Taking It to the Maks

If Cathy Calhoun ever invites you for a mystery date, be prepared for anything. The jeweler has been known to whisk customers off to Arkansas to mine diamonds or quickly bake enough chocolate-chip cookies to feed the cast and crew of a movie. So when she called seven of her best female customers for a thank-you party, they knew it would be something special.

The women were told to clear their schedules for the afternoon and evening and assemble at Calhoun Jewelers in Royersford, Pa., at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 29. Calls to Calhoun asking for advice about what to wear—designed to elicit further hints—turned up nothing.

All seven showed up at the appointed time and were ushered into a white stretch limousine. “We’re going to Philadelphia,” they guessed. The car passed the exits for Philadelphia and crossed into New Jersey.

“I know!” they chorused as the car turned north. “We’re going to New York to see a show!” Excited chatter continued up the New Jersey Turnpike, until the car passed the exits to cross into Manhattan.

The women fell silent as the mystery deepened.

The car finally turned off the highway and into the parking lot of a nondescript building in Ridgefield, N.J. It was the Dance With Me studio, owned by Maksim Chmerkovskiy, of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, who gave the seven lucky customers private dance lessons.

Calhoun’s inspiration for the event began more than a year earlier when “Carol,” a friend and customer, lost her husband. To cheer her up, Calhoun persuaded her to start watching Dancing With the Stars. Carol soon became enchanted with Chmerkovskiy, commonly called “Maks” on the program.

Calhoun learned that Chmerkovskiy owns a dance studio in northern New Jersey, and she thought it would be a great idea for a customer thank-you party to have private lessons there. But when she called to arrange it, the dancer’s brother told her private lessons weren’t available.

“I totally forgot about it and put it out of mind,” Calhoun said. “At the very end of November, I got a call and the voice sounded just like Maks. It was his father, who said they would do a private lesson once, and only once.” Once was enough.

“I said, ‘I have one gal here who will just have an absolute heart attack when she finds out she’s going to dance with Maks.’ The father was so cute! He said, ‘That’s OK, we’ll call an ambulance!'”

On dance day, three men associated with Calhoun Jewelers drove ahead of the limo to surprise and greet the women. One was Michael LaMieux, sales manager, who somewhat resembles Maks. The other two were Patrick Young, the firm’s vice president and jewelry designer, and Steve Wisner, a partner with LaMieux in a specialty ice-cream store a few blocks from the jewelry store. Calhoun says the women thought she was playing off LaMieux’s resemblance to Chmerkovskiy, and that he would be giving dance lessons. “But when they saw the real Maks, so much for Michael!” Calhoun says with a laugh.

Carol didn’t have a heart attack, but her reaction was almost as dramatic, says Calhoun. “She screamed, grabbed Maks’s sweater, and fell to her knees, pulling his sweater out of shape and leaving mascara all over it.” Another woman in the group, “Linda,” just kept screaming, “It’s Maks! It’s Maks!”

JCK spoke to Carol on the phone. “I had the time of my life,” she said. “He’s such a super human being. He comes across [on TV] like he has an attitude, but when you meet him, he’s totally the opposite. He’s totally humble and caring and nice. I could have been his grandmother, but he was charming to me. I’m still floating on cloud nine from that deal.”

The women enjoyed four hours of private lessons. At the end of the evening, Calhoun presented Maks with a Movado watch and a card and told him the story of Carol’s depression and how that had triggered the evening’s events.

“He called me last week,” said Calhoun in late January. “He said he wears it [the watch] all the time.”