“Dancing With the Stars” pro Tony Dovolani has had a wide variety of celebrity partners through the past 13 seasons of the ABC show, returning Monday (3/19) but never one he’s felt more in common with than Martina Navratilova.
“We completely relate on every level,” Tony declares. “We’re both living the American Dream. After coming here from other countries, we both love the American way. We’ve both competed for the U.S. in international competitions.”
Dovolani came here from his native Kosovo at age 15, and is certainly at home here. “Put it this way. My kids are totally American,” he says. His many achievements outside “DWTS” include 2005 and 2006 World Rhythm Championships. Of course, 59-time Grand Slam title winner Navratilova also came here as a teen; she famously asked the U.S. for political asylum at age 18 and was subsequently stripped of her Czechoslovakian citizenship.
Beyond the shared Eastern European roots and elite competitions, Dovolani deeply admirers Navratilova on a personal level. Asked how she compares to past partners such as Chynna Phillips, Wendy Williams, Jane Seymour, Kate Gosselin and Melissa Rycroft, he points out, “None of the others have gone through what she’s gone through. She has a different soul, a different way,” he adds of Navratilova, who is also a breast cancer survivor. “It’s not just that she’s a gay activist, but she came out at a young age at a time very few people came out, and she said, ‘Accept me for me.'”
As the Health and Fitness Ambassador for AARP since 2007, again Navratilova is challenging social barriers. In fact, she’s made it clear that one of the reasons she is taking on “DWTS” is her hope to inspire other 50+ people to get out of their comfort zones and try new things, in addition to staying in shape. They’ve been practicing four or five hours a day, he says, working to overcome the fact she’s not a natural when it comes to dance.
“I asked for an athlete because I wanted to see what it was like to work with one of these champions,” he says, “and I couldn’t be happier than to have gotten Martina.”