Dancing With the Stars

Dancing Dispute: Is Age Really Just a Number?

03/26/2013 at 09:30 AM EDT

Is it easier to do well on Dancing with the Stars if you're a teenager with boundless energy?

Not necessarily, says Zendaya, the 16-year-old Disney star who has dazzled so far this season – but who also ruffled some feathers Monday by saying age is "just a number."

"Using age is almost an excuse," Zendaya told PEOPLE after another brilliant performance. "Age doesn't mean anything. Age doesn't mean I can't work as hard. Age doesn't mean I can't do as well as everyone else. It's just a factor. It's just there."

Zendaya was mostly talking about herself, trying to explain why she's doing so well at such a young age. But some of her older competitors had to laugh at the suggestion that age doesn't mean anything.

"What is she talking about?" said Lisa Vanderpump. "You get out of bed with my 52-year-old body every morning, damn it, and I'll let you know who's challenged."

"That really annoyed the hell out of me, I've gotta say," added D.L. Hughley, 50, though he, too, was laughing. "Age is just a number when your number is very small."

Karina Smirnoff, 35, agreed. "Age is only a number when you're 16," she said.

For her part, Zendaya – who is partnered with Val Chmerkovskiy – says she is facing unique challenge that her fellow dancers aren't.

"The big difference is that I have to go to school every day," she says. "When everybody else gets to rehearse, I have to do school. When everybody else is in hair and makeup, I'm in school. That's about it."

Meanwhile, Wynonna, 48, put it this way: "I would never, ever want to go back to 16 again."

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