Talking 'Dancing with the Stars' with Karina Smirnoff
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We met with Karina Smirnoff, one of our favorite dancers, when she was in Manhattan recently. She has starred on the show "Dancing With the Stars" for 13 years and recently completed a successful run on Broadway in the show "Forever Tango."
How old were you when you started dancing?
I started figure skating first when I was only 2 years old. And I have a picture, to prove that I was only 2, because my mom dressed me as a snow flake on figure skates. Then I tried ballet, I tried gymnastics. I think I started ballroom dancing when I was about 9 years old and I fell in love with it.
What inspired you to start dancing and how?
My mom played piano for about 25 years and she was really good at it, but when you play piano you have to practice every day for three hours. So she didn't want me to do that, and she said, 'I want my child to be active' and she took me out of the piano lessons and kept me in dancing. I love it. It's a way of expressing myself and being artistic. I can't imagine not dancing.
What does dancing mean to you?
It's a way of communicating . . . You express yourself through movements, through steps, through being musical in the dance and it's in a way very therapeutic. Every time you finish a performance or I finish a performance, I feel happy and relieved in a way.
Where are you from?
I was born in the Ukraine, which is very far away. It's in the former Soviet Union, the Eastern block. My mom is actually Russian, and my dad is Greek. Their families immigrated to the Ukraine when they were just babies. I guess after they met and got married I showed up.
Do you ever get nervous when you're doing a dance?
Always. I always get nervous, and I think I like getting nervous because that gives you that extra adrenaline rush to do that much better of a job. And you want to always do the best job that you can. So you get nervous, if you feel you're not 100 percent ready, which you never do. I never feel 100 percent ready. I always wish I had another week to rehearse. So yes, nervous is good. Good nervous, anxious.
Who was your favorite partner?
From "Dancing With the Stars"? So we just wrapped up season 16 and now I've been on for 13 or 14 seasons. I've had a lot of great partners. I've danced with the person who created Apple, like the iPhones, the laptops, computers like Macs so one of my partners was the person who actually created a laptop, the first computer. He's a genius, can't dance at all, but he was very interesting to meet and to interact with. But I think my favorite partner was Ralph Macchio. You know exactly who he is. He was the Karate Kid. The Daniel son. So he was my partner in season 12 and we're still incredibly good friends. The whole Macchio family came to see the Broadway show ["Forever Tango"]. We just did a movie with Ralph that he wrote a beautiful screenplay about a boy who's actually 8 years old and is going through some personal family problems and together we help each other find the right way in life. So Ralph Macchio I think is definitely my favorite. But we can't say it out loud because there's a lot of favorite people. We don't want to offend anybody else.
In your career, what do you think you're going to do next and why?
I'm loving where my career is right now. I think it's incredible to have an opportunity to perform on Broadway, which is the biggest and the best stage in the world, but I would love to continue and pursue acting more. I just did a movie like I said and it's a different emotional release than dancing because now you have a dialogue and you have to become the character you're playing. So I would love to get into acting more, but continue dancing. I think dancing will always be a part of me. When I'm 99 years old and have a walker, I'll probably still do the cha-cha cha.
While you're not dancing what do you do for fun?
I love reading. I don't get enough time to read, but I have my Nook and every time I'm on a plane I pull it out. I love going to movies and doing normal stuff. Going to eat frozen yogurt, that we've been doing almost like twice a week while we're in New York. I love playing with my godson, he's 41/2 and super smart and super sweet and always keeps me on my toes. And just love spending time with my family because that's what matters the most.
What's your favorite style of dance?
It's like what's your favorite flavor. I love tango. I love tango because it's a whole story. You have the beginning, the middle, the end in the dance that when you finish the tango you feel like you completed the whole story. I love fun dances. I love the salsa, cha-cha. On "DWTS" we get to do a lot of styles in one season especially if we go all the way to the end. We have 11 weeks of competition and halfway through we start with two dances. So as long as I love the music, I love the style.
Was it easy to make a transition from "DWTS" to Broadway?
It's different. To be able to dance on TV you know like you have to think of camera angles and how it's going to be viewed from television what people are going to see at home. So you always keep that in mind. On Broadway it's live and you're only interacting with one side. Because you have, like in the theater you have three sides, we call them blind because there's no audience. The audience is only in front of you and even though you want to dance for them, it's always better if you dance for yourself and maybe become part of that experience. And they connect with you a lot better that way. Is it difficult, yes because every single day you're doing the same routine and it becomes almost like something that you just like a robot you kind of repeat, but you have to push that aside and find every single day find something new in the routine to make it special. Otherwise, you just go through motions. It is difficult but it is also extremely fulfilling because then after the shows over you go outside and you meet you fans. You meet people who come to the show and you get to interact with them and they tell you what they liked, what they loved.
Where was your first recital?
That was back in the Ukraine. My first recital that was a funny story. For some reason I invited my whole school to come and watch me do my very first dance recital, which was a huge mistake because I was so nervous back to your question. When I get to the stage and I see everybody there that I know staring at us, I get freaked out and I take my partner and I turn us around so now he's facing the front and I'm facing the back. And then he sees everyone and he gets nervous so he takes and puts me in front. So instead of dancing for the whole dance, we were just switching places. It was not very good and we didn't win for sure.
Is anyone like your relatives famous?
No, but I feel like when you become very close with someone and you become good friends like Ralph Macchio, I think he's very, very famous and he is not necessarily blood related, but he's like extended family now. I'm proud to say I'm somehow related to the Karate Kid through becoming friends with him and his family. You know what, yes, I think my great grandmother was an actress in Greece. I need to make sure. I can ask my dad about it, but she was some sort of a popular personality back in a day. Maybe I have a little bit of her talent. Maybe.