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DWTS: Maksim Chmerkovskiy on Val, Laurie Hernandez, and next week's finale

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ABC/Craig Sjodin

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. This week Maks brings us into season 23, episode 10.

On working with Laurie and Val this week

It was such a great experience getting to dance with Laurie and Val this week, and definitely an emotional one too.

I didn’t even know Laurie was going through so much, at first. You know, she’s a big girl and we looked at her as a highly competitive professional, but she’s still young. Between learning two new routines, and going through an emotional trauma like this, I would say it was a little too much for the average 16-year-old girl. But in this case, somehow, she was still a professional through and through. She went to work, and she did her job, and it was insane to see it. She was keeping it together so much, and then to just break down after the dance was a lot for me to handle — and I’m not usually mushy or corny like this! But I have to give credit when it’s due; it’s definitely due to Laurie. It was a pleasure getting to work with her, and she’s an example of “you have to do what you have to do, no matter the circumstances.” I think she’s an incredible role model for a lot of people.

Our performance was great, too. The way we know something worked well is when our friends and fellow professional dancers (who don’t call us on an everyday basis because everyone is busy) call and say “this was incredible, we loved it!” That’s when we know it’s real. Just like for Julianne to say it brought her back to Blackpool (the world’s first and most famous annual ballroom dance competition). I thought, “Hell yeah, it brought you back — it brought me back, too!”

We love doing things like this [performance] in dance – a passionate interpretation of reality. It’s what we love to see and what we love to do. So the teacher/student concept for this performance was a lot like that. When people have asked who came up with this concept, I have to honestly say – our parents. They put all of this stuff into us, and we went through decades of being trained this way, so in the case of this routine it was very much art imitating life. It’s the same thing with our tour over the summer: we lived it, this was our reality for many years.

On collaborating with his brother again

Working with Val this week brought me back to when I was in the semi-finals of DWTS. I was just exhausted, and I needed some help – I wasn’t ashamed to admit it at all, we were just at that point of a long competition. So in this case I just wanted to walk in and give them an opportunity to relax, and help them out the best I could. Especially with everything Laurie was going through — I’m glad I could help at all.

I think we both felt a bit nostalgic, especially because I invested like 20 years of my life in Val. You know how people remember things from their early childhood? All of my memories start when he was born — it’s funny and crazy and the way things work, but that’s our relationship. So in that regard, it’s always a pleasure getting to perform with him.

On Terra Jole’s last episode

I thought Terra did very well last night, and in regards to their trio dance, Artem is always nice to look at, no matter what he’s doing! All things considered they did a great job. I was surprised she got eliminated to be honest; I thought she was a fan favorite and has shown better stuff. But like I said, I think this push for the finale probably needed to happen a few weeks ago. 

On the final four in the finale

I thought Jana stepped it up this week. I saw the dress rehearsal and I didn’t like the dance too much, so the fact that it came out the way it did was a testament to their continued hard work. Though, I have to say, I don’t think Jana is someone who has necessarily improved over the season when I consider everyone else. Even Laurie — who came in very much as a ball of muscle and already in shape — we’ve seen transformation into more of a performer than she was at the beginning. The same with Calvin; I would say he has made noticeable improvements over the course of the last several weeks as well. But I don’t know, I just don’t see that with Jana.

James had another great set of performances last night. I feel like he now knows what’s up and understands where he’s at in the competition. And I think Calvin, Laurie, and James — specifically because they’re athletes — are more equipped at dealing with a final push to the finish line.

Next week will be freestyle performances, and I just don’t know what those will look like for some of the finalists. It will be interesting to see what each couple picks. I’m looking forward the finale, though, and working with Amber again! Also, Emma York, who is a superstar — she’s incredible and a lot of work went into this little piece we’ll have in the finale, so we’re very excited!

—As told to Christina Ciammaichelli