As creative and fun as their ideas were, however, I was still having some doubts. On the one hand, I was feeling carefree. I knew that people were going to be talking about this dance the next day. On the other hand, I was a little nervous about how they would be talking about it. We were an eight o'clock, family-friendly show. What would viewers think when they saw me straddle Drew's back while he was in a push-up position and lift him up and down? I also began to worry that people would think we were cruel or insensitive for doing such a suggestive dance with Lea sitting in the front row. But it was too late to back out now.
Before we stepped out onto the stage, I got a pang in my belly. I always get the same pang right before I'm about to dance. It's just part of my pre-performance routine. That night, though, it was much bigger than ever before.
We got the call to take our spots on the ballroom floor. The audience was going nuts. I could not hear a thing over the crazy thumping of my heartbeat. Drew was pumped. He jumped up and down a couple of times to warm up. I stood still and just tried to absorb it all. I am sure that I looked calm to the people in the audience, but inside I was about to explode. People were screaming our names, clapping, and cheering wildly—and we hadn't even started our dance yet. Drew looked over at me and smiled. He raised his eyebrows as if to say, "Here we go, girl." I think I smiled back at him. It may have been a grimace, actually. What were we about to do? Could we pull it off?
All of my fears and insecurities, the adrenaline rushing through my body, the perspiration on the palms of my hands— everything came to a boil. Then the music started, and like so many times before, the nervousness vanished. The one minute and thirty seconds that I had to dance was magic. That was the easy part. We tore through our routine and never missed a beat. The audience was on their feet, screaming and applauding throughout the routine. We were doing what we were told to do: go all out and just go crazy.
During the performance I was, of course, focused on the dance. But I did manage to catch a glimpse of the audience. Everyone was screaming, laughing, and clapping. I glanced over at the judges' table at one point, too, and I saw Bruno Tonioli out of the corner of my eye. He was banging his hand on the table, his mouth wide open in disbelief. Carrie Ann Inaba was laughing and smiling. Toward the end of the dance I even stole a peek at Len Goodman, the gentleman judge of the ballroom world. I wondered if he'd think our performance was too over-the-top or suggestive for the program. It turned out that he had the biggest smile of all. These little glimpses at people as we were performing only pushed Drew and me into character more. We hammed it up.
At the end of the routine, when Drew hit the floor in a push-up position and I straddled his back, mimicking how a rodeo champ would ride a bucking bronco, the screams and cheers got louder. Our big finish was greeted with a raucous standing ovation. We both were out of breath, yet we were so jazzed by the audience response that we wanted to do the dance all over again. It reminded me why I was there: this is what I do best. I love to dance. I love to perform. I love to entertain. It was the beginning of a new adventure for me.