Maksim Chmerkovskiy’s Ballroom Birthday Bash

Friday, January 27, 2012 8pm—Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center in NYC

Let’s walk through the events of the night:

The show was set up in four acts with a 15-minute intermission between the first and second halves.

Maksim welcomed everyone and was genuinely surprised at the turn out. The bottom floor was full as well as most seats on the upper two levels. After his greeting, he gave warning that he didn’t know all that was planned for the evening. Programs had not been handed to the audience yet either, so we were in for a few surprises as well. Maks explained that his younger brother Val and his best friend Tony Dolovani worked together to plan the event. He was a little nervous to see what they would do because he knew they had access to embarrassing photos. But he was completely in awe of how big a turn-out it was. He was beyond thankful “To take time, a lot of time out of their daily routine to put something together like this to commemorate someone who’s not dead yet, by the way, I’m just saying.” He went on to say…“This isn’t even a major birthday. If they did all this for 32, I wonder what they’ll do when I’m 50,” he laughed.

Act One: Maks’ Wonder Years

Maksim turned the microphone over to a young lady named Lulu Dahl. She looked to be in her late teens/early 20’s. She sang a rushed but vocally okay version of the US national anthem. (Amongst other things, I sing and coach voice from time to time so I notice things that others might not.) Ms. Dahl has potential. Anyway, I was pleased that Val and Tony wanted to make sure the anthem was a part of the evening. In many countries, national anthems are sung at all major events (in Kenya, they play it before the start of any movie.) But it was a beautiful tribute to the fact that all three foreign men have a deep love for the United States.

Val took the mic when Ms. Dahl finished and introduced the first video clip. It was Alex Chmerkovskiy, Maksim and Val’s father. It’s amazing how much Maksim looks like his father. Though Mr. Chmerkovskiy was at the party in person, his recorded message was able to capture everything he wanted to say to Maks for the evening without putting him on the immediate spot.  His father talked about when he first noticed that Maks had a talent in dance while Maks was a child. (There were pictures of Maks in traditional outfits from folk dances in the Ukraine.) Mr. Chmerkovskiy knew that he pushed his son and didn’t often say how proud he was of him…but he wanted to correct that. He spoke of one of the proudest moments he had so far in Maksim’s dancing career; it was when Maksim choreographed Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas production of La Reve. The end of the clip definitely put tears not only in my eyes, but in Maksim’s, as his father told him that he is extremely proud of the man Maksim has become and the work he has done. He ended by saying that he will do his best to try to say it more often because he Maksim to always know that his father is proud of him.

After the video, Val introduced the first dance of the evening, “Land of 1000 Dances” featuring children from Dance with Me Studios. This was a traditional dance from the Ukraine that ended with a duet dance that was similar to one of Maks’ first professional dances.

More pictures where shown from Maksim’s childhood, which included a video of Maksim before he knew how to move his hips correctly. I know…it’s hard to believe there was a time. LOL! This was followed by a copy-cat dance called “Canned Heat”. I call this a “copy-cat dance” because a video of Maksim and Val dancing with two professional partners on Dancing with the Stars was being played on the large screen while two couples (children) performed almost the same dance on the ballroom floor below the screen.

Val returned to explain the next dance which was performed by Vlad Kvartin and Katya Tkachenko to Adele’s “Someone Like You”. This beautiful dance symbolized Maksim’s adolescent years and the love and heartache he experienced during that time.

That concluded Act One which rolled right into Act Two

Act Two: Maks’ Rising Stars

Maksim came out to say a few words. “I shed a tear three times already,” he said before talking about his start in teaching the Rising Stars. He started teaching at the age of 17. One day as he sat the table eating cereal, his father asked him if he taught dance. At that point, Maksim had not taught on his own; he had only assisted his coach. Plus, he had only been in the US a few years. By that Friday, he had his first class of 32 people in New Jersey. The ages were anywhere from 6-19. He admitted to be scared at first, but then he pressed on.

