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Chelsie Hightower is always on her toes. As one of the principal dancers on Dancing with the Stars, she spends 10 hours a day perfecting her moves. "When you're watching us on TV, you don't realize how technically and physically difficult dancing is," says Chelsie, 21, who has been paired with rodeo star Ty Murray and former Bachelor Jake Pavelka in previous seasons of the show. "You're doing extremely fast movements. It's difficult mentally, too, because you'll be thinking about 10 different steps at once."
As she twirled and leaped around the set at the FITNESS photo shoot, Chelsie shared with us her energy-boosting, stay-fit secrets.
So many celebrities have lost weight on DWTS. Why is dance such great exercise?
Because it works every part of your body. And even though it's hard, it's fun, so that keeps you going. Dancing has a lot of other benefits. It also lifts your spirits in that it loosens you up, makes you more outgoing, raises your confidence level, and relieves stress.
Besides practicing for the show, what's your typical workout routine?
I like to mix things up by taking jazz, ballet, and contemporary dance classes that are an hour and a half each. I also do the P90X Ab Ripper X DVD. Plus, I walk uphill near my home in Beverly Hills, stopping to do some lunges and push-ups to keep my heart rate up.
What's your hands-down favorite exercise?
Hiking. I grew up in the mountains of Utah, and my fondest memories are of camping with my parents and five brothers, waking up at 6 a.m. and climbing to the peak of the mountain. In Los Angeles, I go to Runyon Canyon. It's not anything like Utah, but it still reminds me of home.
Did you step up your workouts when you heard you were going to be in FITNESS?
Totally! I was on vacation with my family, so I hadn't eaten healthy for two weeks. When I got the call from my publicist, I was like, "That's so amazing!" But then 30 seconds later I thought, "Oh my gosh, what did I just commit to?" So I got busy: I ate six small meals a day with plenty of veggies and protein. I also went to the gym at least once a day, if not more.
How do you eat healthy when you're on the road?
I typically order a salad with chicken. You can get that anyplace, including fast-food restaurants. And I always carry almonds and red seedless grapes with me for snacking.
If you could put your personal motto on a bumper sticker, what would it be?
"Love yourself for your weaknesses and strengths. No one is flawless." I need to keep reminding myself of that, because I'm my own biggest critic.
What do you see yourself doing five to 10 years down the road?
I'd love to start a charity through which underprivileged kids could take dance classes free. When I'm going through something hard, I can take it out on the dance floor and forget about the worries. I think everyone should have the chance to experience that feeling.
Two of your fellow dancers, Cheryl Burke and Lacey Schwimmer, have been criticized for gaining weight. Is that kind of scrutiny intimidating?
When I started on the show, I felt the pressure to be thin, but you have to learn to not worry about it and to love yourself the way you are. If someone doesn't like how you look, it doesn't matter. It's okay if you're not a size 0.
Your bathroom scale: friend or foe?
I usually know my weight, but I don't live by the numbers on the scale. If I'm down a couple of pounds, I'll use it as inspiration, like, "Yay! Keep it up!" If I'm up a couple of pounds, I tell myself I probably just gained muscle.
Most inspirational celeb dancer on the show:
Rodeo star Ty Murray. "And I'm not just saying that because he was my partner. He's so kind. He was as much of a support system to me as I was to him. He was there for me when I was scared, and he was scared too, so we held each other up and built a real tight bond."
Who would be your dream dance partner on the show?
Justin Timberlake would be awesome, but that might be reaching too high. I'd love to team up with a World Cup soccer player. I watched the games this summer, and those guys are dope. They already have the drive, work ethic, and some footwork, so it would be fun to dance with one of them.
Most challenging partner
Former Bachelor Jake Pavelka. "If you don't have some sort of good relationship or chemistry, it's really hard to do well in the competition."
Favorite on-screen numbers
"I liked my salsa routine with Ty, which was set to 'Vehicle.' We had gotten bashed the week before, so we just went out there and had fun. With Jake, my favorite was our cha-cha number for 'Old Time Rock & Roll.' It was the first time I did an encore dance on the show, and it was the first time on DWTS that we saw a man in his tighty-whities."
"A spray tan is considered part of makeup and wardrobe on Dancing with the Stars, so every Sunday we can stop by the show to get one. With the hundreds of harsh lights on our set and the colorful, glittery costumes we wear, the tans make sure we don't fade into the background."
Best part of being on DWTS
"Opening people up to dance. So many fans say they started dancing because of me and the show. That's exciting!"
"Everything falls on you. If the choreography's not good, if the contestant doesn't dance well, it's your fault. Even the costumes and the music are my choices. That's a lot of pressure. Not to mention that 22 million people are watching every week!"
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, September 2010.