Dancing With the Stars pro trope member Teddy Volynets is only on his second season as part of the show, but he has deep connection to the DWTS family. This Long Island native trained under Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy before bringing his talent to the small screen.
Wetpaint Entertainment had a chance to chat with Teddy, who told us all about life as a troupe member, why Season 13 is so exciting, and why Maks and Val's teaching was worth driving an hour and a half four times a week to experience.
Wetpaint Entertainment: This is your second season in the pro troupe. How is the experience different now that the troupe is no longer brand new to the show?
Teddy Volynets: Last year we had that new car smell going on. Everyone was so excited that there was a troupe. But what's amazing about this season is the stage, the set, and everything that's gone into making this season work. I feel like the troupe has risen to the occasion, and stepped up its own game.
How has the new set changed the troupe's approach to performance and choreography?
Just dancing on the new set, you feel incredible. It feels like a ballroom, it doesn't feel like a set anymore. From a performance aspect, it's everything you could ever ask for. It makes my performance more — I'm so much more concentrated on making the immediate audience happy that I think it resonates on camera.
You trained under Maks and Val. What are they like as teachers?
You see what they're like as teachers, but you really don't. Any situation taken out of context, either one of them can look like they're being a "mean" teacher or an a**hole, but that's not the bottom line. The truth is that they're the best at what they do. Period. The reason that I'm the dancer I am is because of them.
From what you've seen, do you think they approach teaching their celebrity partners differently than they approach teaching dancers such as yourself?
You have to balance certain things. With me — I'm from Long Island. Upwards of the last eight or nine years I'd be going to Jersey four nights a week to practice with them. That's an hour and a half drive. I'm going out of my way for a lesson, and from the outside it might look like Maks is being mean, or this or that, but there's a bigger picture. I wouldn't be coming back for ten years if I didn't know that everything he's doing is in my best interest.
That's the bottom line: They always know they have their partners first. I do see them change a little bit. You do need to tailor a little bit to each individual person. But the bottom line is Maks' way of doing things on the show seems to work. Although he's never won, he clearly has a track record of making people look incredible on the dance floor.
What has it been like to see Tristan and Peta go from the troupe to being competing pros on the show? Do you still see them?
I do. I don't see them as much, but I still see them a lot. We're working on a number right now with Val and Peta that you'll see on [Tuesday October 6]. It's a pretty cool number. I'm very proud of the both of them. I think they did absolutely great.
Would you be interested in becoming a competing pro?
That's kind of the point, you know? As much as I do love the troupe, this is my way of getting in front of America. What I do want to do more than anything else is have the opportunity that my fellow troupe members have had.
Do you have a dream celebrity partner?
Not really. Anybody who's motivated, anybody who's ambitious and doing this for the right reason. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it takes to win, but it takes a lot of hard work, it takes a lot of dedication. You're being taken out of your element. You have star athletes, incredible actors, people who are basically the best at their genre, being thrown into a world where they know absolutely nothing, and they only have this one guide.
What is a typical work week like for the troupe?
Mondays and Tuesday are show days. Typically on Wednesday we get our music and we have our first practice. We're either choreographing the number ourselves or Dancing With the Stars brings someone in, or it could be one of the pros. We practice again on Thursday, sometimes Thursday and Friday. Sometimes we get Saturdays off, which is nice. On Sunday we have camera blocking, which is when we practice the number four or five times on stage so the director can figure out what angles he wants to shoot us from. Then we go into the director's office and watch it and get notes. Show days are the long days, because the troupe is usually here pretty early, and we're here until the end of the show.
You're still a student at NYU. How do you balance school and your schedule?
The Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday dance schedule was pretty consistent all through college, and I made it to Spring Break of my last semester. I was literally four weeks from graduating when I got the call to come on the show, so I had to withdraw. I went back for the summer and retook Spanish, so I'm down to ten credits until I graduate.
That's a good reason to withdraw!
Yeah. Graduate college or be on national television — we all have to make hard decisions, right? Don't get me wrong — I get a call from my mom once a week, and she's always like, "Are you studying? You know you have take classes when you come back over the winter, you know that right? Once a week!"
Who do you think is the most talented star on Season 13 so far?
What's really exciting for me is it's still anybody's game. I see everyone working really hard every week. I'm not sure. In my head it's still a toss up. I know Hope [Solo] is working very hard, as is Rob [Kardashian]. I think Ricki [Lake] is awesome, but I also think J.R. [Martinez] is incredible — I could just name the entire cast!
As a professional dancer, do you tend to agree with the judges, or are they too harsh — or too easy?
The point of a judge is to have an opinion, so everyone is going to criticize a judge's opinion, especially because everyone is rooting for their own personal favorite. So that makes the answer to this question very subjective. I find myself at times agreeing and at times heavily disagreeing. It's always different. Looking at Len [Goodman] — I've seen Len judge at Blackpool when I competed there. So there's definitely a level of reverence and respect that I have for that.
Do you have a favorite Dancing With the Stars memory?
While I was on the show, or just watching? Because I gotta tell you, it's funny watching a show on TV, and then being a part of it.
How about both?
One of my favorite performances ever was Mark and Val's "Toxic" duel. That was one of the most exciting performances. And this season we had an all-male pro number, and that was honestly a really fun performance. I don't get to dance in a number with Val and Maks and everybody at the same time often. That kind of brought me back to when Maks used to fly us out to Vegas and we'd do performances at the casinos.
For more Teddy, follow him on Twitter at @TeddyV, and remember to tune into Dancing With the Stars every Monday and Tuesday at 8/7c on ABC.