Tony Dovolani: If You Dream It, Go After It
The moment I met Tony and he started telling me his story, I knew that he was a true teacher. I felt a deep connection with his inspiring words and was instantly taken by his honesty and passion for life.
Originally from Kosovo, former Yugoslavia, Tony’s family moved to Connecticut in search of a better life. At the age of fifteen, he was supporting his family by working in any job the restaurant business had to offer – from dishwashing and waiting tables to cooking. A few years later, one of his mentors received an invitation for an introductory lesson at a local dance studio. The beautifully-made flyer caught Tony’s attention as it was being thrown into the garbage. He picked it up and called to schedule his first lesson. Walking into the studio made him realize what his father had recognized in him many years earlier – that rhythm and movement were a part of who he is. All the years of watching Fred and Ginger musicals and training to be a folk dancer fell into one moment of clarity – he wanted to be a ballroom dance professional.
Not long after he started, Tony entered his first dance competition. Looking back, it’s funny to him how good he thought he was. Despite blanking out and forgetting most of his routines, he remembers the support he received from fellow competitors, teachers and event organizers. But more than anything else – he remembers having a blast while on the dance floor.
In the beginning, his friends made fun of him. So, he invited them to one of his events. There, they saw artistry in motion with their own eyes. In the years to come, Tony would help many of his friends to discover not only that artistry, but also the diversity in culture and expression by engaging them in the world of dance.
He always knew that he wanted to be a teacher. Most professional ballroom dancers support their competitive careers by coaching students. He quickly learned that if he wanted to become a master teacher, he had to stay hungry for knowledge. Everything he would earn – he invested in dance lessons and in competitions. The next thing he remembers was becoming the US Open Professional Runner Up in the American Rhythm category. A few years of successfully branching out into other categories (Latin and Smooth) gave him an edge over his competitors which soon brought him two National and World titles.
“By being open to the experience you allow yourself to become a better dancer, a better competitor and a better person.”
As Tony stood on the podium, winner of the World Championship title, with the American flag raised and the American anthem playing, he caught his father’s eyes, full of tears of happiness. His father greatest wish had been for his family to be able to integrate smoothly into this new country and culture; he had even insisted that everyone speak only English at home; so this win felt to Tony like he had achieved exactly that.
After several years of competing, Tony came to the realization that no one was a loser on the dance floor. His philosophy became: if you showed up and walked onto the dance floor, it meant that you had already achieved something. You might come in in second, third or fourth place, or not place at all, but you always learned from it. You put all the expectations into enjoying the process while creating the best possible experience out of it. There are many variables during a competition, but by accomplishing even the smallest of things, you were already a winner. By being open to the experience, you allowed yourself to become a better dancer, a better competitor and a better person, a person who is aware and accepts the moment while also making everything better. You are letting in and giving out positive energy.
The first movie that Tony featured in was “Shall We Dance?”, starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon. It was an exciting and unusual experience for him. While filming it, he received an invitation to participate in a newly formed TV show called “Dancing With The Stars”. Unfortunately, he had to turn down the offer in the first season, as he was on his way to defend his World title. But, not long after, he did join it. That show has gone on to become the number one TV show in the United States for many years. Nothing matched the unique experience of being on the show; it became a part of his life. For the next ten years, while he was on the show, Tony raised a daughter and his twins were born. Coming from a competitive dance world, he found that the show’s journey was not about winning, but about teaching and enjoying the experience of meeting wonderful people. When he won the “All Stars” season with Melissa Rycroft, it felt like the Universe was conspiring in his favor.
“It was a special season. If you were to win a season, this was the one to win! Every Monday Melissa and I would hug each other before the performance, knowing that it could be the last week. And then we would just dance! When we won, everybody was ecstatic – nobody had celebrated like that before. We competed alongside six previous winners, and to come up at the top was pretty amazing. The other cast members were so supportive in every way. I can say it was easily the most special season for me.”
In parallel with his competitive, teaching and performing careers, Tony was a successful owner of several Fred Astaire dance studios, where he managed and trained staff to excel in the business. His desire to help people be successful found the perfect marriage in the combination of dance and business. He had known the “Dance With Me USA” studio founders for many years before he joined their team. Tony was eager to help develop a brand new company that really cares about the well-being of every person who walks through the door, and, about creating opportunities for both student and staff development. For him, “Dance With Me USA” is about service: offering students the best experience through the quality of lessons and through creating a community where students feel special and part of a big family.
“Dance With Me means the quality of life, service, family, job, career – you make it what you want it to be”, he says.
What inspired Tony is being able to inspire others into believing that everything is possible “if you dream it, go after it”. He loves to see people around him exploit their potential to the fullest, then exceed it.
At home, things are a bit different. Tony calls his wife, Lina, the “Queen of my Castle”. “She handles everything and she is one of the reasons that today I am successful”. For him, marriage is a partnership based on communication and honesty. “If two people understand each other, respect each other unconditionally, then everything can work out.” They seem to understand each other perfectly and that creates room for Tony to always be himself. He was still going for his first big title when Lina became pregnant with their first child. Tony wanted to retire immediately and devote his time to family, however, she saw his ambition to accomplish more, and she gave him the unconditional support to do so. That was when he realized that he had a very bright woman by his side and that his instincts about her had been right.
“God gave us twenty-four hours – eight should be for work, eight for family and eight should be for rest.”
Tony believes that success should be measured by achieving and maintaining balance. You have to spend time at home, be respectful of and good at what you do while making sure you always balance these with the amount of sleep. “God gave us twenty-four hours – eight should be for work, eight for family and eight should be for rest.”
I have never stopped working on becoming a better person, that has been my goal since I can remember. I always aim for affecting people to be successful, I love teaching people. My greatest accomplishments in life are the gifts of teaching, my kids and family, my students and staff, and my business partners. As long as I am teaching I will be happy because when I teach, I feel my heart is at its purest.
designer Y2 Collection | model Tony Dovolani | creative director & stylist Amable
designer T. Mosca | creative director & stylist Aria Bojaj | model Sanita Anderson | model Ashley Harris | model Ji Young
photography Filbert Diego Kung | assistant stylist Erno John Hormillosa | make up artist Jen Delica | hair stylist JayBee Flores