Just six years ago, Jenna Johnson was graduating from Timpview High in Provo. Today, she’s right in the middle of two pop-culture phenomena.
Not only is she a professional dancer on “Dancing With the Stars,” but her partner is Olympic figure skater/media sensation Adam Rippon.
“We had an instant connection, and I love dancing with him so much,” Johnson said. “I feel almost like he’s meant to be my [dance] partner for life.”
Rippon not only helped the United States win a bronze medal in the skating team event at the Winter Olympics, becoming the first openly gay U.S. male athlete to win a medal in a Winter Games, but he became a star. Time Magazine ran a story headlined, “Adam Rippon stole everyone’s hearts during the Olympics.” He blew up on social media, and he made the rounds of TV talk shows, sitting down with Ellen DeGeneres, Stephen Colbert and the women of “The View,” among others.
Johnson said she watched him compete in South Korea and jokingly admitted to “stalking him on social media.” And they had “instant connection and chemistry” when they met.
“He’s everything I’d hoped and more,” she said. “He’s a truly great person, and he’s himself. And I love that about him.”
While many viewers assume figure skaters have a leg up in the competition — even the current all-athletes version — Johnson said dancers and skaters come from “completely different worlds.” They use their upper bodies in similar ways, “but from the hips down, they are completely different,” she said. “I think people just naturally assume that skaters are going to be great. And that’s not always true.
“But I would take an ice skater as a partner any day,” she added with a laugh. “It’s nice to have someone agile.”
Particularly during this abbreviated, four-episode season.
“There’s not a lot of time,” Johnson said. “You kind of have to be at the top of your game every single week.”
So far, Johnson and Rippon are two for two. They got the highest scores from the judges in the first two episodes; we’ll find out Monday (7 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) how viewers voted and whether they’ll continue to compete.
It all seems a long way from Utah, although Johnson said, “I still feel like a girl from Provo. I still feel like that’s my home. But my life is kind of crazy now.”
The 24-year-old was a finalist on “So You Think You Can Dance” in 2013 and later an all-star; she was in the “DWTS” troupe in Seasons 18-22 and 25, and this is her second time as one of the pro dancers.
Her life has changed considerably since she was in middle school, sitting on her parents’ couch and watching the early seasons of “DWTS.”
“I remember thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do. That’s what I want to be.’ And now I’m watching myself dance on TV,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of weird, but if you put your energy into something and you do your best to achieve it, you can accomplish anything. I truly believe that.”