Sadly, in the United States bullying is a huge problem for children and teens. In a recent interview, “Dancing With the Stars” professional dancer Gleb Savchenko opened up about his experience with bullying, echoing similar comments his co-star Val Chmerkovskiy has said about having to keep ballroom dancing a secret when he was growing up.
Here’s what the dancers had to say about bullying and the advice they have for kids who want to be in the performing arts.
The U.S. is Different From Russia When It Comes to Dancing
Savchenko was born in Moscow, Russia, and Chmerkovskiy was born in Odessa, Ukraine, which then was part of the Soviet Union. Savchenko grew up in Russia, but Chmerkovskiy moved to the United States when he was eight — and both men said that there is a huge cultural difference in the way dancing is viewed.
“[In the U.S.], you keep it to yourself,” Chmerkovskiy said in an episode of “Interview With the Artist” podcast. “In Russian culture, ballroom dancing is a very respectable thing to do for any man, even the macho man. For us, it’s a discipline, a sporting discipline … it’s almost looked at as a sport.”
Chmerkovskiy, who got into dancing because his older brother Maksim Chmerkovskiy was a dancer, said he never experienced any difficulty in his family, but “as a 12-year-old kid growing up in Brooklyn,” he learned to keep it to himself.
“It was difficult, but you kept your shoes in your bag. You didn’t talk about it. It was a don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” said Chmerkovskiy.
In an interview with Cassie Scerbo as part of her “Boo 2 Bullying” campaign, Savchenko said that even in Russia, where dancing is more acceptable for boys, he experienced people making fun of him when he started dancing at age eight and he had to learn to let it roll off his back.
“At that time, being a kid, you don’t realize that it’s bullying. We don’t even have a word for bullying. People make fun of you, you talk back, and you kind of move on with your life,” said Savchenko. “You get upset. It’s a little bit of a different culture. You get upset about it, but you always just follow your gut and follow that passion of yours.”
Both men said it was due to their family support system that they were able to flourish as ballroom dancers.
“My parents told me all the time to just follow your gut … my passion was to go and dance. I loved it so much. I felt the most happiest when I danced and competed,” said Savchenko, adding, “I always followed my heart, my parents were always supportive.”
Chmerkovskiy added, “As a kid growing up you absolutely go through a lot of hard times and that’s why family’s so important. That you have support from your family, you have support from your close friends and everybody else.”
Chmerkovskiy Said He Thinks Ballroom Dancing Is One of the Most Masculine Things a Boy Can Do
Chmerkovskiy said that he doesn’t understand why dancing isn’t seen as masculine. It’s very physically demanding and ballroom dancing also teaches a boy how to be a man.
“I never understood why anybody would have an issue with anybody dancing, I think it’s so beautiful and so masculine,” said Chmerkovskiy. “If anything, ballroom dancing is the most masculine thing you can do. You’re dancing with a woman … you learn all about chivalry, about manners, you learn how to treat a lady from when you’re eight years old and I don’t think there’s anything more important for a young man to experience, to understand how to conduct himself around a woman the right way.”
Savchenko’s advice to a young person who is being bullied is to just “squeeze your teeth and just push and follow your gut feeling and follow your dream.”
“This is who you are. If you do something else, you’ll probably regret it later on. You’ll never know until you try and just keep trying. That’s my advice,” said Savchenko.
“Dancing With the Stars” has not yet officially been renewed for season 30, but if ABC does renew it, expect it to premiere in September 2021.
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