Blind Paralympian Danelle Umstead Is 'Loving Every Minute' of Her Time on 'DWTS' (Exclusive)

Blind Paralympian Danelle Umstead on 'Dancing With the Stars' Season 27
Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images

When Danelle Umstead took the stage during the season 27 premiere of Dancing With the Stars on Monday, the Paralympic skier broke new ground as the first blind contestant in the show's history.

Delivering an emotional foxtrot set to Andra Day's "Rise Up," Umstead and her pro partner, Artem Chigvintsev, set the bar pretty high when it comes to inspirational moments, and she says the experience so far has been "amazing."

Speaking with ET's Lauren Zima backstage after the show, Umstead and Chigvintsev opened up about their incredible first dance.

"It was beautiful and exciting and scary and everything put into a beautiful package," Umstead marveled, "thanks to Artem."

The pair were very candid in their pre-recorded package about the challenges they faced choreographing their dance and learning the routine before the big night, considering Umstead's visual impairment, which stems from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye disorder.

"Artem is guiding me 100 percent," Umstead explained to ET about how the longtime DWTS pro is teaching her their routines. "I feel it in his touch, I feel it in his movement, and his words. So he's painting me a picture all the time, whether it's through words or through feeling, and it's a beautiful thing."

Umstead explained that her time on DWTS may be even more difficult than when she prepares to compete in the Paralympic Games.

"I have four years to train for [the Paralympics]. Artem and I have a week. So it's intense," she shared. "I push myself sometimes a little too hard, and I'm a perfectionist. I'm always thinking I can do better."

"Artem is such a great coach," she added. "He doesn't take it easy on me because I'm disabled. He's pushing me and pushing me, and I think it's amazing. It's hard, but I love every minute of it."

According to Chigvintsev, who has been a DWTS pro for eight seasons, he wasn't sure how to go about teaching Umstead to dance at first, considering her condition.

"Coming into this, I did not know what to do, honestly. It's me trying things and seeing if it works, it's a bit of trial and error for both of us. And it's a journey for Danelle as much as a journey for myself, because I never thought I would have an opportunity to teach a blind person how to dance. It's me re-learning how to choreograph and challenging myself as a coach," he shared. "You don't get opportunities like that all the time."

On Monday night, following their beautiful dance that nearly brought Umstead to tears, the pair were joined on stage by the skier's loving husband, Rob. During rehearsals, Umstead never let her husband watch her dance, so the first time he'd ever seen what she could do was when she hit the dance floor during the live show.

"[His support] felt amazing. That's what I was hoping for," she reflected. "He supports every dream I have, and this dream has been a big dream of mine for a very long time. He's my biggest fan."

For their efforts, Umstead and Chigvintsev earned a score of 18 out of 30, putting them in the middle of the leaderboard among the 13 couples vying for the coveted Mirrorball trophy.

However, the pair will get another chance to wow the audience when they take the stage for the second night of the DWTS season premiere on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.


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