‘DWTS’ Pro Jenna Johnson on Dancing Without an Audience: ‘It’s Actually Been a Perk’ (Exclusive)

Dancing With the Stars Season 29 comes to an end on Monday night, and it has been a wildly different cycle for the series. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, there will be almost no audience in the studio, aside from other pro dancers and family members. At first, the idea of performing without a big audience seemed like a daunting task, but in a recent exclusive interview with PopCulture, pro dancer Jenna Johnson said it actually became a perk.

Johnson said she thought she was "going to hate it," but that was not the case. "Obviously, there's dances and moments where you wish there were that audience reaction," she said. "And especially as a performer, like you love performing for a live audience." However, it has helped the celebrities who are not used to performing in front of audiences "focus" and be less distracted while performing.

"Sometimes those nerves get the best of them during a live performance," Johnson explained. "If they're distracted [by] 'Who's in the audience? Are people standing? Are people not? So I think it's actually... been a perk." Johnson felt the lack of an audience helped not just celebrities' dance moves, but their "performance and getting into character."

The pandemic also necessitated a change at the judge's table, since Len Goodman could not travel to Los Angeles because of coronavirus travel restrictions. The producers brought in Derek Hough, who will be performing his second dance of the season during the finale. During the Oct. 19 episode, Hough and his girlfriend, Hayley Erbert, performed a sizzling Paso Doble that impressed even the pros.


"Seeing him perform on the Dancing With the Stars stage again was just so great," Johnson said. "When I joined the show, Derek was still a pro. He was still dancing. I feel like I got to learn a lot just watching him and his creative process." Johnson went on to call Hough's time as a judge "epic," since he understands "exactly" what the pros are going through "and what it takes to show up on Mondays and do this routine with your celebrity."

Hough and her celebrity partner, Catfish host Nev Schulman, are among this season's four finalists. They will be performing a repeat of the "Black Swan Swan Lake" dance that earned them a perfect score during Week 7. Their new dance is a Freestyle to "Singin' In The Rain." The finale kicks off Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. The other finalists are Kaitlyn Bristowe and Artem Chigvintsev; Justina Machado and Sasha Farber; and Nelly and Daniella Karagach.