‘Dancing With the Stars’ pros explain how emotional Len Goodman tribute came to be: ‘Everyone was in tears’

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‘Dancing With the Stars’ pros explain how emotional Len Goodman tribute came to be: ‘Everyone was in tears’

There was not a dry eye in the ballroom Tuesday night as “Dancing With the Stars” pros, past and present, reunited for a b

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There was not a dry eye in the ballroom Tuesday night as “Dancing With the Stars” pros, past and present, reunited for a beautiful tribute waltz in honor of Len Goodman.

The breathtaking performance – which ended with the teary-eyed dancers glancing over at the late judge’s empty chair – was choreographed by Jenna Johnson and Valentin Chmerkovskiy.

OG pros like Mark Ballas, Kym Johnson-Herjavec, Tony Dovolani, Karina Smirnoff, Anna Trebunskaya and more all returned to the ballroom for the special routine, dancing alongside the current Season 32 pros, co-host Julianne Hough and judge Derek Hough.

Speaking with Page Six after the show, Johnson explained how her and Val’s vision all came together for “Most Memorable Year” night.

“We all were unified in the fact that we wanted this to be a love letter to Len and to his beautiful wife [Sue] that was in the audience with us,” she told us.

“I wish that people at home could have felt [the energy] – like, a pin could have dropped and you would have heard it. It was like silent and just so respectful and I’m really glad that we got to honor Len like that.”

“Dancing With the Stars” paid tribute to late head judge Len Goodman with a beautiful waltz danced in his honor.
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The piece was choreographed by Val Chmerkovskiy and Jenna Johnson, who spoke to Page Six after the show.
Disney / ABC via Getty Images

Johnson revealed that she and her husband were asked to choreograph the piece right at the beginning of the season, but things really started to flourish over the last two weeks.

“It’s just been non-stop thinking about it [for us], how we can really make it magical, how we can do it justice, how we can make Len proud. There was a lot of pressure to make this moment happen and I think everybody really pulled up,” she explained.

“[Val and I] both knew how important this moment was for the show … we really wanted to keep it what Len would like, and that is plain and simple ballroom, done exquisitely. We had the best of the best doing it, which really, I think, made it come to life.”

She added, “We also wanted to pay tribute to the ballroom world all of us came from, which is that competitive, clean, straight lines in frame, in tail suits and gorgeous gowns. So that was kind of the inspo.”

“There was a lot of pressure to make this moment happen and I think everybody really pulled up,” Johnson told us.
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She added, “We really wanted to keep it what Len would like, and that is plain and simple ballroom.”
ABC via Getty Images

As far as pulling together so many people for the tribute, Johnson and her co-choreographer knew that would be a challenge – and an extremely emotional moment for everyone who loved Goodman as a mentor and friend.

“We had one three-hour rehearsal with everybody and not even everybody was there. Derek’s on tour, so we didn’t even see him until yesterday morning [when] he learned it,” she shared.

“It was really hard to get through, too. I think as soon as the package played right before we danced, everyone was in tears already. But we knew that we had to finish what we started and get through it – and we did.”

Johnson said her “biggest hope” for the piece was to create something that Goodman “would have loved and approved of and given a 10.”
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Johnson also revealed the conservation she had with Goodman’s wife following the performance, telling us, “She just thanked us and it made me so emotional. I think out of anybody she knew what Len liked.”

“My biggest hope for this piece was to have something that Len would have loved and approved of and given a 10,” she continued. “So to hear her words, it just meant the world to me.”

Val’s brother, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, was also part of the performance, and spoke to Page Six about Goodman’s character outside of the ballroom.

“Because he was so constant in his work, and because he was so real, he was the exact same Len outside [‘DWTS’]. The advice he would give would be very fundamental and straight to the point,” he shared. “I literally coach that way … Len’s memory is a big deal, and to be a part of this was certainly a big deal for me.”

Meanwhile, Artem Chigvintsev spoke about the long-lasting legacy of Goodman’s presence in the ballroom, telling us performing the dance made everything feel “all real.”

“I think this was the first time, like finishing the dance and kind of looking at that empty seat, it all of a sudden made real that he’s never gonna be there. We’ll never hear those amazing comments from him that he always managed to put in such a way that you appreciate and respect and look forward to,” he explained.

“All of the stuff that he said, it really shaped the show into what it is today. I think there’s a huge void of him not being there. It’s very sad. It’s a beautiful story, but it’s very sad. He’s very missed.”

Maks Chmerkovskiy also spoke to Page Six, telling us Goodman “was the exact same Len” outside of the ballroom.
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Sasha Farber shared similar sentiments, telling us, “It was such a special moment in time where we’re going to remember that for many, many years.”

“Len is an icon, he’s a legend – not only on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ but in the ballroom world,” he added. “So to get to give him this beautiful send-off, and the package that played, it was just complete silence while we were dancing.”

As previously reported, the dance competition series revealed during premiere night that the mirrorball trophy has been renamed in Goodman’s honor.

The dance legend died in April at the age of 78 following a private battle with bone cancer – just months following his November 2022 announcement that he was retiring from “DWTS” after 17 years as a judge.

“I’ve decided I want to spend more time with my children and family,” he said at the time. “I cannot thank you enough, my ‘Dancing With the Stars’ family. It’s been such a wonderful experience for me.”

“Dancing with the Stars” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC and Disney+, with new episodes streaming on Hulu the following day.

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