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DWTS pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy's EW blog: Advice to those still in the game

Plus: His favorite performances from Monday night, and what he thought about that Samba

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ABC/Eric McCandless

This season on Dancing With the Stars, fan favorite pro-dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy will be blogging for EW to give us the behind-the-scene scoop on each week’s competition. With his and Amber Rose’s elimination last week behind him, Maks brings us into season 23, episode 7.

On his favorite performances from Monday night

A lot of the couples came off of a big week last week. They had to learn two new dances this week, and several couples received big scores that they had to live up to. The show is now entering this new stretch right before the final stretch, and anyone who wants to be in the finale has to look back at their own performances and think, “Okay, we set the bar for ourselves, so we have to keep moving forward.” If you want to get the crowd on your side, you have to know that the audience is always comparing your best performances. 

A few things that stood out to me: I think Laurie Hernandez and Val were a bit underscored this time. I thought Jana Kramer and Gleb Savchenko were good. The whole laundromat scene was really fun, but it wasn’t exactly a perfect score performance like last week. I thought Calvin Johnson did an amazing job again, and the dances that are especially suitable for him as a former athlete have a lot of leg, speed, and physicality. If you don’t go to the gym and you don’t know what a “leg day” is, then you don’t realize how difficult it is to do anything this active with your legs. But he for sure doesn’t have that problem. 

I thought Terra Jole was beautiful — the number she did with Sasha was very pretty. We all love Terra, and she and Sasha are a great couple, but I think in the coming week they’ll definitely have to step it up.

It’s the same thing with Ryan Lochte and Cheryl Burke. The pressure is on Ryan at this point to really be better each week, and Cheryl definitely knows the movements that look good on him. But if I were to give my prediction, I would say Ryan is on the chopping block if he doesn’t pull out something great.

On Monday night’s group dances, Team Past vs. Team Future

I liked Team Future, because I think it was just more of an extravagant performance. Team Past did a great job, don’t get me wrong — that was a really beautiful Viennese Waltz, and I think it had a lot of Artem influence because he helped us with something similar on my and Val’s tour over the summer. I thought it was great, but I didn’t think it deserved a couple of 10s, and I don’t think it was better than Team Future. It was gorgeous, but it was simple.

I think when you judge these dances, you should definitely give points for difficulty and creativity, and not just stick with clean execution. Team Future had a little more to bank on with camera angles, and as the audience, that’s what we see. But the judges see it live, and I think some of the extra movement was something they didn’t like. You have millions of people at home watching, and there are four judges in the studio, so I think when it comes down to it, you’re choreographing and planning for something that looks good to the audience. 

On getting to work behind the scenes (and with Peta!) on DWTS All Access

They asked me to come in and express my opinion, which is a dream job for me! [Laughs.] It was a lot of fun. I had a blast with everything and everyone on set this season, so doing something like this was really easy because I have so much joy for the show. And commenting is easy for me because I know exactly how everything works, so I had a great time seeing everything from the other side. I’m a big sports fan, so it felt like when you watch someone who just retired doing commentary. They’re fresh, and they have a different perspective, so I tried to bring that to the table.

I also feel like the more that us pros are speaking and commentating, the more the judges have to be on their A-game, too. The judges can get complacent and say the same things sometimes, like, “Oh, this wasn’t very good, so do better next week.” But that doesn’t help very much when it comes to learning or improving. At least the audience is able to watch All Access and see me, Emma, Peta, or whomever else, and we talk about stuff that actually affects the pros and their partners, and how we would approach it. It’s a fresh perspective — that’s also why I liked being a judge a few seasons ago.

On Len and Gleb, and that Samba

I would not say there was any big tension between Len and Gleb last night, other than as Samba’s go, that Samba sucked. Len said some things about that routine as a Samba, which I agree with. Jana and Gleb do very well together, but in this case, I think it might not have been as well executed as it should’ve been. You can’t tell someone like Gleb there’s “not enough Samba,” because that’s all he was thinking about all week! But that didn’t happen, and that’s what Len said. I think Gleb’s reaction was very normal (obviously, I’ve done some of that before), but I think both of them moved on almost immediately. Each issue can’t really be a discussion, because then the show would go on for hours. If each judge and pro talked about every move, we’d be there all night.

A good example is when the judges say, “You missed this step,” or, “This was wrong.” Ninety percent of the time, we have no idea what they’re talking about! We might go back, watch the tape, and say, “Oh, actually they were right, we did miss that step.” But most of the time they are wrong because they don’t fully know what we were trying to do. We don’t really get to defend our work because everything has moved on by that point, and there’s not much you can do because defending everything would make the show four hours long.

On theme vs. choreography

When it comes to a pro’s take on theme versus choreography, it’s all about who you’re trying to please. Len, for example, doesn’t want themes, props, or anything. But then there’s somebody like Bruno — just give him people taking their clothes off, fireworks, and lasers, and he’ll go crazy! You want to fall somewhere in the middle. I think for the most part, us pros just want to not think too much about the judges. We’re trying to do a dance that’s fun and have a good time. If my partner enjoys it, that’s all the confirmation I need. If it’s not good enough for Len in a technical sense, fine. But it’s more important that my partner enjoys what we put together.

Final thoughts this week

The show is entering this middle stage where you blink and some of your favorites are gone. Next thing you know, we’ll be left with four to duke it out for the finale. I think we’re entering a couple of weeks where you can’t just skate by anymore, and couples will realize they definitely need to step it up each week if they want to avoid going home.

Maureen McCormick seemed to have a great time this week. And I hope the same goes for Marilu Henner in the coming weeks. She seems a little stressed out, and I think she needs to settle into what she does, not try to please Derek so much, and enjoy the show. I also hope she’s fine after her fall last night, and that she continues to have an amazing time. She’s great at a lot of things, so I think Derek needs to tailor to her and let her do what she’s best at!

—As told to Christina Ciammaichelli