Book: I'll Never Change My Name
Header Photo Courtesy of Valentin Chmerkovskiy
Author: Valentin Chmerkovskiy
1. In your opinion, what were some advantages you had being an immigrant and what were some disadvantages you faced in America?
I guess being an immigrant at a young age gave me an opportunity to be challenged in ways most kids my age didn’t get challenged. Learning another language different from the one I have been speaking since birth, trying to fit in while not being able to afford certain things that had social status, from clothing to vacations, whatever gave you the license to be cool I didn’t possess when I was young.
But what I realized is work-ethic and talent are the coolest things you can have at any age, and immediately the things I didn’t have became my most valuable assets teaching me some of my most valuable lessons.
2. What inspired the title of your book, “I’ll Never Change My Name” and did you always have pride in your name or was it something you had to grow to love?
I always had immense pride in my name, because my name was given to me in memory of my grandfather who passed away a few years before I was born. He was an extraordinary man whose name I wear and it’s always held me accountable, as did my last name.
Both were subject to a lot of conversation throughout my life some good and some a little more hurtful, but never did I feel less than for having a foreign name in a place I called home. It always empowered me. Being different and having challenges because of it always inspired me to be greater!
3. Have you been back to Ukraine in your adulthood? Do you feel that the American views of Ukraine as a whole are misinformed? If so, why?
I have. It’s a beautiful country with some really beautiful people. I can’t speak on American views of Ukraine because I think it’s impossible to make that assumption based on what we see on TV. I would just suggest anyone that hasn’t been, to go and visit. Having said that, to me America is home. America is where I truly grew up. And America is the country I’m most grateful for. Along with France, God knows I love croissants and Rousseau.
4. You talk a lot about your family and culture, what elements of your family changed when you arrived in the States and what elements stayed the same?
My family has always been my foundation. It's what drives me, holds me accountable, keeps me moving and pushing. When we first arrived there was tremendous uncertainty for all of us. All of the family members had their own individual challenges they faced but it was family that was the constant. We didn't know where the next dollar was coming from but we all knew that when we got home we had each other.
My parents were truly magicians, especially my mom who with very little was always able to provide the family with a warm cooked meal and had us all congregate around the dinner table daily. I do feel that was the piece of our culture we brought to the States and haven't abandoned it still. Gathering daily as a family to check in and push one another built a very strong bond and with folks like mine, I was able to be surrounded by love and support even if outside our home there was very little of it. In terms of what changed... well everything changed.
We become what we surround ourselves with. As we moved neighborhoods and as our circumstances changed, so did our lives and our outlook on it. But no matter what, we always kept our language (speaking only Russian at the dinner table) and our family traditions.
5. How easy or difficult was it for you to find your voice as a writer? And do you feel the “authentic you” was able to come out?
I've had this voice for a long time. I always loved storytelling I just had never been able to put it all down on paper before, not in this capacity at least. The most important thing for me throughout this entire process was to do justice to the reader for spending their money and most importantly time reading my book. I wanted to make sure that it wasn't just me venting or gossiping, but that I was being respectful and accurate, and also entertaining and inspiring all at the same time.
Now, I don't think anyone should seek to inspire others but rather seek to be themselves the best way they can be and hopefully, by sharing their story others can relate and be inspired. I feel like with this book I got to be myself and share what I find important with the world. Hopefully, someone out there drew a little happiness from the read. That’s all I can ever ask for from my work.
6. What was your writing process like for this book?
I looked back at my life at a glance and just started listing moments that shaped my perspective and my experiences. I tried to then draw parallels between my past and my present, and just make some sense of it all. As the process went on, I was able to discover so many connections, so many fun moments, so many moments that made me say, "Aha that all makes sense now." Without reflection, it's hard to be mindful, and as I try to live a mindful life, I reflect a lot on the moments that brought me here. I wrote about it. This is who I am, and here's why.
7. You have such a unique life story, during your writing process did you ever stop and pinch yourself, realizing where you are now?
That "unique life" is exactly why I wanted to write this book. I wanted to share how dynamic life can be, for it's the thing that will make you look back one day and want to pinch yourself too. I’m so grateful for all the hands I was dealt in my life, the losing ones and the winning ones. I'm just grateful I got to play them all.
8. What have you learned most about yourself through working on “Dancing With The Stars”?
Patience haha. I learned how much I love to perform, how much I love to help people. To some degree, I always knew that, but 'Dancing With The Stars' showed me how rewarding it can be when you're doing what you love and sharing it with millions of people.
9. Who was someone that you danced with on the show that completely surprised you because of their dancing talents?
Rumer Willis, cause she was not a dancer. She was not someone that had danced before at all. To see her transform into a dancer was really amazing. It was actually the first time I ever won DWTS was with Rumer. It was one of the most rewarding seasons not because we won, but because I got to help this young woman find her inner strength and beauty. I was able to be a small part of her journey and contribute to her growth, all while watching her family and the world celebrate her. That was very special for me.
10. Can you talk a little bit about the dance studio you opened in Buckhead (an uptown district in Atlanta) and what you hope students get from your studio?
Like with every Dance With Me location around the country, I want it to be a place for people to feel welcome, in what can be one of the most terrifying environments for people... a Dance Studio. That is most important to me, that people are proud to be part of our little community of positivity, inclusion, self-improvement, and fun. Dance is just a vehicle for the bigger picture, living a fulfilling life. That’s all we are. Dance With Me is a place where I want people to find a little help, a little motivation, and a little joy on their path to living a complete and fulfilling life.
11. What’s the best book you have read in 2019 thus far?
The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck. Don't let the title fool you, it’s a book about how to care even more... about the things that truly matter. "The Subtle Art of Caring Responsibly" just didn't have the same ring to it.
12. What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block?
Just like getting over procrastination and anxiety... JUST DO IT. So insensitive and so simple I know, but sometimes we complicate things into non-existence. Relax. Breathe. And GO. Action is the best remedy for all the blocks in our life.
Force yourself to just take the first step, write the first paragraph and you will see that just one word turns into two and then ten and then you got yourself a story. I like to see the bigger picture in everything I do. What’s the message? What’s the point? What’s the bigger message? How is this different? I mean sure it’s all important but... breathe, relax, and START!
It’s ok if its garbage at first, genius sometimes can come out of garbage, and sometimes not, sometimes it just stays garbage. But, in this short time, we have on earth creating something is better than creating nothing, so create don't worry about the end in the beginning. One step at a time. One word at a time. One breath at a time. Not in that order, of course, make sure you breathe throughout. :)
13. What’s the best advice you have ever received on happiness?
I didn't. It's a constant search. Happiness is earned with action and adventure and movement and ups and downs in life! Happiness is in constant motion, you gotta chase it, find it, and foster it. If you're unhappy, just remember that happiness is just around the corner. But, don't take anyone's word for it, go and see it for yourself. And if you don't find it still, then go to your nearest Dance With Me. I promise you will find happiness there. Nothing like the human touch shared on the dance floor.
14. Do you plan on writing more books in the future?
I do when I have the spark. When I get this dying desire that I can’t breathe without writing it. I couldn't breathe with all of these stories in my head, I had to put them in a book. I had to share. I don't have that now. I'm actually in a state of reclusion to some degree, where the combination of spending the last 7 years on television along with 7 national tours and then writing this book, I feel like I need to step back.
I need to be a human again and live, and in living find inspiration for the thoughts that will turn into words I want to share with the world. I think the next book I write will be fiction.
Places To Find More From This Author:
Facebook: Valentin Chmerkovskiy
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