Among the three couples who are finalists in the ninth season of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars are pop star Mya and her professional partner Dmitry Chaplin, a Minnetonka High School graduate. Chaplin, 27, originally from Russia, where he started to dance at twelve years old, is now a professional ballroom dancer and choreographer. (Scroll down for video!)
Chaplin came to prominence during season two of the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance in 2006, when his accomplished technique and artistic appearance impressed judges and carried Chaplin to the show’s top 10 dancers. In 2007 and 2008, he was back on So You Think You Can Dance, but as a choreographer. One of the dances Chaplin created in 2008, Argentine Tango, earned him an Emmy nomination for outstanding choreography.
In 2009, his career took another course when he joined DWTS as a pro dancer. During his first season (spring 2009), Chaplin was originally supposed to dance with singer Jewel, who withdrew because of fractured tibias in both legs, and Chaplin’s partner ended up being a Playboy model, Holly Madison. Although, Holly’s “hot on the top, wooden on the bottom” (in the words of judge Len Goodman) performance allowed her and Chaplin to stay on the dancing floor only for four weeks, during Season Nine Chaplin found himself in the final of DWTS partnering with singer and dancer Mya.
From the very beginning, the couple stormed to the top, dominating the competition. They nailed almost every single performance with high scores and showed a strong commitment to win their dream goal, the Dancing Cup. Chaplin, as a pro dancer and a choreographer, had presented a sequence of impressive dancing compositions. On Tuesday, November 24, the winners will be announced.
Dmitry, first of all, congratulations on your fine showing! How do you feel about it?
Thank you. It feels great, like you know something is supposed to happen and it actually did.
This season looked like a complete turnaround from the last spring when you danced with Holly.
Yes, though this time we had a fair number of challenges, but overall, it has been a blast.
Holly was little too “wooden” for a pro performance. Was Mya too professional—being quite an established dancer?
No, I wouldn’t say so. Mya has a very strong will and self-assurance, which along with her dancing experience helped in our dance creation process.
It sounded like her strong will contributed heavily after judge Carrie Ann Inaba said she did not believe Mya could win the competition.
After all the criticism Mya underwent for [her] lack of technique, she was able to find a way to truly step up in her dancing qualities. And her desire to prove she can win definitely helped to polish our performance.
And you really shook the floor! How do you come up with all those great routines?
The choreography always has been a point of focus for me as an essential part of dance creation. I try to make a dance memorable and unique.
Your Argentine Tango from the 2008 season of So You Think You Can Dance was nominated for an Emmy. During both DWTS seasons you have presented several memorable dances.
It felt great to create. I love the process of choreographic creation.
What did you find challenging?
Well, some pro dancers do not want to get out of the box and go further.
It is extra work. Many pros don’t really have to do that, because they are already comfortable. No extra effort—it feels warm and no headaches. I wanted to do something new.
Most of your routines look like pieces of art.
Professionals can deliver that, but, at my point, [that] is not enough to [constitute] a real masterpiece.
A feeling of something newborn. I would add a fable to it, so the dance will have a beginning and an end.
That’s right, a story line. Everybody can choreograph a step, two turns, and a lift. You have to come up with something new. DWTS has very serious frames and regulations dancers must stay within. For example, no barefoot dancing, or, just like during competitions, you cannot do supports—one foot has to stay on the floor, though it does not apply for the show dances. Generally, I think that social dances have to be embellished by stunts. So, I would like to work on the idea of both, the technical and the artistic side of the choreography blending [into] a story, feelings, passion, and the beauty of the dance.
You want to get to the emotional perception.
Absolutely. The emotional side attracts the audience. Technically a professional sketch will make a beautiful impression, but it won’t stick in the memory.
Speaking of memory, it seems almost impossible to memorize a new routine in only a few days, as you have to on DWTS.
We have only four days, and six to seven hours of every day for practice time. Wednesday you start, and on Sunday you must be on the stage.
How do celebrities take to dancing? Did any of them imagine that it would be a lot of work?
None of them thought it would be hard work. Generally, they all come to have some fun, and later they realize that it is a challenge and a great deal of a physical workout. That’s why so much depends on the star and his or her attitude.
Besides stars’ competing, what would you give credit to DWTS for?
This program plays a huge role in the ballroom dancing popularization, especially among young audience members—as young as 14—who are attracted by young professionals such as Chelsea Hightower. As for another positive output, I would mention DVDs produced by So You Think You Can Dance.
Yes. Dancing has been a great way of keeping both my physical and emotional health in good shape. I believe a popular program’s label attracts attention.
We can see many Russian pros dancing with the stars. Why?
Ballroom dancing has been extremely popular in Russia for decades. All of the dancing immigrants that come to America are distinguished by a very high level of performance, which is grounded by a very serious approach. In Russia, ballroom dancing is a big sport, as football or basketball are here. In every city, even very small towns, you can find five or six ballroom dancing schools.
How different is it in numbers?
During the Russian Federation Championship there will be about 800 couples competing, while in America approximately 60 couples. And from those 60, 90% will be Russians or Ukrainians.
Why is ballroom dancing not very popular in the U.S.?
Probably it is a matter of culture that suggests dances in the U.S. always have been rather social than sport. Plus, it is a quite expensive activity.
Hopefully, the success of programs such as DWTS will help attract much interest to this fun way to keep you healthy and young. And how do you see yourself in the future?
As a universal choreographer. I believe ballroom dancing will become more and more popular, as dance is a great possibility of self-expression in the way it uses universal language of body and gestures. Native Americans, Africans, other nations have danced for rituals, for example, hunting or a maturity celebration. Today, it remains a language—but furthermore it is a powerful instrument for [conveying emotion].
Is there anything else in your life besides dancing?
Oh yes—you can’t dance from the dawn ’til dusk 24/7. There is love, there are books, a guitar, friends, and martial arts. And yet, there is much work on learning from the great ballroom dancing professionals.
Working on style?
I do not believe in style. My teacher told me, there is not a style, but a choice that you make on the dance floor. Every dancer has his own style. And it requires a great deal of training, patience and work. There are some who are more and less talented in dancing, as in everything else. A dancer is a musician also, if you will. Our tool is our body. We play our body, which itself expresses music.