Val Chmerkovskiy, “Dancing With the Stars” professional dancer, partnered with Zendaya on the show when she was just 16 years old. In his 2018 memoir, “I’ll Never Change My Name: An Immigrant’s American Dream from Ukraine to the USA to Dancing With the Stars,” Chmerkovskiy revealed how then-teenager Zendaya’s parents felt about his teaching style.
In his memoir, Chmerkovskiy talked about what it was like to partner with the super-talented 16-year-old Disney star right after being partnered with Kelly Monaco the previous season.
“I’ve just had my best season on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ partnered with a 5’4″ 36-year-old, and so the next season you follow that up with a 16-year-old who’s 6’5″?” Chmerkovskiy recalled telling the show’s casting director at the time. “What are you trying to do, give me whiplash?”
It all worked out though, because Chmerkovskiy said he had a great time being partnered with Zendaya.
Zendaya’s Father Wasn’t a Fan of Chmerkovskiy at First
Chmerkovskiy wrote in the memoir that he knew how talented Zendaya was, and he knew that meant he was going to have to push her in order to bring out the best. Luckily, Zendaya was a very hard worker, according to the memoir.
“Zendaya was a special talent, and special talents had a special, higher bar to clear,” he wrote. “The standard was set not by the outside world, but by Zendaya herself, because of her talent. But it wasn’t talent that would allow her to succeed, rather it was her desire to fulfill that talent to the best of her ability.”
That didn’t mean that Zendaya’s family immediately loved Chmerkovskiy, though. The professional dancer recalled a conversation he had with the star’s father at one point in the process.
“‘I wanted to kill you, man,’ Kazembe told me later,” Chmerkovskiy writes in the memoir about Zendaya’s father. “‘I’d never heard anybody speak to my daughter that way. Only I speak to my daughter that way. But I couldn’t criticize or say anything to you because you know what? That’s exactly what I would have told her. You were saying the kind of things that I tell her.'”
Chmerkovskiy said that he’d been authoritative and strict with Zendaya, at one point challenging Zendaya’s every move and clapping his hands for emphasis while he was talking, which caused the room to fall silent.
Chmerkovskiy Is Heartbroken Over Zendaya’s Second-Place Finish
In an interview with Entertainment Tonight in 2018, Chmerkovskiy told the outlet that he wished he could have a redo of season 16.
“My biggest heartbreak was on Dancing With the Stars, not winning with Zendaya, honestly,” he told the outlet. “That was a huge heartbreak for me because she was 16. I wanted this to be such a huge moment for her. She worked so hard, and I really wanted her to lift that trophy and jump-start her career. And she didn’t lift the trophy and I felt heartbroken about that.”
He added, “But it jump-started her career anyway. That’s when you learn that it’s not necessarily always about winning or losing, it’s really about learning through the process and then using those tools to further yourself down the road.”
In his memoir, Chmerkovskiy said that he felt awful about Zendaya not winning because of how hard she worked, and he said that it was probably one of his favorite seasons.
“Dancing With the Stars” will return for season 30 in the fall of 2021.