After being surrounded by public controversy for over two decades, former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding's first dance on Dancing With The Stars had many viewers changing their tunes. The continued positive light follows the release of I, Tonya, the film outlining the 1994 scandal between her and rival skater, Nancy Kerrigan. The movie told much of the story from Harding's side and shed new light on an infamous incident. And, on Monday night, Harding said she was glad to be able to perform again, even if in a different medium. Despite her admitted lack of grace on the ice, she was determined to do well on stage.
Possibly pressured by the risk of falling behind Kerrigan's sixth place ranking on Season 24 of DWTS, and what was sure to be massive public attention, Harding was particularly hard on herself in rehearsal with partner Sasha Farber, and became emotional at times. "I want people to see that I deserve to be here," she said on the show. "I don't want to fail again."
Well, her hard work seemingly paid off, because she handled her first live performance like a pro, which came as a surprise to many. The judges gave them a score of a whopping 23 out of 30 points, and viewers everywhere were giving her praise.
One viewer tweeted, "All I can say is WOW!!" while another called her performance "heart felt."
After finishing the routine with a final spin, Harding found herself overwhelmed with emotion as she stood before the judges. Apparently she wasn't the only one who grew teary-eyed.
Another viewer went as far as to compare her to Britain's Got Talent star, Susan Boyle, who tugged heart strings across the world.
Knowing her past, others were defensive of her, and feel as though she earned her spot in the competition.
“I’m just very glad to be part of something that is just so wonderful," Harding told Us Weekly ahead of the premiere. “[I want to prove] that I can do it, to myself. But I want to do it for my family and my friends, too,” she said. “It is truly an honor to be part of this, it’s very heartfelt, and I’m just so excited!”
In a way, Harding's participation on the show is offering her redemption as a performer, and her partner, Farber, gave testament to that.
“There’s so many things that America hasn’t seen about her, and she’s just had an amazing movie that’s come out about her, and the ball’s rolling,” Farber told Us Weekly. “I feel like it’s in her court at the moment, and I’m happy that the truth is out there, and this is the next step for her. This is like, redemption in a way, and I want her to just enjoy this, be herself and have good time.”
It was obvious that she had a good time after stepping in front of the judges following her performance. She greeted them holding back tears, and was eager to hear what they had to say — even taking their criticisms well. To her delight, they had mostly good things to say, though.
"You are a beautiful dancer," judge Carrie Ann Inaba told an emotional Harding. "You shouldn't be weeping. You should be happy," Len Goodman added.
Harding thanked the judges and ended her stint in front of the camera claiming that she felt like a princess. At the episode's end, Harding and Farber were shaken when the three couples at risk for elimination were brought to light, and they were one of them. But, after a long and dramatic lull of anticipation, they made it through to the next week.
After loving her first dance as much as they did, fans will surely be setting the bar even higher for Harding in the future. Time will tell if she can measure up.