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The Healing Power of Dance Can Move You Beyond the Dance Floor

The Healing Power of Dance Can Move You Beyond the Dance Floor

Not even a skiing accident that threatened his dance career as a teenager with a severe leg injury, which doctors warned would cripple him for the rest of his life, could hamper his spirit or dedication to his art.

Rather he saw the prognosis as a challenge, one that he would overcome through a no nonsense attitude, discipline and perseverance for his passion—dance.

Not even leaving his home country of Ukraine as a child with his family to start a new life in the United States, where he would have to learn a new language and face financial hardship, could derail his dream of becoming a professional dancer.

This month Natural Awakenings celebrates men’s wellness with a candid conversation on the transformative, healing power of dance with Maksim (Maks) Chmerkovskiy, dance professional to celebrity contestants on ABC’s hit TV show ‘Dancing with the Stars’. Maks discusses how dancing fuels his life and how it can be an instrument of healthy living to empower your mind, body and spirit as it moves you beyond the dance floor.

Becoming a professional Latin Ballroom dancer requires discipline, perseverance and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. What is your philosophy on healthy living that you’d like to share?

The key is to keep it simple by balancing three important things: healthy food, enough sleep and a positive attitude. First, food is our fuel and our body is our mechanism. I prefer organic and cruelty-free food. Second, sleep should be our priority. While I don’t get enough sleep with my schedule these days, I try to rest as much as possible to keep energetic. And third, we all need to have a positive outlook in life to empower our spirit to deal with life’s ups and downs—we will succeed at some things and fail at others—so we need to keep motivated. In my case, I like to be productive with many different activities.

How has dance influenced your life?

Dancing has taught me many social and personal skills. It teaches the importance of respecting people, developing self-discipline and a strong work ethic. And, how to communicate, which is so important when dancing with a partner or for an audience. Dance can be considered the first language that evolved from the basic human need to communicate with others. Before there was formal, spoken language people communicated with gestures, hand signals and physical movement. Dance has been, throughout our history in all cultures, crucial to celebrations and religious ceremonies. Dance has taught me from an early age how to communicate and be respectful of women—it helps boys become men and girls turn into ladies.

At what age can children start learning to dance?

The younger, the better. Your body develops differently when you start at four versus fourteen. What is important is the level of commitment. My brother Val, who is also a professional dancer and has been featured on DWTS, and I have been fortunate in having dance as part of our lives since we were children. We want to share our experience with others. Not even a skiing accident that threatened his dance career as a teenager with a severe leg injury, which doctors warned would cripple him for the rest of his life, could hamper his spirit or dedication to his art. Rather he saw the prognosis as a challenge, one that he would overcome through a no nonsense attitude, discipline and perseverance for his passion—dance.

Not even leaving his home country of Ukraine as a child with his family to start a new life in the United States, where he would have to learn a new language and face financial hardship, could derail his dream of becoming a professional dancer.

This month Natural Awakenings celebrates men’s wellness with a candid conversation on the transformative, healing power of dance with Maksim (Maks) Chmerkovskiy, dance professional to celebrity contestants on ABC’s hit TV show ‘Dancing with the Stars’. Maks discusses how dancing fuels his life and how it can be an instrument of healthy living to empower your mind, body and spirit as it moves you beyond the dance floor.

Becoming a professional Latin Ballroom dancer requires discipline, perseverance and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. What is your philosophy on healthy living that you’d like to share?

The key is to keep it simple by balancing three important things: healthy food, enough sleep and a positive attitude. First, food is our fuel and our body is our mechanism. I prefer organic and cruelty-free food. Second, sleep should be our priority. While I don’t get enough sleep with my schedule these days, I try to rest as much as possible to keep energetic. And third, we all need to have a positive outlook in life to empower our spirit to deal with life’s ups and downs—we will succeed at some things and fail at others—so we need to keep motivated. In my case, I like to be productive with many different activities.

How has dance influenced your life?

Dancing has taught me many social and personal skills. It teaches the importance of respecting people, developing self-discipline and a strong work ethic. And, how to communicate, which is so important when dancing with a partner or for an audience. Dance can be considered the first language that evolved from the basic human need to communicate with others. Before there was formal, spoken language people communicated with gestures, hand signals and physical movement. Dance has been, throughout our history in all cultures, crucial to celebrations and religious ceremonies. Dance has taught me from an early age how to communicate and be respectful of women—it helps boys become men and girls turn into ladies.

At what age can children start learning to dance?

The younger, the better. Your body develops differently when you start at four versus fourteen. What is important is the level of commitment. My brother Val, who is also a professional dancer and has been featured on DWTS, and I have been fortunate in having dance as part of our lives since we were children. We want to share our experience with others. 

 

You started your dance instruction when you were only four years old. What inspired you to open your dance studios?

My dad and I opened a dance studio when I was sixteen called Rising Stars Dance Academy. We wanted something different from the established system in Brooklyn and New York, so we moved to suburbia New Jersey. I loved it. It was the best thing we’ve done, but the hardest. At the time no one knew about Ballroom so it was confusing to a lot of people. We were often asked, ‘Is it ballet?’ So we had to build our base. Now we have quite the following in both states. Over these 14 years, we have helped our students to develop careers in DanceSport or simply to have fun learning social dance. Whichever the goal, dancing provides life-long skills that promote good health because you are aware of your body and how it needs to communicate. Many of our instructors and students continually represent the United States at prestigious national and international competitions and have earned top rankings and titles.

What is one of the most difficult challenges you have had to overcome with regard to building your Ballroom student base?

The problem is demand. Before the success of 'Dancing with the Stars' and other dance shows, Ballroom only had been popular in Eastern Europe. And for the most part in this country, it is pursued by immigrant parents of those countries who want their children to continue their tradition. Unfortunately, many families do not have the financial resources needed. We had to figure out a way to promote what we love, so we established Dance Team USA, a non-for-profit organization, with the goal of raising funds for students whose families cannot afford their dance training, which is quite expensive.

Has the popularity of dance shows such as ‘Dancing with the Stars’ or  ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ helped broaden the Ballroom dance appeal?

I think it will be a while before we see kids flocking to pursue DanceSport like they do for basketball or other traditional sports. It’s not yet there. For instance, I remember what my friend, Jason Gilkinson, 'So You Think You Can Dance' choreographer, who also directed and choreographed the Broadway show I was on, 'Burn the Floor,' said about his experience on the first season on ‘SYTYCD’. He told me that when contestants would pick a Ballroom number, such as Quick Step or Paso Doble, they’d sigh with hesitation, ‘I have to do this Quick Step.’ But now contestants want to do those numbers because they see how much the crowd likes them. Ballroom needs to be promoted at its purest form at the national level to grow.

What would you like to say about the physicality of dance?

Are Ballroom dancers athletes? Absolutely! This is an ongoing subject—showing how physically demanding dancing truly is. Our training is so intense that it challenges even the strongest football players, Chad Ochocinco, wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, and Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice, who have competed on 'DWTS.' They can all testify to the intensity of Ballroom dancing that has driven them to tears.

What message would you like to send?

Dancing is about having a good time, escaping from the stress of daily life, or improving your personal life—it will help you get healthier. Can you imagine having an activity like this in your life?

To find out the latest productions Maks is working on visit MaksimChmerkovskiy.com

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