Mirai Nagasu is a figure skater who made history at the 2018 Winter Olympics when she landed the rare and incredibly difficult triple axel jump, which made her the first U.S. female figure skater to land the jump during an Olympic competition. Now, she’s taking on the competition on season 26 of Dancing with the Stars, and she is blogging about her experience on the ABC reality show for PEOPLE. Follow Nagasu, 25, and her partner Alan Bersten, 23, on Twitter!
I talked about this show during the Olympics because dancing is one of my secret passions, and being on the show is something that I’ve wanted for a long time. I sometimes would go take hip-hop classes in Los Angeles, but I would always be really embarrassed. They go so fast, and I would never pick up the moves! This is my first time ballroom dancing and since I don’t want to get kicked off the first week, I’ve been practicing all the time.
When I had my first meeting with my partner Alan, I actually didn’t know who he was. I originally requested Mark Ballas, but he wasn’t doing the show. It’s a little bit like Match.com when it comes to pairing up the contestants with the pro dancers. The producers asked me, “What are you looking for in a partner?” I said I wanted someone who was really fun and ambitious, but also someone big who could lift me. But be careful what you wish for — I got big, old Alan! I feel like I have a new best friend in Alan because I spend all of my time with him. He’s been traveling with me during my Stars on Ice tour and so he sees me when I’m really exhausted and is always there to give me a hug and say, “It’s going to be okay.”
On Friday, we’re in Pittsburgh. Saturday, Detroit. Sunday, Chicago. Then we take a red eye flight to our first Dancing with the Stars show on Monday. This little stretch before the show I’m really nervous about because I have to rehearse alone since Alan couldn’t come with me. People think that figure-skaters have an advantage, but honestly, I’m such a free spirit. Alan tells me all the time, “It’s hard to dance with you because you won’t let me lead you where I want you to.” I’ve been taught to be so strong with my posture, and I think it’s hard for Alan that I’m in control of my body at all times. In ballroom dancing, there’s this thing called connection. If Alan pushes, I have to push. Sometimes I forget and he’ll be like, “Where are you? Are you in there?” I have the perfect teacher, and even though Alan is younger than me, he’s not afraid of putting me in my place. He’s a pusher, and he’s a motivator. As an Olympic figure skater, I’m super competitive, and I appreciate that he has a motivation to win this.
This competition is different from the Olympics in that men and women don’t compete against each other in individual events on the figure skating stage. Adam and I brought home the bronze together, so I don’t necessarily feel I’m competing against him for this. We have a lot of rehearsal time at the same studio together which usually run for four hours, and it’s a long time to be by ourselves. We’ll sometimes pop over and we’ll say, “Hey, can we do a little show and tell?” It makes such a huge difference when there’s an audience. We’re helping each other to the finale. That’s our goal.
When I met Tonya Harding, who’s also competing on the show, she didn’t know who I was. I told her that I figure skate, and she is the nicest person. She’s been working really hard, and she told me she lost 3 lbs. I wish I lost 3 lbs.! I haven’t told her yet that we both have made history by landing the triple axel, but I think she knows. She told me that she’s really proud of me because my ballroom dancing looks really good. I think that because the show is only two hours long, it’s hard to see how much work people put in. But let me tell you, we are all at the studio for at least four hours a day almost every day, six days a week.
Not only am I excited to compete with a partner, but I’m also excited to represent the Asian American community. Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of Asians on TV, so I really want to do my best to represent them well. At the Olympics, I had a moment after not making it at Sochi in 2014, and I want to keep fighting. Hopefully America gives me the chance to keep dancing.
Season 26 of Dancing with the Stars premieres Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.