Paige VanZant has been one of Dancing With the Stars' more remarkable contestants this season, delivering stunning performances including last week's fantastic routine to Austin Powers' "Soul Bossa Nova." Of course, her dance background gives her an edge over her competitors — she studied hip-hop jazz and ballet as a kid — and, as a UFC fighter, she's required to be light on her feet and athletic every day.
But the skilled dancer has occasionally found that the same strength that's made her the seventh-ranked fighter in her category can also be a weakness. In her very first week, Bruno Tonioli told her she needs control, and later, during Switch-Up Week, she struggled to let her inner sexy goddess loose. "You need to look like a woman," Sasha Farber told her in her video package as she revealed trust issues that made it hard for her to connect. She landed in the bottom three last week.
How did she feel about landing in the bottom, and does she think she can knock out her barriers to take home the Mirrorball?
"It felt really scary being at the bottom," she tells TVGuide.com. "I need to continue to remind the fans to vote even when I do get a good score because everything counts. It challenged to me work harder this week."
Believe it or not, she doesn't attribute her childhood dance training to her strong performances so far. "A little bit of my dancing is helping, but I've never done any ballroom dancing with a partner. Dancing with a partner is different. In fighting you have to work against your opponent and counter what they are doing. With dancing you have to pretty much copy what your partner is doing."
Since it's a new experience, she doesn't get too bummed about when it's not going her way. She's used critiques to improve, but what she sees as her biggest challenge isn't the same one as what judges see. "My biggest challenge is missing my teammates," she said, adding that she hasn't been with them since Dancing began.
More than anything, she's trying to simply enjoy it. Unlike, say, Wanyá Morris — who has been unabashed in his desire to win from the beginning — VanZant is just grateful to be on the ride. "I'm in the competition to have the best experience. It's not about [competition] for me, just making the most of each week." That said, she's not going out without a fight. "I'm not ready to go home yet. I still feel like I have a statement to make."
Dancing with the Stars airs Monday at 8/7c on ABC.