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Shawn Johnson: I 'didn't dance once' after winning 'Dancing With the Stars'

"Dancing" pro Derek Hough and Olympian Shawn Johnson rehearse in preparation for the big "All-Stars" premiere.
"Dancing" pro Derek Hough and Olympian Shawn Johnson rehearse in preparation for the big "All-Stars" premiere.Todd Wawrychuk / ABC / Today

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By Anna Chan, TODAY

"Dancing With the Stars" kicks off its much anticipated all-stars season Monday night. Season eight champ and returning contestant Shawn Johnson, who is paired with pro Derek Hough, took a few minutes to chat with us about preparations ahead of the big premiere, what fans should expect from her and more.

The Clicker: What have you done to keep up your ballroom skills since your first time on "DWTS"?

Shawn: I haven’t done anything! I think everybody else can say the same. It’s not our natural sport or our natural career. When I finished season eight, I was done with dancing. I went back to gymnastics and I honestly didn’t dance once. So it is like starting over, especially with a new partner. We’re kind of starting from zero.

For the most part, I think the feeling is still there. I understand the vocabulary and what (Derek's) saying and where he’s coming from. Whereas the first time, it was like Mark (Ballas) was speaking Chinese. Now I understand it so I can correct things easier and ... getting into the movement and the habit and the feeling is definitely foreign. I have to work to get that back.

The Clicker: How have you been preparing?

Shawn:  In the past few weeks, we’ve really just been getting our first dance ready. (The producers) assigned us our first dance and our first music three days into training. I think the past few weeks have just been getting used to this process again and (I've) kind of been gearing up for it.

They're back! Celebrities from seasons past — including Bristol Palin, Gilles Marini and Pam Anderson — are returning for another shot at the coveted mirror ball trophy.

My first dance is a fox-trot and that’s about all I can tell you! It’s been going really well. Our fox-trot isn’t by any means traditional, definitely different and doesn’t really adhere to the normal rules. We have unique music and it kind of suits us and our personality, which I think is important for the first dance. I want to show everybody who I am and not come out as a character yet. You have to (do characters) later. That’s part of it. There are dances where you have to take on a role: tango you have to be serious and dark, rumba you have to be romantic and sexy. It’s part of (dancing). It’s the acting side. But thankfully with our fox-trot and our music, I’m just being me. We get to be goofy and fun and playful and energetic. I’m enjoying that. I love it. I hope everybody else likes it as well. 

The Clicker: Which role are you most looking forward to playing?

Shawn: I feel like the first time, I was so uncomfortable and so out of my comfort zone that I didn’t push myself enough to try to step into the character of any of the dances. ... I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but I think it’ll be neat to push myself into those characters this time, trying to be sexy and romantic and trying to be all mysterious and kill someone in the paso. I feel like I’m a little more comfortable this time to try to take them on. 

(My first time on the show,) I had just turned 17. You have to look like you’re in love with someone. It was definitely difficult. I was like, “Again, you’re speaking Mandarin.” ... I’m more the awkward person and the person that just giggles and smiles at everything, so it’s going to be hard.

But I think I’m a little more ready this time to at least try. I’m just trying to put myself in the mindset that it’s OK to step into the characters. You know you’re not necessarily portraying who you are. You’re acting. I will never be an actress, I’m me. It’s really hard for me to act something different. I want things to be appropriate. I want things to represent who I am. Then again, it is the show. It is the job. You have to find a happy balance to suit the dance and suit the style. ... I hope I don’t just bust out laughing or something halfway through it! 

The Clicker: Are you afraid the judges might criticize you for not getting into the character of the dances?

Shawn: I think that’s THE place I have to work on. I have to push myself. They’ll be able to see the difference between (my) first season to this. I definitely don’t think right off the bat I’ll be able to act like some of the professionals on the show, some of the actors who are dancing on the show. Then again, we all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses.

The Clicker: What's it been like training with Derek versus Mark?

Shawn: I love Derek! There’s definitely a lot of differences, (but) they’re pretty much like brothers. They grew up together and grew up around each other, so there’s a lot of similarities. They choreograph different, they think different, they have different creative standpoints and angles that they come from. ... Derek is a phenomenal choreographer and a dancer and he’s a great teacher, and I think we’re partnered perfectly together. 

"Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars" premieres Monday night at 8 p.m. on ABC. Follow Shawn Johnson as she tweets throughout the season.

Which dance are you most excited to see from Shawn this season? Tell us on our Facebook page.


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