‘Dancing With the Stars’: Valentin Chmerkovskiy Says Gabby Windey’s Season 31 Finale Dance Is ‘Theatrical’

Gabby Windey and Valentine Chmerkovskiy in 'Dancing With the Stars'
ABC/Raymond Liu

Valentin Chmerkovskiy and celebrity partner Gabby Windey (The Bachelorette) are hours away from taking part in the Dancing With the Stars Season 31 final along with three other talented couples. The Ukrainian-born dance has won the coveted mirror ball trophy twice before — with actress Rumer Willis in Season 20 and Olympic medal-winning gymnast Laurie Hernandez in Season 23 — so there’s no doubt that Chmerkovskiy definitely has the talent to score a hattrick. Windey is not only a talented performer but she has also brings with her a legion of #BachelorNation friends. Still, this is one season where there’s no clear frontrunner.

The couples that Chmerkovskiy and Windey are competing for mirror ball glory are Wayne Brady (Let’s Make a Deal) and Witney Carson, drag queen Shangela and Gleb Savchenko, and Charli D’Amelio (The D’Amelio Show) and Mark Ballas.

We sat down with Chmerkovskiy to preview tonight’s show, reveal how he and Windey were able to embrace the intimacy of their dances, and share his joy over impending fatherhood with wife and past mirror ball champion herself, Jenna Johnson Chmerkovskiy. Read on for insightful comments from the man, who is very much the heart and soul of the dance competition reality series.

Congratulations on impending fatherhood. How do you feel?

Valentin Chmerkovskiy: Thanks. It feels amazing, exciting. There’s a lot of preparation going on. We’re excited. Jenna’s going through a physical transformation. We are going through one together in terms of our future. We’re very excited. It’s been a lot of fun.


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Last month, Jenna made an appearance in a pre-dance video package to encourage Gabby to not be afraid to embrace the intimacy of the dances you two perform. It was funny and, I imagine, helpful in a way.

Yes. That was a really important episode and an important moment in our journey. Dancing is physically intimate but Gabby and I are also spending a ridiculous amount of time together. To have someone I love so much give Gabby and myself almost “license,” if you will, to have fun and not think about stuff was awesome and such a gift. You know what I mean? It was great that Jenna did that.

Do you watch the episode afterwards either as either a fan of the show or the way football players do after a game to study what went right and what could be used for the future?

More like how football players study games. I look at the number, the dance. I try to watch the entire segment from the package to the dance to the live shot. Some days, I’ll watch the entire episode. I spend time studying what we were doing.

How would you describe the season as a whole? This cast seems genuinely supportive of one another. Also, this is a season where you really can’t tell who’s going to win.

First, yes, it’s a great cast. A lot of them have made great friendships with each other. It’s been great casting. As stressful as the show is, it’s an amazing experience where you learn something new and something fun and you get to perform and be pampered. I feel excited that we’re all around each other more this season. People are excited to be sitting in proximity to one another. Subconsciously, I feel people are enjoying each other’s company more.


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Second, it’s a great thing that there’s no clear frontrunner. I don’t think it’s necessarily good for the show when there is one. [The finale is like] the Super Bowl. You can have a great season and yet lose it all in one play. I hope our fans feel there’s something different about the show this season. They’re right. There is.

It’s different in that there are no commercials, Alfonso Ribeiro has joined as a co-host, and Conrad Green is back as executive producer. The dances and the way they’re shot, especially, I feel, your waltz with Gabby in the semi-finals, seem more … I’m not sure what the word is … majestic, perhaps. Have you felt the impact of Conrad’s return?

You’re 100 percent right. [Conrad] is the type of guy who doesn’t want this type of attention and credit, but he definitely deserves it. The reality is that this one person [Conrad] came back and, as a result, a lot has changed. He put personnel in place or empowered the personnel that was already there and allowed them to grow. That warmth … the old school feel of Dancing With the Stars is there. All the bells and whistles still remain. It’s just that he allowed us to get back to the nucleus of the show — the heart, the dance — and then, the incredible production values.

There’s heart behind the lens. He got Mark [Ballas] back. The energy this season has been magical … I hate to use that [clichéd] word with Disney but we went to Disney+ and there was a new sense of magic. Conrad Green. Disney+. I’ve seen billboards for Dancing With the Stars up in Los Angeles, and I haven’t seen those in 10 years. That generates excitement with the people who work on the show. I drove along Sunset [Blvd.] and seeing that billboard makes me even more accountable and even more excited. Those things add up. I hope our fans are seeing that on their TVs.

Can you tease the finale? You and Gabby are doing a “redemption” dance and then a free style.

Yes. We’re doing the cha cha as our redemption dance. It’s been fun to revisit a dance we’ve done already. I can tell you that it feels completely different and better. We can have more fun with it now and enjoy how far we’ve come. I’m excited to perform the cha cha. We did that on “James Bond Night.” I can’t say that a lot of James Bond songs are [right for] the cha cha, so I’m looking forward to us doing it again [to a different song].

And talk about the origins of your freestyle, which is set to a song from the musical Chicago.

I thought of Gabby and tried to envision what would her fans want to see her do. I thought of sexy, strong, and theatrical. She’s a showwoman at heart. It all added up perfectly. Why not do this?

Do you think that viewer loyalty to a couple can shift over the course of a season once people see duos dance and learn about the pairs in the pre-dance video packages and post-show interviews?

I think so. For sure. There are individual fan bases and there’s a core base of Dancing With the Stars fans with people like yourself. You watch the show and fall in love with couples organically. People may find our show based on their favorite celebrity enjoying it, and then they’ll stay because they had a really good time. I don’t know that they latch onto any particular individual. I think it’s show-by-show and whoever takes it [in the finale] is who they’re going to give their vote to. That becomes really fun for our fans.

Dancing With the Stars, Season 31 Finale, Monday, November 21, 8/7c, Disney+