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Toledo’s Jonathan Bennett ‘Dancing’ in parents’ memory

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Rossford native Jonathan Bennett will compete on ABC's Dancing With the Stars. The new season begins Monday.

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Jonathan Bennett received his first big break as the on-off high school boyfriend of Lindsay Lohan in 2004’s Mean Girls.

The Toledo native is now poised for another.

Bennett is one of 13 celebrities competing on Season 19 of Dancing with the Stars.

ABC’s popular ballroom dancing competition makes its fall premiere at 8 p.m. Monday and can be seen locally on WTVG-TV, Channel 13.

The show’s premise is simple: Stars are paired with dance instructors and perform lavish choreographed and costumed routines for the approval -- hopefully -- of a panel of four judges and a voting television audience potentially in the millions. Tuesday nights at 8 are the big reveal of overnight voting results, with the lowest-scoring dance team sent home. The last team standing wins the coveted mirror ball trophy.

Bennett intends to have that opportunity.

“I plan on going far in the competition and I plan on getting to the finals,” he said in a recent phoner with The Blade. “That’s my goal.”

A 33-year-old graduate of Rossford High School, Bennett’s had starring roles in Van Wilder: Freshman Year (2009) and The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (2007), as well as guest appearances in several TV shows and movies.

But nothing, he said, prepared him for Dancing with the Stars.

Bennett was tapped to be a contestant on the show more than a month ago and has spent nearly the last two weeks in intense rehearsals with his partner Allison Holker, a professional U.S. dancer who is making her debut as an instructor.

The pair work five hours a day, seven days a week choreographing routines.Their competition includes Alfonso Ribeiro (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), Sadie Robertson (Duck Dynasty), Michael Waltrip (NASCAR driver-turned-broadcaster), Lea Thompson (Back to the Future), Tommy Chong (Cheech & Chong), and Tavis Smiley (TV and radio talk-show host).

During a break between practice sessions, Bennett talked about his experience on Dancing with the Stars so far, his motivation for competing on the show, and the biggest challenge in learning how to ballroom dance.

Q: How’s it been going?

A: It’s been going great. It’s the most fun and the hardest experience of my life.

Q: Really? More than anything else you’ve done?

A: Absolutely. When you watch the show and you see contestants and they’re breaking down and crying and you don’t really know if you believe them. And then you do the show and you realize they aren’t kidding.

Q: How did you get involved with Dancing with the Stars this season? Did they approach you or did you approach them?

A: They approached us to do the show and I jumped at the chance because it looked like so much fun. And I’ve always wanted to try it, especially because you get to push yourself and do something you’ve never done before, really stretch your limits.

Q: How much dancing had you done prior to this?

A: Barely any. I’d done some musicals in high school, but that’s not real dancing. This is real dancing.

Q: Did you consider yourself to be a dancer?

A: No, not at all. I never considered myself a dancer,. In fact, if you watch my plays in high school you can tell I would never consider myself a dancer. I’m picking it up quick. I feel like I’m doing a good job considering my background.

Q: Did you watch the show much prior to your appearance?

A: Yeah, I watch it every season.

Q: Do you have a motivation about being on the show besides your own performance? Is there something driving you?

A: I just lost my father to brain cancer not but three months ago and this was his favorite show on television. And when he was sick in hospice the only show he wanted to watch was Dancing with the Stars because he said this show made him feel good. So I’m doing this performance not just for myself but for my father because I know how badly he loved the show and how thrilled he would be that I'm on it.

I’m also doing this dance for my mother because she passed away a year before that and they both were huge fans of the show.

[Note: Bennett’s father was Dr. David Bennett, a Toledo physician, who died April 28 at the age of 74. His mother was Ruthanne Bennett, who died Nov. 30, 2012, at the age of 67.]

Q: That’s tough to lose both parents within a year.

A: Oh, very, very tough. The biggest reason I wanted to come on the show is to challenge myself but also each dance I do is for my parents. I’m doing every performance for both my parents because I know how much they would love to see my on this.

Q: What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

A: I think the biggest challenge is not memorizing the steps, it’s physically getting my body to move in ways that it’s never moved before . . . like firing muscles and engaging muscles that I didn’t even know I had.

The hardest one is the passé for me, where you bring your knee up really high, because I have bad flexibility in my hamstrings. Pulling my leg up that high that quick is pretty challenging.

Q: Have you been in pain at the end of the practice sessions?

A: Oh my gosh, when I get done with rehearsal I can barely walk. Sometimes I have to crawl to my bed when I’m home because once I lay down on the floor I can’t stand up.

Q: Obviously being on Dancing with the Stars is a great career move.

A: One of the things I’m most excited for is America get to see Jonathan Bennett versus one of the characters I play in a film. They’ll get to see me and I hope they like me for my personality and who I am versus just my characters on TV.

Q: So who are they going to see?

A: They’re gonna see a kid from Toledo that went from the smallest stage in Rossford, Ohio, to the biggest stage on television and they’re going to see how much fun he’s having doing it.

Fol­low Ben­net on Twit­ter and In­sta­gram @j_ben­ntt.

Also, the city of Ross­ford plans a view­ing party of Danc­ing with the Stars in Ross­ford High School au­di­to­rium, 701 Su­pe­rior St. in Ross­ford. Ad­mis­sion is free and doors open at 7 p.m. Mon­day. For de­tails, call 419-666-0210 or visit “Danc­ing with Jon­a­than Rally and View­ing Party of DWTS” on Face­book at http://​on.fb.me/​1tNK8Bt.

Contact Kirk Baird at: kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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