Karina Smirnoff is about to have a perfect moment. A six-time U.S. world ballroom-dancing champion and professional dancer-starlet on one of the most popular shows on TV, Dancing with the Stars, she will have her moment not on camera nor even on a stage. She’s sitting in an upscale pizza place outside Los Angeles, talking about Jennifer Lopez—whom she coached for the 2004 flick Shall We Dance?—when from out of nowhere, who should appear? “Karina!” says J. Lo, sidling up in a pair of beautiful booty-hugging blue jeans. “Jennifer!” Karina responds. “I was just talking about you!” Karina stands, and heads turn as the two stunners give each other a nice…long… squeeze. For the next five minutes, La Lopez gushes about Karina, then bids her adieu with a kiss. Eyes welling, Karina smiles. “That,” she says, “was a perfect moment.” Karina’s day has come. The tautly woven performer is shaking her moneymaker these days—designing shoes for Bearpaw, promoting her new fitness DVD, Shape Up With Karina Smirnoff, and her makeup line with Girlactik Beauty. She also just opened her first dance studio. With rows of trophies from international competitions, she’s more highly decorated than General Patton. “There’s no luck,” says Karina. “There’s only opportunity and preparation. I’ve worked my butt off.” Has she ever. Smirnoff was born 33 years ago in what is now Kharkiv, Ukraine to a Jewish Greek dad and a Russian mother. “Couldn’t get a feistier combination than that, could you?” she laughs. As a child, she dove into gymnastics, ballet and ice-skating. At 11 she entered ballroom competitions, and three years later the family—which has no relation to the vodka concern—moved to the Bronx. “We had zero money and had to start from scratch,” she recalls. “My mom and I cleaned hair salons for 60 bucks a week while my dad distributed newspapers by foot because we had no car.” Karina supplemented the salon income with ballroom-dancing gigs at Russian restaurants so she could pay for dance lessons. By the time she was at Fordham University, double majoring in economics and information systems programming, she was already touring the world’s stages. Postgraduation, Karina committed fully to the dance floor. “Little by little I became a star in the ballroom world,” she says. “But outside of ballroom nobody knew who I was. And I wanted to conquer the world.” Then came Dancing with the Stars. Karina made her debut on season three, during which she famously began a two-year-long liaison with partner Mario Lopez. These days, however, Karina shares her most private dances with Brad Penny, a major league pitcher with the Detroit Tigers whom she met through mutual friend Chuck Liddell, former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title holder. Among Karina’s other interests are boxing, skydiving and shooting guns. “I’m fearless and love the adrenaline rush,” she says. As for her body, Karina has her own definition of sexy. You can see it all over these pages, but here it is in her own words: “Sexy is the confident energy a person produces. Sexy is the comfortable feeling of being who you are. Sexy is not just having beautiful lips, legs and arms; it’s beyond that. Sexy is soul.”
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