“I don’t know where to begin, to be honest with you,” he said. “Obviously, it was a massive shock. Having those calls is never, never, never fun.”
Chigvintsev, 37, said he was kept in the dark about the decision until Friday, Aug. 16 — just days before the full cast was officially announced on Good Morning America the following Wednesday. Though he acknowledged there was always a chance he wouldn’t be brought back as a pro, as a longtime DWTS alum, Chigvintsev said he thought he would still be involved in the new season, even as a troupe member.
He also said that since he had been having “positive conversations” with producers over text in the weeks leading up to the announcement, he was “99 percent” sure that he would be cast. But when he still hadn’t heard anything by Friday morning, he realized something was up. He said he contacted producers at around 10 a.m. and was told they’d get back to him that afternoon.
According to Chigvintsev, he didn’t find out the news until he got a text from an executive producer around 8 p.m. that evening, asking if he was free to talk.
“So I immediately called and the first sentence I heard was, ‘Hey, we have bad news for you,'” he recalled.
Chigvintsev said he’s doing his best to move on, though it hasn’t been easy.
“I dedicated 10 years of my life to that company,” he said. “And getting let go three days before an announcement, that’s like a punch in the stomach, really.”
“It’s not even a job, it’s a lifestyle if you’ve been doing it for a very, very long time,” he explained. “There was never really a thought in my mind that I [wasn’t] going to be doing it. … But getting this call and [hearing], ‘There’s going to be no involvement in the show from now on’ — it’s like going through a breakup after 10 years.”
A rep for ABC did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Bella, 35, is furious on his behalf.
“They’ve had these dancers on hold since March. And they don’t give them compensation for it. They’ve been all unemployed since March,” she said. “That made me really upset, because how do you put people on hold and then cut them last minute? … Now all the fall gigs are booked, and that part to me was so unfair.”
Now, Chigvintsev is focused on the future — but he can’t help but doubt himself at times.
“The one thing I’ve done all my life, and I study it and I dedicated pretty much all of my time for the past two decades, is dancing,” he said. “Being on a show like Dancing with the Stars for what I do, that is the top of the game. There is really no other job that gives you the satisfaction of choreographing, of teaching and getting the recognition in that spectrum.”
“Did I get cut because they didn’t think I was good enough for the show?” he wondered.
“The good thing is you always have me,” Bella said. “I’ll always be here.”
The upcoming season will star The Supremes’ Mary Wilson, Karamo Brown, The Bachelorette‘s Hannah Brown, supermodel Christie Brinkley, country star Lauren Alaina, actor James Van Der Beek, NFL legend Ray Lewis, The Office star Kate Flannery, pop star Ally Brooke, Lamar Odom, comedian and actor Kel Mitchell and President Donald Trump’s former press secretary Sean Spicer.
Season 28 of Dancing with the Stars premieres Sept. 16 on ABC.