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'Dancing With the Stars' Pro Karina Smirnoff Dishes About Partner Ralph Macchio, Their Competition & More

by Pat Gallagher, posted Mar 18th 2011 10:00AM
Karina SmirnoffSeason 12 of 'Dancing With the Stars' is here (premieres Mon., March 21, 8PM ET on ABC) which means it's time for 11 random celebrity contestants to try out their dancing skills on national TV yet again.

Back for her ninth season as a pro partner, dancer Karina Smirnoff is paired up with the 'Karate Kid' himself, Ralph Macchio.

This season's cast also includes: actress Chelsea Kane (partner Mark Ballas); WWE's Chris Jericho (Cheryl Burke); NFL pro Hines Ward (Kym Johnson); reality star Kendra Wilkinson (Louis van Amstel); actress Kirstie Alley (Maksim Chmerkovskiy); Deejay Mike Catherwood (Lacey Schwimmer); Czech model Petra Nemcova (Dmitry Chaplin); rapper Lil Romeo (Chelsie Hightower); boxer Sugar Ray Leonard (Anna Trebunsakaya); and talk show host Wendy Williams (Tony Dovolani).

But will Smirnoff and Macchio be able to Foxtrot, Samba, Waltz, Paso Doble, Jive and Tango their way past all of them to win that coveted Mirror Ball trophy?

We caught up with Smirnoff to talk all about this season -- what she thinks her chances are with Macchio, some show controversies from seasons past and her stress levels on elimination nights. She also dished about her recent engagement and some of her previous high-profile relationships, with fellow 'Dancing' pro-dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy and former 'Dancing' partner Mario Lopez.

How did you feel when you found out your celebrity partner this season was Ralph Macchio?
I thought: I'm with Ralph Macchio, the 'Karate Kid' and Johnny Cade of 'The Outsiders.' I love this guy!

Karina and Ralph MacchioDoes he seem to have some dancing talent?
He does. He has natural rhythm. Granted we have been working really, really hard just because this show is all about: what you put in is what you're going to get out of it. He wants to do really well so I couldn't be happier.

Do you think you two have a chance of winning this year?
You know, we are going to work our butts off to make sure we do the best that we can. At the end of the day I do want to win, and I know Ralph wants to win. We can't just say, "Oh, we're here to win it -- all we want is the Mirror Ball trophy," because then you forget to enjoy the actual process of the show. And it is great to interact with the celebs and the dancers. You come up with choreography, character, costumes. If you're on this highway only to get the Mirror Ball trophy, it almost takes away all the pleasure and fun that the competition has to offer.

Some of the pros have won twice -- Derek, Mark, Julianne and Cheryl -- and you've never won. I know you were happy for Emmitt Smith and Cheryl winning season 3, but how did you feel about coming in 2nd to them? Were you surprised that you and Mario Lopez didn't win?
I was because as much as I did like Emmitt and Cheryl -- they did an amazing job -- I knew as a dancer, in my heart, that Mario was, by far, a better dancer. He was able to produce a better quality of dancing. We were like in the lead the whole season, up until the finals. And that's the main reason I keep telling Ralph: I know it's incredibly difficult, and your body is hurting in places you didn't even know muscles exist. Just remember that you have like only four days to create that routine and character. And then you only have one chance on the dance floor.

You and Mario were such a cute couple, and you dated. When you're dating your dance partner, is that easy or harder to coach him?
It was a season when we weren't in love yet but we were falling in love, and it was exciting, the butterflies were flying so it was definitely exciting and fun and passionate. When we had fights, we had like real fights like a couple does. When we were happy, we were really happy. It was intensified -- all the emotions even more just because we were kind of getting together. We did date for two years, and he's an amazing dancer, and he's a great guy. I know he's a dad right now, so I wish him all the best. It was one of my favorite seasons, absolutely.

Let's talk about one of your other partners, Billy Ray Cyrus. He's a wonderful guy, but bless his heart, he had two left feet. The judges were often hard on Billy Ray, and he wasn't happy with some of their criticism. Did you have to give him a lot of hugs back stage?
I did. You kind of have to be not only smart, but compassionate. You always have to remember it's a TV show so if the judges were praising everyone, it's not going to be exciting to watch, and it's not going to make it a real competition because they do call out whatever they see. Sometimes they might be very colorful in their criticism, and you just have to keep reminding yourself that it is a TV show, and it has to be entertaining. But, yes, [people] get hurt feelings, and you feel very protective of your partner because he's like your dancing baby. He came in not knowing what a Foxtrot or Cha Cha is, and at the end of the preparation for the show, you have to hold them. Yeah, you do want to shield him from the criticism but at the same time, you want to direct his thought process into not hearing the cruel comments. You have to make sure you direct him to concentrate on the constructive criticism.

