Cover Girl Confidential: Karina Smirnoff

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When did you start dancing?

I have ADHD, and my parents were always looking for ways to make me tired! When I was about 9, my grandma took me to a dance studio. I remember walking in and seeing the dresses and the colors and the couples and was like, Wow, I want to do that! But I had to audition. In the Ukraine, you have to qualify for that school. I practiced and practiced and made it!

Did you continue dancing when you moved to the U.S.?

We came when I was 14, but I couldn’t take lessons again until I was 16 because we could not afford it. We had to start from scratch when we immigrated — my parents slept on a pool float that they would have to blow up several times during the night because it would deflate, and we ate every other day. Eventually, my dad found an immigrant kids’ dance studio in Brooklyn, [New York], and the director would get us little jobs here and there, doing a Russian dance in a restaurant on the weekend, for instance. But for that kind of thing, you could get paid 20 bucks! That added up and eventually I could pay for my classes.

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When did you turn pro?

I was in college at Fordham, and the job I was at was actually going to pay for me to go to law school, but then I was approached by a guy from England who wanted to dance with me. He was a pro and was significantly better than I was, and he wanted me to move to England to compete as his partner. I went back and forth about it but eventually realized that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I could not pass it up. So I took a leave of absence and went for it. When I was in England, I turned pro.

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