It may just be a reality show, but Dancing With the Stars has changed Lea Thompson's life. Now she's hoping to pay it forward. The Back to the Future and Switched at Birth actress was a professional ballet dancer when she was younger, but gave it up many years ago in pursuit of acting after famed dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov told her she was "too stocky" to keep it up.
That could have been the sad ending to her dance career, as it's understandably hard to hear that. "I really was broken hearted about dance for like the last 30 years," Thompson confesses. "When I gave it up it was like one of those old boyfriends that you never want to talk to again." But fortunately Thompson decided to tackle DWTS and now we get to see her beauty and grace each Monday night.
Thompson reveals that the show has kind of rekindled her love for dance, but not without making her shed a few tears first. "It was so sweet, [fellow contestant] Tommy Chong was with me the other day and he was like, 'You're such a beautiful dancer. Don't give it up ever, just keep doing it.' And I started to cry," Thompson says. "I was like, 'You're right.'"
Though Thompson hasn't danced much since her professional ballerina days, she's been able to pick up right where she left off. She's stunning to watch on the dance floor. Part of this can certainly be attributed to her intense work ethic — and I do mean intense.
Thompson tells me she's booked solid until next August on a number of projects. She already acts in ABC Family's Switched at Birth, but after Dancing With the Stars she'll tackle directing the show too. Plus she's planning to star in an indie film that her daughter Madelyn Deutch wrote called The Year of Spectacular Men. (Thompson's husband Howard Deutch is producing and her other daughter Zoey will also star in the project.)
Thompson says that even though she has a lot on her plate, she never likes to do anything half-baked. Even the decision to do DWTS was a long thought-out one. "It's not something I did on a whim. It's a very profound, deep thing for me," she says.
But I'm glad she did the show in the end, and she is too. Not only has it helped her rediscover her love for dance, but Thompson says she's thrilled to get out there and help inspire other women. "I want women my age to know that they can still try something new and challenge themselves," she says. "It doesn't matter how old you are—own your sexiness. Show the young ones you still have it going on."
Thompson also wants to challenge women to just get moving. "It makes you feel better about yourself, at least that's what it's done for me," she admits. "I feel really happy that I inspire people to just keep trying new things. That's what keeps you young is challenging yourself to do something that's scary."
For Thompson that scary thing was signing up for Dancing With the Stars to perform in front of a live audience and millions watching at home. But she doesn't regret getting back into her dancing shoes. "Even though I cry all the time on DWTS I'm having a really great time," she's quick to say. "It's really emotional because your muscles hurt and you're tired. Plus you're doing something that you normally don't do, and you have to do it in front of 14 zillion people. It's insane," she admits. "It's a really intense experience, but I can say I feel like I've grown a lot as a person."
That's a pretty amazing takeaway from a dance competition. Lea Thompson is clearly doing reality television the right way: Using it to help herself grow and inspire women to get active and own their sexiness — no matter their age. That's a lesson worth sharing, and I'm glad in the midst of that Thompson rediscovered the art.
She really does need to follow Tommy Chong's advice and never stop dancing — especially when she continues to make it look this effortlessly beautiful.