Only a few episodes of Dancing With The Stars season 31 have aired so far, but judges are already impressed with Val Chmerkovskiy and his partner Gabby Windey. The Bachelorette star announced she’d be joining the show on September 8th, along with other stars like Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race and TikTok star Charli D’Amelio. So far, the pair has been toward the top of the leaderboard every week. During premiere night, they did the Jive to “As It Was” by Harry Styles and scored four 7s. Val and Gabby blew judges away during Elvis night and earned a 32 out of 40, which tied them for the highest score of the night. They scored a point higher during Bond night.
Val has appeared on the dance competition series since season 2. The professional dancer has been partnered with everyone from Sherri Shepherd to Zendaya and has won the mirror ball trophy twice. He first won during season 20, dancing with Rumer Willis, actress and daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. He won again three seasons later with American gymnast Laurie Hernandez. The show also connected Val to fellow DWTS performer Jenna Johnson. The two officially announced their relationship in 2017 and married in 2019. Jenna is currently pregnant, and the pair expect their baby to arrive in January 2023.
Last season, Jenna made history partnering with JoJo Siwa as the show’s first same-sex couple. The show has continued to progress with season 31 with many groundbreaking contestants. Shangela is the first drag queen to appear on the show, while Selma Blair is raising awareness for multiple sclerosis (MS) by blowing judges and fans away each week. CODA actor Daniel Durant is also shattering stereotypes as a deaf contestant. The actor can’t hear any of the music but is still a top contestant, consistently receiving high scores from the judges. This is one thing Val loves seeing on DWTS, and he told Screen Rant all about it.
Screen Rant: How does dancing with someone with dance experience differ from dancing with a contestant without experience? Does it make it easier for you, or are there still challenges when teaching the routines?
It varies every season. As far as teaching dance, obviously it helps when someone has dance experience, mostly because what that says to me is that they have a good relationship with their body. They understand how to make it do things. But having said that, you can get that same effect from an athlete, someone who has never danced but is very much in tune with [their] body. So, it really is not so much about dance experience as much as it is about being in tune with your body and having that be a lifelong commitment. Even if you work out, if you’re somebody that does pilates a lot, and has no dance experience, that’s going to go a long way because those are muscle groups and that coordination between those muscle groups is what I lean into when I’m teaching dance. Can I teach somebody rhythm? I could try. I could try to fake it in our routines, but that’s something that is harder to teach. There are many different factors that make a season challenging for anybody. In regards to me and my style of teaching, I try to aim for not a universal benchmark but rather a benchmark that’s custom to my partner for the season. If you have somebody that has a lot of potential and does have a lot of experience, their benchmark that I’m trying to reach is substantially higher than if I have someone who doesn’t have that relationship with their body, is in a different age group, or is potentially struggling with some sort of disability. There are so many factors that go into the show. The mark that I try to reach with all my partners isn’t necessarily something that’s relative to the show, but mostly relative to their own personal ability. I think that’s what makes the world go round, that’s what makes all the contestants on our show feel important, which I hope they do and regardless of where you place in the competition, I think ultimately it’s a personal journey, and it’s a personal experience. At least when you’re partnered with Val.
Screen Rant: How do you think Gabby’s experience as a cheerleader and a dancer in high school has benefited her this season?
I’m sure it’s benefited her a lot. I think her experience as a cheerleader, having the knowledge of putting on your suit and going out there in front of thousands of people, that action in itself can be very frightening for people who have never done that. Obviously, this is Dancing With The Stars for a reason, most likely, the stars have experience being stars in some capacity. But certainly, someone who put on her gear, got out there every weekend and put on some sort of show, whether that range of motion in any way resembles any of our dances, I don’t think so, but it definitely gives her an advantage in the sense that she has the experience of being out there in front of a camera and in front of an audience and not getting put in a little ball of tension. She has charm, she has it, she has the thing. There’s a reason why she was given the chance to be The Bachelorette and carry a big big franchise alongside Rachel, of course, but nonetheless, she’s got it. I would say those are her biggest advantages or the things that will hopefully pay dividends for our couple this season. She’s got star power, and she’s got a great personality and amazing charm, and regardless of what she does, people gravitate to that.
Screen Rant: In the two times you’ve won the mirror ball, was there a point where you thought you had a good chance at winning or was it a surprise both times?
Both times I thought I had a great chance of winning, but there were times when I lost that I thought I had a great chance at winning too. I have, I call it, delusional optimism or blind confidence, especially when it comes to any sort of competition. I believe in myself, and I believe in my partner. I believe in our team. Believe it or not, I had that type of confidence when I was eliminated third, and I had that confidence when I ended up winning. I have that confidence this season yet again. I have that confidence until the moment that they say, “and the couple eliminated tonight…” I have that confidence until that very last second. It doesn’t come from a place of arrogance, it just comes from a place of belief and the fact that I think that hard work will always prevail. As long as I put in that hard work, I hope that to be true. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.
