Karina Smirnoff is best known to the general public as a professional dancer on the hit show “Dancing with the Stars”, winning the13th season with army veteran and soap opera star J. R. Martinez. This current season, she is teamed up with football star Jacoby Jones, and her team is once again favored to win.
Off the dancefloor, Karina recently got involved with Bright Future International, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to funding educational programs, cultural projects, and events that foster positive values such as compassion, kindness, and love and encourage people to share these values with others.
YH had the chance to catch up with the talented dancer and talk more about her involvement with Bright Future International, being a favorite on the current season of “DWTS”, her desire to spread the love and appreciation of dance and the arts to the youth, and more!
YH: You are currently involved with Bright Future International and the Beyond the Ballet event; tell us more about that.
KS: It’s an incredible foundation; Bright Future International was established in 2010 by Anthony Melikhov, who is doing an incredible job around the world, not just in the USA but also in Panama, Russia, and some of the African countries like Burundi, Rwanda, and Kenya. It’s not only a foundation; it’s a charity (non-profit) that allows people to be introduced to the world of art. It helps teach people to express themselves and learn core values by being in the arts, values like love, kindness compassion, discipline, and patience. I’m super excited to be involved with them. The event they are doing in New York City is called Beyond the Ballet; it’s on May 8 at the Beacon Theatre in NY, which is the historic theatre district. And I’m super excited because we will have performers and stars from the American Ballet theatre, the Martha Graham Dance Company, and the Metropolitan Opera performing on the stage with the future stars of arts. We have an 11-year-old cello player from Russia, who is magnificent, and we have a dance troupe from Panama who was started by BFI and now they are coming to NY to perform. I will be MC’ing the event and I will be bringing my partner, Jacoby Jones, my partner from "DWTS". I couldn’t be more excited and passionate about the event and the cause.
YH: Beyond dance, you are also involved in cultural projects and events that foster positive values in communities. What inspired you to do this?
KS: When we emigrated from the Ukraine with my parents, I was only 14 years old. I danced my whole life. Back in the Ukraine, my parents put me into figure skating, gymnastics, ballet, piano, and ballroom dancing. But when we came to the States, we had to start from scratch. We didn’t have a dollar to our name. I couldn’t continue dancing because we simply couldn’t afford it, and there wasn’t an opportunity for me to take up a different form of art. So, for three years, I searched for an outlet to express myself and to be able to direct my energy in a good way, but I couldn’t find one and I missed it. So, I think it’s really important for children that are still forming as individuals and becoming their own adult to be able to direct them into the right frame of mind and into thinking from a place of love. And that’s what BFI does, and I wish BFI was around when I was looking for my outlet, but that was a few years before they came on the scene.
YH: Being one of the favorites on the current season of "Dancing With The Stars", how do you feel this season has gone so far? Anything you would have done differently?
KS: I love everything from this season so far. I have an incredible partner. We had a late start, by missing two out of three weeks of rehearsal because Jacoby had a knee injury, and he had to have surgery, but I wouldn’t change a thing. We are having a blast. He is incredibly sweet, funny, and charming, and he loves to dance. He genuinely enjoys it. So, even when he doesn’t get the steps and starts to get frustrated with himself, I know he goes home and does his homework, because the next day he shows me the steps and they are way better than before. Jacoby Jones is doing fantastic, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.
YH: You have now been involved with "DWTS" for years. What about "DWTS" today makes you excited about continuing to make it a priority in your life?
KS: I had a very colorful dancing career. I got to travel around the world and experience different cultures and meet different people, and I loved the opportunity to do so. But when you get on "Dancing With The Stars", everything is put in perspective, because now you are put in people’s homes. People are watching on TV and they are enjoying the Cha Chas and the Fox Trot, and dancing has now become its own form of art in the limelight, so I’m very honored to be a part of the show. I love being on "DWTS", you get to meet people that you would never meet otherwise, and you get to have the opportunity to give back. I probably wouldn’t have an opportunity to get involved in BFI if it wasn’t for "Dancing With The Stars". I’m ever so grateful to have that chance and give back in any way possible.
YH: Before becoming a dancer, you actually graduated from Fordham University, with a double-major in Economics and Information System Programming. Now you are known world-wide as one of the top dancers (talk about a career change!). How did you get involved/inspired to be a dancer instead of continuing on the path of your studies?
KS: Well, I was always nervous about making dancing my one and only career choice, because, before "DWTS" and before “So You Think You Can Dance”, dancing was more of a background act for performing artists and for music artists, and as much as I loved dancing, I didn’t know if it was a possible career choice. But, having so much presence of dancing on national TV now allows people to have a career in dancing, and as much as I love learning about economics and I.T., I love dancing that much more.
YH: What is your favorite type of dance, and why?
KS: [laughs] That’s hard. Who’s your favorite kid? It’s impossible to pick one. It all depends on who you are partnered with, and the choice of song you’re dancing to. For me, dancing is acting, acting without words, acting with your body, and if you have a great piece of music and great choreography, it would be one of your favorite dances because you can put your feelings and emotions into it.
YH: When you finally decide to hang up your dancing shoes, what will be your plans for after "DWTS"?
KS: I don’t know how I’m going to do this because it’s a way of life. I wake up and I think about dance move choreography, it’s just so much a part of me that I think the only way I would be able to finally retire, so you speak, is by me being involved with BFI and helping other kids follow the path that I have. Being able to learn about you through the world of art, pushing yourself, and giving back would be a priority for me.
YH: If you could go back in time to a 12-year-old Karina and offer one piece of advice, what would that be?
KS: You know, back in the day, we didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have the form of social media that we have today, so I would say be patient, be kind, and come from a place of love and continue to learn and better yourself. But nowadays, kids have the opportunity to go online. So, what I would tell a 12-year-old Karina today is simply go online and check out BFI.org, cause that’s how you can get information on how to get involved and start learning the core values of the life.
For more information about Bright Future International and to purchase tickets for Beyond the Ballet, (taking place on May 8, 2013, at New York’s Beacon Theatre) please visit their websites! You can also follow Karina on Twitter and catch her tonight on an all-new episide of "Dancing With The Stars" at 8pm on ABC!
In the meantime, check out Karina's visit to the YH Studio with last season's "DWTS" partner, Apolo Anton Ohno, below: