When Anna Trebunskaya and Jonathan Roberts began their ballroom-dancing careers, prime-time television shows and national theater tours weren't on their radars.
Ballroom dancing had a following, but it was more a product of the past, when people used to get dressed up and practiced for their weekend entertainment.
Roberts, 38, says, "Ten years ago, ballroom dancing was something your grandparents did. Now, there are so many kids dancing, and it's cool to dance."
Trebunskaya, 32, agreed.
"Dancing was a part of life, but it was always background. Ballroom dancing in America has been around since the '50s and '60s, and it's always been a niche, micro-culture. But now it's more widespread, and when I tell people I'm a ballroom dancer, they immediately say, 'Oh, I know what that is. My favorite dance is the pasodoble.'"
Trebunskaya doesn't have to tell too many people she is a ballroom dancer; millions already know because of her tenure on Dancing With the Stars.
In her years on the ABC competition show, Trebunskaya has been paired with celebrities including boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy star Carson Kressley, their moves followed and critiqued by legions of fans who have made ballroom a pop-culture phenomenon.
Trebunskaya and Roberts, her fellow Dancing With the Stars star, will lead the phenomenon onto the stage of the Lexington Opera House this weekend in Ballroom With a Twist, the touring production with dancers from Dancing With the Stars and the Fox counterpoint So You Think You Can Dance , which Roberts also has worked on, and American Idol competitors David Hernandez and Gina Glocksen.
The show was conceived by another Stars regular, Louis Van Amstel.
"It's a fantastic show because it involves the best of what is on the reality TV shows, the most popular shows," Roberts says. "It ties together all the dance styles from ballroom to hip hop to salsa to tango to contemporary. So, it keeps it really interesting and a lot of fun."
The celebrity competitors on Stars often overshadow their partners, who dance for a living, but Roberts and Trebunskaya said the big names and the variety of celebrities demonstrate a broad interest in ballroom, and that interest is taken up by the audience.
"You look at your football players," Roberts says. "When Donald Driver wins Dancing With the Stars, as a guy, you have no excuse not to dance," he says, referring to the Green Bay Packers star who won season 14 of the show with partner Peta Murgatroyd.
Other NFL players to win the show are Dallas Cowboys star Emmitt Smith and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Hines Ward. Trebunskaya's partners have included Super Bowl champions Kurt Warner and Jerry Rice.
"That was phenomenal, to get a taste of their lives and what their talents were all about," she says. Even as trained athletes, she says, "They all think it's a walk in the park in the beginning — you get a nice costume and dance with a pretty girl. Then they realize it's actually hard work."
She and Roberts, who were married nine years before announcing in October that they were divorcing, like meeting and working with the celebs, but they also like the opportunity that Ballroom With a Twist provides for them to show their stuff as professional dancers, sans competition.
"It's nice to be a performer and dance and do something that you know you're good at, and give the joy to people who come and watch," Trebunskaya says.
Roberts says, "You don't have to worry about getting the judges' attention. You just go out there and dance for the audience, and that's my favorite thing."