After partners are assigned, couples pick a dance style out of a hat, are rehearsed by a choreographer, and perform their routine, which is taped two days prior to airing.
Following the airing of the performances, home viewers vote for their favorite couple.
Nigel Lythgoe returned as a permanent judge, joined this season by choreographer Mary Murphy.
The bottom three couples (six dancers overall) are then liable for elimination by the judges on the live, or broadcast on tape delay in the western United States, results show.
All six dancers perform a solo, after which the judges eliminate one male and one female contestant.
The contestants that survived the cuts following those rounds were divided into groups, asked to randomly select from a box a CD containing one of five possible music types, and choreograph a routine to the song on their chosen disk.
The dancers remaining after the group choreography round were asked to perform one last solo, following which the group was whittled down to 34 contestants—17 male, 17 female. As in season 2, the finals began with 20 contestants, ten male and ten female.