'Dancing with the Stars': Tristan MacManus praises Valerie Harper

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Doctors once thought Valerie Harper wouldn't even make it to the premiere of "Dancing with the Stars" Season 17. Diagnosed with terminal cancer this past spring, the actress was given only a few months to live. But she did live, and now she is competing with professional partner Tristan MacManus.

After the season premiere, we had a chance to talk to Tristan about how Valerie was doing in the ballroom. Check out the interview below.


How do you feel about your first performance of the season?

Tristan: It went great. It went great! It was going terrible all day long. We worked on stuff, she cleared her mind, she focused on what she was supposed to do, and I was really, really happy with her. Really happy!


What did you know about Valerie Harper as an actress before you were partnered with her?

Tristan: Do you know, I haven't watched any of them? I feel like I probably need to, but the only thing I've ever seen with her ever was her own roast by Dean Martin. I thought that was really funny. But listening to people talk about her -- people talk so fondly about her and have such a good opinion of her -- that it makes me want to know a little bit more about her. She'll never be "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" to me. And she'll never be "Rhoda" to me. She'll only ever be Valerie to me. That's how I met her.


How is Valerie's health doing so far?

Tristan: Physically, she's great. She had a bad, dodgy knee for a couple of days. We had to sit out a couple days, but that's a challenge for everyone. I just had to be proactive in teaching her in different kinds of ways. It's a matter of letting the information settle down or explaining stuff in different kinds of ways. But she had a bum knee today and she's doing all right.


Is her cancer a difficulty at all?

Tristan: Physically again, with her medication -- she's not a frail person. Having lung cancer in her brain, she's not having people standing around, waiting for something to happen.

I was a little bit afraid, I guess: What if something pushes off her head? Do you know what I mean? Is that something I have to be worried about? Because, given my own ignorance about cancer, I don't really know. If someone knocks her over, is that something to worry about?

There's no panic. She's had cancer for awhile now. She has a lot of doctors who are responsibly treating her with medication -- which she has to take now ... The medication she takes now means that she has to take it very, very easy tomorrow. So whether we rehearse tomorrow or not is something we have to play by ear and in the moment. Generally she wouldn't. She would take medication, she'd stay in bed for the next day.


How have you been affected by Valerie's story?

Tristan: Everyone is affected by her situation and scenario. Because there are a lot of people in my family who unfortunately have died cancer or are suffering from cancer, who are not anywhere near remission for cancer, that in itself plays on my head all the time. And I can't afford to treat Valerie like a cancer victim.

You know what? Of course she deserves to be on this show! Just because she has cancer, she's no different from anyone else. But then she comes on the show and is treated different. It has to be consistent everywhere. It has to be a person dancing, and that's how I'll treat it.


Why did you give Valerie a short solo at the end of the premiere performance?

Tristan: It just came to me in the moment. I could have let her go halfway through the dance and just let her dance on her own.

She's so genuine, and that's the connection you want to have with anybody. And if you can have that with every single person for whatever reason, I think it's something very, very special, and it's something I didn't want to distract from by standing beside her, taking a bow.


"Dancing with the Stars" Season 17 airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.
Photo/Video credit: ABC