LOS ANGELES -- Tom DeLay and Cheryl Burke are in a dance studio in a seedy strip mall for a final private rehearsal of the two dances they'll perform on Monday's live premiere of "Dancing With the Stars."
The unlikely duo -- DeLay, 62, the former Republican House majority leader known as the "Hammer" and Burke, 25, a professional dancer and two-time winner of the ABC hit show -- are smooth partners. Their two dance routines are funny and perfectly choreographed by Burke.
DeLay found out on Friday that the producers have slotted him to perform last of all the eight male contestants on Monday's show, which airs at 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. Central). He said he doesn't know how the lineup was determined, but thinks it will add to his nerves to have to wait through all the other performances.
For his dance, DeLay will perform the cha-cha to a fun song that was a hit in the '60s. To avoid spoiling the show on Monday, I'm not disclosing the song, but DeLay described the choreography -- which Burke created -- as the story of his college years. (If you are imagining air guitar and moves that might necessitate knee pads, you are on the right track.)
In addition to the cha-cha, they also do a type of "dance relay," in which four male contestants and their partners will all do a 30-second waltz at the same time and be ranked by the judges.
DeLay can't rate the competition because none of the contestants sees each other's dances until the full dress rehearsal on Monday before the show.
On Friday, DeLay saw their costumes for the first time and was a bit taken aback at the, um, lack of costume for Burke, as well as the over-the-top details on his. I hate to ruin the surprise of their first number on Monday, but the matching costumes have a red animal-print theme. OK, I'll also let slip that the producers decided Delay needs rhinestones on his costume: "Not a lot of 'em, but some to sparkle in the lights."
Watching the run-through of their cha-cha and waltz, I laughed out loud. Burke continued to fine-tune DeLay's moves, telling him to hold his head up, or move quicker on a turn, but DeLay can dance. And his months of practice and getting in shape, as well as his willingness to make fun of himself, will, I suspect, be a bipartisan pleasure to watch.
Burke says the times she has gotten most frustrated with her partner were when they first started rehearsing together in Houston and "he wouldn't let me lead." She said finally had to say, "I lead. It takes years to get to lead. Stop holding my hand so tight when you turn me so I can turn myself the other way."
The DeLay family had been hoping ABC would assign Burke as his professional partner. The "star" does not find out whom he is paired with until the surprise scene (caught on ABC cameras) at the first rehearsal in August. "I've met presidents and prime ministers,'' the former House majority leader told me, "but I was dumbfounded to meet Cheryl Burke."
Burke, listening to him tell this story while typing on her BlackBerry, looked embarrassed. DeLay continued that his first reaction, out of shock, was to ask "What is your name?" even though he knew it well enough. Then he texted his daughter Dani (the not-professional dancer) the good news.
As for the pre-stress fracture of his foot, Burke complains that she can't keep DeLay from further injuring himself because he won't tell her when he is in pain. "I see him cringe," she told me. "That's the only way I can tell his foot is really hurting him."
Between each run-through of the routine, DeLay iced his foot and will continue to do so up until performance time on Monday. When he's dancing, he wears regular dance shoes -- with a somewhat high heel that makes the pounding on the bone that much more painful -- and when not, he wears doctor-ordered orthopedic shoes or hiking boots.
Does Burke, the two-time champion, think they will get past the first round this week? "Oh, definitely," she said. "But remember, it's about how many votes we get. My mom will be using all her phones for me."
For two hours after the show ends, voters can call, text or use their e-mail to vote on the show Web site. The viewer voting determines who goes on to the next week, with one man and one woman eliminated on Wednesday's show.
Unlike elections, in which each citizen gets one vote, the "DWTS" voting system is more flexible. You can vote eight times -- the number of contestants that night -- for whomever you wish; for example, I will vote eight times for DeLay. Actually, the "DWTS" voting system allows viewers to vote eight times per device, so I will be calling 1-800-868-3408 eight times from my home phone, eight times from my cellphone, eight times on the Web site and I will text eight times. Speedy fingers will help bring Team DeLay/Burke back for the next week's competition.
In Congress, Tom DeLay never lost a vote he whipped, and he doesn't plan to lose one in Hollywood, either. But whatever happens, DeLay has had so much fun doing this that even as he was sweating in this seedy strip mall, he never looked happier. Break a leg, Congressman.
Next up, DeLay talks Ronnie Earle, heath care reform, the 2010 elections, the state of the Republican Party and of the economy.
Click play below for a slide show of rehearsal photos from Emily Miller (click here for the full-screen version).
In an effort to encourage the same level of civil dialogue among Politics Daily’s readers that we expect of our writers – a “civilogue,” to use the term coined by PD’s Jeffrey Weiss – we are requiring commenters to use their AOL or AIM screen names to submit a comment, and we are reading all comments before publishing them. Personal attacks (on writers, other readers, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, or anyone at all) and comments that are not productive additions to the conversation will not be published, period, to make room for a discussion among those with ideas to kick around. Please read our Help and Feedback section for more info.