With a substitute dance partner and limited practice time, Paige VanZant executed a flawless finish to her salsa dance routine on Monday night’s “Dancing With the Stars,” winning three perfect scores and high praise.
“You were unleashed tonight with the power of a volcanic explosion!” judge Bruno Tonioli told the beaming VanZant, an Ultimate Fighting Championship strawweight.
“That was the first time I had ever done that,” VanZant told The Times on Tuesday, referring to dance tricks, including an upside-down, behind-the-back shift underneath replacement partner Alan Bersten’s legs and an acrobatic number-ending close. “The first time I had ever done a trick like that all.
“It was scary, but I didn’t have enough time to be scared. And Alan told me he would not drop me, so … I said, ‘You better not.’”
VanZant’s first-week partner, Mark Ballas, injured his lower back Sunday in a staging session, attempting the first of multiple tricks he had pushed to be included in the routine.
“He felt something tweak, so we didn’t even get through [it] … he had to lay down in pain,” VanZant said.
VanZant said Tuesday she was awaiting the results of two medical exams Ballas was to undergo to determine his status moving forward.
Backup dancer Bersten practiced an altered routine with VanZant for two hours on Monday, and less than two hours before “DWTS” taping, Ballas was ruled out.
“[When] we found out Mark wasn’t going to make it, we ran to the parking lot and got ready before the show started,” VanZant said. “I was optimistic going into in. [Bersten] had experience. … We had to change a few things, the ending trick [and we] kind of adjusted a few things and pulled it together. I was confident. I just tried to focus on the experience of it all, learning a new dance and getting ready to perform.
“I knew Alan was a professional dancer who had competed in the past so I knew he could dance well. The only time it got a little stressful and scary was not knowing who I was going to dance with before the show. We made it work.”
VanZant said closing what was judged to be a perfect performance was special.
“It was great, it felt really good to get the top scores … that was a very cool, fun experience,” she said.
Something like winning a UFC fight?
“I’m a fighter first,” VanZant said. “Nothing compares to a fight. Absolutely nothing.”
Online voting on the show is open until 5 p.m. Pacific on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” page (http://vote-e.abc.go.com/shows/dancing-with-the-stars/vote/season-22) and Facebook page, (https://www.facebook.com/dancingwiththestars).