Connecticut resident and professional dancer Tony Dovolani and his partner, actress Leah Remini, are causing a ballroom stir on season 17 of the tv reality show “Dancing With the Stars.” The couple, who was less than impressive at the start of this season, have amped up their skills and performances, garnering good scores from judges and solid support from viewers who are voting each week to determine who moves on in the competition. Dovolani, the married father of three, and Remini are headed to the show’s semi-finals. The 40-year-old professional dancer who won the show’s coveted “mirrorball” award just once before, was in between show rehearsals on the West Coast recently, when he Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: You are still in it! Are you surprise? You and Leah seemed to be a bit of a dark horse at the beginning of the season.
A: Am I surprised? Yes. We didn’t make it a secret that we thought we may be going home and didn’t expect to get all the way here. Leah has been working so hard. I have never seen anyone overcome the fear or anxiety the way she has when it comes to doing something she knew nothing about. Even when she has been injured she still performs. I am so impressed. As the weeks went on I could see winning within grasp and I said to her last week, ‘all of a sudden I have hope we are going to make the finals.’
Q: Any tricks up your sleeve going forward and is this the year you take home the trophy again?
A: Choreography is critical. I have to push her. Unlike most of the rest of the professionals’ partners, she has no dance experience so I have to find things that look good on her and that she can learn quickly. I have to be clever when it comes to designing the dance and she has to believe in what she is doing.
Q: How did you begin dancing?
A: I started when I was 3 years old in Kosovo. My dad saw I could dance and had me start lessons. I still take lessons. Dance is something you never master.
Q: What don’t viewers see as far as the show?
A: The unbelievable hours of rehearsal that are put in each week. People don’t see where we start and where we end. Every week you start from zero. People watch the show and think ‘oh, now he or she is a dancer!’ But every week you are starting new with each dance.
Q: You mentioned Leah has no dance experience and it does seem rather unfair that some of the amateur dancers on the show really do have professional experience. Is it really a level playing field?
A: Our show is never based on fairness but our viewers want to see a little bit of everything. Some of our viewers want to see people who are immediately good dancers and others who want to see people like Leah, who is on a journey.
Q: Do you ever have any second thoughts about being on the show year after year?
A: I was actually approached when the show was first conceptualized but could not do season one because I was defending my world title in a competition. But then I joined the show and have never had any second thoughts about it. It is a piece of history. Cyd Charisse and Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, dancers who shared it with the world. I want a piece of that. And I love dancing and the fact that is has made a comeback. Dancing represents relationships, romance, a couple bring music to life. Music would not be music without dance. Dance brings the notes to life.
Q: How is life in Connecticut?
A: I love Connecticut. April 21, 1989 is the day I moved to Connecticut. I was 15 and my uncle lived in Stamford and so that is where my father brought all of us from Kosovo. The people are great. And I am still there. My wife and children love it. I love the four seasons. I love it so much that it is why I don’t move to California. When I get back to Connecticut from here, I am home.
Q: I assume your wife is a dancer?
A: Everyone assumes dancers marry dancers but she doesn’t dance. She does take lessons but not from me. I own dance studios including one in Stamford. It’s better for our daughters that we are not both dancers. We have a good combination and each bring something different to our daughters’ lives.
Q: I hear you are a golfer. Do you golf as well as you dance?
A: I love golf. It is one of the best sports invented. I started five years ago when my wife suggested it while I was watching the U.S. Open. Lo and behold that afternoon I went out and bought golf clubs and went to the driving range and was awful. Now I have an incredible teacher and my handicap is 4. When I turned 40 my wife asked me what I wanted to do to celebrate and I took my oldest daughter to the course and we played nine holes together. I would love to be a golf analyst. Back9 Network has approached me and I am hoping to do something with them. Golfing, as in dance, is about timing and rhythm.
Q: Who would your dream dance partner be on the show?
A: Jennifer Aniston. I don’t know why. She is so private and just seems like someone you would want to get to know
Q: Who is your favorite dancer?
A: Fred Astaire by far. There is a scene in “The Band Wagon” to “Dancing In The Dark” where he is dancing with Cyd Charisse in Central Park. It is the most difficult piece of choreography you will ever see but they do it effortlessly. It is beautiful and romantic. I have never seen a scene that speaks as loud as that one.
Q: What is something no one knows about you?
A: I love poetry I write it. And I want to write about my dad someday. We don’t hear much about dads in books, no offense to moms. My dad sacrificed a lot to get us to the United States. He risked his life to save his family.
“Dancing With the Stars” is on Monday at 8 p.m. on the ABC network.