14 Biggest Revelations From Valentin Chmerkovskiy’s ‘I’ll Never Change My Name’
Valentin Chmerkovskiy is one of the most popular professional dancers from Dancing With the Stars, but he wants fans to know there is so much more to him than that. The charming and talented dancer’s new memoir “I’ll Never Change My Name: An Immigrant’s American Dream from Ukraine to the USA to Dancing With the Stars” tells Val’s whole story of who he really is, and his charm and charisma leaps off the page as he describes how his family left the Ukraine to emigrate to the U.S., how his tight bond with his brother, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, helped shape his life, and what his life was like well before DWTS. “I’ll Never Change My Name” also offers behind the scenes insight of the Dancing With the Stars world that fans never knew about, and it all creates an intriguing and inspiring story. Here are 14 of the biggest revelations from the book:
14. I’ll Never Change My Name
“I’ll Never Change My Name” is a very unique and intriguing title for a memoir, but Val explains his reasoning behind the title at the beginning of the book. After opening up about how he met his season 23 Dancing With the Stars partner Laurie Hernandez and the incredible journey they went on together to become season 23 champions, he realized both he and the talented teenage Olympic gymnast went through similar challenges of stereotyping, and it was the inspiration behind his title. “I am Valentin Aleksandrovich Chmerkovskiy, and I will never change my name, thank you very much. No matter how many times I say it, Chmerkovskiy will never sound any less foreign, but that doesn’t make me less American. And It definitely doesn’t make me less proud to be one,” he wrote.
13. Initial DWTS Response
Although both Val and his brother Maksim have become two of the biggest and most popular professionals on Dancing With the Stars, the series kicked off in the summer of 2005 without either Chmerkovskiy brother, and Val admits that at first, he took offense to the show’s concept because he thought it mocked the seriousness of ballroom dancing. “The formula of pairing professional dancers with celebrity partners, which was imported from a British program called Strictly Come Dancing, struck me as gimmicky and false. I feared the new show would do damage to the ballroom dance world that I love, but which had always struggled with being taken seriously.” After Maks decided to join the series in season two however; they’re opinions changed. Val and his family were forced to give it a chance and discovered it was from the mockery they thought it was going to be. “We fell in love with the show and came to admire the whole pro-celebrity concept.”
12. In Defense of Maks
Those who watch Dancing With the Stars and have seen Maks and Val become two of the show’s biggest stars know that the brothers are very close, but their bond is tighter than anyone has realized which is evident in Val’s book. Some parts of “I’ll Never Change My Name” seem to be more about Maks than Val, and it is because of how intertwined their lives are, and Val often discusses how through thick and thin, good and bad, and into Hollywood success, they always had each other’s backs. When Maks started on Dancing With the Stars after his family, “kicked Maks out the door, onto the plane and into a role on Dancing With the Stars,” his good looks and masculinity propelled him into the spotlight. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all good news for Maks though because in his first season with actress Tia Carerre, Maks established a reputation for being too cold-hearted and harsh. Although he was a country away from his brother, Val still did his best to defend his brother and did so by responding to some of the mean comments that were popping up about Maks on the internet. “It’s not something I exactly brag about today, but bent over my funky Compaq computer in Jersey, I made the effort. I figured it was the least a brother could do.”
11. When Things Changed
The Chmerkovskiy’s family had no way of understanding exactly how big Dancing With the Stars, and along with it Maks would become. While Maks’ coaching was perceived as “too mean,” opinions changed when DWTS aired a “package” which gave a mini bio on Maks and included him interacting with the young students at Rising Stars, the dance academy he started with his father and taught at until Dancing With the Stars came calling. As the attitude around Maks changed thanks to his passion, humility and genuine care shown in the package, things changed quickly for those at Rising Stars Dance Academy, including Val. After DWTS asked if a select few from Rising Stars could go to California to dance on the show, Val and his dance partner went along with two other dance couples were selected, which led to Val’s first appearance on the show. “As he had my whole life, my brother bulldozed a path for me to follow on Dancing With the Stars,” Val wrote. After the Rising Stars’ dance on DWTS, even more doors opened up as some very important people were in the audience that night, and the Rising Stars dancers were asked by casino moguls Steve and Elaine Wynn to dance at a charity event and soon enough they were booking more and more events.