Either Tony or Val took the mic from him and introduced the next video. This is the one that choked me up the most. Former students of Maksim “who could not make it” spoke about the impact he had on their lives. This hit home for me because I’ve taught theatre and voice not only in the US but in several countries. Hearing former students honor an instructor is a powerful thing. As an instructor, you can only hope you are making a difference. Sometimes you can tell right away. Sometimes you see the difference years later, and sometimes you never find out. Maks stood while he watched and listened to all that they said. I became a blubbering idiot. Though I did have to laugh when one student mentioned that she met Maksim when he had a blonde ponytail, then they showed a picture of him with that look. LOL!

Then I really lost it when Tony introduced the same people who were in the video as the next group of dancers. Couples or individuals came out to dance in segments to “Moves like Jagger.” Each person surprised Maks more and more. Then one of Maksim’s prize students and the manager of Dance with Me Soho Studio Alex Samusevich (who was later teased about needing a break between two dances because he had done the routine in years) came out to perform. Some people, including Maks, cheered to see Alex on the floor dancing. I have to say, the guy was amazing.

After their two numbers, Tony claimed the microphone and began to speak of the one student of whom Maksim is most proud, his kid brother Valentin. Val and Daria Chesnokova (a teacher at Dance with Me Studios and a performer on Dancing with the Stars) began their dance. At one point, Daria went over to Maks and brought him into the dance. It was a joy to watch him dance in person even if it was only for a short time and he was dressed in a suit that was not tailored for dancing. He still moved beautifully.

Next was a video by the mother of Nicole and Teddy Volynets, former students of Maksim who are now professionals. This brother and sister combo teaches at the Dance with Me Studios as well as occasional performs for Dancing with the Stars…all thanks to Maksim. Their mother spoke of Maksim’s work with young people and how the lives of her children as well as other children will never be the same because of all he has done.

Then Nicole and Teddy performed an old Maksim routine to the song “Just a Gigolo”. Afterwards their video clips of gratitude where played. Nicole spoke about when they first met Maksim and he asked them if they ever danced together. They hadn’t. Then he asked them to show him what they could do. They did a few steps of a dance. Maksim brought in a younger and smaller student to show them the same dance steps they were supposed to be doing and pointed out, “It should look like that.” Both Nicole and Teddy were thankful for all that Maks did for them. Getting choked up about it all, Nicole ended the video clip stating she wished for all of Maksim’s dreams to come true because he deserves it. Because of him they both knew not to give up on their dreams, she stated before tearfully adding “I love you.”

There was another special performance by a boy named Matt Hunter. He sang a song called “Mi Amor” while five dancers performed around him.

Afterwards was a 15-minute intermission in which people could go to the bar to get drinks and the dancers could get ready for the second half of the evening. Val stated that the nice part of the evening was over…they would “roast” Maks in the second half.

Act Three: Maks’ Lala Land Adventures

This part of the evening started off with video clips from Dancing with the Stars. Though some were of dances, there were also moments that were behind-the-scenes of Maks when he was not serious. There was one clip from when they had the male dancers were dresses on the show. There were several clips to show the progression of his hair over the years.

As soon as the video was over six of Maksim’s former students who have been on Dancing with the Stars performed two of the dance numbers they did on the show: “Mambo #5” and “Billie Jean”.

That was followed by Tony Dolovani tribute video to Maks. Some of the jokes were definitely inside jokes, but the love and friendship they have for each other was quite evident. Tony talked about how he was amazed by this “kid” he saw dance years ago at a competition, but the kid could barely speak English. Now here they are years later and best friends. The moment in the video that probably got the most laughs was the moment Tony showed two pictures side-by-side. One was Fabio, and the other was Maksim with long flowing hair in almost the same pose. He joked that at least Maksim knows what to do with his hair now. On a more serious note, one of the aspects about Maksim that most impressed him was that as soon as he came on Dancing with the Stars Maksim wanted to bring others with him. He let the producers and everyone know about his “Rising Stars” and the dance studio he had in New Jersey. He wanted his students to have a chance to shine if he was going to be given one. Since them numerous students of his have danced on the show, some which include his brother, have actually been included as regulars for a couple of seasons.

When the video was over, Tony and Nicole danced to a song called “Rakata.” Near the end of the dance, Tony noticed Sherri Sheppard from The View sitting in the special guest section. He went over and danced in front of her which sent Sherri into a fit of giggles.

