He’s danced his way into the hearts of millions as Dancing With the Stars’ hunkiest pro, but Maksim Chmerkovskiy has traveled a rocky road to success. “Growing up in the USSR, we didn’t have much,” Maks tells In Touch in an exclusive interview. One thing he did have was a gift for dance, although his talents weren’t always appreciated by others; like many teens, the young Maks was constantly picked on by cold-hearted classmates. “I encountered bullying when I came to the U.S. I was not popular at all,” he solemnly recalls. “There was the usual sexuality-related stuff, people calling me gay. When I’d say I danced, people would act like I was diseased. I was beaten up. It hurt and was very upsetting.” The reality star refused to give up his passion, with encouragement from his family. “I had an amazing support system. My parents told me that if you believe in what you do, you can prove people wrong with your success,” he says. Now, still a hot contender on the ABC dancing competition show's eleventh season with partner Brandy, Maks is getting the last laugh. For the star's never-before-seen personal photos and his advice on how to rise above bullies, check out the latest issue of In Touch.