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At age 74, designer Betsey Johnson is still doing the splits — and cartwheels

Fashion designer Betsey Johnson.

Fashion designer Betsey Johnson.

(Betsey Johnson / Betsey Johnson)

After living in New York for 55 years, fashion designer Betsey Johnson, has moved into what she describes as her “little Malibu, Paradise Cove dollhouse.”

Yet another East Coaster making the switch and diving into the West Coast, sunshine-y groove.

Johnson, an entrepreneurial force field of pink and glitter energy, at 74 still closes her fashion shows with her signature cartwheel and splits. Yes, splits.

When we chatted with her before an appearance at Macy’s celebrating her Betsey Johnson XOX Trolls fashion collection inspired by the new DreamWorks Animation movie, she described her Malibu self as “a very nonorganic girl in a very organic community.” Here, she shares her secrets for staying limber — for life.

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Fashion designer Betsey Johnson.

Fashion designer Betsey Johnson.

(Betsey Johnson / Betsey Johnson)

You grew up taking dance classes. How has that influenced your work?

When I grew up, I wanted to be a Rockette. I was crazy about dance. I had about five lessons a week from about 4 years old through high school, and then it overlapped with cheerleading, where my acrobatics came in… Dance was a very good background in terms of making clothes, knowing about clothes, knowing how they feel, knowing how they move. You can tell when a designer has been a dancer, they cut a certain way.

Do you think all those dance classes laid a foundation for you being fit now?

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Yes. I still can do my cartwheels and splits. I don’t go to the gym, I don’t work out. People think I work out like crazy, but I don’t. My body has a total memory from dance.

You always pull your stomach in, you’re always stretching, you’re always moving, but it’s not formal. I’m in really good shape… I have a dancer’s posture, and I have a good core… I’m aware of how I move throughout the day. I’m not zoned out of my body. I’m aware of it all the time. But I do not like gyms. I joined every gym on the planet, but I just prefer to really watch what I eat and not put on weight and feel strong. I’ve got a basket of weights on my little porch, but I rarely pick them up. I don’t do much. I believe looking good is more about feeling good, which I do. After that, it’s about what’s in your head and in your heart, you know what I mean?

You’re not gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, etc.?

No, I’m nothing. Just Champagne. No, I eat well. I’m basically fish and vegetables. No white stuff -- no sugar and flour -- I mean, every once in a while I’ll have a little pasta or something, I’m not religious about anything. I’m not going to go to a restaurant and say, “Vegan and gluten-free and da-da-da-da-da-da-da.” I just say,  “Sauce on the side,” or sometimes, “No butter.” And that really does it.

How do you keep your upbeat mentality, and do you think it’s important for life?

There are two ways to go in life: up or down…You’ve got to work on your head. You’ve got to work on yourself, how you feel, who you want to be. I really think the beginning and end of all disease pretty much right now is stress. Everybody gets stressed, and everybody has good days and bad days, but I was born more of an “up” person. I just feel it in my bones… I get a lot of those little, silly books filled with different sayings.

So when you get stressed do you do affirmations and do you meditate?

No. I thank the Lord every once in a while: “Happy to wake up again!” I do have a lot of “thank yous” and gratitude to life and existence, but I don’t do anything formally.  I get most of the way I feel from the people around me. Especially my fans. Oh, my God, when I do a personal appearance, it’s like woo-hoooo! Everybody is so happy. I really feel good about the vibe I have put out there… the old Golden Rule.

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What do you do to keep your creative juices flowing?

I’ve been in the business for many, many, many years and I love my work… I could have retired but I decided to keep on going… I also love my family, and my two grandkids are very inspiring… also, I must say, I’m very, very happy with this guy I met out here in a coffee shop… I gave up on all of that stuff. I do love being in love,  but I’m very selective. I just didn’t think I would meet anyone… I’m really pleased with the range of different categories of happiness I have now. It’s bigger than anything I’ve had before. It’s hopefully what happens when you get older.

health@latimes.com

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