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Chaz Bono's dance revolution

However long his ”Dancing With the Stars” run lasts, the writer, activist, and son of Cher has already found his groove inspiring transgender people

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Barely one week into the new season of Dancing With the Stars, Chaz Bono was faced with a tough and very awkward decision: Should he forgo the fake tan before hitting the dance floor on premiere night? Ultimately he opted against show tradition and performed his first dance au naturel. ”I had a massage booked, and the tan would have rubbed off,” insists Bono, 42. ”It’s more important that my body can move than be the right color orange!”

Bono hardly needs the sun-kissed look to generate attention. The only child of Cher and the late Sonny Bono, the author and activist became a target for both acclaim and condemnation when the ABC series announced in August that he would be the first transgender contestant to don a pair of Danskins. Bono and dance partner Lacey Schwimmer gamely cha-cha’d their way through the first week of competition, but week 2 was rougher: Hampered by leg pain, Bono played it safe during the quickstep and landed at the bottom of the scoreboard. (At press time his fate was still unclear.)

No matter how it turns out, he’s already a groundbreaker. ”I feel like if I had seen someone like me on TV, my life would have been so much easier as a kid,” admits Bono. He was first approached by DWTS before last season. But it wasn’t until after he made this year’s documentary Becoming Chaz — which chronicled his transition from woman to man — that he was ready to tango. ”If I can make the lives of kids or adults who are confused or scared easier, then I’m really happy to do that,” says Bono, an honoree next month for GLSEN, a gay advocacy group that promotes tolerance in schools. ”But I don’t represent every transgender person. We are a diverse community. I don’t want to say I’m representing anybody other than myself.”

Transgender people who can really cut a rug might appreciate reading that. Though he has lost 10 pounds, Bono realizes he isn’t the lightest dude on his feet. Thank God, then, for Mom, who sent over her physical therapist to give Bono an ultrasound treatment and a massage. ”She’s been great,” Bono says of Cher, who called her son immediately after his premiere to congratulate him. (He’s not sure when she’ll attend the show.) ”It’s such hard work. It feels like that slogan ‘It’s the hardest work you’ll ever enjoy.”’

What’s his plan if he continues to advance? Well, everyone wants to know if he’d dance to one of his parents’ songs — as if it were possible to swing to ”I Got You Babe.” Bono would prefer to keep the fans guessing. ”I’ve got something up my sleeve that’s much more obscure,” he teases. ”We’ve got a theme night coming up about the most memorable year of our lives. It won’t be a Cher song, but it will be something.”