Cover Feature

Maks Chmerkovskiy: Former Dancing with the Stars Pro on His Past, Present and Future

Photo courtesy of ABC/Craig Sjodin

Dance has always been a constant in Maks Chmerkovskiy’s life from childhood until now. The professional dancer and former Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) member was born and raised in Ukraine and immigrated to the United States as a young teenager. Although being in a new country was challenging, dance was his outlet while facing financial and language barriers. Regardless of where he lived, Maks always knew that he wanted to be a dancer.

Maks never had a second thought about this career choice; doing something else never seemed like an option. “Honestly, I don’t have second thoughts,” he said. “Being immersed in a sport at such a young age shaped my goals for the future. Now, here I am. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Each dancer on DWTS currently has their own experience, but Maks was able to go head-to-head with his brother, Val. They’ve gone through so much together as kids but naturally, there was competition as teenagers. “We have grown to be extremely mutually supportive and encourage each other every step of the way,” Maks said.

For Maks, having his brother there actually took some pressure off. “Plus, having the opportunity to work with my brother on national TV was pretty cool,” Maks said. For multiple seasons, Maks and Val were able to do something not too many people get to experience.

Throughout the 17 seasons of DWTS Maks has been on, he won the Season 18 Len Goodman Mirrorball Trophy alongside dance partner Meryl Davis. After 14 tries, he said that the feeling of winning was “indescribable.” “It was an honor and a privilege, and truly meant the world to me,” Maks said. After working so hard for so many years, winning was extremely rewarding, and there is no one I would rather have had by my side than Meryl [Davis].” Maks said he would absolutely dance with her again in a heartbeat.

Although the feeling of finally winning was indescribable, DWTS isn’t a walk in the park. The stress and exhaustion eventually pile up and for Maks, the hardest part about being on the show was being more than just a dancer. “You are also a shoulder to cry on, sometimes a therapist, a mother and a father,” he explained. “You are also somebody that the stars open up to in their most vulnerable times.”

While Maks announced his DWTS departure on 2018, the atmosphere is something he misses although he’s around with his wife, Peta Murgatroyd, who also happens to be a professional DWTS dancer. “It’s important to understand when you have grown out of an atmosphere. I was a part of the show for a very long time, and I credit DWTS with much of my success.” Maks treasures the memories he made but is now focused on making memories with his family that he’ll treasure even more.

As a dancer, an extreme amount of time goes into creating a piece from start to finish; from the initial song selection and concept of the dance, to creating the dance moves into the rehearsal of the routine. With each dance, the time the routine takes can vary. “There is a lot to cover,” explained Maks. “It depends on factors such as the experience and dance ability of both parties, as well as how much time can be spent rehearsing.”

Maks credits his inspiration to his family and highlights his two children as his greatest sources of that inspiration. With this, he implements discovered cultures into his choreography. Although Ukrainian-born, Latin American is a style of dance he is inspired by and loves performing. Even though South American culture is his favorite to incorporate, he uses new cultures all the time. His favorite project was being one of the directors for the high-end show “Le Reve” at the Wynn in Las Vegas.

Outside of dance, Maks has dabbled in acting. He starred in the “Full House” spin-off series, “Fuller House.” After actress Candace Cameron Bure was on DWTS, she and Maks became friends. When a dance scene came up where sisters needed brothers for a date, Maks and Val were the obvious choice.

“Teaching a lot at dance conventions of massive sizes, my brother and I have had so many encounters where I’m on stage, with a mic in front of hundreds of kids. And they look at me not as Maks from DWTS but as the dude from ‘Fuller House!’” Maks said.

While Maks has no current acting pursuits, he enjoyed his time on the show and says he will consider an opportunity if it arises. Maks’ mindset on his future career has changed now that being a father has become his priority.

When the war in Ukraine unfolded, Maks was filming “World of Dance: Ukraine” in Kyiv. It was a dark and heavy time for their family. “We had the time difference and the unknown to deal with, so it was pretty crazy,” Maks said. His time there was a growing moment for him and moving forward, it changed his outlook on life.

To help Ukraine, Maks and his father Val created Baranova27. It’s a full volunteer-based initiative that collects essential goods contributed by donors to be sent to Ukraine. A system was set up to get the goods into the hands of those who needed it.

After this, the focus was to create a village to relocate people to West Ukraine. “We started ordering mobile homes from Turkey. We put together a chain that delivered ten houses to Western Ukraine that became part of another village, and they became part of another forty houses in the village called the Baranova Village,” Maks said. As the war continues, Maks hopes more people take the same initiative to help.

In taking the extra step to help, Maks went to Poland to assist refugees. “After spending some time at home, I realized how important it was for me to go back and help as much as I could, at least as a way to justify my safe way out of the country,” Maks said. Through Baranova27 and Maks’ return, his goal is to bring as much awareness to the conflict as possible.

Helping those in need are not Maks’ only entrepreneurial activities. Following the conclusion of the DWTS journey, Maks co-founded an upscale vodka brand, Tetya KAPA, with close friends, vintner Ian Devereux White and Napa Valley Distillery Founder Arthur Hartunian. “Our profound connection was solidified in Napa Valley, where we collectively decided to pool our talents and establish Tetya KAPA,” Maks said. “This name pays tribute to my beloved aunt, Kapa, who embodied qualities such as family, love, tradition, honor and determination.” Tetya KAPA uses grapes from Napa Valley and ancient winter grapes to represent Maks’ Ukrainian heritage.

With his wife, Maks created a unique online shopping space, called the Maks & Peta Marketplace, that reflects their family values and commitment to making a positive impact. “Our marketplace offers a thoughtfully curated selection of products, from household essentials to cosmetics, designed to make your shopping experience easy and enjoyable while sharing our personal style and family essence. But it’s more than shopping; it’s a platform for giving back,” Maks said. The marketplace supports Baranova27 so when you shop, a portion of the proceeds go to the non-profit. Maks and Peta are grateful for all the support.

Maks is a family person through and through. Outside of the public eye, their family loves to relax, enjoy family time and play games. Beach days, hikes and the boardgame Settlers of Catan is just a few of their family favorites. So, while DWTS is in Maks’ past, dancing, spending time with his family and helping those in need aren’t.