After the dance, Tony and Val took microphones and started to address Sherri and Kirstie Alley. First, Tony pointed out Sherri to the audience. Then Val told Sherri any time she wanted to come on Dancing with the Stars, he would love to be her partner. Then he danced toward her. I don’t know what was said, but suddenly Sherri had singles in her hand and was joking about putting the money in Val’s pants. Then Tony got in on it as well for a moment before addressing Kirstie. “Kirstie, if you ever want to come back on Dancing with the Stars, I’ll be your partner, and I promise I won’t drop you.” The gentlemen then turned the next moment over to the video of celebrity friends who could not make the evening but wanted to wish Maks a happy birthday.

The video started with Carson Daly from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Behind him was a type of shrine for Maksim made of old photos posted on a big project board. Carson commented on almost every photo on the board stating that he was with Maksim in most of them (even though most of them were from Maks’ childhood). This is where the picture of Maksim with an accordion was shown…of which Carson said he was the one to teach Maksim how to play. There were pictures of Maksim in traditional Ukrainian folk dance outfits and costumes. There were pictures of Maks with different hairstyles, which Carson had to point out were some of Maks’ bad looks when he obviously was not listening to Carson’s advice. There were other celebrities; unfortunately I could not think of some of their names fast enough, but three others I can mention: Donnie Osmond, Florence Henderson, and Kirstie Alley. Donnie and Florence said nice, simple messages of birthday wishes. Kirstie Alley had another thing plan. Hers was actually a long message that was edited down to increase the humor. In it she started by listing good qualities about Maks, saying that he was kind and sweet. Then she looked at a piece of paper in her hand and said, “I though I was supposed to talk about Maks.” She threw the paper aside and started to list some of his other qualities. “You think all women love you and fall over when they see you,” she teased. She joked about how working with him is like having someone banging something over and over again into your head. But her message ended with her saying that even though he’s the “Jekyll & Hyde” of Dancing with the Stars, there is no doubt that he is passionate about his family, friends, and what he does. She’s thankful for the friendship that has started between them because of the show. When her part on the screen was over, Maks ran to where Kirstie was sitting and gave her a hug and kiss.

I found the video:

 Act Four: Maks’ Empire State of Mind

Though I was mainly raised in NJ, I was born in NYC, so the first part of this next section was beautiful to watch. Though Maks was born in the Ukraine, he has a deep love for the US and especially NYC. So the first set of dances in this section was a tribute to New York City. Versions of “New York, New York” were mixed together and different dances were performed to each version of the song. It started with an almost swing-like version before moving into a hip hop style which was followed by the flow of a lyrical dance and ended with a coat and tails/evening gown waltz. All that New York is…all the diversity and creative rolled into a montage of dance.

Next, Tony joked with Maksim saying that though Maksim is very talented, there are some talents that were clearly given to Val that were not given to Maks. One of them is the gift of music. Then a video was played of pictures from childhood to adulthood of Maks and Val while in the background part of a song that Val had written and recorded for Maks was played. The song “Brother” was a slow rap about the love, friendship, and support the brothers had for each other. As soon as the video ended, Tony introduced Val and Daria Chesnokova as they danced to parts of the same song. Between music/dance interludes, Val would go to a mic and perform verses of the song, so that the dance segments became the “hook” of the song.

When the song was over, Tony and Maksim took the time to honor the US again. As “immigrants” who had their dreams come true, they wanted to make sure people understood what a great country the US is. Tony also implored the audience to respect the military, asking the audience to be kind if you see an off-duty solider or a veteran somewhere.

Two more dances were performed by dancers from Dance with Me Studios. These were to represent some of the cultures that make up the US: a samba done to a song called “Sex Sax Samba” and a dance with Asian undertones done to a song called “Samurai”.

After that, Marissa Alvarado was recognized as an artist who is also twitter follower of Maksim. (I do apologize if Marissa’s presentation was before one of the previous dances.) She painted a portrait of Maksim using his headshot as her example. That painting was used as the cover for the night’s program. Maksim hugged her and kissed her cheek. Then he said, “My only problem is that you did my brother’s first.” To which Marissa replied, “Yes, but yours is bigger.” That sent the brothers into a short teasing moment. “Did you hear that? Mine is bigger.” I couldn’t hear what Val said back since he wasn’t near a mic. Eventually, Val came out from where he was standing and both gentlemen kissed Marissa’s cheeks at the same time. She looked as if she was going to faint.

