“Dancing With the Stars" 8 p.m. Monday, ABC
How does it feel to be the youngest person ever to be named to the roster of “Dancing With the Stars"? Zendaya, the 16-year-old Disney darling from Oakland, Calif., will tell you that she’s full of pride — and in a lot of pain.
“Everything hurts," she informs me during a phone call from Los Angeles. “I’m almost positive that I’ve discovered muscles that I never knew I had before. My neck, my arms, my legs, my abs — they’re all very achy."
The pain, of course, is the result of rigorous training sessions with her pro partner Val Chmerkovskiy as they prepare for Season 16 of the ABC reality series. And yes, it does, indeed, hurt to laugh, which makes it a little awkward for someone who happens to work on a sitcom.
“Our job is to make people laugh," Zendaya says of her role on the Disney Channel’s weekly series “Shake It Up." “Sometimes I’ll tell (castmates) that you need to be quiet just so I can get some relief. But trying not to laugh because of the pain is funny, which makes you laugh even more."
There’s nothing funny about what Zendaya has been able to accomplish in her brief showbiz career. Just a few years ago, she was attending Oakland School for the Arts and hanging out a lot at the California Shakespeare Theater in Orinda, Calif., where her mother worked as the house manager.
Then, in 2010, she landed a co-lead role as Rocky Blue in “Shake It Up," a show about two girls living their dreams as TV show dancers. Since then, she’s made movies (“Frenemies"), signed a recording contract with Hollywood Records and appeared in music videos.
The invitation to strut her stuff on “DWTS," one of TV’s most popular shows, marks a major step up in terms of exposure. Zendaya says she seized the opportunity because it’s something “different and out of my comfort zone."
Also, she wanted to please her Danville-based grandma, who is a “super fan" of “DWTS."
“I love performing, and it’s exciting to be able to show more people what I can do," she says. “But it’s also live and brings a lot of pressure with it. What you do out there on the stage, you can’t take back."
Zendaya, of course, has done a lot of dancing for “Shake It Up," but she and co-star Bella Thorne have mainly engaged in hip-hop moves, which haven’t exactly prepared her for the ballroom.
“Some people have assumed that I’ll just naturally do well, but the styles of dancing are so different. There are more rules, more concerns about posture and elegance," she says. “In some ways, it’s even harder for me. I have to unlearn things, start from scratch and kind of erase what’s in my head."
Amid a cast that includes Olympic legends (Dorothy Hamill), comedians (D.L. Hughley and Andy Dick), singers (Wynonna Judd and Kellie Pickler) and boxing champs (Victor Ortiz), Zendaya figures to be one of the least-known celebrities. Not a whole lot of adults, after all, watch the Disney Channel.
Still, a Disney Channel star — Kyle Massey — was the show’s runner-up in Season 11, and Zendaya’s “Shake It Up" castmate, Roshon Fegan, posted a sixth-place finish in Season 14.
Has Fegan passed on any valuable advice to the newbie?
“Um, yeah. He told me to blow my nose before I go on stage," she says, laughing. “I guess he had a cold during his season and, well, there are some things that are hard to control."
Another potential area could be the costumes, which, on “DWTS," tend to be skimpy and risque and, in some minds, highly inappropriate for a 16-year-old.
But Zendaya says she has things under control in that department.
“(The show’s designers) draw up all the outfits for us ahead of time, and I’m consulted and so are my parents," she says. “Believe me, nothing crazy will be happening."