Can you size up your competition this year yet? Do you get a chance to see everyone dance, and who do you think might be your toughest competition this season?
You know, 'DWTS' is a competition of popularity, personality and dance ability, so it might not take the best dancer to win the whole show or it might be the best dancer. It depends on the popularity and the personality level as well. If the people do want to watch the journey -- they want to experience the journey of the celebrity starting with no dance experience and going through all the ups and downs and learning the dances. If there is no personality it's a little boring to watch. This season we have very colorful personalities from Kirstie Alley to Wendy Williams to Lil Romeo. We have huge popularity based celebs from WWE (Chris Jericho) and from the NFL (Hines Ward) ... it's could be anyone's game.

'DWTS' Season 12 cast

The fans really become attached to all of the pro dancers, and feel like they know you. You and Maksim were engaged and everybody thought you two were the cutest couple and were disappointed when you broke up. What happened?
We've known each other for a very long time, and we thought that we had something bigger than what it really was. We both definitely embraced that experience while we had it wholeheartedly, and at this point he has moved on and I have moved on. I wish him all the best in life and hopefully it's vice versa too.

Are you two still friends?
We're good; we're still very professional. At the end of the day we both love what we do. This job is very important to us, and we would never do anything to jeopardize it.

You're now engaged to major league pitcher Brad Penny. Congratulations! How did you meet him?
Thank you! I actually wasn't ready or willing to start dating [for awhile]. At that point, I wanted to just kind of take some time and enjoy myself. But [Ultimate Fighter] Chuck Liddell was on the show on season nine, so he kept telling me I've got to meet his friend. And I was like, "No, that's cool, but thanks," and then we were at the same place at the same time, and Chuck called Brad, and he came over, so we met. Like from that point on, the rest is history I suppose.

Tuesday night is elimination night. How tense is that when the music starts playing where you find out if you're safe or you're in the bottom two or three? You always smile through that!
You have to because otherwise I would probably start sobbing. [Laughs] You realize it's a TV show, and you realize it's entertainment but when you're under that red light, you take it bloody seriously. It's a lot of pressure. I call it my diet night because no matter what it is, you usually lose between five to seven pounds just on Tuesday from all the stress.

Bristol Palin on 'DWTS'Some of the celebrities put themselves on the line with the voting public. Bristol Palin was raked over the coals last season in the media and from the bloggers. Did all of you rally around her when she was going through the criticism?
It's tough! This is season 12, and it took me a couple of seasons to stop reacting to the blogs because you have to remind yourself sometimes these blogs ... they just write mean, stupid comments just because they think they can get away with it. You have to remind yourself to be strong and not let it get to you. I remember the first season [I was on], I would read a blog or an article and I would be crying for days. I'm thinking, "Why are people saying those things? This is not true."

Yes, we do help each other. Like Bristol, last season, people were just mean and cruel to her. At the end of the day, she's a young girl who just tried to dance the best she could. If you don't like her, don't vote for her. It's almost like I feel people want to be disparaging. I think Whoppi Goldberg said it the best: "Opinions are like a--holes, everybody has one." That is so true.

You'll be attending the Reality Rocks Expo in the Los Angeles Convention Center on April 9-10 where fans can meet their favorite reality TV Stars. Tell us about that.
It is actually a great opportunity, not only for the fans and the people that love certain shows and the characters on the shows, but for people like me. I know DeAnna Pappas from the 'Bachelorette,' I know Eric Roberts is a huge name and a great actor, and a lot of people from the entertainment industry have an opportunity to go there and talk about their products, talk about their projects, meet the fans and sign autographs. To be honest, having it in the middle of the season of 'DWTS' is like a cherry on top of the cake. Because not only do people get to watch and hopefully root for Ralph and me, but they can meet us in person.

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Pat & Dick

Hines Ward and his partner are the very best,he is so light on his feet and so is she.

March 31 2011 at 6:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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March 20 2011 at 11:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

im tired of Tony never getting a great partner. he is a wonderful dancer. Go Tony. win win win

March 20 2011 at 9:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm so glad Karina is back on the show. She is, by far, the best dancer on the show. I always vote for her and her partner just so I can see her dance - she is a PERFECT dancer!

March 20 2011 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tiarebeach's comment

Lots of legs

March 20 2011 at 8:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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