New York Gives Val a Perfect Score

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‘Dancing with the Stars’ heartthrob on learning English from Steve Urkel, Sheepshead Bay and hip-hop

By Angela Barbuti

Now that the season of Dancing with the Stars is over, New Yorkers get to have Val Chmerkovskiy all to themselves for a while. When the 26-year-old came back home to New York after placing third in the competition, he received something of a hero’s welcome. Screaming girls and construction workers alike stopped him to say that they watched him compete on what has become one of the most popular shows on television. Lucky for us, when Chmerkovskiy isn’t performing on DWTS, he is teaching at one of the four dance studios he owns in the tristate area. “There’s a lot of dance still left in me,” he said.

When did you know you wanted to dance professionally?
I still don’t know. I was blessed with parents who put us into many different lanes of creativity. Dance was just one of the things I did, and I’m talented enough to do it well. I translated that into the professional opportunity that it is right now, but I wouldn’t want to limit myself by just being referred to as a professional dancer. I’m very proud of it, but there are a lot of things that I want to do.

How has being on Dancing with the Stars changed your life?
The obvious celebrity—quote, unquote—status. I’m very shy of that word, because I just don’t like it. [Laughs] What I do enjoy is the platform, the voice that it gives me and the ability to meet the people I meet—that’s a huge change in my life. As a performer, no artist is going to shy away from a stage as big as Dancing with the Stars.

What’s it like backstage there?
It’s a lot of fun. The best part is that you’re part of a family. All in all, there are a lot of good people I had the opportunity to work with. In terms of what you really want to know about backstage, not everyone who comes off on television the way they do is like that in reality. It’s Hollywood, and people put on a great show. When you meet people you’ve been a fan of for a long time, you might be disappointed—or inspired—by them.

Who was a star you were excited to meet?
Last season we had Jaleel White. I mean that’s Steve Urkel. When I moved here from the Ukraine, that’s how I learned English—watching him on Family Matters. Now he’s asking me how to do a dance move. It’s surreal in some ways.

You’re back in New York now. Do people stop and talk to you?
Yes—and New Yorkers don’t have time for anybody! In the middle of the country there are a lot of fans, but in New York, it feels much more special. And I’ve had that from screaming girls to big, butch construction workers. They’ll be like, “You’re that dancer, right? We watched you. You did a good job.” Coming back to New York after being away for four months, especially with Sandy, was very warm.

What are your favorite places in New York?
I like the Coney Island area, and Sheepshead Bay, in Brooklyn because that’s where I grew up. I’m up there every Sunday playing ball and then going to this Russian spot—Russian Bath House. It’s more of a traditional thing I do. When I’m hanging out in the city, Meatpacking. My favorite place in terms of music and nightlife is this spot Goldbar in Little Italy.

Tell us about the studio Dance with Me that you co-own with your brother, Max, and Tony Dovolani.
Yes, we have four studios in the tristate area. But our pride and joy is a boutique studio in Soho. It’s such an iconic neighborhood that for us to be there is a huge compliment and responsibility. It’s not a grand ballroom; it’s an intimate space—exactly what I think Soho’s about. There’s a lot of energy—we have people coming in from all five boroughs of New York. Dancing is special because people communicate on the dance floor. We have great social parties, a lot of singles nights.

So if people take classes there, will they see you?
I’m not in Soho every day, but I’m at each of the studios at least once a week—whether it’s practicing on my own, teaching, consulting, or training the staff. I like spending time there, even when I’m not working.

On a typical day, how many hours do you dance?
Unfortunately, not enough. I think I get all of my dancing out of the way during the season of Dancing with the Stars. This last season especially, I went through grueling training, not only as a teacher to Kelly [Monaco], but also as a partner. I would say I dance a good two to three hours a day. I only say that because I teach five hours a day. And I’m not one of those instructors who sits back and points fingers. I’m actually on the floor.

You also rap, and guest-starred on General Hospital. Are those things you want to pursue—singing and acting?
Yeah, music is my passion. I’ve played the violin for 15 years. In terms of hip-hop music, I grew up in New York and that’s how I learned English, through Biggie. For me, that genre is really familiar; I’m attracted to it. As a young kid, I loved poetry, so those two elements came together, and I started writing and creating hip-hop music. In terms of acting, I would love to pursue that as well. These are avenues that people, when they have an opportunity, jump at—and a lot them fail. I don’t want to do them just because I have some sort of celebrity status. I want to do them well.

How long do you plan on competing on Dancing with the Stars?
I have a respect for the show and am very thankful for it. Whatever opportunities I have now, yes, my talent has earned, but Dancing with the Stars opened them up for me. Even if I have other projects, my loyalty will always be to that show. Besides that, I think it’s an amazing show—and clearly millions of people enjoy it as well. So as long as they ask me, I’ll be back.

For more on Val, visit valchmerkovskiy.com

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