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Magazine » September October 2012 Issue » Exclusive Interview: Val Chmerkovskiy

Exclusive Interview: Val Chmerkovskiy

Ivor Lee

You've had a few seasons under your belt. How do you view Dancing with the Stars differently now that you've become involved with the show?
I love my experiences on the show, with no regrets—I love my job. I get to be on stage in front of millions, and showcase what all the hard work and sacrificing was for. I get to be on a show with my brother, best friend, and future uncle to my kids. Maks and I are making lifelong memories for our family one episode, one piece of choreography, one picture at a time.

What do you have to deal with now that you didn't have to before? Has your training regimen/practice/workout changed much?
The question should be "What DON'T you have to deal with now, that you had to deal with before?" All jokes aside, life now is drastically different from my competitive days. Different doesn't imply better or worse, just different. Growing up the way I did was a brutal blessing. I was saturated in my activities. Music, concertmaster was the goal. School, 4.0 GPA or fail. Dance, World Champion or you're like the rest. These were the standards I was raised by, by the most incredible people in the world: my parents. As I grew older and made professional commitments to certain areas in my life (DanceSport), my lifestyle fully merged with my profession. I was a full time (competing/teaching) ballroom dancer.

My regimen now has changed completely. This year was the first time I saw dinner at 8pm on a weekday. I saw what a Friday night looks like and what traveling (not for a competition) feels like. Competitors in general in this business are STRUGGLING! Yes, my life IS different, but there are always two sides to a seesaw.

I learned how important "routine" is to the stability of a human being—even psychologically. I've always been disciplined but I never had to find my way. I was shown the light and I ran to it, running faster than anyone else. But now there are way too many lights. Pun intended. I can see why there is so much drug abuse in Hollywood, it's unfortunately justified. The inconsistency and competition in this business can drive people without a support system crazy. That's why I don't even bother with the lights. I'm focused on me and my future, and I'm fully committed to observing, studying, and learning about the entertainment business and all the opportunities that are coming my way. I'm applying tools that I learned throughout the years of competing and teaching, and I'm realizing how many parallels there are. Everything is changing, but the more it changes the more I fall in love with my memories as a competitive dancer. That's something that will be a part of me forever. I have a lot of love for DanceSport and the family that used to be. To answer the question: Whatever you do. To be successful you have to do it with integrity, discipline, and passion.

How does the workload compare to when you were dancing competitively?
It's a different workload. Different set of stresses, different skills used, and most importantly different challenges. But if you want to be successful you have to put in the time–honest time. I never expect anything to just be given to me. And anyway I wouldn't want it that way. I want something that's NOT easily attainable and so I'm willing to wait for it, strain for it, while consistently WORKING for it. There's a workload if you want to take on a workload. If you look for shortcuts, you will most certainly find them, but you'll also find yourself in the same place that you started. I shine 'cause I grind.

How much time do you normally get to put together a routine?
You have 3 weeks before the show starts to rehearse with you partner—cameras on, and all that jazz. At the end of the first week you get the song for the Week 1 performance. Now you have 2 weeks to either continue teaching her general principles or start choreographing the Week 1 routine. After week 1, you have 3 days to teach her the routine and she has to dance it for a "wide." (Director needs for camera/lights choreography) Then you have two more days before showtime. In those two days you're going through timely dress rehearsals (with/without the band) which are quite stressful on the celebrity, and therefore stressful on us. This then occurs weekly, until it gets even more stressful.

What are some of the highlights of dancing with a celebrity partner?
You build a relationship. I would get eliminated week 3 all over again for the friendship that I have with Sherri Shepherd. You grow so much as a teacher and as a person. These celebrities are grown people who are accomplished individuals and they are frightened to death. I'm not going to speak for every case, but in Sherri's case I had a huge responsibility in front of me. She trusted me, she respected, and she fought for me. I've been a teammate my entire life, and I haven't experienced that kind of camaraderie and that honesty from too many people. I'd fight for her in any alley, anytime. That relationship and the journey we shared, as it should be in every partnership, are the highlights.

What are some of the struggles?
Every partnership was different therefore had different struggles. I've only had two partners on DWTS and I've already described the latter.

What is the biggest thing you had to get used to in transitioning from DanceSport to DWTS?
Watching your weight. Watching what you eat and at what time. Taking care of your fitness. When you compete you're dancing every day and therefore doing probably the best cardio on earth. Carbs ands sweets—most of the time I ate those when I was competing. Now, it's a constant conscious struggle of resisting those two things that I love oh so dearly.

How different is it to dance with a celebrity as opposed to a DanceSport partner?
(Laughing) It's very different. So far I haven't had anyone that was able to even remotely simulate the type of dancing I had with my DanceSport partner, Daria Chesnokovano, even other pros on the show. Granted, she is one of the best female dancers in the world, in ANY category, period. The dancing is different, but I'm not comparing. As mentioned earlier, every person I come in contact with, whether it's in life or on the dance floor has a unique relationship which takes on a life of its own. I'm always 100% committed to what I'm doing and who I'm doing it with, so it's always memorable.

What do you enjoy most about DWTS?
The stage. The act. The audience. A true performer yearns for a stage to showcase his craft, and an audience to share it with. The more people you can share your work with, the more inspired and fulfilled you become as an artist. Therefore, you enjoy the impact that you have on people. Tonja Garamella (one of my teachers and a close friend) always told me "Touch, Move, and Inspire." Art is supposed to bring us closer to God. Well, God for me exists in every person that I touch, move, and inspire.

What advice would you give to someone who may end up as a celebrity contestant on the show?
To trust me. I've been doing this for a while.

Any other thoughts, comments?
Thank you. Thank you to American Dancer Magazine for this interview. Thank you to everyone willing to read it. And most importantly thank you to all the people that helped me be in the position to be giving interviews.