Monday, September 21, 2009

Dance show’s star had early dreams

Published: September 21, 2009

STUDIO CITY, Calif. — When dancer Tony Dovolani glides through a torrid tango or hops to a lively Lindy on ABC’s "Dancing With the Stars,” he’s just emulating what he saw as a child.

He and his father used to watch a movie every week in his native Kosovo. "My dad found these Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies and Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor. Every Sunday, we had movie night. And we watched musicals. It was so amazing because I was addicted to it as a kid. I couldn’t wait to come to America to see some of this live.”

He’d fallen in love with dancing at age 4. "When I was 3 years old, my dad tells me I showed interest in music and dance, so he took me to classes where I learned how to learn instruments and a dance class. In Kosovo, it’s very big to do folkloric dancing, ballet but also folkloric dancing,” he says.
"I quickly realized I didn’t want to be behind an instrument while everybody else was dancing. So, I quit taking music lessons and just wanted to do dance lessons. I was 4 years old,” he says.

When "Dancing With the Stars” returns at 7 tonight, Dovolani will team with model-designer Kathy Ireland. This marks his eighth season on the 9-year-old show. He missed Season 1, as he was preparing for his first world title in ballroom dancing when he was invited to join.

When Dovolani arrived in the U.S. in 1989, he was heartily disappointed that there were no musicals like he’d seen in the movies.

"I was 15. I started working as a dishwasher because they didn’t accept our diplomas here, and I was already in my second year in college back home. I was one of the brainiacs.”

He decided to take up ballroom dancing. The day he walked into the Fred Astaire Studio, he vowed he would be a dancing champion.

"In 1998, I represented the United States in the world championships, and in 2001, I won my first PBS championship, which was the United States title.”

He kept on winning, and he trained Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez for the film "Shall We Dance?” in which he had a small part.

Dovolani insists anyone who can walk can dance. "No dancer was born a dancer. Every dancer has been taught.”

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