Solo skater van der Perren turns dance champ

Three-time Olympian wins Belgium's Dancing with the Stars

Kevin van der Perren with partner Charissa van Dipte (left) and wife Jenna McCorkell.
Kevin van der Perren with partner Charissa van Dipte (left) and wife Jenna McCorkell. (photo by Jeroen Van de Velde)


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By Lois Elfman, special to
(01/31/2013) - Even though a couple of weeks have passed since he danced off with the mirror ball trophy on Belgium's version of Dancing with the Stars (Sterren op de Dansvloer), seven-time Belgian men's champion, and Olympic and world competitor Kevin van der Perren is still kind of amazed by the fact that he won.

"I was very surprised about that because figure skating in Belgium is not really anything people are interested in," said van der Perren, who competed at the world championships 11 times, including three top-10 finishes. "We were one point behind the other couple [in the final] and we still won. I don't know where they came from, but there must have been a lot of votes."

Van der Perren, 30, was contacted by producers last June to take part in the show, which follows a similar format to the U.S. and British versions -- celebrities paired with professional dancers and voting by both a panel of judges and the viewing public. He said the timing was perfect; in a "black hole" after retiring from competitive skating, he thought the show would serve as a satisfying replacement.

He began rehearsals with partner Charissa van Dipte on Oct. 1, and they made their dancing debut on Nov. 9. Over the 10 weeks of the show, van der Perren endured some harsh criticism from the judges, but in the last three shows, he got good marks and words of praise.

His favorite dance was the tango. He found it interesting how different each dance was. The hip action required in Latin dances was especially challenging.

"That was hardest for me," van der Perren said. "Since I had hip surgery in 2008, I really was in pain after the weeks we had those dances."

In the semifinal, he and van Dipte won a cha cha-off with the other two couples.

"I was very nervous about that," he said. "I was sure to go out because the other two are very big celebrities in Belgium. We said, 'We're going to dance like it is the last time. Give it everything, no regrets and we'll see what happens.'"

Van der Perren found the public voting quite stressful because he never knew from week to week what would capture the viewers' attention. Before he appeared on Sterren op de Dansvloer, he'd never watched it, although he and wife Jenna McCorkell had seen the U.S. version when Evan Lysacek appeared in 2010 while they were on vacation in America.

When he struggled with moves, van der Perren showed them to McCorkell, the 10-time British ladies champion, and she caught on much more quickly than he did.

"It would be great if they would ask her to do the British version (Strictly Come Dancing)," van der Perren said. "Things I couldn't do, I was trying at home. She would try and just do it. I said, 'OK, you depress me.'"

Unlike the U.S. version, lifts are permitted in all dances. Eager to explore pairs skating, he said van Dipte was the perfect partner for him because she's won competitions in freestyle lifting. She gave van der Perren some of the mechanics as well as great ideas. He thinks she would do quite well choreographing for pairs skaters.

Since retiring from competitive skating, van der Perren has been coaching in Belgium. McCorkell, who finished 21st at last week's European championships, travels back and forth between Belgium and Scotland, where she trains with coach Simon Briggs.

The show took up much of his time for several months, so now van der Perren is focusing on coaching and a show that he and McCorkell produce in Belgium, and assessing what the future holds.

"The show was a fun thing to do in the end, but it really took up a lot of time," van der Perren said. "I hardly could teach. It was a bit difficult in the middle, but toward the end, everybody wanted for me to win, and then it was a little bit easier."