Olympic champion Nastia Liukin and five-time mirror ball trophy winner Derek Hough topped the “Dancing with the Stars” leader board for the second time in as many weeks on March 30 with a show-closing samba that judge Bruno Tonioli termed “almost inebriating.” But does the talented duo truly hold an advantage over the rest of the 10-couple field, as some show fans claim?
It’s true that as an elite gymnast, the 25-year old Liukin is accustomed to the rigors of intensive physical training and the dedication required to perfect a routine. As a former world silver medalist in floor exercise, she also knows a thing or two about interpreting music and creating impressive shapes and lines with her body. Additionally, although football player Michael Sam and war veteran Noah Galloway are also in the mix, the slender but tremendously powerful Liukin is arguably the season’s most physically fit contestant.
But that’s where the advantages for Liukin end. Unlike her fellow contestants, she commutes to and from New York, where she is a full time student with little free time to devote to rehearsals with Hough (whose time is also significantly limited as he stars in 10 weekly showings of “New York Spring Spectacular”). Per the March 30 show, Liukin actually spends half of her time, including the all-important camera blocking sessions, rehearsing with “DWTS” troupe member Henry Byalikov. Their individual time constraints give them precious little time to cultivate a real bond, which is a crucial element in some of the more emotionally evocative dance styles.
Additionally, as a gymnast, Liukin was trained to conceal her emotions, so her success in the ballroom is a testament to a lot of hard work on her part during rehearsals and a little extra help from Hough. She told AfterBuzz TV during a March 30 post-show interview that Hough, who admitted to deliberately “shock[ing]” his partner by saying strange things in an attempt to elicit a reaction, taught her that “it’s okay to not be… a perfect gymnast all the time.”
When “Dancing with the Stars” returns April 6, Liukin and Hough will dance an Argentine tango in honor of her as-yet named most memorable year. Will they wind up on top once again or is a new leader about to be born? Tune in and find out.