Talk about pressure: Each week, millions of people watch Louis Van Amstel quickstep, waltz and perform other moves with celebrity partner Niecy Nash on television's number-one show, Dancing with the Stars. ( Yesthanks in part to its intriguing cast, the show has even topped American Idol. ) Windy City Times caught up with Van Amstel last week when he stopped in Chicago ( for half a day ) to rehearse with Nash, who was filming an episode of her show, Clean House, here. The dancer/choreographer ( who was born in the Netherlands but is now a U.S. citizen ) was friendly and very candid as he discussed everything from growing up to Kelly Osbourne, who was his partner last season.
Windy City Times: How often do people come up to you?
Louis Van Amstel: Well, now, it's [ happening ] more and more. But what I like is that, unlike some people who have screaming fans, it's different with me; I get into a conversation, whether it's about something I said or something else. I enjoy that.
WCT: Last night [ when Kate Gosselin was booted ] was very emotional. How rough was it for you, regarding Kate and yourself?
LVA: For Niecy and me, it was actually very nice because we were the second couple being saved. It's nice to know 10 minutes into the show because you can walk around light as a feather. Niecy was so excited; I had to say "Calm down. Some people don't know [ their results ] yet." She said, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." You're happy being saved but you're not happy because you grow close to each other and someone has to go home.
WCT: You're like a family, of sorts.
LVA: Yesthis season, more than ever. The ratings are so high, and we all support each other.
In terms of Kate, if you look at dance performance, it was right that she went homeand she probably should have gone home before [ April 20 ] . Having said that, she has shown to us the real Kate, and that's why it became a little more emotional; you saw all of her insecuritiesit wasn't arrogance. That's why it's such a beautiful show.
WCT: What's a typical rehearsal day like with Niecyor is there such a thing as a typical rehearsal day?
LVA: With Niecy Nash, there is no typical day. But if we're not traveling, we [ practice ] about five hours a day. However, a typical day still isn't a typical day; last week she had to fly here to Chicago on her own, and we didn't rehearse. That means we have to pick up the slack the day before and the day after. And she does The Insider. She gets up at 4 a.m. every day.
But those five hours are intensenot intense like dramatic but intense like, "We are working." We're mostly laughing; that woman is so quick with her ad-libbing. Also, I know what she's like so I know what to say to set her off.
WCT: I have to mention that very intense [ slow ] waltz you and Niecy did [ April 5 ] . The theme of marriage equality was something you could relate to. Could you talk about what the dance meant to you?
LVA: Originially, I had the idea for interracial marriage because she's Black and I'm white. It's such a love songand marriage equality became the storyline. That previous Friday, I said I wanted to have some names for our characters and, on Twitter, told me about Mildred and Richard Loving [ an interracial couple who couldn't marry under Virginia law, and who took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court ] . I got a whole history lesson from hundreds of people. I figured that this was going to have a bigger impact than we both anticipated.
Niecy and I then talked on Saturday. She started crying, saying, "I can't imagine not marrying my boyfriend." Then it got to me, and I said, "I don't have to imagine. I can't, yet, so you have to help me with my fight." I don't know where the words came from, but it became a bigger issue. And, in the end, I realized that it started with interracial marriage but that it also goes to same-sex marriage.
I'm very proud of ABC for not censoring anything; they were so supportive. [ The network ] can't take a stance; but, to allow me to make that statement and to show how powerful dance can be...
We were a little worried about the Johnny Weir syndromewith people thinking we were provoking. [ Regarding feedback, ] one person said on Twitter that he wished me good luck. There was a [ highly religious ] Christian woman who e-mailed me and said, "I don't understand [ same-sex marriage ] , I don't approve of it and I even voted against it, but the dance was so classy that I realized that it should be your choice, not mine." I then realized that we must have opened some people's minds and started more conversations. Conversations can cause some people to think, and that's how you bring about change.
I've always stood for equality. As a kid, I was raised color-blind. I'm not religious, but I'm very spiritual.
