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September 21, 2009 11:20 AM

Maksim Chmerkovskiy isn’t her No. 1 man anymore, but he said he danced his heart out for ex-fiancé Karina Smirnoff’s sake at their Emmy Awards performance Sunday night.

“Honestly the majority of what I did today was because I knew how big of a deal it was for her,” he told PEOPLE at the Entertainment Tonight/PEOPLE after-party, adding that he d agreed to perform with Smirnoff before they split and wanted to hold up his end of the bargain. “She wants this. She wants to see how she can excel. Dancing at the Emmys was such an amazing spotlight. I just wanted to make sure to give it to her even if it’s the last thing I do. So I wanted to do the best job I could, but it was hard.”

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Hard because he’s still smarting from their break-up, announced earlier this month.

“It’s difficult, but we’re trying to work it out,” Chmerkovskiy said of their effort to maintain a friendship. As for the next season of Dancing with the Stars, he says don’t expect any problems. “It’s not about the show. It’s just us. To me it was never about anybody else or the show. It was about us. That’s what was important to me. We’ll see how it goes.”

The fact that the video highlight seemed to play up the tragedy of their split didn’t exactly help either, he said, calling the highlight of their DWTS dances together “ridiculous.”

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“I wasn’t nervous, but I got really anxious, he said. “Karina gets nervous. I told her not to turn around for her own good. The lift was the most important. Once we were done with that everything else was a breeze.”

Costar Derek Hough – who went through his own break-up with actress and former dance partner Shannon Elizabeth – told PEOPLE he can sympathize.

“For instance with me and Shannon, we broke up after a year and a half, but we’re still really great friends,” he said. “We still love each other. It’s just a different type of love.”

“I think when you really love somebody – you hear who people were dating say, ‘Oh, I love this person,’ and then after the break-up say, ‘Oh, I hate them’ – I don t understand that. When I love somebody I will continue to love them forever and be there.”

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