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The Healing Power of Dance By Giovanna Aguilar …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. Rather it inspired him to become the leading man that he is today in DanceSport. 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.

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 . . . 16

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Becoming a professional Latin Ballroom dancer requires discipline, perseverance and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. What is your philosophy on healthy living that youíd 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 has been 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. Throughout all cultures in history, dance has been 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

Can Move You Beyond the Dance Floor were children. We want to share our experience with others.

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.

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 The 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 What would you like to say about the confusing to a lot of people. We were physicality of dance? often asked, ‘Is it ballet?’ So we had to build our base. Now we have quite the Are Ballroom dancers athletes? Absofollowing in both states. Over these 14 lutely! I welcome anyone who wants to years, we have helped our students to see what this sport does for your physidevelop careers in DanceSport or simcal development to come to the studio ply to have fun learning social dance. and join my boys and me in a basketball Instructor Clyde Harris and student Whichever the goal, dancing provides game. We are all very sports oriented. Catherine Canavan life-long skills that promote good heath because This is an ongoing subject—showing how physiyou are aware of your body and how it needs cally demanding dancing truly is. Our training to communicate. Many of our instructors and is so intense that it challenges even the strongest students continually represent the United States football players, such as Chad Ochocinco, wide at prestigious national and international compereceiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, and Hall titions and have earned top rankings and titles. of Famers Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice, who have been on ‘DWTS.’ They can all testify to the What is one of the most difficult challenges you intensity of Ballroom dancing that has driven have had to overcome with regard to building them to tears. your Ballroom student base? What message would you like to send to fans The problem is demand. Before the success of and students in New York and New Jersey? ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and other dance shows, Ballroom had only been popular in Eastern EuI want to thank all of our fans and students. I’m rope. And for the most part in this country, it is very happy and proud that we have been able pursued by immigrant parents of those countries to create a dancer center for everyone’s enjoywho want their children to continue their tradiVal Chmerkovskiy, ment. Dancing is about having a good time, Maksim’s brother tion. Unfortunately, many families do not have the escaping from the stress of daily life, or improving financial resources needed. We had to figure out your personal life—it will help you get healthier. a way to promote what we love, so we established Whatever the reason, there’s a place for you at Dance with DanceTeam USA, a not-for-profit organization, with the goal Me Studios and Rising Stars Dance Academy. Can you imagof continuously raising funds to help students whose families ine having an activity like this in your life? 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

For more information on dance programs at Dance with Me Studios visit: To find out the latest productions Maks is working on visit: Giovanna Aguilar is a writer and producer of lifestyle targeted content at Candesco Productions. Contact her at natural awakenings

June 2010



New York City Edition By Giovanna Aguilar New York City Edition 16 16