Nothing can stop internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer Carolyn Smith. Not even cancer, which she still keeps battling fiercely with the power of positivity.
Born in Paisley (Scotland), the popular “Strictly Come Dancing” Italian Edition head judge has won millions of locals’ hearts along the way and been an inspiration for all those ladies on the road to unravel their journey.
On a mission to help women to reconnect with their inner goddess, she has launched and then promoted “Sensual Dance Fit” classes across Europe and is now branching out to the UK.
CrunchyTales has met the untamed celebrity who shows the world our best is yet to come.
Carolyn, you always say: “keep smiling and be positive no matter what”. How has this approach helped you to achieve your goals in life despite a difficult time?
That phrase has been following me my whole life. My mother used to say “smile no matter what” and I’ve learned that in front of everyone we should never show the moments when we are a little bit desperate. Let’s say; it’s only when you go home that you start to do your laundry and then get it out of your system. So, for me, that’s something very important and it’s helped me in every single situation of my life.
You have been the Italian “Strictly Come Dancing” President of the jury for 15 years now. How do you feel the show has evolved in terms of diversity and inclusion?
The Strictly Come Dancing Italian Edition is very inclusive in many ways. Since Arlene Phillips – who was a judge in the British version – was taken off of the panel because of her age, several things have changed. You know, she’s a great choreographer and when she was taken off the show, some years ago, there was a big “blow” about it. And that started to open up a situation not only in the UK but also here in Italy.
In my opinion, what’s now giving value to the show is seeing more people of a certain age being involved. You know, I believe they have more experience and charm, they also know the system. I have to say that here in Italy, Milly Carlucci, who is in charge of the programme and a little bit ahead of the BBC sometimes, has influenced the Italian edition in such a good way. For instance, we’ve been the first ones to have different same-sex couples on the show as well as a dancer with disabilities and a transgender dancer. So, we have been very open.
Your outfits are always bright and gorgeous. What would you suggest to those mature women who may struggle to renovate their looks?
Women of a certain age should be more daring, unfortunately, some care too much about what other people think. There are no rules and if you feel to wear a miniskirt in your 50s that is your choice. The way you dress up and hold the clothes is very important, yet very personal. I would say to most women; look in the mirror, stare at it very closely, and don’t give up on anything you would like to do. Just do it with class, with taste and have fun. Above all, be creative. That’s what actually inspired me to launch my brand “I Am A Woman First“. My “Maxi Maglie“, very light, versatile, draped and flowy oversized jumpers are made to help everyone feel fantastic. Something every woman would look absolutely amazing in, no matter what her age.
How has your relationship with the mirror changed over the years?
Let’s say, I’ve always had a good relationship with the mirror because being a dancer is something I’m familiar with. You know, at first, you look into the mirror to get things right, you might be critical but in a constructive way, and then you use it to appreciate the beauty of movement and all the work that has been done with the choreography. When you get a little bit older, however, things may change.
After cancer, I started to look in the mirror in another way. I know I have to bring out positivity even when there is nothing positive about it. I think it’s important to keep smiling, then literally grab a hold of that 1% you still like as if it were the last thing in your life and then start to build up, make something up until you actually start to find positive things. Work on yourself and keep going forwards.
You are one the strongest supporters of cancer prevention and one of the most inspiring celebrities in Italy for those who are still battling it. What would you suggest to those ladies who may feel a little defeated?
I’ve always been a great supporter of cancer prevention campaigns as my sister, unfortunately, died of it. When it happened to me, it was totally different to what I thought. In Italy, I’ve realised it’s still taboo to talk about it or even to pronounce its name, while in the UK and in the USA, we actually mention health situations with less drama. I remember I used to teach English in a kindergarten, but once they discovered that I had cancer the mothers didn’t like it and literally turned their back on me. I said: – it’s not a virus, you can’t catch it, it’s something just inside- but they didn’t seem to understand.
So, I thought to myself – I’ve got a very small voice but I’m going to use it. Let’s talk about it. I think I’ve broken down a very very thick wall about this taboo, now we can actually talk about cancer on TV. I know, it’s a difficult subject and I’m trying to give as much support as I can to other women. I think we should get it out of our system and stop living with it very negatively.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt from dancing?
