"That week Bret watched us rehearse and we got a stamp of approval from him," says Yamaguchi. "It was like, 'Here's our dance. What do you think?' He said, 'It's great. I love it.'"
Of course, Hedican had a little experience watching other men manhandle his wife, who is a professional figure skater. During the 10 years Stars on Ice was touring, Yamaguchi was lifted by every male skater in the company—although she and Scott Hamilton never skated a steamy tango that left spectators fanning themselves. Read: Life As An Olympic Couple
"I was nervous the week of the rumba, not because Bret was going to be in the audience, but because his mom and three of his aunts were in the front row," Yamaguchi says. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, what are they going to think of me dancing with Mark like this?'"
Yamaguchi is 15 years older than Ballas and while they progressed through their championship season shooting each other intense, sexy glances on the dance floor, during rehearsals they had a decidedly sister-brother dynamic. They argued, got irritated with each other and pushed each other's buttons. As an experienced professional dancer, Ballas knew he had to push Yamaguchi, a normally reserved person, to emote with the over-the-top style utilized by the best in ballroom.
"They are amazing actors," Yamaguchi explains. "Mark said, 'Don't worry so much about the steps. Dance from inside your soul.'"
Once she got past the rumba, Yamaguchi found connecting with Ballas on the dance floor to come more and more easily. Her next big challenge was a steamy tango in the semifinals.
"I've never had to have such an intense expression," she says. "On Dancing With The Stars it's all about the feeling. I definitely feel our second tango was better than our first (danced in week three) because of the emotion of it."
Ballas knew gazing passionately into Yamaguchi's eyes on the dance floor was the key to success, but he always respected that she was the married mom of two. If he weren't already a gentleman, the fact that Hedican is a 6'2" defenseman in the National Hockey League would be a solid reminder.
"He had a good handle on Mark," says Yamaguchi jokingly.