Watch professional ballroom dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy on any edition of ABC's Dancing With the Stars, and you'll see a man who doesn't quite fit with what surrounds him — and seems to like it that way. • In a sea of lithe, sleek guys, he's the stubble-faced, macho Ukrainian often showing off his chest. And when a celebrity he's training steps out of line — the last cycle of Dancing showed Chmerkovskiy seeming to push 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," said Chmerkovskiy, 29, speaking by cell phone from New York last week, moments before he would accept an award from Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his contributions to Russian culture. "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."
Contestants at this week's Millennium Dancesport Championships in St. Petersburg will face his bruising truth, as Chmerkovskiy pops into town today, Friday and Saturday to serve as a judge, bringing along fiancée and fellow Dancing pro Karina Smirnoff.
Fitting the appearance into a schedule that includes 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 frank style.
Do you know, within moments of meeting a celebrity on DWTS, whether you've got a shot at winning?
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). … 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.
Your latest partner, Denise Richards, cried on camera.
This was one of those produced moments because she cried about a 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. 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?
The ladies in my office wanted me to ask: Is there a contract clause that 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, because they were trying to shorten the amount of work they had to do. It's one shirt less."
This season, gymnast Shawn Johnson won when many people felt other finalists had danced better. Is that frustrating?
"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 (have) 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 exciting. You never know what's going to happen."