Craig Sjodin/ABC
K.C. Baker
March 16, 2014 11:30 AM

Maks Chmerkovskiy is returning to Dancing with the Stars a changed man.

The talented yet hot-blooded dance pro, who’s famous for challenging the show’s judges and pushing his celebrity partners to the limit, says viewers will see his calmer, more relaxed side when he returns to the show on Monday, after being away for almost a year.

“Listen, I’m a sweet guy. I’m just intense at work. I have nothing but the end result in mind. My entire career has been like that,” the 34-year-old tells PEOPLE exclusively.

“I have come to realize very late in my DWTS career that that doesn’t exactly translate in television format. People are tuning in to see the progress and what happens during the rehearsals and don’t want to see drama.”

But viewers love the drama!

“Well, I think I’ve given the viewers enough drama in the last nine years,” he says. “Now I want to give them a season that’s drama-free – nothing but smiles and laughter and a great time. Let somebody else be dramatic.”

Chmerkovskiy credits his new partner, Olympic ice dancing gold medalist Meryl Davis, for his change in attitude. “I’m having a blast with her,” he says.

In a clip ABC recently shared from the pair’s rehearsals, the single Chmerkovskiy said, “So, I love you and I would love to marry you, but I need to know if you and Charlie [White] are dating first.” Meryl laughed and said of her longtime ice dancing partner, “No, we’re not. We’re definitely not,” which Chmerkovskiy obviously loved hearing, saying, “Good.” Nice!

During practices with Davis, he says, “I noticed that I’m not nervous and I’m not stressing out, like I usually would be. I’ve got somebody who is at the top of their game – not a retired athlete with aches and pains and certain physical issues. She is in great shape. She’s in great spirits. I got somebody who doesn’t need to prove herself to anyone.”

Beyond that, he likes her because she is “a normal person. She is so funny, friendly, hard working and physically capable. She’s not dramatic. She’s not ‘too Hollywood.’ I don’t have to tolerate her every rehearsal. I like working with her. I don’t have to suck it up like, ‘Maks – this is the job. Do your job.’ I am just enjoying the time I spend with her.”

Good thing, since Davis is performing in Stars on Ice with White, who is also competing on DWTS this season – at the same time that the show is filming.

“We’ll be on the road and I will be literally training her in between their shows and then flying back to L.A. every Sunday night for Monday’s show and probably flying out on Tuesday mornings to wherever the next show stop is,” he says.

Why He’s Back

Chmerkovskiy left the show in 2012 – and went on to star in Forever Tango on Broadway with DWTS pro (and his ex), Karina Smirnoff. He had an acting stint on General Hospital, filmed two movies and even designed jewelry for his new Cantamessa Men jewelry collection.

He returned to the show – even turning down a second round at judging – for his fans “who supported me throughout some tough moments in my life” and because he says he missed dancing so much.

“When I left, I said, ‘I’m out. See you later. Have fun.’ I got jaded,” he says. “I feel like there were certain elements of the show that I wasn’t appreciating and it blinded me from all the good things. But I really missed the heart of it all – the dancing.”

Plus, his grandma is happy. “She loves to see me dance,” he says. “I haven’t given her much to look at on the dance floor lately.”

His grandmother isn’t pleased about everything in his life. “My grandma and my mom are not happy about the fact that I am still a bachelor,” says Chmerkovskiy, who split with model Kate Upton in December. “It’s not on my mind that I have to find the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. It will happen the way it’s going to happen.”

Maybe that time is now.

You May Like