RD: It’s amazing that they were able to do it and had the courage to do it. It’s scary as a parent to think about something like that.
MC: We didn’t have to run. We had to do what we did but in hindsight, we didn’t have to crawl across the border and be shot at. We didn’t have to dig a tunnel. We didn’t have to take a boat and maybe die. We didn’t have to get separated from our family at that time. We didn’t have to do those things, but we did land and go straight to work. When we landed, I went straight to downtown Brooklyn to stand in line for food stamps. People today, and not one person in on ‘Dancing with the Stars’, know what welfare is, and how to receive food stamps, and why you would be in that position except Val and I. We’re not saying that we’re proud of that, but we’re proud of that. I’m also proud to have gone through it, made my effort and paid my dues, and then have come out and been proud to get citizenship. When I got my citizenship, it was one of my proudest moments. It’s hard for people to explain that. It wasn’t like I was denouncing my past. It’s hard for people to explain that. You have an opportunity to belong to something that welcomes you from somewhere where it wasn’t that good, but you are still treated in some kind of way. Then you get this blue passport, and now they want to welcome you. That’s how felt to me. I was 19 or 20, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. The first thing that happened right after that was I flew back from another competition, and as always I would fly back from overseas and land in JFK. Before I would have to present my green card, and then I would get bombarded with questions about whether I received financial aid from the university. Where did the financial aid come from? I would say taxes, and then the border patrol guy would say ‘well do you know who pays taxes for you to receive financial aid?’ He insinuated that I am this immigrant that’s getting such a benefit. I would look at him and say ‘my parents that’s who pays taxes. You can’t talk to me like that.’
So, the first thing that happened is when we landed back in JFK, and I’m not making this up, the same person was there when I walked in (this was pre-9/11 I believe, so things were a little calmer), and he’s looking at me. It’s a month or something later and I had my passport and I walked in and I looked at him and just put it down in front of him. He looked at me, and his protocol is to smile and say ‘Welcome home sir’ and he waves me off. I put it down and he didn’t even look up or ask me questions. He just stamped it with no questions asked. I don’t know why we have the society have to put people in a position that until you get a paper I’m not going to look at you certain way. That’s not right.
Again, I am that guy who says keep bad people out, obviously. I’m also not the guy that’s going to be the first to say I’m going to be the one who decides who’s bad and who’s good. I’m also not the guy who says that I have a solution. I’m just a guy who says I’m not down with some of the stuff that’s going down right now because I was there, and as a person who was there, my there would be drastically different today.
RD: Moving forward, and off of that subject. Are you competitive with your wife or your brother? I know you said you have a good working relationship, but do you guys ever get competitive?
MC: No, we’re not. We were just never in a position where it was a competition. Not until maybe ‘Dancing with the Stars’, and you guys can look at it and say well you literally competed against each other. We didn’t really compete though. We kind of just had a continuous experience of living the way we’d always lived. At one point, as a family we wanted Val to compete. He had a shot. He was on his way to being that Kobe Bryant ballroom dancing. It abruptly came to an end because we both at 25, ironically six years apart, realized that competitive industry was not something where we could excel the way that we wanted to, and so we chose ‘Dancing with the Stars’ for our careers six years apart at 25. It was really funny. Until then, Val was my student from the age of 8 and through two world titles. You know, that’s my coaching gig. As a student, it’s not a competition. After that, I want on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and he joined but we were not competing because it’s not like I felt like I would eventually be replaced by Val. It’s not like that. I’ve got things that I want to do. Val has things that he wants to do. Then there was no competition there either. We are not that kind of siblings. These things actually generate in the household.
Sometimes families get into arguments, and then sisters don’t talk to each other, brothers don’t talk to each other. We are not that family. We also come home to each other. With Val, we just lived together until Peta got pregnant. That’s when we finally moved out and moved apart.
RD: You guys keep close, and that’s great to see.
MC: There’re ups and downs also. People go through emotions. I had a kid, and maybe there were a couple of times that we disagreed on the tour, but it wasn’t detrimental to our relationship, and it wasn’t misunderstood. All four of us, Peta and Jenna included now, everybody manages each other. We love each other, and we’re a group of people who have a ton of fun together. That’s another reason why it works.
RD: You added your wife to your tour with Val. Do you think that your brother’s wife will also come on tour with a new version?
MC: Of course, but this is up to the powers-that-be. The tour is planned for next summer at the end of the summer, but we don’t know 100 percent yet the set dates. Nothing else is in place just yet. Obviously, having Jenna be part of it would be incredible, but it’s just not in our control or Jenna’s even. We’ll get there when it comes around. I am just excited for Val and his opportunity with the Junior ‘Dancing with the Stars’ when that comes out. I’m excited for Jenna to continue her run on’Dancing with the Stars.’ I’m excited for the other pros to continue doing their thing. ‘Dancing with the Stars’ is something that I will personally support it existence tooth and nail. I’ll fight for it. I’m not on the show, so I’m not contractually obligated to support it. It’s still my industry, and it still an entity that as long as it’s on the air, I can have my generation of dancers come up five or 10 years from now. We love that. We have that history, and we’ve been putting out talent for the last 10 or 12 years to ‘Dancing with the Stars’. My students are also appearing on ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ These are the kids that we share similar beginnings with, and these are the kids who would not have been here if there had not been an outlet. I want more kids to come out and I know that there are a lot of children today or joining dancing because of us. Because we did this. I want to see those kids in 10 or 15 years from now, so for that to happen we’ve got to keep that dancing represented.
RD: Do you think you might join the judges’ panel if you’re finished being a pro?
MC: I’m definitely finished being a pro. This is been said several times, and then life throws curve balls. Those were meant to be and the right decisions for me, and I don’t regret anything. I just want to move on. I just want to continue being a great representative of dancing in the world of dancing and in other worlds. I want to lead by example and show that you don’t have to be that one entity or one track mind. I want to show that you can exercise entrepreneurship, successfully run multiple businesses, continue your presence on stage, continue putting out work that’s tangible that makes people feel good and feel better that benefits my family. Plus, I want to be a good example and show kids what you can do if you just keep moving literally — both physically and metaphorically. Just keep moving your feet.
RD: I looked at your Dance With Me Studios, and one of the things they offer is dance fitness courses. Has there ever been a thought of putting out a dance fitness program?
MC: Yeah but you know those are a dime a dozen. Anyone who has the movement and some public access puts those out. We’re just a little bit of a different brand. For me, I’m just as interested in the actual ballroom dancing and historical ballroom dancing with partners, and that type of stuff as much as I am in the fitness aspect of it. Honestly, if people want my advice, and this is not a magic pill, but just go to Zumba every day. Anybody from Zumba can contact me and offer any type of big sponsorship, but that’s not the point. The point is to just go and move to the music and actively sweat. When you drip sweat at the end of an hour, you know you’ve worked out. There’s something about dance that has to do with neurological connections and pathways, with hand-eye coordination and physical ability. That helps with Alzheimer’s and things of that nature. Let me remind you I’m not a medical professional and I’m not giving medical advice.
Grandmas come to my studios. I’m second on their bucket list. I don’t know what their first is, but for the last 10 years we have had a client who’s kicked the walking cane and gained strength and muscle tone in her hip flexors and in her joints in her knees. She has a supportive frame where before it was all kind of withered away.
So today, with just a little bit of chacha and just a little bit of rumba every day this older lady is a dancer full on. She’s got sparkles and a ballroom outfit and a Latin outfit. She dances and even competes at events. I’m not sure how you put that in the form of a study and how you attach medical advice to it, but if someone could, they’d probably get a lot out of it. That is what I’m promoting.