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Stratford man wins 'Dancing with the Stars'

Updated 12:17 am, Thursday, November 29, 2012

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  • This Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 publicity photo provided by ABC, shows Tony Dovolani and Melissa Rycroft in âÄúDancing with the Stars: All-StarsâÄù - Episode 1510, as a competing couple in a Super-Sized Freestyle one-hour performance in which they were allowed to add extra performers, to incorporate all kinds of lifts and tricks to create an out-of-this-world entertaining routine on the ABC Television Network. Rycroft is a finalist for the âÄúDancing with the StarsâÄù Mirror Ball Trophy on the ABC TV show Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. Photo: Adam Taylor, (AP Photo/ABC, Adam Taylor) Asso / Associated Press
    This Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 publicity photo provided by ABC, shows Tony Dovolani and Melissa Rycroft in âÄúDancing with the Stars: All-StarsâÄù - Episode 1510, as a competing couple in a Super-Sized Freestyle one-hour performance in which they were allowed to add extra performers, to incorporate all kinds of lifts and tricks to create an out-of-this-world entertaining routine on the ABC Television Network. Rycroft is a finalist for the âÄúDancing with the StarsâÄù Mirror Ball Trophy on the ABC TV show Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. Photo: Adam Taylor, (AP Photo/ABC, Adam Taylor) Asso

 

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Apparently, lightning can strike twice.

Stratford is in the national spotlight for the second time in two years after resident Driton "Tony" Dovolani and his All-Star dance partner, Melissa Rycroft, won the mirror ball trophy and the title of Season 15 "Dancing with the Stars" champions Tuesday night.

Dovolani's victory comes just over two years after Javier Colon, also of Stratford, won the first season of "The Voice." This is Dovolani's 14th season and first win as a professional dancer with "Dancing with the Stars," the ABC-TV program that pairs professional dancers with famous performers and athletes who have little or no dance experience.

"It was incredible. This ranks right up there with my world title, especially since it was the All-Star season so, basically, we were going against the best that `Dancing with the Stars' has to offer," said a hoarse and sleep-deprived Dovolani during a telephone interview Wednesday. His voice did as much work in one day as his feet have in the last three months of competition. He appeared on numerous television programs Wednesday, including "Good Morning America" and "The View."

"I have no voice left," Dovolani said.

In a prepared statement, Dovolani elaborated on the victory: "To take the mirror ball home after such a (competitive) season, the All-Stars season that included six previous champions, is such a thrill. I have waited 14 seasons for this. I am overjoyed. Melissa was the greatest partner and we had the best time every day, and to be rewarded for our hard work is so gratifying. It meant a great deal to me to have my choreography skills acknowledged. It was a very special season for me."

Dovolani and his former professional dance partner, Elena Grinenko, have won numerous competitions, including the 2006 United States Open Rhythm Champion and 2006 World Rhythm Champion. He played Latin bad boy competitor "Slick Willy" in the hit film "Shall We Dance." He was a dance instructor on the film and coached Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Stanley Tucci.

Dovolani and Rycroft, who first came to the attention of the ABC television viewing audience as a contestant on "The Bachelor," were paired together in Season 8. They placed third to that season's winner, Shawn Johnson, an Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast. Johnson was runner-up to Dovolani and Rycroft this time.

There is a second Connecticut community that is celebrating Dovolani's win Tuesday night. Dovolani and fellow "Dancing with the Stars" pro dancers Maksim Chmerkovskiy and his brother, Val Chmerkovskiy, are partners in the Dance With Me USA Dance Studios in New York, New Jersey and Stamford.

"We were sitting on the edge of our seats like everybody else (Tuesday) night. We couldn't be more elated for Tony," said David Thomas Moore, manager and instructor at the Stamford Dance With Me studio. "We were all just pulling for him. He's had so many seasons where it's been a rollercoaster and he's one of the hardest-working people I know, and so to see that pay off is just huge. We're all really happy for him," Moore said.

"We think it's great news. It's exciting," said Stratford Mayor John Harkins.

"We're certainly proud of both of these individuals who have made it in show business," said Harkin, referring to Dovolani and Colon. "We have a history of that in town with the (Shakespeare) theater and the various famous actors who came here, but when they are actual residents at one point and were able to make it, we're extremely proud of them and wish them much success in the future," Harkin said.

Dovolani, who has lived in Stratford for more than a decade, said he is proud to bring home the mirror ball for himself, his adopted state and town.

"For me, Connecticut has got a special place. Part of the reason why I don't move anywhere else is because it's the best place to raise a family. For me, Connecticut is everything," he said.

Dance With Me Studios is celebrating Dovolani's win with a free introductory private lesson for new students who sign up before Dec. 15.

"We wanted to do that as a personal thank you from Tony and from everyone here at Dance with Me. We know a lot of people have supported him," Moore said.

For more information about Dovolani, visit his website at www.tonydovolani.com or follow him on Twitter: @tonydovolani.

For more information about the introductory dance class, visit www.dancewithmeusa.com.