Dancing with the Stars pro dancer Valentin Chmerkovskiy is chronicling his season 23 experience exclusively for PEOPLE. Follow Chmerkovskiy, 30, and his partner, Olympian Laurie Hernandez, 16, on Twitter!
“It’s a bittersweet kind of feeling having this be my last blog,” Chmerkovskiy says in his exclusive PEOPLE vlog. “It’s been an incredible season. I’m very grateful to have Laurie on this journey with me.”
Chmerkovskiy and Hernandez found themselves growing even closer last week after the Olympian had to take the stage just days after finding out that her grandmother had died.
“Last week was a very difficult week for us. … Laurie definitely had a rough week, and it was awesome to see her prevail,” says Chmerkovskiy. “At such a young age to have the maturity and poise to get through everything she’s gone through this season is really awesome and I’m genuinely proud of her. I’m proud of the young woman that she turned out to be. … The grace that she’s shown all season has been awesome. You forget that she’s only 16 years old.”
Looking forward to Monday night’s dances, Chmerkovskiy teases, “I’m super excited for you guys to see our freestyle. I think it’s going to be really, really special. I know you guys will love it because Laurie loves it and when she performs it she just shines.”
He adds, “There’s going to be a lot of tricks and production but ultimately it’s a feel-good performance. It feels like Laurie. It feels like us. It feels like joy and love and happiness, and I think ultimately that’s what the world needs nowadays.”
For their second dance — a “redemption dance” chosen by the judges — the duo will perform a paso doble.
“I’m excited about that because it’s going to show Laurie one last time in a feminine way and a way you’d never seen Laurie coming into this season,” says Chmerkovskiy. “Tonight I really want to solidify how far she’s come as a woman.”
Dancing with the Stars‘ finale week kicks off Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.