even though we’re competing you can really support your fellow competitor and then, when it’s your time to get out there, you better shine.”

Moore, 42, got her own start as a dancer taking lessons in a studio in the small town of Breckenridge, Colorado, where she grew up. She moved to Los Angeles at 18, right out of high school, “with 500 bucks and two suitcases.”

At the beginning she was just “one of hundreds of dancers out for the same job,” getting rejected for most of the ones she auditioned for, but then she met future Dancing With the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba, who hired Moore to assist with a couple of TV dance jobs, and she began assisting with auditions in the early days of So You Think You Can Dance, “which catapulted my choreography career.”

Although Moore can picture directing film and TV someday, or doing a big Broadway show (“If La La Land went to Broadway that would be incredible”), she’s perfectly content choreographing for shows like Juniors. (Her other credits include movies like Silver Linings Playbook, TV shows like Glee, commercials and awards shows.)

She hopes there’s always a place for dance on TV, but she’s also thinking about “the next wave” and the fact that dance will likely have to be presented differently as viewers increasingly consume TV in non-traditional ways.

For now, she hopes viewers enjoy watching Dancing With the Stars: Juniors as much as she and the rest of the cast enjoyed making it.

“We felt it was magical.”

Who are the Dancing With the Stars Juniors?

The most high-profile competitor is reality star Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, 12, of Toddlers & Tiaras and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo fame. She’s partnered with junior ballroom champ Tristan Ianiero from Toronto and mentored by pro Artem Chigvintsev.

The other contestants are:

  • MasterChef Junior winner Addison Osta Smith, 13, with partner Lev Cameron and mentor Keo Motsepe
  • Spelling bee champ Akash Vukoti, 9, with Kamri Peterson and Witney Carson
  • Disney star Ariana Greenblatt (Stuck in the Middle), 10, with Artyon Celestine and Brandon Armstrong
  • General Hospital actor Hudson West, 10, with Kameron Couch and Hayley Erbert
  • Disney star Jason Maybaum (Raven’s Home), 10, with Elliana Walmsley and Emma Slater
  • Singer/songwriter Mackenzie Ziegler, 14, with Sage Rosen and Gleb Savchenko
  • Aspiring fashion designer Mandla Morris, 13, son of Stevie Wonder, with Brightyn Brems and Cheryl Burke
  • Black-ish actor Miles Brown, 13, with Rylee Arnold and Lindsay Arnold
  • Skateboarding pro Sky Brown, 10, with JT Church and Alan Bersten
  • Model Sophia Pippen, 9, with Jake Monreal and Sasha Farber
  • Tripp Palin, son of Bristol Palin and grandson of Sarah, 9, with Haley Bills and Jenna Johnson

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TORONTO STAR

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The dancers are small, but the rewards of Dancing With the Stars: Juniors were huge for choreographer Mandy Moore