Dancing With the Stars pro Sasha Farber, who is paired with the former Olympic figure skater during this all-athletes season, opened up about their experience competing together, revealing that Harding’s premiere dress was chosen for a very specific reason.
“We chose the color for her dress last night because it’s the same color she wore when she landed her triple axel,” Farber said in a blog for Us Weekly, adding that a shortened season and her notorious reputation have put them in a much different position than their competitors during the shortened season. “There’s no time to do anything other than charge full-steam ahead. I do think that there’s a lot of pressure on her – more than any other contestant may have. She was super-nervous last night, and I was trying to calm her down.”
The two won rave reviews from the judges for their foxtrot to “When You Believe” by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.
“Our first dance was so special. This is the first time Tonya has performed in front of people in over 27 years!” Farber continued. “She had something taken away from her when she was banned from performing for life [by the U.S. Figure Skating Association] and she didn’t really get a chance to fulfill her dream. So to see her go from her first fitting to walking into the ballroom and everyone seeing her dance was just amazing. She got teary-eyed in the dressing room because she’d never had dresses made for her before. I’m super proud of her.”
Although there are a number of viewers who think Harding should not be featured on the show, Farber said he was happy to leave behind any preconceived notions he had and embrace the woman she is today.
“When I first learned I was being partnered with Tonya, I was so excited for this challenge because there are so many haters out there,” he said. “There are so many people who have their own personal opinions about Tonya. It’s my job to show the real side of her – a side they’ve never seen before, where she has suffered for something that happened.”
He continued that he believes people in general, and Harding specifically, deserves a second chance, and that Monday’s premiere was that chance.
“She was like a little girl. Her eyes were beaming. The energy coming out of her is contagious,” he said. “She’s one of those people who gets along with absolutely everyone. It was a night she’ll never forget and I hope it’s only the beginning. Next week is going to be a night where we push more and more and show another side of her.”
Dancing With the Stars airs on ABC Monday at 8 p.m. ET.