She’s a three-time Paralympic alpine skier. She’s known for her speed, clocking in at 70 miles-per-hour barreling down a snow-covered mountain. Her name is Danelle Umstead and she’s a beast. She’s also visually impaired, and one of the most exciting contestants on season 27 of Dancing With the Stars.
Danelle is the first visually impaired individual to compete on the show. She has no central or periphery vision (a result of a retinitis pigmentosa, a group of rare genetic disorders). You may assume that contestants would need to be able to see perfectly in order to properly foxtrot and cha-cha, but Umstead blows that assumption out of the water (just like she does every time she hits the slopes, TBH). Still, when ABC asked her to be on the show, she couldn’t believe it. “I was like, ‘I’m being punk’d right now,'” Umstead said in an interview.
ABC wasn’t punking her, though—after all, if you can alpine ski with a vision impairment, why shouldn’t you be able to dance? She’s not the first person to compete on DWTS with a disability—there have been a handful of contestants on the show who have performed with one leg or one arm. Nyle DiMarco was the second deaf person to compete and in 2016, he won his season.
Of course, part of the reason that Umstead can dance so beautifully on the show is that she has a person she trusts to direct her through the steps. Just as her husband Rob serves as her sighted guide on the slopes (how cool is that?), Umstead’s professional dance partner Artem Chigvintsev depends on his voice and his touch to lead her through the sequences. This partnership is all about trust and it’s evident that Umstead and Chigvintsev already have a sweet friendship.
During week one, the foxtrot was the perfect dance; Chigvintsev was able to keep Umstead in hold the entire time. The most difficult part of the routine was walking down the steps at the beginning. Everything else was money. In week two, though, Chigvintsev had to think outside of the box for their cha-cha, painting a visual picture for Umstead to envision before he even began to physically walk her through the steps. There was some palpable frustration when, anxious that the steps were “hard and fast,” Chigvintsev had to tell Umstead that they were moving at half speed.
That’s when the pair got creative. Chigvintsev slapped some glitter on her walking stick and let her loose in a jaunty solo for the first few eight counts of the routine. With the stick in hand, Umstead looked comfortable as hell. She owned that moment on the dance floor, and crushed last night’s performance. Time will tell if they will ever be able to work Umstead’s seeing eye dog, Aziza, into the performance. I’m here for it — Umstead is truly a rockstar and I can’t wait to see what she does next.