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Dancing With The Stars Part 1: Key Makeup Stylist Zena Shteysel

On March 16th, 2015, Dancing with the Stars celebrated its tenth season. For key makeup artist Zena Shteysel, the special episode allowed her to reflect on the first episode that introduced her to working on live programming.

“I met a woman working on indie films that brought me into the makeup department on the first season of ‘Dancing with the Stars’. It was great, it was my first live project,” said Shteysel. “I met other makeup artists and got jobs through colleagues and producers on other shows including the Grammys and the Oscars.”

Shteysel’s first entry into production was in the accounting department, working on features including “Men in Black II” and “Spiderman II”. While she always loved working with makeup, she never thought of building a career on her skill until she visited sets and was inspired by watching the makeup artists fast at work. After taking a number of classes, she paid her dues working on shorts and low-budget indie films.

“I did an indie horror film that was a 19 day shoot done all at night in the freezing cold wind on Santa Monica Pier,” said Shteysel. “It was tough, but I knew it was important to stick with it.”

During the first year of “Dancing with the Stars” a great deal of growth occurred in the format. The professional dancers who came from the competition circuit were used to stage makeup; heavier colors and lines were commonly used to accentuate expressions aimed at reaching the farthest seats in the house. The makeup department initially took their styling cues from the dancers. However, the combination of stage lighting and high definition television was not the right format for such heavy applications. The makeup evolved into focusing more on contouring and highlighting as Shteysel was simultaneously promoted into the role of key makeup stylist.

Taking a cue from the series producers, the first episode of season ten presented all performers in the most natural makeup possible. “It was the first time the audience got to see them, so the producers wanted everyone to really look like themselves,” said Shteysel. As the season progresses, the makeup team will get more creative and build characters that arise from the choreography and wardrobe choices. They may add feathers to eyelashes, apply glitter, even airbrush the talent depending on the dance number.

In order to prepare for the show’s makeup, Shteysel receives a color, dance style, song and general description of the wardrobe on Thursday or Friday. On Sunday (the day before the live broadcast) she’s able to take photos of the cast and present her ideas to the producers. They can not finalize anything until they see the wardrobe and test the makeup early in the day of the live performance.

“While we have an idea, it’s usually 50% different than what we envisioned,” said Shteysel.

In addition to dance style, wardrobe and music, Shteysel and her team confirm their makeup choices with the talent to ensure they are comfortable. “It’s our job to make them look good,” said Shteysel. The team also confirms the final look with the show’s director and producers who may have notes related to the entertainment quality of the program.

Shteysel relies on a talented team of roughly ten makeup artists, including a body makeup (for applying spray tans and other makeups outside the face) and nail specialists (in charge of finger and toe nails). While the core group of artist have been working with Shteysel for many seasons, they are only needed on set one day a week. When an artist isn’t available, she has a list of backup artists who enjoy the challenging, fast pace environment. One of the biggest challenges the makeup team has is keeping the makeup fresh through the telecast. Every moment the performers are not on camera, they are being touched up by two to three makeup artist who blot sweat, reapply lipstick, removes smears, and ensure they are constantly camera-ready.

“Basically, the rule is wherever the talent is, you should be,” said Shteysel. “They have to be right there, keeping a fan on them, touching up.”

Shoot days run from 7:00am until 7:00pm when taping concludes. Makeup application begins early, allowing the artists the chance to ensure their concepts can be executed. They are in full makeup for dress rehearsal which is reapplied for the live broadcast. By the time viewers see the show, the dancers have performed the routines two to three times. Shteysel is contentious of choosing long wearing products including primers, water-proof mascaras and cream shadows that won’t cake up on the performers, and is always open to trying products the men and women bring to her as long as they hold up on camera. Gloss lipsticks are avoided because they easily catch hair and debris.

The makeup department also applies light foundations to the male dancers and hair pieces such as sideburns or mustaches if the performance calls for it. Powder is avoided on all performers due to its tendency to crack and cake-up when sweat is introduced.

The “Dancing with the Stars” makeup team have been rewarded with seven Emmy nominations and two wins for their work. Shteysel is proud of their accomplishments and notes the recognition never grows tiresome.

“It’s the best feeling. We work really hard, and you feel the gratitude,” said Shteysel. “IT’s such a feeling of accomplishment.”

To view the second article in this two part interview, “Dancing With The Stars Part II: Hair Department Mary Guerroro”, please click: