Stacy Keibler always knew that 15 years of training at Jean Kettell's Studio of Dance in Dundalk would pay off. It paved the way for her to become a Ravens cheerleader and, oddly enough, a professional wrestling "diva."
Now, the Rosedale native will perform on her biggest stage yet. Beginning tonight, she will dance her way into millions of living rooms as one of the celebrity competitors on ABC's Dancing With the Stars.
Keibler, 26, has taken a hiatus from delivering body-slams in World Wrestling Entertainment rings to put her ability to waltz and rumba against the likes of actor George Hamilton, NFL great Jerry Rice, rap mogul Master P and boy-band star Drew Lachey.
In all, 10 couples (each celebrity is paired with a professional dancer) will take to the dance floor tonight. On Fridays, starting tomorrow night, a follow-up show will reveal which couple has been eliminated, based on the scoring of three professional dance judges and votes from viewers.
Dancing With the Stars was last summer's most successful series, averaging 16.8 million viewers weekly. One of those loyal viewers was Stacey's mother, Pat Keibler.
"[My mom] said that I should try to get on the show if there was a second season," said Keibler, who had her publicist contact the show's producers. After several meetings, WWE's 2004 "Babe of the Year" was offered a spot on the program.
Keibler, who began taking dance lessons when she was 4 and has studied ballet, tap and jazz, is no stranger to dance contests. She won several competitions when she was younger, including one in 1999 to join a dance troupe that appeared regularly on the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling's televised broadcasts. That gig led to her employment with WWE as a wrestling personality.
Perhaps due to her extensive dancing background, Keibler has been listed by online betting site PinnacleSports.com as a 2-to-1 favorite to win Dancing With the Stars.
"Oh, my God, that really puts the pressure on me," Keibler said with a laugh. "I am very flattered, and I hope to stay in the competition until the end, but you just never know."
The 5-foot-11 Keibler, known in wrestling circles for her long legs - "they're 41 1/2 inches," she says - said she isn't so sure that her prior dancing experience really does give her a leg up.
"I think my dance background helps as far as being flexible and graceful, but I've never done any kind of ballroom dancing, and I've never danced with a partner," she said.
Keibler, who lives in Los Angeles but still has a condo in White Marsh, has been rehearsing for the series for four hours daily since the end of November with her dance partner, Tony Dovolani.
"He is very hard on me," Keibler said. "We've become very good friends, but when we're in the classroom and we're dancing, he's a perfectionist and so passionate. His expectations of me are very high.
"I've definitely put 150 percent into this. In addition to all the rehearsing, I've actually gone to Las Vegas to watch ballroom-dance competitions. My whole life has been consumed by it."
Dancing With the Stars
Tonight at 8 p.m., WMAR-Channel 2