Listening to Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy riff together makes it crystal-clear why each has mastered the art of partnering in the ballroom—they've long been doing this dance in real life as brothers and business partners.
Along with their "Dancing with the Stars" pedigree (and a combined three mirror-ball trophies between them), Maks and Val (and their father, Sasha) also run Dance With Me, a dance company hosting six ProAm Dancesport competitions annually and running 14 brick-and-mortar studio locations across the U.S.
Last year, the pair launched an online component, Dance & Co. The online video platform offers beginner through advanced instruction in not only ballroom but an array of other styles, as well as dance fitness classes from HIIT to yoga to strength training. "DWTS" fans will recognize such familiar faces as Peta Murgatroyd, Jenna Johnson, Sharna Burgess and Emma Slater, along with Maks and Val themselves.
Sharna Burgess. Photo courtesy Dance With Me
Though the site was initially developed in response to COVID-19, Maks and Val are now leaning into the long-term possibilities of virtual instruction. Dance Teacher spoke with the dynamic duo to learn about Dance & Co. and what's next for the pair.
Your online platform, Dance & Co., just launched in 2020, but Dance With Me has been around since 2005. What first prompted you to go into business together?
Maks: People always think we started it as a result of being on "Dancing with the Stars," but our business actually pre-dated our time on the show.
Val: We opened our doors in August 2005, and my brother joined "DWTS" later that fall. It wasn't about capitalizing on newfound fame or popularity, and we're proud of that.
Maks: This felt like a natural progression as dancers in the ballroom world, to go on to open studios and run competitions.
Val Chmerkovskiy and Jenna Johnson teach samba. Photo courtesy Dance With Me.
Was Dance & Co. the next logical step in that progression?
Val: In terms of our core business, Dance With Me was something we established as a place where people can congregate, escape, replenish and learn to dance at the same time. A lot of the appeal is the human interaction. We invested in our studios to create a warm environment, and had done a lot of training with our staff on hospitality. So when it all shut down due to COVID-19, we had to pivot and think about how we could create that same environment through this new medium that we were all now forced to engage in. That was really the catalyst for Dance & Co.
So how do you re-create that feeling online?
Maks: We have a video series called Maksimum Vibes, in which Val and I vibe like we would in a group class, with mash-ups of different styles, like samba and paso, or cha-cha and disco. We offer different levels and variety so we can check all the boxes, whether for a professional looking to shake off some rust or someone who's just getting started.
Val: But, for the most part, we're not trying to replicate what an in-person group class would be like. What we are doing differently is offering not just dance education but a form of entertainment, as well. We spent the last 15 years on camera on one of the biggest shows in the world, which gave us knowledge on how to communicate with millions of humans through that lens.
Maks: Grab some popcorn—we're very entertaining.
Maks Chmerkovskiy and Peta Murgatroyd teach samba. Photo courtesy Dance With Me
What is the key to teaching an art form online that relies so heavily on human connection?
Maks: Our industry does rely heavily on partnership and touch, but we can still offer something that makes you a better dancer. Our content is geared at developing balance, strength and stability, and we also focus on footwork and mastering choreography.
Val: A big part of ballroom dance is your own personal self-growth, and over the last seven months that we've been implementing these virtual programs, the growth in our students has been incredible. Dance is our common interest, but the reality is that we're just trying to help people feel better and move better. In the absence of in-person classes, a lot of stagnation can happen, so the opportunity to keep moving was a huge sanity shift for a lot of folks.
Maks: It was interesting to see that our industry can do that—to see the world change and get to the point where we can figure out how to deliver ballroom dance to your living room.
Are there certain styles that are more challenging than others?
Maks: The Viennese waltz and foxtrot can be tough because they require a lot of space, and not everyone has that space in their living room.
Emma Slater teaches a Viennese waltz. Photo courtesy Dance With Me
What are your goals as we start to emerge from the pandemic?
Val: I think people will be hungrier than ever to get out of their house and experience a real human dance lesson. But I'm also appreciative of all of the opportunities that Dance & Co. has created, and I believe it will pay dividends moving forward. We want to continue to innovate on our end and explore VR technology.
Maks: Val and I want to bring holographic imaging into your living room and teach lessons that way. We want to figure out how technology can support this new world we're in, for however long we're in it.