Discipline probably. Dancing for me is everything, it’s the air that I breathe. What I’m trying to give to my students are the same principles I was brought up with. It’s something you can apply to your everyday life. So, for me, whether it’s coming down here to do an interview or going on to the dance floor, is exactly the same. You’ve got to have your principles and your thoughts in the right place, on and off the floor.
You know, during my first period of chemotherapy I kept saying to the doctors – Thank God I’m a dancer-. Because it helped me a lot. If I wasn’t a dancer today, I honestly don’t think I would be who I am at the present moment and I would be very fragile. You know, I’ve got pain 24 hours a day. If I didn’t have this solid structure I couldn’t imagine what it would be like.
Sensual Dance Fit is the first fitness program designed for all women who wish to rediscover their sensuality, elegance and femininity. How was this beautiful project born and what advice would you like to give to those middle-aged women who struggle to unravel their journey into beauty?
Well, everything started when I went through the first part of cancer therapy. I was told that it would take away the sensation in my feet and hands. I couldn’t believe it. I said – that’s not gonna happen to me because I’m Wonder Woman-. Unfortunately, I underestimated the situation and the chemo soon took away everything I’d worked for in my life as a dancer. I had to struggle even walking and I just couldn’t feel where my body was going. I knew I had to take the situation into hand and had to do something.
Stupidly, I went to the gym and I started to do exercises. It was one hour of “total body” and it was an absolute disaster. I went home started to think a little bit, and cried a lot. And then I went into my dance studio, sat on a chair, looked in the mirror and thought – OK the whole of your life you have said dancing is a healer, dancing can help. You’re such a hypocrite: you give advice to the other ones but you’re not listening to yourself.
So, I started to do my exercises with the help of a chair. It was very painful at the beginning. However, after a while, I was getting some results and later on, that chair turned out to be a great prop for my choreographies as well as a way for many women attending our classes to get a little bit more fit. The result was mind-blowing. Today, we have 150 schools in Italy and we’re now branching out to the UK. We started out thinking of working with women of a certain age – between 40 and 60, but now we have mixed classes, with women of different ages. They all get on together like a house on fire.
How exactly do you inspire women to find their inner goddess and confidence with your fitness programme?
Well, you know “Sensual Dance Fit” is not just a mix of music and movements in front of a mirror. I also do a sort of storytelling. I always use songs which have a meaning behind them. Songs about women trying to break free of certain rules and regulations that men have done or said or written. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t exclude men, but we have to feel that we can take control of our life. I think women have to look in the mirror and start appreciating what they see because most of them always find some defects. I always say: find out what you like and then start to appreciate it even that 1%. Sooner or later you’ll start to see other good things, and maybe you’ll realise your defect is something unique.
I invite women to really look deep inside their eyes because this is another thing which most women cannot do. That’s something I always notice when they start our lessons. So I try to encourage ladies to do that, to see their new selves in the mirror. I help them to open up and appreciate themselves and have a good time. You know, we shouldn’t be defined by age, size, height or weight. I’m 62 and I love my face and my wrinkles as every single one has a story behind it.
A lot of things on my plate. I’m planning to open more “Sensual Dance Fit” schools abroad, especially in the UK. I also want to develop more items for my brand “I Am A Woman First” and write my second book. The first one “Ho Ballato Con Uno Sconosciuto” was fun but now I want to write a self-help book, and I want to literally write it by myself, in my own way, in Italian even if it might have some basic grammatical mistakes.
At the end of the day, I believe the most important thing that has to come out is the message. Talking about new challenges, I’m also working on a big event. I’m thinking of a big masterclass and a dinner gala for over 1500 women.
Finally, you and your husband are a solid long-standing couple. How did you manage to stay together for so long?
We’ve been together since 1989 so that’s a long time, our best secret is to keep fighting, keep making it up, and then repeat. Stop. And let’s say, have faith, have trust in one another. You know, we work in a business with plenty of exciting and beautiful dancers, and some people can lose their heads.
We’ve always said – if something has to happen we need to talk to one another, sort it out or break up and have a new relationship. So far we’re still together.