She says the show "loved to fuel" the idea that she had a romance with Maksim Chmerkovskiy

By Monica Rizzo
December 01, 2006 05:00 PM

Former Dancing with the Stars contestant Willa Ford knows that her engagement to Dallas Stars hockey player Mike Modano will come as a surprise to many fans, who believed she was having a romance with her professional dance partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy, she tells PEOPLE.

“Maks and I were definitely close and we still are, but I kept saying that it’s going to be a shocker to everybody when they find out (I’m engaged to Mike,)” Ford says. “Every week I told people the truth – we were close, we hung out – but the show loved to fuel the relationship.”

In fact, Ford, 25, and Modano, 36, have been “on and off for about four and a half years.” The couple got engaged over the Thanksgiving weekend in Dallas, where Modano gave Ford a classic, round cut solitaire diamond.

As for Chmerkovskiy: “We do have chemistry and it was easy for the show to go into that,” says Ford, who called Chmerkovskiy to tell him about her engagement personally. “He said, ‘you know I’m happy for you. I support you.’ So everyone should know that Maks is okay! We’ll stay friends and we’ll still hang out.”

Dancing fans planning to see Ford and Chmerkovskiy on tour later this month, however, will be disappointed, as both have pulled out of the lineup.

“I decided, prior to the tour rehearsals starting, to pull out of the tour for personal reasons that I wish I could reveal, but I can’t,” Chmerkovskiy tells PEOPLE. “There are no health issues, my health is fine. But I decided it was not right for me.”

Ford then followed Chmerkovski’s lead, as she’s done so many times on the dance floor, and pulled out of the tour as well. “I didn’t want to dance with a new partner,” Ford says. “The fans wanted to see Willa and Maks dance together, not just whoever they gave me.”

To clear up any misconceptions about his reason’s for dropping out of the tour, Chmerkovskiy says, “People will try to tie Willa’s engagement and my pulling out of the tour together and they are not related at all. I hope that Willa will be happy with Mike.”

As for wedding plans, Ford says the nuptials will happen when Modano’s team is in the off-season – and after she finishes her album. “It will either be this summer or next summer,” Ford says. “I’m really one of those old-fashioned Southern girls who wants to get married, have a little time as newlyweds and then have babies.”