September 8, 2011

Martinez putting in long hours for ‘Dancing’ debut

Charles Oliver

— In less than two weeks, on Sept. 19, Dalton native J.R. Martinez will make his dancing debut before millions of fans on ABC’s hit show “Dancing with the Stars.”

“I’m not nervous yet. I think I’ll probably be nervous on the 19th. Yes, I’ll be dancing live in front of millions of people. But that doesn’t really intimidate me. It just adds to the coolness factor,” said Martinez.

A 2002 graduate of Dalton High School, Martinez has played the character of “Brot Monroe” for the past three years on the ABC soap opera “All My Children,” and he credits fans of that show with getting him interested in appearing on “Dancing with the Stars.”

“About a year ago on Twitter and on Facebook I started getting comments from fans saying ‘Hey, you’d be great on ‘Dancing.’ Would you ever consider it?’ I didn’t really do anything to pursue it,” Martinez recalled. “But early this year, I got a text from someone back in Dalton after the announcement that ‘All My Children’ was going to get canceled saying, ‘Hey, sorry about the news. But whatever happened to ‘Dancing with the Stars?’ It really sparked something. I talked to a couple of friends of mine to get their feedback, and they spoke very highly of it and suggested that I pursue it.”

Those friends contacted the producers of “Dancing with the Stars” on Martinez’s behalf, and the producers expressed an interest in having him on the show.

“We met at the end of June. There was a lot of waiting, then on Aug. 12, 17 days before the public announcement, they told me I’d be part of the Season 13 cast,” he said.

Martinez says the experience has been a new one for him.

“I don’t have any formal (dance) training. When I was a teenager, my mother would always try to dance with me and teach me to dance. But I didn’t want to until I figured out that girls like guys who can dance. Then it wasn’t an issue,” he said.

To get ready for the show, he began practicing with his partner, Karina Smirnoff, five days before the cast was officially announced. Now, they and the other dance teams are practicing up to five hours a day six days a week to get ready for the premiere.

“One thing that benefits me is that I work out and stay physically active. I felt like I was in great shape, and I am. But when I wake up, I’m not sore, but it’s like I got a good workout,” he said. “It feels good now. But talk to me as we get further into the competition, when it will get even tougher.”

Martinez’s debut dance will be the Viennese waltz.

“It’s a very beautiful dance, very elegant, very graceful. Sometimes I’m not so graceful, and that’s one of the things I’m having to teach my body — to get the hand movements exactly right or to make sure my arms are in the precise place they need to be,” he said. “It’s a tough dance, but it’s a beautiful dance, and I’m glad it’s my first dance.”

Martinez says he feels confident that he’ll be ready come show time.

“I can look at it and honestly say ‘That’s not bad,’” he said. “We have the routine down. We have the steps down. Now, it’s just a question of fine-tuning everything and making sure it’s where it needs to be.”

Martinez gives much of the credit to Smirnoff, who has won numerous ballroom dancing titles and has appeared on eight previous seasons of “Dancing with the Stars.”

“Karina has been great at putting up the whole routine. She is so talented. And she has a great personality that meshes really well with mine,” he said. “She’s a great teacher. We are having fun, but she’s breaking it down for me in ways that lets me understand what I really need to be getting my body to do.”

While the practices have been intense, Martinez says he has gotten a chance to spend time with the other celebrity contestants on the show.

“We all practice in the same facility, so we all hang out together. It really depends on when they take breaks. The person I’ve been seeing most is probably Chaz Bono. We seem to be on the same schedule,” he said. “Another one is Rob Kardashian. It’s really cool. Everyone is nice and easy to get along with. Our competitive nature is saying ‘You’re going down. You’re all going down.’ But at the end of the day, it’s all fun.”

The final episode of “All My Children” will air on Sept. 23, just days after the “Dancing” season premiere. Producers have plans to take the show to the Internet next year, but Martinez says he doesn’t know much more about that show’s future.

“As of now, the production company that purchased the rights to ‘All My Children’ is still in negotiations with the writers guild, the directors guild and the actors. They will have to come to every single actor now and say ‘We want you to come with us. Do you want to come?’” he said. “As of right now, I don’t know what will happen. For the next three months, I’m strictly focused on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ If the ‘All My Children’ people want my character to stick around and want me to stick around and they come to me, then I will entertain that option. But right now, we don’t know anything, and that’s the tough thing for everyone on ‘All My Children.’”

Martinez said he wants to give the people of Dalton a big “thank you” for all the support they have given him.

A U.S. Army veteran, Martinez was driving a Humvee in Iraq in 2003 when its left front tire struck a land mine. The explosion caused severe burns to more than 40 percent of his body. Martinez endured 34 months in the hospital and 33 surgeries, including skin grafts and cosmetic surgery. When he first returned to Dalton in June 2003, hundreds of people lined Walnut Avenue to welcome him back.

“That homecoming that I received in June 2003, the first time I got out of the hospital, showed me that people still loved me for me, and it inspired me and gave me the confidence to go out there and conquer the world,” he said. “I’m proud to claim Dalton, Ga., as my hometown. Even though I went to high school in Dalton only one year, it feels so right. I always tell people I’m from Dalton because of the way they stepped up and took care of my family when I was in the hospital and the way they showed me love and support when I came home.”