Q & A

Tony Dovolani discusses his “Dancing with the Stars” success

By Lori Hutzler Eckert


Ballroom dancing is back and in a big way, thanks in part to the success of a competitive reality television show that quickly captured America’s unpredictable attention. ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” fox-trotted its way up the ratings over the past two seasons as celebrities, coupled with professional dancers, went toe-to-toe to capture the show’s coveted trophy.

One dance pro, Tony Dovolani, caught the limelight on his own, with a passion for perfection and pure talent. The award-winning Dovolani was partnered with Stacy Keibler, a stunning and surprisingly graceful professional wrestler. The two were favored to win but lost in the final round.

Dust didn’t settle on Dovolani’s dance shoes before he was practicing and instructing his art once again in one of his favorite ballrooms, which happens to be the Fred Astaire Dance Studio, located in Fort Walton Beach.

Dovolani took a few minutes from his work to talk to Emerald Coast Magazine’s Lori Hutzler Eckert about how he found his way to the Florida Panhandle, dancing with Keibler to the finals, and America’s renewed interest in the art of ballroom dancing.

EC: How did you come to be a competitive ballroom dancer?

TD: When I came to the U.S. (from Kosovo), the first thing I wanted to do was go to a Fred Astaire school, and my dream came true. I never thought of myself as anything other than a dancer. When you find something that you go to sleep thinking about . . . I guess that is what you are meant to be.

EC: How do you know Bruno and Luann Triliegi, owners of the local Fred Astaire Dance Studio?

TD: When I first met them, they were the U.S. ballroom champions and they had been dance directors for the Fred Astaire company. I really loved watching them dance; they have such charisma, and I just wanted to be like them. They have been my coaches for the last 10 years, and they helped me get my American Rhythm Champion title.

EC: “Dancing with the Stars” had nearly double the viewers of the Olympics. What is your reaction to that surprising fact?

TD: I am very excited about the fact that ballroom dancing is getting the recognition it finally deserves. It has been a sport for more than a hundred years.

EC: What did you think when you were told you were coupled with a professional wrestler?

TD: As soon as I signed the contract, they brought me into an office and said they partnered me with a wrestler and she is 5 feet, 11 inches tall. I was picturing a monster! I didn’t know what to expect, and then I opened the door and it was Stacy. But more importantly, after talking with her for a while, you learn that she is so sweet – she is the all-American girl. You can’t get any nicer than her.

EC: You and Stacy were the odds-on favorites up until the last moment; it must be bittersweet to get that close.

TD: We got to dance in the final, and we left with a perfect score. So as far as we are concerned, we left as champions.

EC: You have been a significant part of America’s rekindled love affair with ballroom dancing. How does that feel?

TD: I’ve always wanted to create some sort of legacy. God has given me a path, which I have no control over, because I have realized things that I never imagined. All of us look for a reason why we are in this world, and I think I found mine.