When Nadya Wayment agreed to let her 13-year-old son, Connor, apply to be on a TV dance competition, she didn’t immediately realize that it meant that she’d end up on the CBS series with him.
Or that she’d travel to the other side of the world with Connor. Or that she’d juggle her medical practice with performing.
“I don’t think I even realized what I signed myself up for until we were actually doing this show,” said Nadya, who grew up in Ukraine before moving to Utah.
Connor was scrolling through Instagram on his phone when he saw a posting for a dancing competition show.
“I’ve always wanted to be an actor,” he said. “That’s what I want to be when I grow up. And I was, like, ‘Mom, I really want to at least try doing this.’ My mom was, like, ‘OK.’”
That’s the short version of the story, according to Nadya, who said, “It took some effort for him to talk me into” applying. The application didn’t specify the adult partner had to be a parent, just that he/she be “an untrained family member who has supported their dance dreams.”
“I was stumbling in my brain and thinking, ‘Who would he choose?’” Nadya said. “And he was, like, ‘Well, mom, how about you do this with me?’”
She did not immediately agree — she said she was “petrified.” She added that she knew that “this was no joke and it was really going to be tough. And I’ve never danced on national television!”
“Let alone been on national television,” Conner interjected.
(Sonja Flemming |CBS) “NCIS: Los Angeles” stars LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell are executive producers of “Come Dance with Me.”
A big stage
A friend brought the idea for “Come Dance with Me” to “NCIS: Los Angeles” star Chris O’Donnell and O’Donnell took the idea to his co-star LL Cool J, who quickly jumped on board.
“I thought it was an incredible idea. I thought it was just really fun,” LL Cool J said. “I thought the energy was right.”
“I believe what you said was, ‘That [expletive] looks hot,’” O’Donnell said.
Work began on the series pre-pandemic. “Even at that time,” LL Cool J said, “I felt like … the world could use a nice family show that’s a lot of fun, that people could dance to and enjoy.”
The actor and rapper is a father of four, and said he can relate because he accompanied his daughter to daddy-daughter dances and performed onstage with her in “The Nutcracker.” “I felt absolutely ridiculous,” he said, “but I did it for her.”
O’Donnell, the father of five, also accompanied his girls to daddy-daughter dances. “What would you not do for your little daughter?” he said. “And getting out there on the dance floor has never been my complete comfort zone.”
A lot of Utahns have kids who dance. Connor has been competing as a ballroom dancer for more than six years. But most parents don’t get up on stage and perform with their child. And this isn’t getting up in front of an auditorium filled with people — this is dancing in front of an audience of, potentially, millions on national TV. (”Come Dance with Me” premieres Friday at 7 p.m. on CBS/Ch. 2, and will also stream on Paramount+.) It’s definitely out of Nadya’s comfort zone.
“It’s one thing to do a medical presentation, and it’s a very different thing to go out there and try to stand on your own two feet, plus heels,” said Nadya Wayment, who is a family medicine physician and addiction medicine specialist.
(CBS) Connor and Nadya Wayment, from Ogden, are contestants on “Come Dance with Me.”
All the way to Australia
About 18 months after applying, the Wayments learned they’d been chosen to compete on “Come Dance with Me.” And they were in for one more surprise. They thought the show would be produced in California, a quick 90-minute flight away. “And then we got on this Zoom call and they’re, like, ‘OK, we’ll see you in Australia in two weeks,’” Connor said.
That’s a 20–plus hour flight from home. And they had to be there for two months, which Nadya thought her bosses at the Tanner Clinic in Layton would never go for.
“I thought this was it for us,” Nadya said. But when she told her bosses, “They were, like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. … Absolutely, you have to go.’”
“So I was working from Australia while doing the show at the same time,” she said. “It was wild times, I’m telling you.”
Nadya saw patients online — something she’d gotten used to during the pandemic — while working remotely from 4 a.m.-8:30 a.m., Australian time. “And then they were teaching me how to dance for six hours plus,” Nadya said. “So it was intense, I’m telling you.”
“I don’t know how my mom does it,” Connor said. “Seriously, she rocks! She sees so many patients a day. And with my attention span — no, I couldn’t do that.”
Connor had to attend school several hours a day while he was in Australia. The show’s producers “were actually pretty strict about it,” Nadya said. And that gave the parents “the time for us to actually get better at our skills.”
From soccer to skating to dance
Beginning when he was 6, Connor tried “many different sports. … I might have been a soccer player if I didn’t break my arm,” he said. He then figure skated for about six years and tried hockey, but “it wasn’t my thing.”
About 6 or 7 years ago, Nadya showed Conner a video of her ballroom dancing when she was a child. “And I was, like, ‘I’m going to give that a try,’” Conner said.
And, like a lot of Utah parents, Nadya has been getting him back and forth to rehearsals and competitions. They live in Ogden. Conner’s first studio was in Syracuse. Now they commute to the Strictly Ballroom studio in Orem. “That’ll test your commitment as a parent, for sure,” Nadya said with a laugh.
(Narelle Portanier | CBS) Connor and Nadya Wayment compete on “Come Dance with Me.”
Dancing in Ukraine
Nadya had danced before “Come Dance with Me,” but it was a long time ago and far away — when she was a girl growing up in Chernivtsy, Ukraine, when it was part of the Soviet Union.
“In Ukraine, … you were not a girl if you didn’t try some kind of dancing,” Nadya said. “It wasn’t like what Connor does at his studio, with his level of competitiveness and the level of training and professionalism. What we had in former USSR was nothing like it. It was more like baby steps.
“It feels like so long ago — like it was in previous life,” she added with a laugh.
Her Ukrainian medical school had a faculty exchange program with the nursing school at Weber State University. The director of her medical school asked her to go to the United States, for a year to observe the Weber State nursing program “so I could come back and combine my private practice as a physician in Ukraine with teaching nursing.”
Not only did she get a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Weber State at the end of the year, but she met her husband. She returned to Ukraine, but after two years, “he talked me into coming back, building a family here and settling in. So now my life belongs here.”
Overcoming rough times
Nadya and Connor “had a couple of really rough years” before competing on “Come Dance with Me.” And that, she said, “was one of our reasons to do the show.”
Her parents died within nine months of each other, and she and Connor’s father got divorced. She changed jobs. “So we decided to participate in the show to kind of … change some negative things that have happened and turn them into positives,” Nadya said.
Things were going according to plan until production on the show concluded, the Wayments returned to Utah — and then Russia invaded Ukraine.
“You know how you think COVID was super-difficult?” Nadya asked. “This war in Ukraine just absolutely has brought me down as much as it could. On any human level, this is so unbelievable. So brutal, so bloody, so destructive, so absolutely sick. And so evil. And it’s just so difficult for us.”
They visited Ukraine in August 2021 “and just saw the beautiful city of Kyiv — absolutely stunning,” Nadya said. “And now looking at the pictures [of the destruction], it just breaks our hearts. It’s so difficult.”
They still have family and friends in Ukraine, and they don’t know if all of them are safe. Friends and co-workers in Utah “have been incredibly supportive,” Nadya said. “People who have been so good, kind and generous. And we’re trying to do our absolute best to help Ukraine as much as we can.”
She’s hoping the “positivity” of “Come Dance with Me” will offer viewers a break from “all the bad news in the world. Hopefully, this show is going to be a good light point for everyone.”
(Narelle Portanier | CBS) “Come Dance with Me” host Philip Lawrence and judges Dexter Mayfield, Jenna Dewan and Tricia Miranda.
Sizing up the competition
“Come Dance with Me” features 12 kid-adult duos. Songwriter Philip Lawrence hosts, and the judges are dancer/actor Jenna Dewan, dancer Dexter Mayfield and choreographer Tricia Miranda.
The judging is all done by the panelists. (The show was pre-taped, so there’s no viewer voting.) The winning team takes home $100,000.
Dewan said she and the other judges were “in awe of what [the contestants] were accomplishing and how much growth we were seeing. … I mean, it really blew me away. There is something very, very special about what happened on the show.”
Connor is a ballroom dancer, but “Come Dance with Me” is not strictly a ballroom dance competition. Contestants had to learn modern, jazz, hip-hop and more. “It was all these different styles of dancing that, honestly, I didn’t even know that they existed,” Nadya said. “And it was really incredible for me as a mother to watch him go through these styles that he’s never touched.”
Connor was impressed not just with the choreographers but with the competition.
“I looked at all of the other kids, and I was, like, ‘Holy moly! I could never work that,’” he said. “Some of the hip hoppers on the show, they could move as if they were robotic. And I was, like, ‘Eh, I’d probably dislocate my arm if I did that.’”
Both mother and son said learning and performing all the different dance styles was definitely demanding. “Except, of course, my body wasn’t as flexible as his,” Nadya said.
She said one thing appearing on the show taught her was to be less critical of people who appear on TV shows.
“You know how you watch a TV show and you’re like, ‘Oh, I just wish they would smile more. Oh, I just wish they would do a faster count. This count was a little sloppy,’” she said. “My gosh, I’m never making those comments ever again in my life. When you are in those shoes, it’s difficult. It is very difficult.”
(Narelle Portanier | CBS) Utah mother-and-son team Nadya and Connor Wayment and host Philip Lawrence on “Come Dance with Me.”
Mother and son
Connor said it was “awesome” to perform with his mom. “It’s just you and her on the floor. She’s my biggest supporter and biggest fan. I would not change anything.”
Nadya echoed those sentiments, with a bit of a caveat. “Well, it was hard to be bossed by your child, I’m telling you,” she said — kidding, but not entirely. “It’s really tough not to take it personally when your kid’s just picking you apart.”
But she credited the show for giving them the “opportunity to know each other, get closer” and “to discuss things we haven’t had a chance to discuss before.”
LL Cool J said the adult contestants were “sacrificing a little ego, maybe a little pride … But at the end of the day, this is something that you can do for your child that I think is a positive thing in your child’s life.”
And Nadya said she got exactly what she wanted out of “Come Dance with Me”: A chance to spend time with her son. “When I was making a decision about this show, I was thinking, ‘My gosh, this is such an opportunity,’” she said. “We had a very good relationship even before the show. But the show certainly made it better.”
Not that every day was like dancing in the park. “There were some tough days when I wasn’t sure if we could make it together,” she said, chuckling.
“There were some days when we were almost at each other’s throats,” Connor added, “but it’s OK.”
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