They are dancers.
"In our culture, so many people are rewarded for really nothing," says host Elizabeth Berkley, a dancer ("Showgirls") and actress ("CSI: Miami"). "It's a democracy of fame, and it's really strange, and so many people feel entitled to it. The work ethics (dance) demands -- for me I am so excited to be around people that devoted. I think it will also be inspiring as much as it is fun and sexy."
The dancers' challenges will be to adapt weekly to different styles including the sensual Apache Tango, freestyle and break dancing, salsa, and Broadway chorus dancing. As in so many reality shows, they live together in a Los Angeles house, and in this one, they also hit the studio together. The show has a sleek, fun pace and the same producers as "Project Runway" and "Top Chef."
In the pilot, Mel B, also known as Scary Spice of the Spice Girls, sits in as a judge. Choreographer Jamie King, who has designed moves for Madonna and Christina Aguilera, puts the dancers though their paces.
Though this may look easy, it's not. The dancers trained in classical ballet -- traditionally considered the foundation for learning for all other dance -- look lost trying to figure out hip-hop moves. Jessica, 22 and with a ballet background, spends much of the pilot crying and even walks offstage during the performance.
"The thing that makes 'Step It Up & Dance' different from any other show is a huge diversity in what these kids are thrown," Mitchell says on a break from working on his next Broadway show, "Catch Me if You Can." "You can't be just one kind of dancer to win this competition. You have to have some flexibility. I don't believe a dancer can do just one thing their entire life. Even in film, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were constantly challenging themselves to go out of their comfort zone. You get hired for the job, and you have to do what the choreographer asks you to do. For that young dancer, the more variety they have will give them a bigger career. When you are young, you should be open to all of these possibilities."
And they are young, ranging from 18 to 31. Despite youth on their side, and no matter how frequently they stretch, dancers are forever injuring themselves. Indeed in the pilot, Nicole, a go-go dancer, tears a tendon during the first night when they freestyle at a club. Crying, she drops out.
Some contestants are far better than others, but any one of them would be the one to rule the floor at a dance party.
"I was present at the auditions before they started filming, and I was part of picking who would be part of the series," Mitchell says. "It is important to get some real dancers. I can teach anybody how to dance, but what I can't give a dancer is passion."
James, 23, exudes passion. He and Miguel, 24, both gay and dramatic, instantly bond. Miguel says he considers himself a "pioneer of jazz/funk" and brags about how he is the best.
Someone needs to tell him that he can't pioneer a movement that was thriving long before he learned to walk. Miguel and James dub themselves the "mean girls," but on the phone, James is anything but.
James started dancing late, at 14, when his family moved.
"I didn't have any friends," he says. "I didn't start ballet until two years after that. I hated it! It was so demanding, I remember thinking, 'I don't think I am disciplined enough for this!' The extreme basics of ballet I know."
Like so many of his contemporaries, his favorites are jazz and funk. He also loves doing a form of street dance called "beating your feet," which he describes as "reminiscent of stepping; it looks like you're having a convulsion."
James fares well in the pilot, as does Janelle, 18.
"I was so happy to be there, excited to meet everybody," she says. "I was just very challenged with everything, every kind of dance. Everything was taught very fast, and we had to perform it very fast; learning new things was very difficult, but I just told myself, 'You need to pull it together.'"
As difficult as the new combinations were, Janelle says the hardest part of the competition, ongoing at this writing, were the hours. "We were dancing from 7 a.m. to midnight," she says. "We got breaks and stuff."
As hard as it was on the dancers, the show is not too technical for a general audience.
"I would love for them to have pure joy watching it," Berkley says of viewers. "Because dance really comes from the soul. Your heart and soul just feels better when you are dancing than when you are not. Anyone watching it, hopefully, it will bring you a glimpse of joy. The show should be a joyful ride."