Kelsey McNeal/ABC
People Staff
September 23, 2008 12:00 AM

Cloris Leachman gets a leg up on the competition, Brooke Burke dances one for the soccer moms and Warren Sapp scores his first post-retirement touchdown…

Showing Up the Competition What Cloris Leachman lacked in athleticism she made up for in showmanship. Her first night on the ballroom floor the 82 year old showed the kids that it’s not just a dance show. After performing an elegant foxtrot with partner Corky Ballas, Leachman appealed to the judges’ hearts by putting her left leg up on the podium, then mock praying to Len Goodman for mercy and crying, ‘I’m an orphan’ to Carrie Ann Inaba. It was a move that stole comedian and fellow contestant Jeffrey Ross’s ’S heart. “I was jealous she did that,” Ross said of Leachman’s schmoozing. “She is MY woman!”

Body Double: Carrie Ann suggested that All My Children star Susan Lucci put on some weight because she felt she looked “frail.” Lucci told PEOPLE after the show, “I’m very strong. I’m very physically fit. I’m not frail. In fact, when I started on the show a lot of the (female) dancers told me I have a dancer’s body.” Lucci’s partner, Tony Dovolani agreed. “She’s extremely strong for her size. I am surprised sometimes that I’m the one that has to take a break.” The Walking Wounded: Earlier in the day medics treated pro dancer Karina Smirnof and celebrity contestant Jeffrey Ross for injuries. Both of their dress rehearsals resulted in injuries. Smirnoff sprained her right ankle and had to be taken to the hospital for X-rays. Smirnoff told PEOPLE she “feels fine. I’m okay. It sounds like I’m falling apart. It’s not as bad as they make it seem.” DiSpirito said he had just the perfect remedy for Smirnoff … ice for her ankle and belon oysters. “They are from France and they are the best,” DiSpirito said. Meantime, Ross suffered a scratched cornea on his left eye after his partner, Edyta Sliwinska, hit him during a camera blocking run through. Ross was given an eye patch but declined to wear it during their cha cha as it limited his vision. “I’m in a lot of pain,” he confessed. “I decided to not wear the patch because I couldn’t focus. It was a freak accident. We’ve performed that dance a thousand times and never had a problem.” Convinced he would be the first to go, a dejected Ross said, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had. Edyta has taught me some great things here and I’ll never forget it.”

On a more positive note, singer Toni Braxton didn’t need to call upon her personal physician, who was sitting in the audience. Braxton, who suffers from micro vascular angina, said, “I have to take it easy. We have to pace every single dance, every single rehearsal.” So the singer was more than relieved her nerves didn’t get the best of her. “I was so excited my hand was shaking. I haven’t been that nervous in years, since I was a kid singing in the choir and I was chosen to sing a solo part. I had to remember to breathe!”

Mr. Softie He used to eat quarterbacks for a living, but former NFL star Warren Sapp was able to channel his aggressive style of play into “pure fun” on the ballroom floor. Beaming from diamond-studded ear to diamond-studded ear, Sapp told PEOPLE, “Big Boy did it!” Sapp says partner Kym Johnson “is a tyrant. She’s beating me to death, but I told her whatever we do, I have got to be me. She never tried to mold me or make me do anything that didn’t feel like me. I had so much fun.” Sapp, whose fan base was largely football fans, just expanded a bit to accommodate women who think he’s a big teddy bear. “I was raised by three women so I know how to be. And my daughter Mercedes, 10, she has my heart. She’s my biggest fan.”

Ballroom Sweethearts: Lacey Schwimmer received a rock star-like reception in the ballroom when she was introduced to the audience. That’s because Schwimmer starred on the 2007 season of So You Think You Can Dance. She told PEOPLE, “This (soundstage) feels like a second home to me… I was here last season. It’s definitely my home away from home.” Also feeling comfy on the dance floor was Schwimmer’s partner, singer Lance Bass. As his former ‘N Sync band mate Joey Fatone (of season four) watched on, Bass and Schwimmer nailed their cha cha. “He was very surprised. I think he liked it a lot,” Bass said of Fatone’s reaction. “We rocked it out today.” Schwimmer confessed that she had a crush on Bass when she was a girl. In what she called “my ode to Lance,” Schwimmer helped design her rocker outfit, that included a computer graphic image of Bass, accented with a red rhinestoned lip imprint. “I wanted to marry him, but,” she said. The openly gay Bass assured her that even though they won’t ever marry, “You’ve got me for life.”

Words of Wisdom: She was the cat’s meow dancing the fo trot to the Pink Panther theme, but reality television star Kim Kardashian says her tummy was in knots before the show. “I’m not a performer. This is all new to me,” she confessed. So, she turned to last year’s celebrity champion, skater Kristi Yamaguchi, for advice. “I talked to Kristi before the show and told her I wanted to channel her energy. She told me to just go out there and have fun and not worry about anything else. So I did and it worked.” Yamaguchi was only too glad to help. “I know what they are going through on the first night and I was really impressed with all of them,” Yamaguchi said. They did a great job. I was really impressed with Brooke Burke and Warren Sapp. I think they’re going to do well this season.”

More from Inside the Ballroom: • Season six champ Mark Ballas beaming when he watched dad Corky Ballas dance with Cloris Leachman. “It was a reversal of sorts and I was so proud of him and how well he did,” Mark told PEOPLE. “He is a great dancer. I hope he sticks around for a bit because he deserves it.” • Maurice Greene said he’s going to watch the shows back with his daughter, Ryan Alexandria. “She’s excited I’m on the show and she’s been asking me for a cell phone and I just might have to get her one so she can vote for me. That’s the only number I’m going to program in the phone,” he joked. •He was absent from season six, but pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy tells PEOPLE he returned to the show with “a lot of rest. I feel great.” What’s more, “I have a great partner.” That would be Beijing Olympic gold medalist Misty May-Treanor. The beach volleyball star joked that “wearing shoes is hard,” but she felt “like a million bucks” in heels and her gown, which “Maks helped design.”

Kelsey McNeal/ABC

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