If the face looks familiar, it's because you've probably seen it once, or seven, times before. Jonathan Roberts has paired with athletes and actresses during seven seasons of ABC's Dancing With the Stars. The 38-year old professional ballroom dancer is also a two-time undefeated U.S.A. Pro-Am dance champion; three-time undefeated Latin dance champion; two-time U.S.A. Pro-Am American Ballroom champion; and a former U.S. & World Professional Smooth champion. Roberts is currently traveling with Ballroom With a Twist, a dance extravaganza that will be stopping at Lorain's Palace Theater on September 8 for two performances. We caught up with him by phone last week.
What's the hardest part of training untrained dancers?
It really depends on the person. What's great about Dancing With the Stars is seeing these celebrities come in who are very successful in whatever their field is, then seeing them like they're babies learning to walk again. Generally, the sports athletes handle that very well because they're used to being coached and yelled at, whereas sometimes the actors and actresses have a harder time dealing with things like that. Some people move a little slower, and some are fast learners. But overall it's a great experience.
Which one of your DWTS partners had the best attitude about being out of their element?
I would say the partner I had the most fun with was Marie Osmond [Season Five]. Marie was a great performer, obviously, from her singing career, and we just had a blast together. We traveled every single week and she had a great sense of humor.
Which part of the show is the most work?
As dance teachers, we do a lot of different jobs. We're the teacher, we're the choreographer, we're the celebrity's partner, sometimes we're even the psychologist. We have to pick out the music, and do costume designing. The professional dancer is really the glue that holds the partnership together.
You design the costumes yourselves?
Yes, most of the pros do. Let's say you have a tango that's very sultry; we pick the music first, then we pick out the costumes based on the view or choreography we have for the number. We have an entire costume department, and I'll come in and say, "I have an idea for a jive," and they'll say, "Great, we picture you in a pinstriped suit."
Of all the dances you do on DWTS, what's the hardest to teach someone?
That completely depends on the person. There are two different styles — the ballroom style and the Latin style — and people seem to be naturally good at one or the other. The Latin style has a lot of shaking and hip-shifting, while the ballroom style is the more classic one, where you spin around with the tuxedo and the big flowing dress.
Your wife, Anna Trebunskaya, is also one of the DWTS professional dancers. Does the competition ever come home with you two?
We both wanted to stay on the show as long as we could by working together. So it's more that we really help each other out a lot.
Have either of you been jealous of the other's celebrity partner?
Nope, as boring as that sounds. Whenever you start with a new person, it's always exciting and fun. But then work steps in for eight hours a day, and the celebrity just sits there getting criticized by the pro. It can be painful.
Do you plan on coming back for another season of DWTS?
I'm not a regular on the show anymore. All I do now are group performances, and maybe I'll come back at the end of it. I'm actually choreographing now for the So You Think You Can Dance show.
You're a retired dancer — but with all that going on, do you really consider yourself retired?
Retired, that's a funny word. I'm retired from competitions. I was competing professionally, then after I won the [Professional Smooth] World Championship in 2008, I retired from competitions. Now I work 60 to 70 hours a week teaching or choreographing TV shows, but no longer as a professional competitor.
Which award meant the most to you?
Probably the World Championship. It was a dream come true. I never thought I'd be good enough to do that. It was very exciting.
Do you remember anything from your dance at that competition?
I was so in the moment with what I was doing, it was really just a big blur.
In Ballroom With a Twist, is there any competition between the Dancing With the Stars stars and the So You Think You Can Dance stars?
No, because they're such different shows. Dancing With the Stars is about the celebrities, whereas So You Think You Can Dance is more kids trying to win the show. They're completely different.
What's your favorite dance movie?
The Japanese version of Shall We Dance? It's way, way, way better than the American version. It's more real, better done, more interesting. Less commercial.
What's your favorite dance from any season of Dancing With the Stars?
There are two of them. One was with Heather Mills [Season Four]. She's the lady who had the prosthetic leg. On the second dance out, I had her do a backspin with a backflip pop-over, and it blew people away. Nobody expected that she would be able to pull off that righteous move. The second one would be, maybe not for the best reason, but with Marie Osmond when she fainted during judging.
What are you most looking forward to with Ballroom With a Twist?
I just like performing. It's nice to be able to travel through the United States and Canada and see the reactions. There's an audience participation section that's been going over really well, and it's fun to go out and be with the people.