Maksim went on to say to talk about some of the letters he’s received. The one that touched him the most was about a woman who was about to commit suicide. She had finished getting everything in order and decided to flip on the TV one last time. When she did, she saw Maksim and Tia (I think that was his dance partner’s name) dancing on Dancing with the Stars. The woman was mesmerized and watched until they were finished. In her letter to Maksim, she said that it was like something hit her and she asked herself, “What am I doing?” She decided right then that she wasn’t going to go through with the suicide. Maksim said, “That’s what this is all about.” It’s the idea of touching lives and changing people through the artistic power of dance.

Marissa went back to her seat and Maksim’s cake was brought out to see. It was a gold bust of Maksim. He, Tony, and Val circled the cake which was done by Carlo’s Bakery home of the Cake Boss. “How do we eat it?” “Can we eat it?” “I think so.” “Is it wrong for you to eat your own face?” were some of the questions that went on as they stared at the cake. Finally, someone said, “We’ll figure it out.”

Then they went on to one of the last dances for the night. This was done by Andy Cruz’s salsa group. The group of 14 dancers performed to “Salsa y Sabor.” My sister and I looked into the dancers and noticed that one of the women looked like a woman we met before the birthday bash started. We had spoken to her as we stood in the line to get in. The woman had been excited to see other women of color at the event. “We need more of us involved in things like this.” She went on to talk about how few people of color she saw in the realm of professional ballroom and Latin dancing. Her daughter had been taking classes at the Dance with Me Studios for years. Once we had entered the building, she was whisked away as soon as someone from the event recognized her, so my sister and I had lost her in the ground. Then there she was dancing the salsa with full passion and joy.

After the dance, Maksim once again thanked everyone for attending. He wanted to make sure that everyone knew that proceeds from the evening were going to St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children. Then he introduced the people who mean the most to him: his family. His dad had already been introduced through the video, so Maks started with his mother. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he said before giving her a hug and kiss. Then he introduced his grandmother, who was not nearly as shy as his mother. She proudly stood and took a bow to the audience. Then his grandfather and uncle were introduced as well. “It’s not Russian or English; there’s not enough words,” Maks continued as he tried to summarize his feelings of love and gratitude for his family.

Maksim quickly thanked all the other people who contributed to the event and made things possible. Val mentioned Events by Amable as the company who decorated for the event. The big sponsors such as Grey Goose, The Alex Hotel, Carlo’s Bakery, and the New York Mortgage Exchange were mentioned, as well as Eredi Pisano for which Tony is a spokesman. Maks, Val, and Tony’s suits for the evening were all from Pisano, which Maks joked about Tony being accepted by Italians because of his last name even though Tony is Albanian. He added that when Tony had said he was Albanian on the air of DWTS, he lost votes. Maks said that it was probably because Italians were upset that he wasn’t one of them. The last sponsor Maksim mentioned was Kings Polo Classic. It was started by a family who had enough members to start their own polo team. Maksim went on to say that he always wanted enough kids for a soccer team. Then he laughed, “Maybe that’s why I’m not married.” He thanked everyone again as music began to play and some dancers came out to dance.

When they finished, the floor was open for people to wish Maksim a happy birthday. My sister and I got as far as Tony before Maksim was rushed out of the space. We figured that it was getting close to midnight and they probably only had the Hammerstein Ballroom until then and needed to get people out. No one would have left if Maksim had stayed.

So that is the night. I found out when I checked twitter after I got home that Maksim had opened up his after party to anyone who was still in the area. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the message before we got on the train or we would have stayed.

Thank you all for being patient and for reading all of this. I had no idea it would end up being this long. I hope you’ll be back to check out more things on Stirred Online as we continue to grow. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do an interview with Maks one day, especially since what he does is very much along the lines I what Stirred is all about. Well see. Until then…

From the program that was given to us:

About the Show

Maksim Chmerkovskiy & Friends Birthday Ballroom Bash tells the tale of Maks’ life through dance performance coupled with friends and family story telling. Maks’ search to achieve a modern day fairy tale is reflected in this true life interpretation of his rags to riches journey from his birth town of Odessa, Ukraine to his life today.

