Val Chmerkovskiy's Family Faced Many Struggles after Moving to the US
The name Valentin Chmerkovskiy became synonymous with ballroom dancing on “Dancing With the Stars.” His road to success paved with ambition, family, and a determination to make the most of opportunities that came his way.
The Chmerkovskiy’s immigrated to the US in 1994 after the fall of the USSR. Initially, Valentin’s father, Aleksandr, started a lucrative retail business. But after it got burned down, in what the family believed to have been a mafia arson attack, they decided to leave Ukraine.
When the family moved to New York City, eight-year-old Valentin and his 14-year-old dancing brother Maksim didn’t understand a word of English.
With an outlandish last name a foreign accent they often got bullied, and on his second day in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, Maksim got robbed of his rollerblades.
Adapting to life in the US proved challenging. Eight months after they arrived, the family had gone through their life savings, and Alexandr struggled to find a decent paying job despite being educated.
“My dad had two college degrees but came here and was boxing pizzas,” Val said. “He was willing to pay his dues for the opportunity to live here and breathe this air.”
The tragic events around the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center had a significant impact on Valentin. "I watched the buildings go down on 9/11. I saw how much that impacted our country; I wanted to provide not only for my family but my country,” he told PEOPLE.
Valentin began ballroom dancing before their family immigrated to the US and together with his brother Maksim they continued with lessons after they arrived. During a talk with Good Morning America, Valentin also credited his mother, who always helped them follow their dreams.
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October 29th, 2001 my partner and I became the first (and last) Americans to ever win a Junior Latin World Championship. People ask me all the time why I started and continued dancing and the answer isn’t an easy one, but the drive I had to feel what it would feel like to stand on a first place podium while waving the American flag and hearing the Star Spangled Banner in a world where there was very little to no American representation was my biggest motivation. I wanted to be the first, the first to win it on behalf of the country that took me in. There was no financial incentive as my folks gave up their last penny for me to travel oversees to compete, absolutely no “cool” credit incentive as I had to constantly fight off the “Valentina Ballerina” bullies.. haha that ish was funny tho.. look, at the end of the day I love my country because it gave an opportunity to a little ole immigrant family to work their ass off. That’s it. That’s enough for me to have built an astronomical gratitude that turned into motivation to return on the opportunity given to me that then turned into a work ethic that led me here. Nothing was given, every ounce was earned, and there were no hand outs and that was never what I EVER expected. Leave the handouts for the others, the less fortunate, the less able. My country gave me a shot, and I ran with it. We as a family ran with it. Thank you to the greatest country in the world, and thank you to all the people that continue to make it so. Happy 4th 🇺🇸 whether you’re born here or you were lucky enough to come here, we are all EQUALLY responsible in working our ass off in making this place a beautiful place to live in. To our veterans, to our teachers, and to all our citizens in uniform THANK YOU!
“She was my chauffeur most of my life you know, taking me from dance to violin to school to a lot of sacrifices,” he said.
Being immigrants also helped the brothers develop a work ethic that drove their success. Valentin had won world titles in ballroom dancing for the US, while both brothers became “Dancing With the Stars” champions.
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Very excited to be a part of this circuit. Grateful I get to share my knowledge and passion for the craft I’ve been working on for over twenty five years with a new generation of brilliance. What’s knowledge worth if it isn’t being passed down to our kids. Growing up a student, I now get to enjoy the fruits of the labor and passion of all the teachers that believed in me and were willing to share a little of themselves to see my talent develop. I now, with my beautiful wife @dance10jenna get a chance to do the same for so many kids, and it is truly a blessing. Thank you for having us and we will serve this project with a full heart and unconditional effort. @24sevendance
“For us to be welcomed into New York and be recognized as American citizens – for us, it’s not about us taking advantage of that; it’s about the return. That drove a lot of our ambition and the goals we set for ourselves. It was behind what I wanted to accomplish, especially in ballroom dancing growing up,” Valentin said.
At the age of sixteen, Maksim opened his first dance studio at their father’s encouragement, which grew into a chain of studios managed by Maksim, their father, and Tony Dovolani from “Dancing With the Stars.”
“I’ve never felt like this country owed me anything. If anything, I am forever in debt to this country,” Val added. “I’m very aware of the political rhetoric surrounding immigrants right now, but they come here to contribute and are the backbone of this country — and that’s why we are the mega power we are.”
In 2016, the brothers decided to take their life story to the stage and developed a dancing show, “Maks & Val Live on Tour: Our Way.”
The 48 city stop tour opened in Melbourne, Florida and they wanted to show fans that they were more than popular dance teacher on a television show.
In gratitude for the life and opportunities they received since immigrating to the US, Val released a memoir, "I'll Never Change My Name," in 2018. Therein he detailed his life as a child growing up in a foreign country and how he overcame the discrimination he faced.
The same year Val found love with Jenna Johnson, who he dated on and off for two years before they got engaged in June 2018. The following year on April 13, the two tied the knot during a beach ceremony in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
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Witnessed the BEST of the BEST last night! In complete awe over this thing called ballroom dancing and how artistic, athletic, and amazing it is. The Pros last night left their hearts on the dance floor. And it was beautiful and inspiring to watch! . Bucket List item officially checked off ✔️ . Also, how about this stunning red dress by @gracenatkin ♥️ Seriously obsessed with her gorgeous dresses!
Since everyone couldn’t attend the first wedding, the newlyweds decided to have another. Over the June 29th weekend in 2019, Jenna and Valentin got married again in Jenna’s hometown in Utah.
“We had every single member of my immediate family (22 of us) together for the first time in two years, the entire Chmerkovskiy family made the trip out to Utah, and all my neighbors and friends I grew with. I don’t think I have stopped smiling from ear to ear,” Jenna gushed on Instagram.
Maksim found the woman of his dreams in Peta Murgatroyd, whom he married in 2017. As their second wedding anniversary came around in 2019, Maksim took to social media with the sweetest words of devotion and special dinner for two.