“I’ll Never Change My Name: An Immigrant’s American Dream from Ukraine to the USA to Dancing with the Stars” (Dey Street Books), by Valentin Chmerkovskiy
Valentin Chmerkovskiy is so much more than a ballroom dancing pro. He’s a brother, a son, a mentor, a partner, an immigrant and a proud American. “I’ll Never Change My Name” takes readers on a journey in which Chmerkovskiy forces us to consider the inaccurate labels we stick on people and the drive it takes to succeed as someone who doesn’t necessarily fit in.
Chmerkovskiy and his family arrived in New York City in 1994. He was an 8-year-old Ukrainian kid who found his new hometown completely magical, thanks to clean sidewalks, patches of grass and a playground within walking distance of the apartment. Unfortunately, bullies immediately entered the picture. Chmerkovskiy and his older brother Maks were forced to adopt a tougher exterior in order to survive living in the neighborhood.
The only way to endure the realities of a strange new world was to escape in performance. Chmerkovskiy played the violin and the two brothers were exceptional at ballroom dancing. Both used their talents to help lighten the financial load at home. The hustle eventually paid off enough to afford the family a little breathing room. Chmerkovskiy’s father suggested they open a dance studio.
The family made a move to New Jersey and opened the Rising Stars Dance Academy. The studio was both profitable and notorious because the Chmerkovskiys built a business around their family. It was a popular place to learn and hang out. No one was a stranger.
Maks left to serve as a pro on the popular reality TV show “Dancing with the Stars,” followed several seasons later by his little brother. Chmerkovskiy shares stories about partners from his favorite seasons, including Laurie Hernandez, Rumer Willis, Elizabeth Berkley and Zendaya. Although he admits that his pride prevented him from flourishing in the beginning of his television career, Chmerkovskiy values the friendships and connections he’s made throughout the years. For a man who cherishes and protects his idea of family, it’s easy to see why everyone is welcome, accepted and appreciated in his world.