Elena Grinenko was born in Moscow, Russia, USSR, where she discovered her love for ballroom dancing at the age of seven. Her grandfather was a General in the Red Army. As head of the family, he supported her dancing. She was trained in ballet and Russian folk dancing, participated in the Ballroom Formation Team of Russia, and received a musical education.
Early on, Elena’s teachers noticed her abilities as a competitor, and paired her with Sergei Makeev, a more experienced, titled partner. By the age of 8, she competed against 180 other couples to become Moscow Ballroom Youth Champion in 1984.
Competitive Youth Dance Career
In the years following, at both Junior and Youth levels, Elena became a Moscow, Russian and Soviet Union Finalist in Standard, Latin and 10-Dance. Elena won over 150 competitions in the Soviet Republic during this time. After the USSR dissolved, and Russia joined the World Dance Sport organization, Elena and her partner Sergei Soloviev were among the first to represent Russia at the world championships. By the age of thirteen, she became Vice Champion in the first Youth Russian Championship, with dancers from ages 16 to 18.
In 1994, while still competing in the youth category, Elena won the Moscow and National Championship Latin Division titles with Michael Nadtochi. In the same year, she became a world Latin semi-finalist, a Russian finalist in the standard division, and Russian 10-Dance Champion.
A top student, Grinenko majored in mathematics and geometry. Yet, after graduating high school in 1995, she chose dance as her career and was accepted into the prestigious Art Academy of Russia and studied many forms of dancing, acting, and stage production.
Professional Dance Career and Adult Ballroom Titles
Elena decided to immigrate to the United States of America to open more opportunities for her career in professional dancing. In 1998, Elena received an O-1 visa and her green card two years later and became a United States Citizen in 2008. After moving to the USA in 1998, Grinenko began competing as a ballroom dance professional. In 1999, she and Nadtochi became a United States National Rising Star finalist and U.S.D.C. Top Rising Star Couple of the Year.
In 2002 Elena partnered with Maksim Chmerkovskiy and, in their first competition together, won the National Rising Star title in the Latin division at Emerald Ball. They went on to win the Rising Star Championship at the International Championships in London England. By January of 2003, they were ranked among the top twelve professional dancers in the world.
Elena and Maksim shifted gears in 2002, and became the lead dancers in Latin Fusion, a New York Broadway show choreographed, produced, and directed by Louis Van Amstel. By 2004, Elena and Maks starred in the follow up production Latin Revolution that later became the popular Ballroom With a Twist, a national show.
In 2005, Grinenko partnered with Tony Dovolani in the American Rhythm category. With only five weeks of practice, they won their first Ohio Star Ball title by placing first in all dances. Over the next 2 years, they won many National and World American Rhythm titles and were undefeated. They appeared on PBS’s America’s Ballroom Challenge.
Dancing with the Stars and Celebrity Dancing
After her competitive dance career, Elena Grinenko became a familiar face on television. In 2007, she was offered a role on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and was partnered with Tucker Carlson in Season 3. Tucker Carlson, a conservative political commentator, was best known being co-host of Crossfire, CNN’s once-popular and lively political debate program, and currently, a New York Times Best-Selling author and Fox News host. In Season 4 of Dancing With The Stars, Grinenko danced with NBA All-Star Legend Clyde Drexler, a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team and known as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
Following her participation on the show, Elena joined with Joey Lawrence and promoted Jive, Samba and Tango Your Way into the Best Shape of Your Life, a Dancing with the Stars Workout Book.
Grinenko and Dovolani continued to work and perform together off the competitive floor and choreographed the opening number for the 2007 Christmas Parade in Disney World, broadcasted by ABC TV. Hosted by Regis Philbin, Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest, the show included many cast members from Dancing with the Stars such as celebrities Joey Fatone, Drew Lachey (winner of 2nd season), Helio Castroneves (winner of 5th season), and Sabrina Bryan. Grinenko also appeared as a celebrity dancer on Univision and Telemundo on the 2010 Segundo Campeonato Mundial de Baile with Paul Barris.
Talk Shows and Musical Performances
Elena also taught recently married couples how to dance tango competitively on the 2008 ABC show Here Come the Newlyweds and coached her couple to a first- place finish. She also guest stared as a judge on Reality Obsessed. Grinenko has also made guest appearances on The View, Good Morning America, and ABC news to discuss dance related topics.