The popularity of Chris Soules, the Iowan farmer featured on ABC’s The Bachelor last season, has earned him an extension on his 15 minutes of fame. As I write, he has survived to week five on Dancing with the Stars.

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Ryan Dennis is the author of The Beasts They Turned Away, a novel set on a dairy farm. Visit his ...

The show had his dance partner, Witney, come and collect him in the field. “I do love a country boy,” she says, giggling and covering her mouth. Apparently, America does too – because they keep voting him on.

Although the show is in its 20th series, the first season was the only one that I watched all the way through. The finals came down to Barry Bostwick and Kelly Monaco, an actress from the soap opera General Hospital, which was also on ABC. Barry Bostwick was smooth.

In later episodes, he was getting 9’s from all three judges, the highest that it seemed possible to get. He was gracious, and he enjoyed himself. He didn’t care that people might laugh at him for being on the show. Being an enthusiast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (where he starred as Brad Majors), he had my support. In fact, I should admit it: I was a fan.

There should have been no way Monaco could have won, especially after Barry Bostwick was probably given another 27 for his final dance. Nonetheless, the judges awarded her the perfect score of 30, suggesting that in all likelihood it was rigged. The actress on the same network was given the trophy.


Apparently, ABC underestimated the show’s popularity – because the outcry was immense. The dances were analyzed by outside professionals, and it was confirmed that Monaco’s dance was not flawless.ABC nearly admitted the wrongdoing – all the time enjoying the publicity, I’m sure – and called for a friendly rematch, in which Barry Bostwick beat Monaco. But it was too late. It had already stung me too deep. I was left jaded.

The subsequent years would still see my parents eagerly crowding in front of the television set on Monday nights. I went to my room instead to read a book.

“Ryan, get over it,” my father would shout up the stairs during a commercial break. “ABC knows they made a mistake.”

“But Barry Bostwick, Dad!”

In the end, the only part of the show I can believe is real is this: Dancing is hard. Recently, Judith – who I was hoping to impress – and her friend Regina came to stay with me in Reykjavík. At one point, talking with Judith, she said she had always wanted to learn to swing dance.

I idly agreed. I wanted to learn, but in the same way I would want to be an astronaut for a few days or the president of the U.S., and probably with the same chance of it happening. At one point during their stay, one of my flatmates mentioned that a bar was giving a free swing-dance lesson. This sent the girls jumping up and down. “That’s great,” I said, my voice breaking.

You’re shown one step by the instructor, get to practice it once, and then the partners are rotated around the circle before another move gets added.

I executed the basic motion with Judith – triple step, triple step, rock step – but then as she alternated to the next person and the steps became more complicated, it got ugly. Under-arm turns, swing-outs, cradles. My mind and feet couldn’t get together on anything. I lost count every time.

Chris might have been saved by his looks and his charm, but when I glanced around the room, I realized I was the only one sweating. An old country songs suggests that if Bubba can dance, I can too, but I wasn’t giving Bubba any competition that night. I kept smiling, as Barry Bostwick would, but every new partner that came up to me was getting someone that was further behind and more desperate.

“Here goes nothing,” I would say with a laugh as I took another girl’s hand, but I was getting close to having nothing left. Chris’ rumba in week four might have been disjointed and a little awkward to watch, but it was nothing compared to the way my elbow would hit a girl in the face on my “she goes he goes.” I had let Barry Bostwick down. By the time Judith rotated back to me, she found a sweat-drenched broken man.

There are people out there that can be shown something once and immediately get it. In fact, dance lessons seem to be filled with these people. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.

I would marvel that when my father used to show me how to do a new type of fieldwork, he took me around the field once, showed me what all the levers did and then walked back to the barn. I broke a few hoses and sheared a few pins along the way, but I think he knew I had to be left alone to figure things out in my own time.

It’s apparent that ABC wants Chris to do well. It’s probably not a coincidence that Witney won last season with Alfonso Ribeiro, and that she’s not hard to look at. They show clips of Chris leaning on a gate and wearing flannel – everything that a good honest farm boy would be doing.

The judges seem to go easy on him. No matter how bad his dancing is, he’ll be all right. I probably still won’t watch much of this season. Instead I’ll be in my room again, this time practicing my loop-de-loops. PD

Ryan Dennis is the son of a dairy farmer from western New York and a literary writer. The Dennis family dairies and maintains a 100-plus cow herd of Holsteins and Shorthorns.

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Ryan Dennis