Screen Rant: What is it like seeing DWTS make groundbreaking choices for the show, like casting Shangela and Selma Blair or partnering JoJo and Jenna last season? Is it exciting to see it progress in this way?
It’s super exciting. I’m really proud to be a part of a project that has the courage to push those boundaries. Dancing With The Stars has completely changed my life, my family’s life, and, to be honest, the life of a lot of dancers. It has changed the way ballroom dancing, in general, is perceived, and I’ll go beyond that, and say dance in general. It was at the forefront of this wave of dance being accepted into millions of homes. Especially boys dancing. Now we have boys dancing with boys, we’re constantly breaking a certain norm, and I think that’s what dance is all about. It’s about tradition absolutely, and it’s about respecting that tradition absolutely but also building on that tradition. These changes, these moves of breaking those norms, they’re not breaking tradition, they’re enhancing and improving and building on tradition. I’m a strong believer in not forgetting the past and X-ing the past and saying that the past was wrong, and the present is right. I’m against that. I think the past has led us to this present. Ballroom dancing has a very long history and tradition, a tradition that I preach and celebrate all the time to all my students. I love that part. I love teaching why dance is dance the way it is, where it comes from, what are the origins of it, and a lot of these origins come from traditions that reflected those times, those cultural times, and those times in society. So, that’s cool, but times have changed, and dance changes with it. Dance and art and ballroom dance in particular in regards to this conversation, but in general, art reflects life, and life is inspired by art. It’s a beautiful dance that happens between the two, and so Dancing With The Stars is a reflection of that. Our society is changing, and the fact that Dancing With The Stars isn’t the last one to change with it but one of the forward thinkers that are changing with the times makes me proud to be a part of that type of project.
Screen Rant: Is there another couple on season 31 that is your favorite to watch, and what about them is so enjoyable?
I like a lot of couples. I enjoy Selma’s performance. We were talking about body and that relationship that you have with your body, well here’s a case that completely contradicts everything I said. This is a person that is struggling particularly with the relationship with her body and translating that, yet in that struggle comes out a performance and a performer that is so impactful. Again, that’s the beauty of dance. It isn’t so black and white. It’s not just a race of who can be faster from A to B, it’s about being true to yourself. It’s about really honing in on the things that you have and the things that you don’t have and celebrating both of those things, and I think people gravitate to that, at least I gravitate to that. So, watching Selma and Sasha perform are some of my favorite performances to watch.
Screen Rant: Is there a couple you think is your biggest competition this season? Is there anyone who has been getting low scores that you feel might improve throughout the season and become strong competition for you and Gabby?
I think that there’s a lot of competition. I think Selma has a chance, I think Wayne has a chance, I think Shangela has a chance, I think Charli has a chance, but I think we have a chance too. If I had to put money on anybody, I’m always going to put money on myself and my team. So, I believe that we are our biggest competition in the sense that if we really hone in on what we can do and be our best, I think that we have a really strong shot. As far as the underdogs right now that are being underscored that I think can turn it around, I really think Vinny is one of those people. I think that the judges have been pretty hard on him lately, and hopefully, that ignites even more of an effort from him, and I know he can do it. That’s kind of a dark horse that I think can turn it around and pick up some momentum and potentially have that momentum take him very far.
Screen Rant: What are you most excited about in becoming a dad, and how do you plan to balance your dance career with all the responsibilities that come with being a parent?
I guess I’m most excited about the matching clothes. Just babies, in general, are like the hottest accessory right now. I’m just down to finally have all those cool things that dads have. You know that satchel that you put them into on your belly? That’s what I’m most excited about. I’m excited to be a cool dad with the little baby. As far as how I am going to balance that, I don’t know. I have a great example as far as my brother. I had a great dad growing up, so you know those are big shoes to fill that I’ve always admired and wanted to fill one day. That day is coming, and I’m excited to finally be a father. I always wanted to be a father. I’ve been a daddy, but I’ve never been a father, so I’m excited to put my money where my mouth is. I preach a lot, I taught kids my whole life. I’ve always gravitated to that position of trying to inspire the next generation or teach the next generation or somehow pass forward the knowledge that was given to me by some incredible people that I had the privilege to cross paths with, and there’s nothing better than to do that with your own child. So, here’s the ultimate test, if I can do it for my own kid. If I can actually now rise to the occasion and be there for him. It’s a huge challenge, but I just hope it’s all the things that I always saw myself doing. I hope that I can be as good of a father as my father was to me and as the father that I always thought and imagine myself to be. But now I have to walk the walk. That I won’t be able to answer you on until it actually happens.
Next: DWTS: Jenna Johnson & Val Chmerkovskiy Relationship Timeline
Dancing With The Stars airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Disney+.