Elizabeth Berkley joins TV’s ballroom blitz

FOOTLOOSE: Elizabeth Berkley, who has been dancing since she was 5, says, “You can’t help but be happy when you’re watching people dance.”
FOOTLOOSE: Elizabeth Berkley, who has been dancing since she was 5, says, “You can’t help but be happy when you’re watching people dance.”
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Special to The Times

ELIZABETH BERKLEY is the host of Bravo’s “Step It Up & Dance,” which premieres Thursday. She also appears on “CSI: Miami” and runs self-esteem programs for young women. She starts work at 3 a.m.!

At a certain point, do you snap and become sort of Paula Abdul-ish?

I’m not sure I understand.

After hours of long work, one becomes nutty.

Oh, I get enough sleep. I take very good care of myself. Growing up as a dancer, you know your body so well, you know what to do to overcome something.

All the dancers I know live off cigarettes and Diet Coke and sometimes crystal meth.

I will say a lot of dancers do such beautiful things for their body and then they smoke a cigarette. I’ve never been a smoker, but I realized after taking yoga . . . in ballet you’re not encouraged to do a lot of breathing. I think in a weird way, a lot of dancers find relief in actually breathing. And strangely, the action of inhaling and exhaling -- though something that’s beyond toxic -- gives some sense of relief. But I find smoking to be disgusting.

The cigarette after yoga is the best cigarette of the day.

Terrible. I was raised really, really healthy, pretty much vegetarian and a very clean lifestyle, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I’m more addicted to the things that make me feel good -- endorphins after working out. Even when I get up early I’ll do cardio before work.

What is this dancing show, and why is it different from the other dancing shows? Why are people dancing on the TV all the time now?

You know what? I think it’s infectious. I think people have embraced it now. I can’t tell you why in our culture now people are loving it again. You can’t help but be happy when you’re watching people dance. And either people used to dance and are nostalgic or they wish they danced. Especially some of these shows that are live, it’s a high-wire act. It’s exciting to see how people push their bodies -- some of the shows where they’re a fish out of water, that’s enjoyable. On our show what’s really great is you’re watching people who have devoted lives to this art form.

It sounds intense!

It’s very competitive. The time frame is so short to learn the combinations. But that’s the real professional world. You show up on set, they show you the combination moments before you shoot it, and you’re on. Dancers don’t get a whole lot of reward. You’re background for a big star.

How much drama ensues?

Oh, really, I don’t know! We’ll have to see. I haven’t been there -- at their homes, when they’re rehearsing. There’s bound to be a lot of drama just by virtue of the intensity.

And also, like fashion designers, dancers are, let’s say, in touch with their volatility.

Well, I wouldn’t generalize like that. I’d say they’re very in tune with the way they express themselves physically. I wouldn’t say all dancers are . . .


No! It takes a tremendous amount of focus. You can’t be a great dancer if you’re cute. You can’t be a great dancer if you have a little talent. You have to do it every day. The work ethic is amazing. For me, as an actress, being a dancer has helped me. I’ve done it with my feet bloody. You just have this authority -- anything’s possible. A couple years ago I did “Hurlyburly” [on stage] with Ethan Hawke and Parker Posey; I had three days to learn it.

And you got good reviews!

Yeah, it was one of the greatest creative experiences I’ve ever had.

By the way, your website’s very pink.

Yeah, I wanted to create a place that feels very magical. Teenage girls and now college girls are doing the workshops I created -- we still need a little bit; I don’t know how old you are, we need that magical place you can believe in. And we deal with a lot of really intense issues. It can get pretty deep -- body image, health, fitness, goal-setting, family, you name it. I created the format for girls 11 to 17, and I started doing the workshops in Manhattan. I don’t go in and stand at a podium and say I have the answers. It’s more like a sleepover party.

You’re creating a secret army of empowered girls.

Hopefully it’s not too secret! It’s a sisterhood, if you will. I’m in negotiations right now to take the seed of the work that I do into a documentary show with MTV. It’s gonna be pretty powerful.

And you’re on some television show too?

I’m doing “CSI: Miami” now. One of my faves. Love it, love it. It’s the No. 1 show in the world.

Oh, really?

It started off juicy the first episode. The juiciness continues.

After the strike, I just never turned the TV on. Apparently it’s back!

Just so you know, it has continued. Shows are being filmed and aired, by the way. Just press the button.