Karina Smirnoff partnered with Roman Nabatov in 1996, and the pair placed 22nd at the U.S. Amateur Latin Championships. She switched partners for the 1999 British Open Dance Championships, where she finished in the top five in six events. In 2001, she switched partners again, and went on to dominate ballroom dance competitions for the next four years. In 2006, she competed on the hit TV show Dancing with the Stars.
Dancer. Karina Smirnoff was born on January 2, 1978, in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. As a child, Smirnoff suffered from severe but undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In order to channel her excess energy, Smirnoff's parents enrolled her in figure skating lessons at the age of 3. By the time Smirnoff was 5 years old, her activities included gymnastics, aerobics, piano lessons, and ballet. Smirnoff recalls, "I tried a little bit of everything because my parents wanted to keep me busy so I would be tired at the end of the day and finally stop going." When Smirnoff was 9 years old her parents, searching as always for outlets for their daughter's insatiable energy, signed her up for ballroom dance classes. Smirnoff quickly discovered her passion and talent for ballroom dance and dropped her other activities to concentrate exclusively on dancing.
Smirnoff's budding dance career was put on hold at the age of 14 when her family immigrated to the United States. After settling in New York City, Smirnoff put dancing on the backburner to concentrate on academics. She attended Christopher Columbus High School and the Bronx High School of Science. After graduating from high school, Smirnoff enrolled at Fordham University where she double-majored in economics and information systems programming and planned to attend law school. However, while still studying at Fordham, Smirnoff also resumed dance lessons. She studied rumba, jive, samba and waltz with various renowned dance instructors in New York City. After rekindling her childhood passion, Smirnoff decided to abandon her plans to become a lawyer and pursue a professional dance career.
In 1996, Smirnoff partnered with Roman Nabatov, and in their first dance competition the pair placed 22nd at the U.S. Amateur Latin Championships. Smirnoff then switched partners to dance with Paul Killick in the 1999 British Open Dance Championships, where they finished in the top five in six different events. In 2001, Smirnoff paired with fellow Ukrainian dancer Slavik Kryklyvyy, and the couple would go on to dominate ballroom dance competitions for the next four years. Smirnoff's many accomplishments during this period include five U.S. Latin Ballroom Championships, the World Trophy Championship and the Asian Open Championship. Smirnoff and Kryklyvyy also made a joint cameo in the 2004 film Shall We Dance starring Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere.
Impressed by her stunning good looks, intelligence and impeccable dance credentials, in 2006 ABC inked Smirnoff to appear on the third season of its popular reality TV series Dancing with the Stars. The show features professional dancers who partner with celebrities in a dance competition. Smirnoff paired with actor Mario Lopez and the couple finished second, behind Cheryl Burke and Drew Lachey. While competing together on the show, Smirnoff and Lopez also began a romance that lasted until they parted ways in 2008.
After her impressive 2006 debut, Smirnoff went on to star in six more seasons of Dancing with the Stars. Her varied list of celebrity partners included singer Billy Ray Cyrus; child pop star Aaron Carter; boxer Floyd Mayweather; computer guru Steve Wozniak; and chef Rocco DiSpirito. Smirnoff again mixed business with pleasure when she began dating fellow Ukrainian and Dancing with the Stars co-star Maksim Chmerkovskiy in 2008. The couple became engaged later that year but called off the engagement after nine months. Smirnoff never won Dancing with the Stars and left the show after seven seasons in 2009.
Already well established as one of the world's premiere ballroom dancers and a television celebrity, in 2009 Smirnoff took her talents to a new venue: Broadway. Smirnoff performed for two months in the Broadway production of Burn the Floor, a ballroom dance show that received rave reviews. The brief stint on Broadway fulfilled a lifelong dream of Smirnoff's. She said, "Broadway was a dream of mine as long as I remember. So when the opportunity presented itself, I thought it was a dream come true." After her first taste of life on the Broadway stage, Smirnoff says she is eager to return.
Smirnoff has also added animal rights activism to her growing list of activities. In 2009, she posed nude in a racy People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals advertisement over the caption, "I'd rather dance naked than wear fur."
Smirnoff says that she has no intention of slowing down the pace of her career. Once a child plagued by ADHD, Smirnoff still bursts with energy and relishes her nonstop lifestyle as a professional dancer and celebrity. Asked what it's like balancing dance practice with her growing list of activities, Smirnoff responded, "You end up practicing in the middle of the night. You're under-sleeping, overworking. But it beats any rollercoaster in the world."
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