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Dancer in the ring

Andrea Lynn was ready for a big break.

The 20-year-old University at Buffalo senior has been dancing since she was 5. While attending Rush-Henrietta High School near Rochester, she visited Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic for a concert tour, and she’s used to hustling across New York State year-round for shows and competitions. She’s mastered everything from tap to jazz to ballet to ballroom, all of which she teaches at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Williamsville. She’s trained with Broadway stars, and unsurprisingly, she would like to join them one day.

“I could see her on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ ” said Thomas Ralabate, chair of UB’s Theatre and Dance department. “She has that ability to do that, and to be an elite ballroom dancer.”

But on the last day of February, someone from World Wrestling Entertainment called the Fred Astaire studio in the afternoon. The WWE was coming to Buffalo for a show, and the company needed a young, attractive, proficient ballroom dancer, as soon as possible, no auditions necessary.

Four days later, Lynn was at the sold-out show at the First Niagara Center, ballroom dancing with Fandango, a wrestler who would soon be one of the WWE’s most popular and unlikely superstars. For Lynn, it was the start of what turned into a two-month run of traveling shows and televised appearances with the world’s leading wrestling company, which coincided with Fandango becoming the biggest social media sensation the WWE ever had.

She had not prepared for that.

“Usually for ballroom stuff, everyone is in glitter and sparkles and fancy costumes,” said Lynn, who uses only her first and middle name professionally. “Everyone, when you go to a ballroom event, is in some sort of formal attire. Backstage at Wrestlemania, however, the guys are in sweats and T-shirts – it wasn’t the same type of show that I was used to.”

So how did the WWE end up scouting a suburban studio for talent? “I have no idea,” Lynn said. “I think they just Googled it and tried the first place they could find. It was just dumb luck.”

Even if Lynn had less than five days to prepare for it, her sudden WWE stardom is as improbable as it sounds. For one thing, Lynn’s petite figure and perky manner don’t seem like an ideal fit for the body-slamming, table-smashing world of sports entertainment.

She wasn’t exactly a wrestling fan, either.

“I actually had no idea who anyone was,” she said. “I mean, I was aware of it. Like, I know who Hulk Hogan is and Andre the Giant is and stuff like that. But my family was never really into that. We were more of a theater, music, dance-type family.”

Fortunately for Lynn, the WWE was looking to inject a little more theater and dance into its brand with Fandango, a character who was planned and promoted for months before debuting in March. Although Fandango is portrayed by Curtis Hussey, a wrestler with almost 15 years of experience, the character is a strange bedfellow in the WWE roster: a fussy, flamboyant, sultry-voiced dancer who seems more interested in ballet than brawling, and works up his fiercest rage when his name is constantly mispronounced. (It’s Fahn-Dahn-Go – “breathe in the A’s,” as he told one interviewer.)

Presumably, Fandango is intended to help the WWE ride the wave of shows such as “Dancing with the Stars.” But the veteran wrestler needed a star dancer of his own to look like a ballroom pro. That’s where Lynn came in.

At the March 4 show in Buffalo, Lynn danced with Fandango as he entered the ring to his theme song “ChaChaLaLa,” a ringtone-ready tune of Latin-infused elevator music. They had little time beforehand to practice the dance, and their bit of ballroom barely lasted three minutes.

“It was just kind of ‘go with the flow,’ ” Lynn said. “I guess that adds to the magic. You don’t plan too much.”

The dance was supposed to be a one-time event for Lynn. But about two weeks later, the WWE called back. After scrambling to find a different local dancer for every show, the company wanted a consistent companion for Fandango. Lynn made a good impression in Buffalo. Was she available for more shows?

Lynn rearranged her school schedule accordingly, and asked Anastasia Abrashin, owner of the Fred Astaire studio, for some time off. Although Abrashin was unfamiliar with the WWE and said that it was “a little bit different” from what her dancers typically do, she was happy to oblige.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s WW – you know, whatever it’s called,” Abrashin said. “Not everyone gets an opportunity like this.”

For the next two months, Lynn was a fixture for Fandango, accompanying him before and after matches and sometimes joining him in the ring. She took on a new look to mirror the character’s prim-and-proper pompousness, with her brunette hair pulled back, her freckles hidden under makeup. She danced with Fandango in televised appearances across the country, including the pay-per-view Wrestlemania 29, which drew 80,000 fans to East Rutherford, N.J. – one of the largest crowds in WWE history.

Along the way, the Fandango craze took on a life of its own, when “Fandangoing” – a Hokey Pokey-esque dance inspired by Fandango’s painfully catchy theme song – somehow became an online sensation. Within weeks of Fandango’s debut, a #FandangoRevolution hashtag started, “ChaChaLaLa” charted on iTunes and YouTube videos of WWE fans, Houston Texans cheerleaders and PETA representatives “Fandangoing” went viral. It was the “Gangnam Style” of pro wrestling, and even though Fandango is supposed to be a villain – or “heel,” in industry terms – he became the WWE’s biggest crossover sensation in years. As an unknowing cohort in the Fandango Revolution, Lynn had mixed feelings about it.

“That’s not dancing, not at all,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s not giving the ballroom world justice. I can teach people how to dance if they want to learn.”

Lynn’s schedule remained as frenzied as her first appearance – she usually worked two shows a week, always learning her travel arrangements at the last minute and always on call for another appearance. But contrary to the stories of pressure and burnout that are common to the wrestling world, Lynn considered her two months in the WWE a pleasant experience – like being in “one big family,” she said. She taught some moves to Fandango backstage. She chatted with WWE CEO Vince McMahon, met the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena, shared a locker room with the divas and ran into Diddy and Snooki at Wrestlemania. She was given time, space and a company iPad to do homework and study for finals. She was ready to stay with the WWE through the summer, but in early May, the creative team opted for Summer Rae – an established star, and a rare wrestler with some dancing chops. She became Fandango’s new partner, and for the time being, Lynn was out of the show.

Since then, Lynn’s life has settled back to a simpler schedule: teaching full-time again at Fred Astaire, completing her dance major at UB and not having to hear “ChaChaLaLa” anymore. But that doesn’t mean that her Fandango Revolution is over. Lynn said that her departure from the WWE was good-natured and “open-ended,” and the company still has her in mind as a potential dancer. Even now, she’s never sure when another call could come to the studio. But next time, she’ll be ready.

“They didn’t cut me off like, ‘We don’t want you anymore,’ ” she said. “They could call me next week, they could call me next year.”