The Dance of Life

Dancing with the Stars’ Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Peta Murgatroyd on finding each other, helping others, and what people don’t know about them

When Maksim “Maks” Chmerkovskiy and Peta Murgatroyd’s love story began, Murgatroyd almost didn’t even realize it.

They were on the same season of Dancing with the Stars, and Murgatroyd had something happen with her partner that she wanted to discuss with someone who had been on the show for a long time—so she approached Chmerkovskiy.

“I thought we were going to have a call about it or something,” she says. “He said, ‘I’ll come pick you up and we’ll go to dinner.’”

Although she didn’t realize it was a date walking in, by the time they left the dinner at The Little Door in Los Angeles—surrounded by fairy lights, candles, and ever-flowing conversation—they both knew they felt something undeniable.

That was in 2012. Now married since 2017, the down-to-earth couple is thankful that dance brought them together. Today, they share a son, Shai; their love of dance; and a passion for giving back to others.

For both Chmerkovskiy and Murgatryod, the lure of dance began at an early age. Murgatroyd has been dancing since age 4, first training in ballet, then ballroom dancing.

Chmerkovskiy began with ballroom dancing—although at the time, it was simply something that was part of his school curriculum in the USSR. For him, it would only become a passion after he moved to the United States in 1994 and began competing professionally.

Chmerkovskiy would go on to join Dancing with the Stars in Season 2, while Murgatroyd joined the cast during Season 12.

They say that being on the show is more difficult than people realize.

“It’s not just dancing,” Murgatroyd explains. “We’re choreographing the numbers at 2, 3 a.m. in the mornings sometimes. We are involved in the set design, the lighting, what we want on the floor, what our partner is wearing—you name it, we have a part in it… choosing the music, cutting the music to what we want, adding in the instruments if we need more beats.

“It’s a really hard job but I love performing. It’s live TV, you get one shot, you get to transform these people’s lives, you get to take them on a journey, and a lot of the time they end up healthier, while shedding pounds and reaching their goal weights. The journeys that we’ve been on with our partners combined, it’s such a roller coaster. They start as somebody, and they come out as somebody else on the other side. I love watching that and being a part of that journey.”

Chmerkovskiy and Murgatroyd are also grateful to be part of another journey that transforms people’s lives—specifically, children.

They are passionate about their work with Childhelp (Childhelp.org), a national nonprofit dedicated to meeting “the physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual needs of abused, neglected and at-risk children,” which is headquartered here in the Valley.

As celebrity ambassadors, they help spread the word about the organization, participate in fundraisers, and introduce others to the organization, and more.

Chmerkovskiy first met Childhelp’s founders Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson at an event around 2008, and after hearing them speak, he says, “That was it for me—I needed to know more.”

After visiting one of Childhelp’s group homes, he shares, “That solidified for me this is what I should be doing. Who am I to not look at my life as the life of someone who is really blessed, and try to give as much as I can to someone who are not? And so many kids are truly not blessed. They are, literally, saved by this organization, and so I just want to contribute as much as I can.”

Murgatroyd joined the organization around 2014.

“I went to my first event, and the impact was so great that I just couldn’t step away,” she explains. “It’s the cruelty of it that gets to me, and gets me weeping at the table every time—I think it would get anybody if you hear some of these [children’s] stories. It’s incredibly painful to hear.”

She toured one of the facilities, seeing firsthand the programs—ranging from academic to art to therapy—designed to help the children.

“It was incredibly painful to see, but empowering,” she says. “This is where the money donated goes—to help.”

The couple also says that the fact that money they help raise also goes to help fund the 24/7 abuse hotline is another reason they are involved.

“I come from an incredibly loving household,” Chmerkovskiy says. “And that’s why all of this shook me. I thought everybody else did, too. … I just want to help give as many kids a chance, even if their parents didn’t.”

In addition to Childhelp and Dancing with the Stars, the couple is focused on raising their own son. The three live a very regular life in California.

In fact, Chmerkovskiy laughs when asked if there is anything people would be surprised to know about them. Though he admits that they have a pretty open personality, he also says that people would be “surprised to know that there is so much more to us. They showcase a minute thirty of all the filming. We’re portrayed as characters, so they’re cutting short who we really are. The real Maks and Peta are down-to-earth, regular, funny people who are honest, open, and loving—and I feel it’s not always shown that way. Fans have perceptions of you that is not really true. We’re regular folk, from very regular families.”

During the pandemic, as they all quarantined, they couple also launched a new business. They created an app called Dance & Co. (DanceAnd.co or in the app store), a video-on-demand platform that showcases Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance champions and celebrity dancers for programs that are like a dance studio, gym, club, and TV channel rolled into one.

“It’s for anyone.” Chmerkovskiy shares.

They are proud of the project, saying, “It’s our next great, creative child.”

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