Val Chmerkovskiy has been dancing into hearts across America for years on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars—twirling with the likes of Olympian Laurie Hernandez and recent Improper cover girl Victoria Arlen. Now with multiple tours and the March release of his memoir, I’ll Never Change My Name, under his belt, Chmerkovskiy steps out with fellow DWTS pros brother Maks and sister-in-law Peta for their Confidential tour, featuring an hour-and-a-half of choreography inspired by the trio’s family life. We took it from the top with the ballroom babe before he swings into the Boch Wang Theatre on April 6.
What’s the dynamic like dancing with your family? It’s awesome. People define happiness as combining work with a passion. I redefined that for myself in terms of the true blissful happiness when you are able to combine work with your passions and do it with the people that you love. That doesn’t just go for my family in terms of Maks and Peta—also the cast, which 95 percent is the same from the first show. They’re incredibly talented; they’re some of the best dancers in the industry. Every stagehand, every production element, every person that’s involved in the show is family. People in the audience will feel like they become part of this family as well because that camaraderie resonates and it feels so good and it amplifies the performance and the entire experience. I think that’s our biggest strength in the show, that you feel that love on stage and off stage and that’s what I’m most proud of.
Is there a piece in the show you are particularly excited about? I’m excited for literally every single piece. Every dance means something to me. It’s not a job, you know? I’m speaking from the heart, I’m performing from the heart, and anything that comes from the heart is going to feel good. I’m excited to watch my brother perform a couple of his personal pieces that reflect his chaotic entrance into fatherhood. We have this awesome piece that involves strollers and babies and a lot of comedy.
If you were a style of dance, which would you be? The Argentine tango. There’s a subtle strength to it. It’s not loud, but it’s really powerful. It’s very intimate, very strong, but it’s soft at the same time.
When did you know you wanted to be a dancer? I never had that moment of revelation. I was always curious. I was always creative. I was always really ambitious and interested. I just stuck with it, and it kept fulfilling me and inspiring me and making me happy— and I just kept doing it. I still have a hard time defining myself as just a dancer, because today I’m a dancer and tomorrow I might be doing something else. I’m very grateful to dance for giving me all the opportunities it has.
How did you get into dance? I started dancing when I was 7 in Odessa, Ukraine. Then within a year, we immigrated to Brooklyn and my world kind of changed. We found a dance studio, and it happened to be a ballroom dance school, so I just flowed right into ballroom dancing. I’ve never been trained in any other style of dance. We moved to New Jersey when I was about 13 and we opened up our own kids dance studio. My brother was the coach for the entire studio, and I was trained by him. At 13, I won my first nationals and at 15, I became the first junior world champion for the United States. At 18, I became the first youth world champion for the United States. I kept going and won the British Open and just kept winning. At 25, I was at the peak of my competitive career, and Dancing With the Stars was at the peak of its popularity, and they reached out. I kind of lived through the show vicariously through my brother before that while competing, but at 25 I decided to sell out and go to Hollywood. (Laughs.)
How did the idea for the Confidential tour come about? A year and a half ago my brother and I did a 50-city tour that narrated our lives leading up to Dancing with the Stars. It was an hour-and-a-half show that was storytelling through dance and spoken word. We were able to tell our story of immigrating to America and setting up shop, the struggles, how we got into dance and then ultimately where we are now. The reception of that narrative, which was so foreign and so different from anything Dancing with the Stars brand related, was awesome. It was the summer of 2016 and it was the primaries. It was a tense environment in this country and it was awesome to go on the road to New York City to Oklahoma to California and everywhere in between, and tell our little American dream story through dance and people loved it. People laughed throughout the show, people cried, it was an emotional roller coaster. It felt so good and empowering and fulfilling to go out there and tell my story using my craft and have that type of response. It inspired us to do it again. This time around, the show is called Confidential in context of a sneak peek into our most personal life. My brother went through a huge change, he got married and he became a father. That changed his entire life, perspective and world and even mine from the side of becoming an uncle. So this tour is a peek into what we are going through today and who inspires us today. Ultimately, it’s a show about love, it’s a show about family and it’s for everyone to enjoy.
What inspired you to write I’ll Never Change My Name? The inspiration behind writing it was that first tour and how much people reached out to me saying how inspiring it was. We aren’t reinventing the wheel, we’re telling the classic American Dream story as seen through our perspective on coming to America and how grateful we are for the opportunity to become part of this American Dream, how we’ve worked really hard the past 25 years to contribute and be part of this community and society. Besides all the garbage you see on the news, people are kind, people are great in this country, people are receptive to new stories and new perspectives. That hospitality and warmth I felt from every corner of this country really inspired me to share my story further. I felt like there is an audience for my story. For a long time, I felt like an outsider that didn’t fit in outside of my little community and through this tour and my ability to communicate with so many people, I realized that I actually fit in in a lot more places than I don’t, and that really was the inspiration for me to write a book. Hopefully it will help some kids out there, that feel out of place, to pursue their dreams.