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Originally published August 11, 2014 at 6:15 AM | Page modified August 13, 2014 at 10:42 AM

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Maksim Chmerkovskiy of 'Dancing with the Stars': ‘I just wanted to win once’

An interview with Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who recently stepped away from “Dancing With the Stars” and will appear in Seattle Aug. 15-17, 2014, on stage at the 5th Avenue Theatre.

Seattle Times movie critic

Dance preview

‘Ballroom with a Twist’

Aug. 15-17, 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; $30-$90 (206-625-1900 or An additional $200 buys the “VIP Experience”: a meet-and-greet reception with the cast after the show.

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“Dancing has been in us, in people, since the Neanderthal age,” says ballroom champion and longtime “Dancing with the Stars” pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy, on the phone last week. “There’s something about moving, something about interpreting yourself to the music, that’s attractive, that’s interesting, that’s intriguing, and everyone wishes they could do that.”

Chmerkovskiy’s been dancing since he was 4 years old in his native Ukraine, chosen from a class of preschoolers as one with a special talent. He’ll be in Seattle this week, unbuttoned shirts and all, to perform in “Ballroom with a Twist” at the 5th Avenue Theatre — a touring dance/music show featuring “Dancing with the Stars” pros (also Karina Smirnoff, Sharna Burgess and brother Val Chmerkovskiy) as well as performers from “So You Think You Can Dance” and “American Idol.” It’s also, for him, a bit of a farewell tour: Chmerkovskiy, who won the most recent season of “Dancing with the Stars” with Olympic gold-medal-winning ice dancer Meryl Davis (the two danced with a silken perfection), announced last month that he would no longer compete on the show.

“I just don’t want to replace Meryl and this experience with anyone else — it’s so dear to me, so special, so much emotion involved into it,” he said. “There’s nobody out there that I think will come along that I will be able to connect with on this level ... I don’t want to win five, six, seven times, I just want to win once. It couldn’t be more perfect.”

It was a departure that’s been a long time coming — he got tired, he said, of being “misinterpreted,” seeing himself stuck with the label of “bad boy of the ballroom.” The show routinely airs edited montages of rehearsal footage, at times seeming to choose moments in order to make each cast member fit a role: Chmerkovskiy, early on, was labeled the tempestuous one.

“People don’t understand where I come from,” he said, referring to his background on the international ballroom circuit — “the same circuit as any other competition, like golf or tennis.” Chmerkovskiy said he saw himself as a professional athlete, on the show to compete and win, and worked with his partners accordingly.

“I was the last one to understand that this is a TV show, this is there for good times,” he said. “I would try my best to win, I wouldn’t try my best to just smile and walk around. So that was the misunderstanding between me and the show.”

Though he doesn’t rule out returning to “DWTS” as a judge (“Never say never! Anything’s possible,” he said, in an uncharacteristically brief answer during a pleasant, not-at-all-bad-boy interview ... hmm), Chmerkovskiy’s looking forward to other career options. He’s already a co-owner of a chain of five dance studios in the New York/New Jersey area, called Dance With Me, and has launched a line of men’s jewelry and acquired an agent to help him sign acting roles. And, with brother Val and fellow “DWTS” pro Tony Dovolani, he recently put together a one-night New York staging of a show called “SWAY: A Dance Trilogy” — “the best stage production I’ve ever been a part of” — for which he’s mulling the idea of a tour or residency.

No matter what, there will be dancing; the defining activity of his life since very early childhood. Asked if he had any advice for newcomers to the ballroom, he said, “Just go start from scratch and move, in close proximity with somebody else. It’s a beautiful thing. The amount of happiness and joy that dancing brings to you is just — I don’t know any other activity that does that ... So if you have a local dance studio that you can go to, sign up, say that Maks said that I need to be happy and I need to do this and this needs to bring me joy.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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