Dancing's Maksim Denies Criticizing Cheryl Burke's Weight

Dancing's Maksim Denies Criticizing Cheryl Burke's Weight
Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Roger Karnbad/ CelebrityPhoto

10/30/2008 AT 03:35 PM EDT

Maksim Chmerkovskiy has denied criticizing Dancing With the Stars pros Cheryl Burke and Lacey Schwimmer over their weight, telling PEOPLE his reported comments were "taken completely out of context."

"I am outspoken but I do not discriminate how people look," Chmerkovskiy, 28, says. "That's the great thing about ballroom – unlike jazz and ballet – it doesn't discriminate. People of all shapes and sizes and levels of ability can take part in ballroom dancing."

He says he had been commenting generally about "how excess weight on the body takes its toll on the joints, the lower back," he explains. Schwimmer put on weight after an extensive recuperation period following knee surgery last year. Burke told PEOPLE last month she gained a few pounds over the summer, the result of not dancing every day.

"I never criticized Cheryl or Lacey," Chmerkovskiy says.

He has since been slammed by fans, receiving email messages "telling me to go back to my country," he says, noting that he has spoken with Burke and has reached out to Schwimmer. "We're fine. I'm dancing with Cheryl next week."

What he's most concerned about is how all of this is affecting people who want to dance.

"I am a big promoter of being healthy and physical activity, but in my business, I do not condemn how people look," he says. "It's sad how all of this got spun."

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