Tony Dovolani Is 'Dancing' With Luck

Today's cuppa: Barry's Irish Breakfast tea

Dovolani4 Melissa Rycroft may not have won her "Bachelor," but she just may win one ugly glitter-ball trophy -- along with the admiration of professional ballroom dancer Tony Dovolani and the judges and fans of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars."

Dumped on-camera by "The Bachelor's" Jason Mesnick in favor of another woman, Rycroft was dropped into the competition reality show only 48 hours before the premiere on March 9, after Dovolani's original partner, Nancy O'Dell, suffered a knee injury.

Under pressure, the childhood ballet student and former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader pulled off a waltz that wowed the crowd.

"The response that we got, I was stunned,"
Dovolani says. "We were on the crash course, and we didn't know if we were going to be able to get through it, but when she got done with the waltz, she had tears in her eyes. It was a very joyful experience. The whole thing was just fantastic.

"I have to say, it was one of the most touching experiences I've had on 'Dancing With the Stars.' This was a pretty big highlight."

But that's not to say it was easy.

"I used all my tricks on that,"
says Dovolani. "I used any elements she might have remembered as a child from ballet, and I put a whole bunch of waltz around it, when I could. I don't know if you noticed, but I was talking to her the entire time.

"Yeah, go back on YouTube and watch it" --
click here for that -- "and you'll see that I was talking to her through the whole thing. I was trying to hide it, but there was one point where I just started talking."

But in week two, Dovolani and Rycroft pulled out a salsa that got two 9s and an 8 and left the pair in  Dovolani3
second place on the judges' leaderboard. So, Dovolani went from thinking he was out of the competition to having to ramp up a celebrity at the last minute to having a serious chance to win.

"We have things to work on, still," he says. "That's why we've been hitting the floor hard every single day. She has blisters and bruises all over her legs. We've been really pushing ourselves to make sure we please Len (head judge Len Goodman) and please everybody.

"'That's one of the things that's our goal for the season, to always leave it on the dance floor. We want everybody at home and in the audience to always feel we gave it our all. We're not taking anything for granted."

Dovolani says his "heart dropped," for Rycroft when he saw her public humiliation on "The Bachelor."

"She didn't want anybody to feel sorry for her," he says. "That's the last thing she ever wanted. The reason why she is where she is today is because she went through that experience."

Among reality shows, "Dancing With the Stars" is particularly known for injuries -- both during performance and in rehearsal. At present, injuries have raised questions about the continued participation of both Apple Computers co-founder Steve Wozniak and "Jackass" star Steve-O.

"Melissa comes to the rehearsal looking like a mummy," Dovolani says. "She tapes up every single joint. We joke about that. 'There's my mummy.'"

Tonight, Dovolani and Rycroft are dancing the foxtrot.

Asked what his plan is, Dovolani says, "We're trying to channel Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I was watching some old movies, and I was trying to get influenced by some old musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, like 'Top Hat.' I tried to make it as cute as that."

As to whom he considers his biggest female competition, Dovolani says, "I actually believe Shawn (Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson) and Melissa are going to be battling it out. At least I hope so, because I think Shawn is very talented. She's got a lot to offer."

Cyd_240 Every performer harbors a fantasy, and if Dovolani had to pick a dancing partner from the past, he knows just who it would be.

"Cyd Charisse, hands down,"
he says. "That's not even a question. Cyd Charisse is by far the greatest dancer that's ever lived. She was so beautiful as a dancer -- those legs were just unreal.

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