10. Val and Kelly
Throughout “I’ll Never Change My Name” Val shares individual stories about what it was like behind-the-scenes with each one of his celebrity partners through each of his 12 seasons on the show, and while he didn’t have a great start with Elisabetta Canalis and Sherri Shepard in seasons one and two, a lot of things changed in season three’s All-Star season when he was paired up with Kelly Monaco. Val revealed that the professional dancers don’t know until the last minute that they have been picked up for another season, and typically only get one day to pack their bags and head to Hollywood to meet their partner and start the season. After assuming he wasn’t going to get cast for season 15’s All-Star, Val did get the call and met former Playboy Playmate and General Hospital actress Kelly Monaco as his partner, and for the first time got swept up into the politics of romance on DWTS. “That season was the first time that I had felt the fans marked me for a big dose of romantic melodrama. Viewers played up my intimate relationship with Kelly,” he shared. Val admits that when he realized fans were drawn to the romance between himself and Kelly, he did play into it, but also revealed it wasn’t necessarily just a showmance. “It wasn’t as if what Kelly and I had together was some kind of artificial charade. I was young and single, she was amazing, and we had a natural attraction for each other. But I was never a person who kissed and told, and I was raised to keep personal lives private […] So the season might have been cringe-worthy at times, but at least I did get a lot of airtime, and the internet went crazy with Kelly and Val.”
9. Growing Up in Odessa
Val makes it clear that one of the most important things to know about him and to take away from “I’ll Never Change My Name” is how important family is to him above everything else, and the Chmerkovskiy’s have always been not just a family but a team. Val grew up in Odessa, Ukraine, a Communist country that he admits seemed very bleak. “I grew up in a country where you had to stand in line for five hours to purchase a piece of chicken, where you were given little ration tickets to pick up a loaf of bread once a week, and where stores would run out of everyday basics all the time,” he explained. Through the tough times, Val revealed he doesn’t look back at his childhood in Odessa as bad times, and also revealed he got kicked out of Kindergarten. “I was guilty of multiple offenses, it turned out, a pretty long rap-sheet for a five-year-old,” he wrote, and explained he got kicked out after he stood on the schoolyard gate and asked passerbys for spare change, tied his schoolmates together with their own tights, and then made the merry-go-round go as fast it could and pushed the other kids off at “high velocity.” Val defended himself, writing, “That was me. I was not the Fast and Furious but fast and curious, there was very little logical reason for anything I did. ‘Keep it moving,’ was always my motto. I wasn’t a troublemaker, but I was a discoverer of trouble, a busy little man fascinated with adventure.”
8. Music Talents
While getting kicked out of school in Kindergarten may not be a shining achievement, what Val didn’t know at the time was that it was going to lead to something big for him. While riding in the car with his father and his Uncle Joseyk one day Val began singing along with a popular Russian song, and Joseyk realized that Val could really hold a tune and had great pitch. Instead of keeping it to himself, Joseyk suggested to Val’s father that they send him to music school, and instead of shooting it down as Val expected, his father considered the idea. “That moment changed my life […] in that moment, Uncle Joseyk could have heard me and said nothing […] But my uncle called me out, and then it became a matter of the simple domino effect that happens whenever someone decides to believe in another person,” Val said of the life-changing moment. Despite no training or musical inclination before, Val’s parents took their 6-year-old to the Music Academy where he auditioned by singing the same song and was told he had to pick an instrument and decided on the violin. Through the series of events, Val went from never holding a violin before to going on to become a classically trained violinist, which he and his family believed would be his career path while Maks would be the dancer.
