Dance it Off! Karina Smirnoff's Fitness Tips

(Source: ABC, Charley Gallay/Getty Images North America)

Since I spent pretty much every weekend of my '20s (and many, now, in my '30s) lost on the dance floor of every dark club in town, it's no secret that I love dancing. It's also no secret that I'm not all that awesome at it (super-slow at learning choreography, for one thing.) But guess what? I don't even care. For the past year, I've been taking several classes a week, in styles ranging from hip-hop to jazz, tango to belly dance. Even when I don't get the steps (worst case: fall on my butt) it's always amazing, endorphin-filled fun.

I'm hardly alone in my new hobby. Certainly, TV shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance have helped make dance a major pop culture trend that celebs adore. But you don't need to be a star to shake it! From performance to physicality; costumes to music, emotion, and connection, dance is an amazing workout for your mind, body, and heart. (Plus, the clothes are great too.)

To inspire you to hit the floor, we chatted with DWTS instructor Karina Smirnoff (who was in New York teaching at JCPenney's New Year New You event) about dance's many benefits, and a few other tricks this stylish ballroom dancer uses to stay fit, healthy and happy.

Why is dance such an incredible workout?
To me, it's the best exercise because it works everything. It works your physical body, your muscles, you get slimmer, you get toned, long, lean muscles. It's a great mind workout, cause you're thinking of the steps you're trying to remember choreography, and it's an emotional workout, You get so involved in the dance and the moves, I think it's an amazing emotional release, and we all need that. People look for that emotional release all the time whether it's singing, working out, dancing... drinking––whatever.

Choreography aside, that connection with emotion is one reason people are sometimes afraid to take a dance class. What would you say to women who want to dance, but feel nervous? 
If you are a little nervous, come to a class with a friend. Feel like you have someone there who you know and feel comfortable with. Definitely, don't give up––give yourself at least a month before you decide whether this is for you or not, and then choose, try different instructors different classes different school. Everybody has their own method and sometimes it's a matter of finding someone who understands you and has the best approach for you. I feel like dancing is very personal and people do it for different reasons, so it's pretty much trial and error.

(Karina looked fit in JCPenney's Xersion and CityStreets Activewear lines)

When did you know dancing was going to be your life?

I did not know dancing was going to be my life and my career until I probably turned 21, 22.... I always loved dancing. I'm an only child within the whole family, so everybody had an idea of what I was supposed to be doing. I started with figure skating when I was only two years old, then ballet, gymnastics, piano lessons. And when I was about 10 or 11, my Mom brought me to a ballroom dance school in the Ukraine. And I fell in love because it had everything: the showbiz aspect, the art aspect, and the fitness aspect. You dress up, you do your makeup and hair, you wear amazing outfits, and you get to artistically express yourself.

It's funny, when I try a new dance class, once I get the choreography I feel like I stop thinking. But I've read that learning choreography actually stimulates a different part of your brain, like learning a musical instrument or a foreign language.
You're working out, you're sweating––you're full-on in the moment. When you go jogging, you know you're working out. But when you're dancing, you're having fun, you're having a blast, whether it's natural for you or not natural, whether it comes easy or hard, you're involved in the action of dancing and at the same time you have all the benefits; the physical, the mental, the emotional. That's why it's the best workout there is.

What else do you do to stay fit?
I try different classes, I love taking dance classes that I have not been trained in. I even tried Alvin Ailey when I was in college. I love mixing it up, I love Bikram yoga even though I think it's extremely difficult, but I love how every single joint opens up. I like Soul Cycle, I do [Israeli self-defense] Krav Maga sometimes. A friend brought me to a class, I really enjoyed kicking the bag, I think the bag won the first time! It's cool because you actually learn how to fight. So if you're ever put in a situation where you have to defend yourself you have a couple of moves under your belt.

Cool. Finally, what are you wearing today for your workout?
JCPenney has a line of clothing, it's called Xersion and CityStreets collection. Everything I'm wearing is from Xersion, and it's great. It's super cute, and comfortable, I love the colors, it's got UV protection, and it's very budget friendly.

Dancing With the Stars' 18th season debuts this February on ABC. Karina also appears in Ralph Macchio's short film Across Grace Alley, which screens at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Want more Karina? Browse her lookbook, here:

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