Ballroom-dance champ Mark Ballas - who won season eight of "Dancing With the Stars" with Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, made it to the finals in season 11 with Bristol Palin, and has partnered with Kim Kardashian, Shannen Doherty, Melissa Joan Hart and others on the show - is also a longtime singer-songwriter. Born in Houston, but raised in England, he performed in two groups with his brother-and-sister friends Julianne and Derek Hough, who now also dance on "DWTS." As Ballas, 24, prepares to release his first solo CD, "HurtLoveBox," he'll play an acoustic set Friday night at The Crazy Donkey in Farmingdale.
Have you ever performed on Long Island?
I've played at the Donkey before, a couple of years ago. It'll be cool to play there again.
I understand you were in a kid group called 2 BIG with Derek and Julianne Hough back in England.
Yeah. I was about 11, Derek was 12, Julianne was 9. We'd do shows, dance and whatnot. Derek and I played together for a long time , and then I ventured off and started doing my solo thing - though I've always played solo shows, as well as playing with Derek, since I was about 15.
What kind of music do you do?
I started off with flamenco, then moved to more blues-rock stuff, and the stuff now is singer-songwriter pop-rock. I've recorded a solo record, which hopefully should come out at the end of February. I've written all the songs. It's almost finished; we're just working out the last couple of kinks.
But not with the last couple of Kinks?
You're performing as a trio. I take it not with Derek and Julianne?
It's just me, singing and playing acoustic guitar, with some light percussion - the drummer's name is Harry Sullivan; we were in kindergarten together - and a second acoustic guitar player, my friend Chris Frampton.
Any relation to . . . ?
Peter Frampton? No, no relation. [Laughs] We went to the same music school in London, the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. I did the high school there when I was 11 till 16, then attended the college from 16 to 19. We've known each other since we were 13. When you grow up together and know each other musically, it's fun to bring it together.
You're doing a meet-and-greet at The Crazy Donkey after your show. Maybe a little dancing?
No, I won't be dancing that night.
You don't know Long Island crowds if you think you're getting away without dancing! Speaking of which, what's your take on the voting controversy over Bristol Palin?
We worked really hard, up to 11 hours a day for 14 weeks, so she did a really good job, and I was proud of her. She was a young girl who went on a journey; she had zero entertainment background. But people are never happy: If you have people with dance experience like Nicole Scherzinger], they say "that's not fair; I want someone without dance experience." You give 'em what they're asking for, and they complain then, too. Either way, they're not happy.
WHO: Mark Ballas
WHEN | WHERE: Friday night at 6 (doors open), Crazy Donkey, 1058 Route 110, Farmingdale
TICKETS: $18 in advance, $22 day of show
INFO: Crazy Donkey box office 631-753-1975 or clubloaded.com
For one intrepid fan, Mark Ballas will be her private dancer. Candace Rodriguez, 17, of Merrick, will have an hourlong one-on-one lesson with the "Dancing With the Stars" pro Saturday at the Silva Dance Academy in Rockville Centre, where the Calhoun High School student has studied ballroom dance for three years and volunteers there to teach it to kids.
"She watches the show and always wanted to be able to dance with Mark," says her mother, Lisa Trovato, 50. "And I said to her, 'If you don't ask for things in life, they can't happen.' "
Rodriguez found an e-mail address online for Ballas' manager and asked politely. After initially declining for scheduling reasons, the manager wrote back the next morning and said Ballas would do it for a nominal fee below his usual rate. "It's a good lesson," said her mom, "about how things in life can happen if you follow through."