7. Coming to America
After a difficult decision by his parents, the Chmerkovskiy’s decided to leave Ukraine and at the end of May in 1994, when Val was eight and Maks was 14, the family left everything they knew behind and moved to Brooklyn, New York. Right away the transition was difficult, especially for Maks. Upon their arrival, their family who had come to America before and who they were staying with, gave Maks and Val brand new rollerblades and almost immediately Maks was robbed of them.”Maks was twenty yards ahead of me. Before I knew what was happening I saw five dudes surround him. They were shouting and although I didn’t understand English I knew they were roughing him up for the Rollerblades.” While Val didn’t know what to do, he raced back to get his father and yelled “911” which he learned from watching Rescue 911 growing up back in Odessa. By the time they got to Maks the group was gone and they had cut Maks shirt and stolen his rollerblades. Despite a harrowing start, Val jumped in to embrace his life in America and discovered two of his biggest passions, basketball and rap music. “The truth was, I learned how to speak English from the trash talking on the basketball court, and from the rapid-fire rhymes of rappers I idolized,” he revealed. The pro dancer also revealed that for quite some time, up until just recently, he held out hope to be in the NBA one day, and for awhile never thought dance was going to be his full career.
6. Rising Stars Dance Academy
Even outside of Dancing with the Stars, the Chmerkovskiy name is synonymous with dance, thanks to their Rising Stars Dance Academy. With both Maks and Val being as talented as they are, and with the family business being dance, many would assume that it all stemmed from their parents, but one of the biggest surprises is that Maks and Val’s parents never danced a day in their life and predicated the whole business off of Maks’ talent. “My parents, who had so little money, somehow managed to scrape up the funds to open a new business, offering a single product. Ballroom dancing was the draw, yes, but really what they were selling was Maks Chmerkovskiy as a teacher.” Mr. Chmerkovskiy jumped right into starting the business, and as Val watched he “witnessed the burden being placed on the whole family, but especially Maks. He was our workhorse. Everything depended on him.” What the family wasn’t prepared for was the utter success they were going to achieve from their humble beginnings of opening their business. “Five years after we started, Rising Stars Dane Academy had developed into one of the premiere dance education programs in the country,” Val reflected. As the saying goes however; with great power comes great responsibility, and with the entire academy predicated off of Maks’ as the leader his whole world was about the RSDA. Even as opportunities arose for him to dance and compete on international levels, he couldn’t leave, all while Val got those chances because his responsibility to the academy wasn’t as great as his brother’s. “What was I doing while Maks was chained to his post at Rising stars, facing the most agonizing choices of his young life? I was busy becoming the superstar of the family, the wunderkind, the world-beater, absolutely killing it in ballroom dance competitions on the national level, and, finally, on the international stage,” Val wrote.
5. First Mirrorball Win
After recounting the stories of his first seven seasons on Dancing With the Stars, Val comes to his chapter “Rumer Has It,” which is, of course, the story of his very first Mirrorball win in season 20 with Rumer Willis. Although he admitted that he was at first shocked that someone like Rumer Willis wanted to be on the show, because according to him “it didn’t seem to fit,” for someone as cool and hip as Rumer to want to be on DWTS, it turns out all she wanted was to compete and learn to dance. After their first dance of the season, it was clear they were a couple to contend with and brought one of Val’s most memorable moments on the show. “Amid all the applause when we finished our routine, I saw brave, bad, Die Hard Bruce Willis with a tear rolling down his cheek. Dad was crying out of pride. Seeing her family celebrating Rumer’s accomplishments was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had on the show […] That single tear from an action movie star meant more to me than any Mirrorball Trophy.”
4. DWTS Connections
It is probably no surprise that the ballroom dance world is rather small, which means that several of the professional dancers on Dancing With the Stars knew each other well before the show. Val discussed competing against Mark Ballas and hearing of Derek Hough’s triumphs when they were all on the competition circuit, but one of his most interesting stories involves former DWTS pro Julianne Hough. In 2003-2004, a 17-year-old Val had ended his relationship and dance partnership with Sandra Udis, and therefore was in the market for a new partner. Immediately his attention went to Julianne Hough, who had been dancing for quite some time with Mark Ballas, but she had quit competing a year earlier to focus on her music career. Undeterred, Val phoned Julianne in the hopes she would resurrect her dancing career, and after initially rejecting the idea, she phoned Val back and said, “‘I’ve reconsidered and you know, for these last eight months, I’ve been thinking about ballroom a lot. I definitely miss dancing, and miss competing, and to be honest, all those times I was thinking about it, the only person I could ever see myself coming back to competition with was you.'” While Val was ecstatic about her agreement, he was also under pressure from the president of the World Federation of Ballroom Dancers to dance with Valeriya “Lera” Kozharinova, and while he thought Julianne Hough was everything he wanted in a partner, he hadn’t met Lera yet. After dancing with Lera in the days before Julianne was supposed to fly to New Jersey, Val changed his mind and had to figure out a way to tell Julianne that he asked her to come out of retirement for nothing, and became so nervous he made Maks call her to break the news. “Choosing Lera as a partner wound up being the biggest favor I could ever do for Julianne,” Val wrote. “Julianne and I might be married right now, or dancing and competing as partners. It’s crazy how the world works. Sometimes the things that don’t happen have the biggest impact on your life — not the things that do happen.”
