"DWTS": Rashad Jennings' Emotional Dance Scores Big

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Emotions ran high Monday night on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars as the contestants recalled the most memorable year of their lives and interpreted it into dance. The stories ranged from adoption and life-threatening injuries to the personal triumphs many of the celebrities have endured in their journey to stardom. No story was more emotional than that of famed footballer Rashad Jennings who, with partner Emma Slater, recalled his childhood and turbulent relationship with an often distant alcoholic father. There wasn’t a dry eye in the ballroom following his flawless contemporary routine, one fraught with raw emotion.

His efforts did not go unrewarded. Jennings received Season 24’s first 10s and a grand total of 39 points out of 40 for his dance. (That was the highest score of the night and the season thus far.)  His dance culminated in a tender embrace with his wheelchair bound father, who lost a leg due to the combination of a debilitating stroke and diabetes (brought on by alcoholism) that left the judges somber during their critiques.

“That was a good feeling, because the story truly is an inspiration,” Jennings told me about leaving the judges speechless.  “I’m humbled that I’m in this position. I want to inspire other families and people to go there, feel that and not take life for granted. Love [your] family wherever they are, no matter what the turmoil [is] with people that might make you feel a certain way that you know you love.

“You can love, even when you’re angry,” Jennings continued. “People forget that.” He hopes his performance will enlighten others as to how they treat others. “Knowing that that may happen is kind of humbling,” he said. “Especially to come from a little country kid from Forest, Virginia; I’m so humbled to be on DWTS and to be able to perform and have this great partner help me through this whole process.”

After the show Jennings began to get emotional again as he described his father’s “dark period,” when his father did not look after himself. “It was a combination of things that lead to [his] diabetes,” Jennings explained. “The doctors told him if he didn’t stop drinking when he did, [he] may not be with us today.” (Jennings is pictured above, right, with DWTS host Tom Bergeron and partner Emma Slater.)

With their relationship mended, Jennings feels the father-son team saved each other’s lives.  “[If not for] the inspiration my father received watching his son grow up, and overcoming things, he wouldn’t be here,” he revealed. “I also wouldn’t be in this position had I not got that challenge from my dad.”

With the dance done and emotions laid on the dance floor, Jennings did take a moment to reflect on the night’s achievements – especially that high score. “I honestly can’t give it words,” he smiled. “I didn’t expect a ten to pop up. Trust me, if you saw my face, I was like ‘wow!’

“But I could’ve got zeros across the board,” he continued. “This was so much more than a dance. This was truly my emotion in poetry and how I feel was all left on the dance floor. I was going to walk away happy regardless.”

Rashad Jennings’ DWTS journey continues Monday night at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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