At New Year’s Eve, many people will dress up and put on their dancing shoes as they head out to see in 2013. Some will have been inspired to learn to dance by Rai Uno’s successful TV series ‘Ballando con le Stelle’ (Dancing with the Stars). Similar in format to the British TV show ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, ‘Ballando con le Stelle’ features celebrities with professional dance partners competing in ballroom and Latin dances. The show’s head judge is dancer and choreographer Carolyn Smith.
Born in Paisley Scotland, Smith has dedicated her life to dance: ballet, modern, jazz and, in particular Latin American. By the age of 15 she was competing at world-class level, reaching the finals of the British Open and Closed Championships, World and European Championships, and she became a Grand Slam finalist. Smith lives in Italy where she has continued to forge a career in the dance world as a competitor and judge of international competitions in Latin American dance. She works as a dance coach, and has taught European and World Champions. Smith’s experience as a dancer and love for fashion led her to create the Dance Naturals brand of dance shoes. Her love for dogs has given ‘Ballando con le Stelle’ its very own canine mascot too: Sir Scotty Smith MBE.
When did you become a dancer?
I started when I was five-years-old. My parents lived in the centre of Glasgow across the road from a very famous dance hall, the Plaza Ballroom, which was where the most famous [ballroom] dancing competitions were held. My parents and grandparents were always going to the Plaza, so I grew up around dancing and music.
How long have you lived in Italy and what brought you here?
I came here on 11 December 1982, nearly 30 years ago. I got married to an Italian, a dancer, from Torino in 1983 but the marriage didn’t last and we separated in 1989. Under Italian law a divorce takes ages, so it took 10 years. I then remarried another Italian and a dancer, Tino Michielotto.
When did you set up the Carolyn Smith Dance Academy in Rome and what kind of dancing do you teach there?
I’ve been teaching dance since I first came to Italy in 1982, but the Carolyn Smith Dance Academy opened in 2011. Because of ‘Ballando con le Stelle’ people kept asking me to be their teacher, but I was travelling around the world teaching and coaching five world [dance] champions. Then my personal coach, Ali Campbell, suggested I do something with my profile in Italy. So I decided to open a dance studio for social dancing providing lessons on a personalised basis. People can have lessons with me, [‘Ballando con le Stelle’ professional dance partner] Stefano Di Filippo or take group lessons. We give pupils a teacher who knows how to dance as their partner, so if a husband and wife want lessons, we split them up and give them two different teachers so that they learn faster and get to dance together more quickly.
Are Italians good dancers?
Yes, because of the culture they love social dancing, and Italians are in demand in the ballroom dance world. Russian and Ukrainians are in demand as girls, but Italian men are in demand because of their look, passion and dedication.
How did you get involved with the TV show ‘Ballando con le Stelle’?
I joined the show for the fourth series in 2007. One of my colleagues, [former World Professional Dance Champion, teacher and coach] Espen Salberg, had been on the judging panel but was leaving to live in Bali. He’s from Norway, and the show was looking for another foreigner who was a top coach and could speak Italian to take his place. I was in Naples teaching when an assistant to the show’s presenter Milly Carlucci telephoned me [to discuss being a judge on the show]. I thought someone was playing a practical joke and put the phone down. Ten minutes later a friend telephoned me to say that Milly’s secretary would be calling me. Then I rang back, apologised and went to Rome. At first I didn’t want to do the show as I was so busy, but Milly convinced me to do it and I’m glad as it’s such a great experience.
You’ve met many famous people through your job, is there anyone in particular who you think had a natural talent for dancing?
A few, but the most natural dancer has been the [Italian] actor Lorenzo Crespi who partnered [professional dancer] Natalia Titova on ‘Ballando con le Stelle’ in 2010. Some weeks into the series he walked out and then left the show. If he had stayed he could’ve won the competition.
Why did you design your own dancing shoes and what’s special about them?
In 1994 my husband and I had to do a show in a very famous competition in Italy, and I wanted my own shoes: I love high fashion and I have one room at home full of shoes. I went to a shoemaker near my home and asked him if he could make four pairs of shoes in buffalo leather to my design. After the show people asked me where I’d bought my shoes. Then shops started calling me and asking if I could make the shoes. So in 1995 I fell into being a shoemaker. At the beginning it was a disaster. I knew nothing about making shoes and had to throw away the first two collections, so I had to learn quickly. I sold the business in 2010 as I was rushed off my feet. The company that makes the shoes bought it and I’m still involved in the design process.
Who is Sir Scotty Smith MBE?
My new Yorkshire Terrier, my old one - the mascot on ‘Ballando con le Stelle’ - Princess Miky, died of a heart attack after an operation in 2011. The ‘Scotty’ in his name is because I’m Scottish and ‘Sir’ because I wanted him to have a title. A friend suggested ‘MBE’, but I thought I couldn’t give him an order of chivalry, until the friend said it stands for ‘Making Better Everything’ [not ‘Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’]. He’s amazing and was a year old on 7 July . He was on ‘Ballando con le Stelle’ every week for 14 weeks but he’s so young he fell asleep after 10 minutes and so then we’d take him downstairs to my changing room.
What do you like most about Italy?
I love everything – the food, the fashion, the people – it’s easier to say what I don’t like. The one thing I can’t stand about Italy is the government. I’ve always felt part of Italy: I realised why about six years ago when I went back to Scotland and took a trip down memory lane visiting my first and second home. I met an ex-neighbour and remembered that I’d been brought up alongside two Italian families, who were neighbours. My mother and the Italian women were all pregnant at the same time and so for the first five years of my life I mixed with their children, ate Italian food, and so on. The first time I went on holiday to Italy I was about 13-years-old, and I told my mother that one day I’d marry an Italian and live in Italy, there was something about it that meant it felt like home.
Smith’s personal website is at and she tweets at @CarolynSmith51. For information on the Carolyn Smith Dance Academy see: www.carolynsmithdanceacademy.com. For details of the Dance Naturals range of shoes she pioneered see: www.dancenaturals. To know more about Rai Uno’s ‘Ballando con le Stelle’ see: www.ballandoconlestelle.rai.it. The most famous puppy on Italian television, Sir Scotty Smith MBE, is on Twitter at @SirScottySmith.