Dancing with the Stars dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy brings his bruising truth to St. Petersburg tomorrow
In a sea of lithe, sleek guys, he’s the stubble-faced, macho Ukrainian often showing off his chest. On a show manipulated to the nth degree by producers, he’s the dancer straining to say what’s on his mind, no matter what.
And when a celebrity he’s training steps out of line – the latest edition of Dancing showed Chmerkovskiy pushing partner Denise Richards to tears, though he will explain that later – “Maks” is more than willing to get tough, on camera.
“I’m unable to bend the truth,” he said, speaking by cellphone from New York last week, moments before he would accept an award from Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his contributions to Russian culture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “It’s more important to stay true to myself. It’s a little difficult – If I may say something about somebody not doing such a good job and that person happens to be popular celebrity, that gets their fans hating me. So how do you deal with that?”
Contestants at this week’s Millennium Dancesport Championships in St. Petersburg will have to answer that question in a hurry, as Chmerkovskiy pops into town Thursday, Friday and Saturday as a judge, bringing along fiancée and fellow Dancing pro Karina Smirnoff.
Fitting the appearance into a schedule which includes appearances on All My Children, the upcoming ABC unscripted competition The Superstars and running dance studios of his own in New York and New Jersey, Chmerkovskiy offered a few comments on his style and growing celebrity before breaking bread with Mayor Bloomberg.
Why have you decided to help out with this competition?
“I’m trying to stay close to the dance community – trying to promote it any chance I get. I’m personally, one of those people who stay in touch with where I come from. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of jealous people out there who don’t realize that. But whenever I go back, mostly, I’m welcome.”
Are there some people who think you’ve sold out by going on Dancing With the Stars?
“Initially, I thought the same thing. But I had a choice to make, and I decided to go on the show and promote ballroom dancing. It did wonders for the industry – every dance studio all over the world has blossomed because of that show. And being a part of that progress is an honor and big responsibility.”
Do you know, within moments of meeting a celebrity, whether you’ve got a shot at winning anything?
“That moment is dreadful. The show is produced, at times heavily, so it leaves little room for reality. But one of those real moments is when we meet our celebrity partners. We literally don’t know until a half hour before (the filming)…we drive to the studio and see this person walk through the door. To me, it’s not a big deal – unless somebody walks through the door is 80 something years old, or something (laughs). I try and teach the first step; that’s when, in the first five or 10 seconds, you know whether your life is going to be great or very, very hard.”
It looked like you were tough on your latest partner, Denise Richards, who cried on camera.
“This was one of those produced moments because she cried about completely different thing. When celebrities are approached about the show- - the details sound minor – it seems easier than it is. When they get into this they realize their entire lives are on hold for three or four months. In reality, you have no time for anything except maybe sleeping a little bit. When Denise realized that, the tears came; it wasn’t Maks the a------ this time.”
Each year, it seems there are more injuries, including last fall when your partner Misty May-Treanor hurt herself.
“I would go as far as maybe talking to the producers and say let’s put some limitation on the hours of practice. People who are not used to that level of practice, they can’t hold up. In the case of Misty, she ruptured her Achilles tendon coming off an Olympic win. Who’s to say what might happen to an actress or an actor who never dealt with the physical strain. But as the show got bigger and stakes go higher, celebrities watch previous seasons and they just push themselves – sometimes too hard.”
The ladies in my office wanted me to ask you: Is there a clause in your contract which states your chest must be bare all season?
“Actually, no (laughs). Honestly, it’s not my fault. In the first season, the wardrobe department was overwhelmed with making so many costumes. I remember the first time I put on a vest with no shirt underneath (was) because they were trying to shorten the amount of work they had to do. It’s one shirt less.”
You took a break from the show in 2008. Was that because the judging process was frustrating?
“I was getting a little tired – not physically, but mentally…It’s a reality show where the audience gets to decide, not always based on creativity and quality dancing. Going season after season became a bit much.”
This season, gymnast Shawn Johnson won when many people felt her competitors had danced better. Is that what you’re talking about?
“You take the good with the bad. We like the show, we like what it brings us. From that standpoint, we have to deal with the not-so-fair part of it. You’ve got 20-million viewers watching, less than 1 percent maybe at one point have some dance experience. You’re putting yourself out there to be judged by people who never done it. Shawn probably didn’t have to dance that well, because she’s popular. Having said that, that’s what makes the show exiting. You never know what’s going to happen.”