Maks boldly takes Ballroom Dancing where it’s never gone before. The result is an experience that will be thrilling, emotionally charged, and as moving as any Broadway show in NYC. Many surprises are in store for both audience and Maks. While Maks choreographed the dances, the family and friends participation in the showcase will be a surprise for Maks.

Featuring a mélange for special celebrity guest vignettes, choreography by Maksim Chmerkovskiy, special musical performance by Valentin Chmerkovskiy (Maks’ multi-talented younger brother), dance performances by Maks, Val, and Tony Dovolani (Maks’ best friend, business partner and also pro dancer) as well as Nicole Voynets, Teddy Volynets and Daria Chesnokova (Dancing with the Stars Troupe members) and the Dance With Me dance studio family performances.

Come take this journey with Maks, as we give you a real look at who Maks is…simply a man living fairy tale dreams where passion, dance, friendships and family intertwine.

Produced by Dance With Me USA, Maksim Chmerkovskiy Productions and Pulse Creative LLC.

St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children

Megan and Zach’s Story

One of our students, Megan, is a young artist who has been working to generate donations for St. Mary’s Hospital. When Megan was five years old, her close friend, Zach, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Zach’s illness forced him to constantly move from hospital to hospital through his illness. St. Mary’s is where he received the best treatment, and is the hospital where he stayed until he fell into a coma and passed away when he was 9 years old.

As an aspiring artist with a penchant towards helping others, Megan decided to use her talents to raise awareness and donations for St. Mary’s She approached us with her idea, and we decided that a portion of the event proceeds will go to St. Mary’s. On January 27th, prints of her work signed by Maks, Tony, & Val will be available for purchase in the lobby. All proceeds from the sale of these prints will go directly to the cause that Megan feels so passionately about.

Dance with Me Studios has always believed in cultivating young talent as well as giving back, and we are thrilled that we have the opportunity to accomplish both in the same night. We truly hope that by telling Zach & Megan’s story, we make a difference in the lives of the children and the families of the St. Mary’s Healthcare Systems.

About St. Mary’s Healthcare Systems

St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children is a not-for-profit healthcare organization committed to improving the health and quality of life for children with special needs and their families.

St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children is committed to improving the health and quality of life for children and families with special needs.

St. Mary’s Healthcare System is one of only a handful of organizations around the country that is dedicated to providing intensive rehabilitation, specialized care, and education to children with special needs and life-limiting conditions.

Following hospitalizations in acute care facilities for complications from premature birth, illness, and injury, or when special services are needed, children and their families come to St. Mary’s to receive care, learn to manage their illness or injury, and achieve a better quality of life. As the largest provider of long-term home healthcare for children in New York State and one of the nation’s leading providers of pediatric post-acute care, St. Mary’s provides a continuum of care, treating nearly 4,000 children each day throughout the metropolitan area through a network of inpatient, home care and community programs and services, setting a standard of excellence in pediatric healthcare.

St. Mary’s is a not-for profit healthcare organization. To donate visit

About Felicia Latoya

I am a writer, actor, singer, director, and teacher of humanities, theatre, and speech. Since 1999, I've traveled to Costa Rica, Brasil, Egypt and lived in Kenya and Slovakia to perform and/or teach. I have four sites my personal one, Stirred Online, Images Theatre, and TCHS Theatre. Stirred Online was created to help promote an appreciation of quality performing and visual arts especially those focused on ethnic understanding. Images Theatre is the afterschool theatre program I created at Life Center Academy. TCHS Theatre is my new artistic adventure with Trenton Central High School. (This page will probably be the more active of the four I run.) View all posts by Felicia Latoya

2 responses to “Maksim Chmerkovskiy’s Ballroom Birthday Bash

  • Sandra

    Felicia, thank you so much for all these details of what was obviously an absolutely FABULOUS night – I wish I could have been there! Thanks to your account of the evening, I almost feel like I was there. Thanks again for taking the time to write this for all of us who couldn’t be there. What a special night it was, and what an opportunity to get close to and to share this special occasion with Maks, his family and friends.

  • sharonknapik

    Reblogged this on SWAY: A Dance Trilogy and commented:
    A moving and comprehensive recap of Maks Chmerkovskiy’s 32nd Birthday Bash. Maks’ ‘fam’ went all out.

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