She's still got all the moves

SHE was a Fly Girl. She took off her top and shaved her head to tour with Madonna. And she's the only judge on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" whom we can understand completely.

Now, Carrie Ann Inaba, the reality-show choreographer, is directing the first "Dancing With the Stars" tour. The 38-city tour, which comes to Staples Center on Dec. 28, features five couples from past seasons of the competition.

Inaba recently took a lunch break at the Daily Grill in Burbank to talk about the tour, the show and her biggest love.

What can fans expect from the tour?

The goal for me was to try to bring the TV show to all the people who didn't get a chance to come and watch it live in L.A. We want to allow them to have this experience because it's so much fun. You get to dress up. Think of it as a night on the town and think of it as an elegant cocktail party all at the same time.

The "Dancing" finale had huge ratings. What do you make of that?

What happened to our little dance show? It's such an honor that people have tuned in. I know it sounds a little dorky, but my whole world revolves around dance. I'm not obsessed. [She glances at her publicist.] OK., I'm obsessed. These fries are so good.

It seemed like Jerry Springer was really touched by the whole experience. Did you sense that?

Oh, yes. In class, when I work with people, I see these breakthroughs all of the time, and it's a beautiful thing. It's not necessarily about people becoming fantastic dancers, but they find this new side of themselves, and it's the most rewarding experience. I choose to work with nonprofessionals. That's part of my specialty because you get to see this transformation that happens -- they get in touch with something new, they learn something new about themselves and they actually blossom as people.

God, these fries are so good.

It's hard to get a word in with your fellow judges Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli, right?

Hmmm. Yep. In the first show, I was intimidated by them because you see their rapport is amazing. It's like they're soul brothers or halves of the same person. Now, I feel really close to them and I really miss them. The three of us, the one thing we all share is that we love dancing. So much. No matter what comment is coming out of our mouths or what criticism, it's always coming from a place of love so that our show never feels negative.

Why don't you sit in the middle?

Len is the head judge. Plus, he's the tallest so he looks good in the middle. He and Jerry Springer are the most charming people I've ever met in my entire life. He's constantly coming into my trailer and reciting poetry and then reciting it again. And Bruno yells at him to shut up! Half the time, I don't understand what they're saying.

What is your first memory of dancing?

I have been dancing since I was 3. I was in this creative movement program, and we ran around in this open pavilion to music. The teacher gave us scarves to hold, and she said, "This is dancing." And to me, that's what it's always going to be. And it's light. It's joy. It's expressing your joy.

I'm so lucky that I grew up with that teacher because a lot of people grow up with ballet, and ballet is regimented.

So judging ballroom is a challenge for you, then?

Oh, yes! That's why I look stressed because there are rules and we have to follow them and I have to impose them. That's why I love the freestyle round.

[The waiter comes over to clear the table.]

No, wait. Don't take mine. Not yet. I just want these fries. I love eating. Thank God for working out.

-- Maria Elena Fernandez

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