3. Maks The Bachelor
After several seasons on Dancing With the Stars, Maksim Chmerkovskiy had solidified himself as one of the show’s biggest stars and had become a celebrity, which garnered him unexpected attention from his home country. In 2009, Maks was offered the opportunity to star in a season of Ukraine’s version of The Bachelor, and he did it. After Val talked him into taking the offer, Maks filmed the season and after the season aired he had to go back to Kiev one last time for a follow-up episode and asked Val to go with him. While Val was aware the show would make his brother a star, he wasn’t prepared for just how big of a star. Upon their arrival at the after-party for the episode, Maks was accosted by a horde of female fans, one of which got herself completely wrapped around Maks, which rightfully angered her boyfriend and a brawl ensued. “The boyfriend steamed up to Maks, said, ‘I know you’ in Russian, then –boom!– punched my brother in the face. I reacted on pure impulse before I could think. Bam! I slugged the dude with a right hook I’d been perfecting in Brooklyn boxing gyms since I was a teenager. He crumpled to the ground.” According to Val that was the single moment his relationship with his brother shifted. “I remember thinking. You’ve looked out for me and had my back my whole life. Now, when the sh-t hit the fan, I did not hesitate, I did not think twice. It was as if I was at last ready to say to Maks, ‘Yo, I’m never going to stop caring about you or loving you or doing things for you but it will never again come from a place of owing you, or of ‘look how much my brother’s done for me.’ Now I’ve done just as much for you as you’ve done for me.'”
2. Leaving Competition
After dedicating almost his entire life to dancing and competitive ballroom dancing, it all came to an end for Val in 2011 at the British Open Latin Dance Championship in Blackpool, England. While dancing a samba with his partner he began to question what exactly he was doing. “‘What the f–k am I doing?’ That was the question posed in my mind. ‘What is this movement and why am I doing it?’ It suddenly occurred to me that I had been performing the same movement for more than fifteen years, fine-tuning the same step, and beyond that dancing the same five Latin dances, in the same order […] It was odd and at the same time meaningful to me that I would manage to have a conversation with myself while in the middle of a competition. It meant that I wasn’t in the moment, wasn’t connecting with my partner, and wasn’t connected to the opportunity.” While the decision was one of the biggest of his life, it only led to bigger things as he finally considered joining Dancing With the Stars after a couple years of being asked to be on the show, “My whole life has been an audition. But this time I didn’t have to try out or show my chops or impress the gatekeepers. I didn’t have to find an agent. I didn’t hire a manager. I didn’t even have to kiss too much a–. My victories on the ballroom circuit spoke for me. I was twenty-five, and I was going to Hollywood.”
1. Normani’s Dance
Coming off of his season 23 win with Laurie Hernandez, Val got partnered with none other than Fifth Harmony’s Normani Kordei for season 24. During that season Val got to take one of the most creative approaches to a routine ever when in week seven the pros chose the music they thought best suited their celebrity partner. Val chose the song “Freedom,” and put together a symbolic dance which represented Normani reclaiming her voice and freedom after getting caught up in a nasty cyberbullying situation that had negatively impacted her, and it became another major moment for Val. “It was one of the most important pieces of choreography I’ve ever done in my life, easily the best dancing I had ever done on the show. All of a sudden I felt fulfilled. I decided I didn’t need to travel to Rome or Barcelona in order to feel that I’d grown, that I’d made a connection. That I made a difference. I could cry right now, writing about it,” he shared.