A Chat with Tony Dovolani

Congratulations to Tony Dovolani and Melissa Rycroft for winning Dancing with the Stars: All-Stars!  It's all the more fitting that Tony, a proud Albanian-American, was victorious on the 100th anniversary of Albanian independence. I had the chance to interview him last week.

When Tony Dovolani grew up in Kosovo, he watched movies starring Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, captivated by their dancing skills. His dream of following in their talented footsteps has come true as he entertains millions of viewers each season as one of the more popular regulars on the hit show Dancing with the Stars.

He designs the outfits that he and his celebrity dance partners wear every week. Proud of his heritage, he has even worn a red and black costume evoking the colors of the Albanian flag.  

“We are proud and we have a long tradition, a long history,” he said. "We are a tight knit community. Once you find out you’re an Albanian, for example, you immediately become brothers and sisters. I just wanted to give my Albanian community a little pride, a little joy in their lives.”

Dovolani has achieved great success, winning numerous dance competitions and receiving an Emmy Award nomination for his choreography. Asked which honor was his proudest accomplishment, he did not hesitate with a response, recalling his World Title victory. He said, “My dad raised me in such a way that whenever someone does something for you, you have to pay it back, and I felt like winning the world title I was able to thank America for saving our lives. It’s funny, when I won, my dad and I shared a smile and a wink with each other. Kind of like we earned our keep. That explains exactly how my family works. Other than that, on a personal note, my biggest accomplishment is my kids. My wife and I are so happy to have three beautiful kids in our lives. That is my pride.”

The 100th anniversary of Albanian Independence means a lot to Tony Dovolani, especially in light of the role his own family played in the liberation of Kosovo. In 2009, he was finally able to return to his homeland. “I literally got off the plane and kissed the ground,” he said. “I found out some sad things – 36 members of my mom’s side of the family had been killed during the war and from my class I think there were 41 of us and only 18 were still alive. So that was a little bit of a shocker for me, just to find out that my classmates had lost their lives. But now I go every six months. This last summer I had the chance to go to the Albanian Alps. It was phenomenal! It is the most beautiful country to visit. I encourage all the Americans, all the people from around the world to go and see its natural beauty, untainted. It is so beautiful there.”

I asked if his fitness regiment forced him to refrain from enjoying some of the traditional Albanian cuisine, and he let out a hearty laugh. “Albanian food is our religion, man,” he joked. “I still eat all the Albanian specialties. Listen, I was raised over there until I was fifteen, so when I came to the United States I was lucky enough to have a lot of family around me. The food never leaves! Whenever I get lonely, I just eat authentic Albanian food. I get my wife and take a short trip to the Bronx and have some nice Albanian food!”  
He has danced alongside such celebrities as Susan Lucci, Chynna Phillips, Leeza Gibbons, Stacy Kiebler, Kathy Ireland, and others, this season making it deep into the competition with Melissa Rycroft, pushing to get into the finals and eventually winning it all.
Instead of just dwelling on his own achievements, he looked at the bigger picture and said, “I’m happy for all Albanians across the world that have accomplished things through art, through knowledge, through education, and contributed to this wonderful world of ours. Everyone is realizing that Albanians are some of the nicest people. Every time you meet an Albanian it means something. Their heart is given to you immediately and their trust. I think we’ve left our mark.”