How 'Dancing With the Stars' Contestant Danelle Umstead's Guide Dog Helps Her During Practice

Dancing With the Stars competitor Danelle Umstead had a very special fan cheering her on in the ballroom audience during Monday's premiere — her guide dog Aziza!

As the first visually impaired competitor on the ABC reality competition, the U.S. Paralympic skier told Us Weekly after the premiere that she was adamant about having her husband Rob and constant companion with her as she performed for the first time.

"It was amazing," Umstead said. "I kept telling my husband he couldn't watch [the rehearsals] because I wanted him to see what we put together, and it was amazing to have him and my guide dog here watching."

"My guide dog has watched every rehearsal, so I had to make sure she was here tonight supporting us because that means a lot to me," she continued.

Aziza helps the New Mexico native in almost every aspect of her life, as she is almost completely blind. "I have very little vision," she explained. "I have no central vision and I have no peripheral vision, so I can see a lot of light when it's bright, but it's hard to go from light to dark because I black out. The little vision that I have is extremely blurry."

Prior to the premiere, during which she and pro partner Artem Chigvintsev danced the foxtrot to "Rise Up" by Andra Day, Umstead opened up about her journey learning to dance without her sight exclusively to PopCulture.

"It's just completely different. With skiing, it is very detail-oriented, but you train every day, nine hours a day, and you train for four years for the big, bigger picture, for the Olympic and Paralympic games. You have four years to train for that. For Dancing with the Stars you have, maximum, two weeks. ...Now I'm learning that I got to think about my neck. I got to think about my shoulders, my arms, my fingers, the way my head is looking, the way my eyes are looking. It is so abnormal from my everyday life or anything I've ever trained for. It is just off-the-wall, totally opposite," she told PopCulture.

She continued, "I feel very vulnerable. America's going to see that. I am a happy thoughts, strong-minded, mindful person, and I like to laugh and I like to laugh things off. I have been so overwhelmed and frustrated in trying to be my best at times that it's gotten the best of me, meaning I thought I could do better than I was doing and I was disappointed in myself type thing. But I'm trying to have the same mindset I learned in skiing, and trying to focus on the best I can do for each day. Living my impossible every day has been a great mindset for me and just recharging every day."


Dancing With the Stars season 27 airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Photo credit: ABC