Tony Dovolani is back and ready to compete on the 19th season of Dancing With the Stars. We spoke with Dovolani prior to the announcement of his Season 19 partner, eccentric and exciting fashion designer, Betsy Johnson.
How are you feeling about the announcement of the DWTS pros for season 19?
I’m ecstatic about it. I think we have a great group of professionals that are really excited to be a part of the show. We have some new dancers. We have a mixture of veterans, which is Cheryl and Me; we’ve been there since Season 2. We were laughing about it because Cher goes to me, “You know, I spent my 20’s on DWTS.” I said, “Yeah, I spent my teens!” She glared at me, and I told her I was joking. (laughs)
Artem Chigvintesev was a part of last season’s dance troupe, and I recall Allison Holker from So You Think You Can Dance, what can you tell me about new professional Keyo?
Keyo is from South Africa and he is a professional Latin dancer. He did really well through the amateur rants and all the way through the professional ranks. He won a lot of the titles in South Africa. I think he’s going to bring a nice flavor to it. We’re a cast of international professionals, so he’s going to fit right in and bring something nice and fresh.
Is it bittersweet that Maksim Chmerkovskiy isn’t returning as a pro?
It’s sad for me; he’s my best friend. I, of course, will always want him to be around because we get to hang out and we get to do what we love to do together. But leaving the show is a great career move for him, he wants to move on and do his thing. He’s a fan of the show, he loves the show. He always supports myself and Val and he wishes us well and that is it.
At what point do you start getting excited for a new season of DWTS?
The moment it’s over. Literally. I always look forward and onward. I lead my life that way. I don’t dwell on the past, I think of the past as a rear view mirror. You should glance at it, never stare at it. Because the windshield is a lot brighter and there’s a lot more fun in the future.
Before you know who your partner is, how do prepare?
I’m kind of curious right now. You don’t prepare. That’s the whole thing. You have to, in my case, I never set my expectations too high. I want to make sure I’m never disappointed meeting someone. When you don’t have any expectations, you take the experience as it comes to you. And you try to make the best of it. I’ve been paired up with people who did have dance experience; I’ve been paired up with people who didn’t have dance experience at all. I had fun with both. So for me, It’s all about getting somebody that really wants to be there, who understands what they signed up for, and who wants to play ball. That’s what it comes down to. That’s when I feel like I’m lucky, when somebody understands what they signed up for. Because many times, their managers or their agents sign them up for it and they don’t know what they signed up for and once they’re in it, they have a problem with it. And in this particular case, I really wish that somebody who understands what they’ve signed up for, is my partner. Sorry, I got a little long winded-on that answer.
So it’s a physical and mental marathon?
You know what, the key word there is marathon. It’s not a sprint. Because most people thing that you sign on and as long as you do well in the first week, you’re going to do great. No, every single week is on it’s own. So you have to pace yourself you can’t just do your best in your first week and phone it in for the following week. You have to bring it every single week and you have to pace yourself as far as energy goes because there’s a lot of people who get burned out by week 3 or 4. And suddenly they go from being happy to there’s tension between them, there are all kinds of weird things that happen.
Is there anything you do to keep your partners healthy and safe?
My whole thing is warming them up properly and certain exercises that I give to them to keep their bodies limber. I also talk to them about — I don’t like to call it “diet,”— I call it “eat to live.” It’s preparing and eating properly so the body is in the best state so that every time you dance, you don’t run out of energy.
When do you find out who your partner is?
We find out the moment we walk in to the room. When we walk into the room, that’s when we find out who our partner is. What you see on TV, our first meeting, is the actual moment.
How long will you work with your partner before the season premiere?
It’ll be about 2 1/2 weeks.
What do you do those first 2 weeks?
If you’re starting with someone from ground zero, you try to teach them as much as possible. You try to prepare them for the season as much as possible. So you’re not teaching them for the first week, you’re trying to create some good habits; you’re trying to build a good foundation for the rest of the season.
What are some big challenges that you’ve seen when people start off that first week?
They’re always overly excited, overly eager in the first couple days and then reality sets in. They remember that they have to perform on live TV and then negative thoughts come in, and they see the competition, and they feel insecure. So as a teacher, you’re not only wearing a teacher hat, you also have to wear a psychiatrist hat as well. You have to help them.
You have to talk them through it and nurture them through it; you become a friend, a dad, whatever you need to be.
Last season your partner was strong and outspoken. Are you hoping for another strong partner this season?
They can be strong, outspoken, whatever personality they bring is awesome. As long as they’re ready to work. I don’t mind strong personalities, I don’t mind loud personalities. They can be mean, whatever, as long as they do the work. As long as they show up on time, they do the work, they leave happy and they accomplish something, then I’m good. A problem I’ve sometimes had, when they have all of the attitude in the world and no hard work ethics, they expect the world. That, for me, is a bad combination.
Are you competitive with the other pros?
We’re in a competitive sport, I’d be lying to you that we don’t get competitive. Every single dancer grew up in a competitive world, that’s what pushes us. We do get competitive. However, I’m very supportive of everyone. Me, as the veteran, I’ve accomplished all of the titles that I’ve ever wanted to accomplish. For me, even though I am competitive, I’m very supportive of others. I respect people’s strengths and try to help them with their weaknesses. Cheryl [Burke] refers to me as “Godfather” because I take care of everybody.
But you wouldn’t mind another mirror ball trophy.
Of course, I wouldn’t. My kids love the one I came back with for Season 15, the all-star trophy. To this day, I will never forget the look on their faces. How often does a kid see their dad win something as significant as that?
Tony Image © 2014 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved. Credit: ABC/Craig Sjodin
Tony and Melissa Image © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved. Credit: ABC/Adam Taylor