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“Dancing With The Stars” Part II: Key Hairstylist Mary Guerrero

Mary Guerrero likes to work with the youth of Los Angeles who live in the tougher parts of town. The four-time Emmy-winning hairstylist and head hairstylist for “Dancing with the Stars” grew up in a rough part of LA that didn’t lend itself to big dreams or award-winning careers.

Despite a rough and abusive environment, Guerrero never lost sight of her passion for hair. As a child she’d watch her hairdresser aunt style customers at a local salon. During her high school years she educated herself on hair and styling techniques by borrowing library books, ultimately receiving a scholarship for hairdressing at a beauty college. Upon graduating she opened her own salon near the ABC Studios where she built up a strong cliental including the ABC staff. When her lease was about to expire and the building set for demolition, a camera man client suggested she apply for a job at the studio.

“I knew I was good and had the desire to learn. Because I didn’t have wig experience I had to teach myself on the side. It wasn’t easy,” said Guerrero. “I told a producer he should keep me on file in case an opening came up. Six months later a person called in sick on a Steve Martin special. One job led to another.”

After working with greats like Steve Martin, Betty White (who remains a client) and Cher, Guerrero built a strong resume of live work, including the Emmys and Academy Awards. When the lead hairstylist spot became open during the first season of “Dancing with the Stars,” Guerrero’s ability to work with live variety shows as well as dancer numbers made her a perfect fit.

After joining the team, Guerrero recognized it was crucial to soften the look of the performers. The professional dancers who serve as partners to the “stars” came from the competition circuit. They were used to stage makeup and hairstyles which the teams adapted from circuit guidelines. Hair was tightly pulled off the face and, in certain formats such as ballroom dance numbers, was lifted above the neckline to illustrate stiff movements and straight body lines. However, the combination of stage lighting and high-definition television was not the right format for such heavy applications. The makeup looked cake-y on camera, and the tight hair was rigid and off-putting to viewers.

“They were purist, they had rigged standards and they weren’t used to TV,” said Guerrero. “As department heads we had to soften the look and find the balance between the show’s competition and entertainment values. As the pros started to become entertainers themselves, they wanted to stay fashion forward. They found the look could be looser without compromising the classic movements of dance.”

Guerrero describes her method of working with the competitor’s hair as “not sacrificing but modernizing” classic competition styles. It was important to create visually appealing styles that could withstand the vigorous dance moves and body movement. Guerrero and her team of six members employ a variety of tools that hold the hair in place, including tiny elastics, pins and hairpieces. At times hair is stitched in place with like colored thread tightly braided along the scalp with upper layers of hair held into the braid with pins, or micro bands are placed at the ends of the hair that bobby pins slip through to ensure hair stays locked into position. When a performance concludes, the team cuts through the assorted apparatus to ensure the dancer’s hair does not get damaged.

Guerrero’s team is present for “Dancing with the Stars” Monday taping day, however she begins creating styles on the Friday before the show when she receives a color, dance style, song and general wardrobe description for each number. On Sunday before the live broadcast, Guerrero sees the cast in rehearsal and presents her ideas to the producers. Before setting any style, the hair team will always discuss their ideas with the talent and consider the feedback they provide.

“They are professional dancers so it is important that they have a say about the look and what they think will work,” said Guerrero. “Since we’ve been doing this for a long time, there is a lot of confidence that we will be giving them our best work. The Emmy wins have helped with that confidence too.”

Backstage on taping day, Guerrero and her team work to ensure the looks remain fresh. “We’re like soldiers running around, constantly maintaining the look with blow dryers and towels.” The team members double up on each performer every moment of taping day. Everyone must remain focused and fully aware of the character design to ensure the style remains intact. There can be between 20-35 character creations for each show.

In addition to managing a stressful job, the hair team enjoys lending and ear to the performers who are overcoming mounting pressures as the season progresses.

“We have to have good therapy skills. The talent is working so hard every day of the week. By the fourth or fifth week, they start to get frazzled,” said Guerrero. “Psychology is a big part of keeping that trailer running. There are a lot of dynamics at play, however the hair and makeup team are the cheerleaders for every contestant. We have so much compassion and respect for them. Sometimes, all they really need is a hug.”

One of Guerrero’s favorite aspects of the show is creating styles that creatively evoke characters for each number. Some past favorites include a living painting, a Halloween monster mash-up, and period specific themes. Conscientious of balancing wardrobe colors and styles, the hair department adds colored hair pieces, highlights and other enhancements that will evoke the spirit of a character, from a vixen to a princess, from a king to a 50’s greaser. Their efforts have resulted in the “Dancing with the Stars” hair department receiving seven Emmy nominations and three Emmy wins.

“We are always producing new and beautiful styles,” said Guerrero. “The people on our teams are at the top of their field, they are all so talented!”

To learn more about “Dancing with the Stars” please visit:

To view Dancing With the Stars Part One: Key Makeup Stylist Zena Shteysel, please visit: