Everything to Know About the 'DWTs' Lift Rule That Carrie Ann Inaba Loves to Enforce

Kelsey Hurwitz
·6 mins read

From Woman's Day

Season 29 of Dancing With the Stars began on Sept. 14, and throughout an episode that contained a lot of changes, one thing that didn't change is the judges' attention to lifts. Well, one judge's attention to the infamous DWTS lift rule. Already in the season's first episode, judge Carrie Ann Inaba deducted a point for a lift.

The point was deducted from NFL player Vernon Davis and dance pro Peta Murgatroyd's who danced a foxtrot routine, during which Murgatroyd's feet barely left the ground. The point deduction for that lift was extra confusing after seeing TV personality Jeannie Mai and her partner Brandon Armstrong's salsa routine in which he lifted her upside down over his shoulders. One fan's comment on a DWTS Instagram post summed it up perfectly: "I’m confused why he got a point taken away for a lift? Because they don’t allow lifts yet couple dancers later were lifting all over the place?! Since when are lifts not allowed?"

Photo credit: Eric McCandless
Photo credit: Eric McCandless

Since Inaba has made a name for herself as the show's "lift police," and she will most certainly continue deducting points for illegal lifts as the season continues, allow us to break it down so next time a point is deducted, you know exactly why.

Simply put, lifts are not allowed.

To truly understand the DWTS lift rules, it only makes sense to go to the head lift police herself. In a lengthy Facebook post from 2017, Inaba explained the rules. She wrote,"From day one it was decided that there would be no lifts in the proper Ballroom and Latin dances, just like in a true Ballroom and Latin dance competition, since that was the original basis of the show, to learn ballroom dances." Inaba, who has been a judge since the first season of the show, shared that the show's rules on lifts align with the National Dance Council of America rules, which define a lift as "any movement during which one of the dancers has both feet off the floor at the same time with the assistance or support of their partner."


But why aren't lifts allowed?

As Inaba explained, the no-lift rule is designed to make DWTS like a true ballroom competition, by sticking as closely to the official competition rules as possible. But the no-lift rule has another purpose, as well: to keep things fair. "It levels the playing field," Inaba said, noting that the show features dancer of varying ages and physical fitness, not all of whom are physically able to do a lift safely. For example, this season includes an age range from Skai Jackson, 18, to Carole Baskin, 59. Allowing lifts could give Jackson and other younger competitors an unfair edge over the older competition.

Additionally, the no-lift rule ensures that things don't get too out of hand, and that the choreography stays closely aligned with the intended style of dance. "If lifts were allowed in every dance, people would start doing lifts to make their dances visually exciting," Inaba said. "Because truth be told, a good lift is always great to watch." But since lifts aren't traditional in most styles that are danced on the show, it could lead the dances to feel inauthentic. So while Inaba does love to see a good lift, she will not be swayed in letting lifts slide.

But some lifts are allowed.

Which brings us back to the dances when there are major lifts, like Mai and Armstrong's over the top (literally) lift that wasn't penalized at all. Huh? After watching the pair's dance, fans had a lot of questions. One tweeted, "I'm confused...weren't those lifts??" and another commented, "So lifts are ok for some people?"

Though it might seem like the two couples were treated differently — especially when one team's lift was much more egregious than the other's — Inaba's Facebook post clears things up pretty simply. It turns out, it's all about the style of dance. "Over the years, we have expanded our dance styles to include dances such as the Jitterbug, Argentine Tango, the Charleston, Salsa, Jazz, and Contemporary," Inaba wrote. In those styles, lifts are allowed.

But the addition of the new dance styles did not open up the opportunity for lifts in the original dance styles featured on the show. The styles where lifts are still a no-go are: Rhumba, Cha Cha, Jive, Paso Doble, Samba, Tango, Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, and Quickstep.

So in this case, Mai and Armstrong's lift was A-OK because it was in a Salsa routine, whereas Davis and Murgatroyd's Foxtrot lift got docked a point because it falls in the original category of styles in which lifts are absolutely not allowed.

Allow us to make this simple.

If you want to make sure you're not caught off guard when a lift happens during the next episode, be sure to have a cheat-sheet on hand and pay attention to the style of dance the couple is performing.

No lifts allowed: Rhumba, Cha Cha, Jive, Paso Doble, Samba, Tango, Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, and Quickstep.

Lifts allowed: Jitterbug, Argentine Tango, Charleston, Salsa, Jazz, and Contemporary.

"I have always taken a point off for when lift rules are broken," Inaba said, a judging style she has continued to stand by. "I will always do my very best to judge fairly and if that earns me the title of 'Lift Police', well, then I wear that badge with honor."

At the very least, the next time Inaba deducts a point, you'll understand why.

Watch Dancing With the Stars Monday nights at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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