Last week, it was not putting a number on weight. We're fighting obesity in this country the wrong way. We're giving pills; no, no, noit's frustration and depression. Why are people depressed? Because the media has put pressure on people.
So it's not just gay rights. There are many issuesand I'm so happy to be part of Dancing with the Stars to get my messages across.
WCT: Do you remember the first person you came out to?
LVA: Well, my mom. When it comes to issues of parents not accepting [ an LGBT kid ] , I don't know what that's like because I hadand still havethe best mother on this planet.
When I was 15, we were driving and she wanted to make sure that if I ever felt different from anyone else, that I could talk to her. At that point I didn't know what she meant. Another thing is that I've changed dramatically over the past five years.
The next thing I knew, I was experimenting. I was already experimenting with sexplaying doctor. I was open and I was like, "Let's try." When I was 17 I went on a trip to Germany and fell in love with a guy. I never said anything but somehow my mom saw it. She asked, "If you feel you're falling in love with a boy..." "Well, if you know why do you ask me?" "Well, I'd like to hear it out of your mouth." "Now you know. That's it."
WCT: You said that you've changed a lot in the last five years. How?
LVA: I have a lot of friends who the regular world would call bisexual, gay or lesbian; you have straight people and, now, [ metrosexuals ] . I talked with a "bisexual" friend and asked, "How do you see yourself?" He said, "Louis, I don't see myself as anything. I love the person I'm with." I said, "How freeing that must be, that you don't have to choose." The more I thought about it, the more I thought about how people label themselves and put themselves in a box. All your life you try to stay out of the box and say, "Accept me for who I am"but we don't accept ourselves because we say, "I am this" or "I am that." I started looking at myself from the inside, and I became happier as a person because I didn't label myself.
I'm not denying who I am. I still have boyfriends, and I even had a date with a girl ... there was a girl I fell in love with, although in my heart I'm pretty sure I'll end up with a man. But, in the end, it's not about labelsit's about being who you are from the inside. Let's not put ourselves in a box.
WCT: Going back to Dancing, I must ask about Kelly Osbourne. What was it like dancing with her? [ Note: Van Amstel and Osbourne placed third last season out of 16 teams. ] Also, I imagine you two still stay in contact.
LVA: Absolutely. She was going to come last week but she ended up co-hosting The View so she had to fly to New York.
When I first saw her, I thought, "What am I going to do?" She had no dance training; she didn't even know how to stand up straight. She was totally insecure and there was no feminine streak inside of her. Then, going into rehearsals, I threw elements at her to see her reactionsand I saw musicality in her. Then I realized that she has killer legs. Slowly but surely, I used examplesand every word in the dictionary. Then the snowball started rolling and it didn't stop. Now, she's 42 pounds lighter and she's very happy.
Actually, because of her, I've become more visible. If there's one person who stands up for what she believes in, it's Kelly Osbourne. For all the things she got in trouble with, it wasn't because she was angry; she was standing up for her friends. When I saw that, I said, "She has a heart of gold. That's one special family. Don't fuck with the Osbournes." I know that Kelly would be the first person to stand up for me.
For the Osbournes to come up to me after Dancing with the Stars and say, "Louis, you did what we tried to do for 25 years"you can imagine how choked-up I got. I had to walk away. They're so appreciative.
WCT: My last question is a very general one: What does dance mean to you?
LVA: For many years, growing up with alcohol abuse [ in the family ] , dance was therapy; I couldn't talk with anyone. Thank God I had ADD [ attention deficit disorder ] and my mom put me in sportsswimming, skiing and dancingto let go of all these feelings.
I said it last week in that rumba with Niecy. When I heard about what she's gone through in her life, I thought that I had to make it about her brother. I had to show America a different side of Niecy but I also had to get her to celebrate his life. I guess that's why I do what I do.
I'm also very competitive, and you can be world champion. But I also like being creative and opening doors. I want to get the message across that being different is good.