“Dancing With the Stars” pro Valentin Chmerkovskiy is blogging about his experiences and thoughts on his sixth quest for the mirror ball trophy on TODAY.com throughout the season. The 14-time U.S. champion in dance is paired with Danica McKellar, who captured hearts with her performance as Winnie on “The Wonder Years.”
I would say last week has been the most challenging week of the season for different reasons. The workload has increased with a group dance and the pressure is higher. It’s already been two and a half months of grueling work that has taken both a mental and a physical toll. I’m doing my best with Danica when it comes to playing both sides of the fence. I’m accommodating to her physical pain and troubles, but I understand there’s a job to be delivered every Monday.
The problem is we found out on Thursday that Danica has a fractured rib. It’s a big problem. I’m responsible for her and progress, but most importantly her well-being. It’s very hard for me not to blame myself a little bit — if not a lot of it.
This is a pain that Danica’s had since week two. We tried a couple of lifts this week while rehearsing and we heard a "pop" and then it was over. The pain was so bad she started crying. We went to the hospital for another X-ray. She has a fractured rib.
We didn’t even practice on Thursday. That night, we flew out to Washington, D.C., for a science and engineering conference that she’s on the panel for. She’s doing some lectures and a book signing. We have a huge salsa number and a huge team dance. It’s not looking good right now.
We have an amazing team for our team dance, which consists of Candace Cameron-Bure, who had to travel on Wednesday, and Meryl Davis, who had to travel on Thursday, also. Derek Hough and Amy Purdy are on the team, too. I’m not worried about the team dance. I know we’re going to pull that together as a collective unit. We’ll create something amazing. As far as Danica’s solo performance, that’s all on her and me. We’ll see. We’re going to go day by day.
This is the most challenging experience I’ve ever had on the show. I’ve had a lot of difficult moments. I got my eye literally torn out of my socket an hour before the live finale of a season I was favored to win with Zendaya. But that was me. I’m good.
In this case, Danica’s standing there with tears in her eyes, telling me her rib was fractured. And all I could think was that it was my fault. It’s not a good feeling. She’s standing there in pain and I’m making her dance! What is that? I didn’t sign up to be a bad dude. I’m here to have fun. How do you end up in this position? It’s very difficult for me. She’s in pain and it’s hard for her. I’m trying to be as sympathetic and supportive as I can be. From my end I’m incredibly torn. I feel responsible. It makes me very, very sad.
She broke her rib doing a trick that was going to be mind-blowing and she did it once before. When it’s done correctly there’s no injury or pain. She ended up crushing the right side of her rib cage, but the trick is out of this world. I want to do my very best and I want Danica to do her very best and show things that have never been seen before.
I’m going to stay positive. I reached out Maria Menounos and Leah Remini because I know they had some rib issues when they were on the show. I asked them to call Danica and talk about therapy, what they did to numb the pain and what they did to make it work. I’m not comparing their capabilities, but maybe Danica will see that there’s a chance.
I was excited about the salsa. The choreography is bananas, but that’s where my internal struggle comes in. I push myself to create this choreography and I push Danica to do this choreography. But she’s not an athlete or a dancer — she just eats right and believes in a healthy lifestyle. She’s fragile and I have her doing things that are very physically demanding.
But she’s a sport. She’s a fighter who’s really stubborn and I know she wants to do this. I’m sure she’s not going to let the injury get the best of her. I know Danica wants it. She’s a fighter and she’ll give it her all. She’s not thinking about pulling out. She wants to keep going.