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9 Quick Questions for Carrie Ann Inaba

‘Dancing With the Stars’ judge hopes to encourage others who have health struggles

spinner image carrie ann inaba on orange ombre background
Photo Collage: MOA; (Source: Randee St. Nicholas/CBS via Getty Images)

Carrie Ann Inaba, 56, has been a judge on the popular Dancing With The Stars (DWTS) reality show for a staggering 32 seasons. “It takes me about a good month to recover from [the] stress [of the show],” she says. During her recovery period, Inaba, who suffers from chronic autoimmune disorders, is busy with her website Carrie Ann Conversations, which offers resources and support for people with similar health challenges. She shares how she’s adapted her workouts as she’s gotten older, her thoughts on aging and who she’d love to see compete on Season 33 of DWTS.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Who would you love to see as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars?

I would love to see Craig Ferguson. … He’s got that frame that I think would make for an excellent dancer, but also he’s got humor. And I think that that does really well on Dancing With the Stars. I also think that it would be nice to see somebody like Britney Spears. ... I think dancing can be very empowering, especially for somebody like Britney, who has always used dance as a tool for her own wellness.

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Is there another reality show you’d love to be a contestant on?

Special Forces: [World’s Toughest Test on Fox]. Something about that has always fascinated me. I would have loved to, when I was younger, do something like that. But now that I’m where I’m at, I know that it’s an impossible dream, because I can’t even leave the house without my heating pads. So it’s definitely a pipe dream, but that’s the show that I always watch and I go, “Oh, I wish I could do that.”

How have you adapted your workouts now that you are in your 50s?

Oh, I do much less intensive workouts. I used to do kickboxing and martial arts and dancing all the time. Because of the injuries in my neck — I have spinal stenosis — and from the autoimmune conditions and the fibromyalgia, I have changed it. Now I sit on a recumbent bike with my desk in front of me and I multitask. … I do a half an hour on the bike, or I do a half an hour on the treadmill, just walking. It doesn’t have to be so intense to give you the benefits. In fact, now I feel like I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, and I’m doing much-less-intensive workouts. I’m also doing Pilates, which is really important, because keeping flexible keeps you young. Keeping flexibility in your spine and making sure that everything stays open stops us from hunching over and starting to feel really old and rickety.

What else do you do to keep healthy?

It’s changed over the years, obviously, but eating well is a bigger [part of it] than I wish it was. I eat a lot of salmon ... I eat a lot of fruit. I eat a lot of vegetables. Luckily, I grew up in Hawaii where we just ate a lot of fruits and vegetables, so that’s really easy for me. It was figuring out the proteins that worked for me … also getting lots of rest. The most important thing lately has been really listening to my body. My generation, we were taught to push through pain, and especially as a dancer, I’ve always been taught that pain is not something you listen to — you ignore it and you go through it. There’s truth to that in some ways, because if you’re looking at courage, it really does require going past fear, which sometimes feels like pain. But what I’ve learned in the physical world and my body is that pain is really a message from inside your soul and your body to tell you to stop, to listen and to reassess. So that is maybe the number one rule that I live by, which is I listen for pain, because pain has been such a huge part of my life in the last 10 years.

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Who were your role models growing up?

My mom is just a strong independent woman. ... She does inspire me with her courage and strength. ... She’s funny. ... My mom always steps outside the rules. She’s kind of a rule breaker, and you would never guess it. She’s born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She’s Chinese/Irish. I think it’s because she’s mixed race that she has always felt that there’s no rules that she specifically has to follow, because she doesn’t fit in any category. And so, because of that, she’s very independent and she’s very outspoken. I’ve learned how to speak my truth from my mom.

Any Hollywood inspirations when you were beginning your career?

Madonna. I liked the way she was always reinventing herself. I’m sure she had fear, but she always seemed so unafraid. Even now, she’s reinventing herself again, she’s back on the road. She’s one of those people that never seems to stop. I had the opportunity of working with her when I was 23. I guess I can say she’s one of the hardest working people I know.

What else are you up to before the next season of DWTS begins?

I’m writing a book, and that’s where my focus is right now — telling my story and sharing my struggles. ... I believe that we’re all struggling in life. That’s my bill of rights. So if I can help somebody else struggle less in any way, shape or form, then that’s what I’m here for. ... I’ve been trying to write a book since I was in my 30s, but I didn’t have — I don’t want to say the ending — but I didn’t have the real lesson. This year, I finally learned my lessons, and I can finally speak from a place of authority on myself. ... I thought you figured it out in your 30s, but you don’t. I really do think you begin to figure it out in your 50s. A midlife crisis is not a midlife crisis — it’s a midlife celebration.

spinner image carrie ann inaba, derek hough, alfonso ribeiro and bruno tonioli behind table on dancing with the stars set
Inaba has been a staple on “Dancing With the Stars” since the show’s start in 2005.
Eric McCandless/DISNEY via Getty Images

What are some of those lessons you’ve learned?

I’ve learned that health is my number one focus, and I hope it is for everybody else. That not only includes physical health but also mental health and taking care of your body and soul and spirit. ... Nothing else works well. ... It’s important to take it one moment at a time ... take it one day at a time. I also believe that it’s important to reach out and find a community [and] to ask questions ... because sometimes the doctors have not experienced what you’re going through. … That’s why I started [my website] Carrie Ann Conversations, to try to give people a little bit of community.

What are your thoughts on aging?

I’ve never been afraid of getting older. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to it. It’s been a lot of fun. I enjoy getting older. I like the seniority that comes with it. I was thinking about that [phrase] “senior citizen” as I head toward being a senior citizen. … I looked up what “senior citizen” means, and it’s just like somebody who’s getting older … [but] that is not what it is. It’s about gaining seniority. It’s about having the wisdom and the experience to be somebody that has seniority. I started to really think of “senior citizen” as seniority, and with that, I realized I have all of this life experience behind me. I’ve learned so much, and I have so much to share, and I’ve enjoyed it.

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