Pro ballroom dancer Tony Dovolani, who is partnered with reality star NeNe Leakes on this season's Dancing with the Stars, writes an exclusive blog for Closer Weekly!
Well we survived the first elimination night, and believe it or not, NeNe was so nervous about performing the last thing on her mind is elimination. NeNe didn't even realize we were in jeopardy until we were standing on top of the stairs; she was completely oblivious because the nervousness of performing is the only thing she focuses on.
I admit my preconceived idea of NeNe was that she was a big personality and having seen both sides of her on TV, the only thing I prayed for was that she would come in with the right attitude and she did. It turns out I had nothing to be concerned about.
One thing people don't know about NeNe is she’s insecure and shy, but for me as a teacher I have to bring out her strength. When she's insecure and nervous I make sure I camouflage that with personality and facial expressions. It makes my job a little difficult because people expect her huge personality will be her personality when dancing.
I know people's expectations are bigger than what she may be capable of doing, but at the same time I don't mind the pressure, I'll try to bring the best out of her every single week and push her to the limit. My job is to make sure that her dancing matches the personality people perceive of her.
Going into the season I had a fear that she might be like Wendy Williams, I love Wendy and she's a fantastic girl, but dancing and her didn't get along very well. Wendy juggled a lot of stuff during the show, as is NeNe, but her schedule is slightly different to what Wendy's was. I love that NeNe is there ready to work and really takes care of me.
I'm not sure if I'll be part of the Housewives but if she asks me to show up in a couple of episodes I'd be more than happy to. I think their season is ending so it wouldn’t make any sense for me to just show up.
I don’t think NeNe’s ever been mean on Housewives, they might have their disagreements, but she tends to stand her ground and I give her props for that. She received some criticism last night for her arm work not being bigger in our Jive and I thought she handled it beautifully. She told me afterwards that she’d do what I taught her.
I understood what Carrie Ann said in wanting NeNe’s arms to be bigger, but that's only if the dance requires it. I don't take it as a criticism when the dance doesn't call for it and that was my only issue. I wasn't trying to go against what Carrie Ann said, I think she's fantastic and I respect her, but when it comes to the jive she needs to do her homework – sorry but saying you need bigger arms doing a jive is like oil and water – they just don't mix.
So I stood my ground and honestly, my reaction was based on my knowledge; something I've gained from the age of 3. I didn't have to speak up but it was a reaction and normally I wouldn't say anything but while I tried to be respectful, I wasn't going to sit there and listen to something that was inaccurate.
Moving forward I feel NeNe’s challenges are slightly different to most people. The biggest challenge is allowing herself to ‘go there.’ That's the only thing I'm constantly working on. Just making sure her dancing matches what her mind is telling her to do.
We’re really having a good time and hope I can consistently grow her into more of a dancer; I mean she already commands a room every time she walks into one so why not the dance floor?