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Karina Smirnoff's Dancing with the Stars Blog: Partnering with Victor Espinoza Is a 'Big Challenge'

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Karina Smirnoff is chronicling her experiences as a pro partner to jockey Victor Espinoza on Dancing with the Stars21st season exclusively for PEOPLE.com. Follow Karina and Victor on Twitter!

Dancing with the Stars is always a roller coaster ride, and for this season we are going bigger with everything – which is a lot of fun. We have a huge opening number for the premiere tonight that we shot at Los Angeles’ Hollywood and Highland intersection. So, besides the dances we’ve been figuring out with our partners, there is this other big production number we’ve had to worry about.

This season, I’m partnered with Victor Espinoza. He’s a sweetheart with the spirit and heart of a champion. His story is amazing. He didn’t start out with a lot of means to live on. He moved to America and lived in a barn with horses because he loved them and wanted to become a jockey but didn’t have the means to go to training, and now he has prevailed. He’s a Triple Crown winner. That hasn’t been done in 37 years!

All that said, it’s a big challenge for us to work together because of our height difference. Even if I don’t wear heels, I am still about 4 or 5 in. taller than Vic. And if I put on my famous Latin heels that are practically 4 in. high, we’re looking at an even bigger difference in height.

Karina Smirnoff and Victor Espinoza of Dancing with the Stars
Craig Sjodin/ABC
I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this height difference in ballroom dancing – definitely not on DWTS. It certainly puts Vic and I at a disadvantage, and I definitely panicked a little in the beginning. We’re doing the salsa for our first dance, and no matter how we’ve tried, any time we get into the right framing position with our hips aligned, I’m not able to move at all.

I still haven’t figured out how we are going to solve that problem, but I refuse to look at this as anything more than an opportunity to rise to the occasion. We are just working hard and continue to be extremely clever and creative with our choreography while we figure out what moves we can and can’t do.

Vic and I are excited to take this season on. We’re going to focus on showing off his personality and will definitely deliver fun and entertaining numbers – and hopefully we’ll overcome our challenges with the help of our fans!

RELATED VIDEO: Karina Smirnoff and Victor Espinoza Meet for the First Time on DWTS Season 21


Dancing with the Stars premieres Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC, and Smirnoff is hosting the opening of her new studio, Dancing Under the Stars, at the The Village at Westfield in Topanga, California, Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. PT.