Dancing Queen

Carrie Ann Inaba hopes to make a comeback—back home to Hawaiʻi that is. If only her schedule would let her make the big move…

Carrie Ann Inaba is coming home. That’s right, the 47-year-old, HawaiÊ»i-born “Dancing with the Stars” judge is ready to return to her roots after a long, successful career in Hollywood.

“My goal is to get back soon, I’m hoping within maybe the next five years,” she shares. “I’ve done so much out here in Los Angeles. As far as my bucket list goes in entertainment, I have a few more things I’d like to check off. But, I’ve accomplished all of the things that I’ve set out to accomplish, and as you get older in life, you realize that it’s really important to slow down too, and I’d like to take time now to enjoy life.”

Inaba usually comes home once a year, but admits that lately, her return trips have been once every couple of years. She’s due for a visit soon, as her last trip back was two years ago. Sadly, that was when her father, Rodney Inaba, passed away.

She recalls the two celebrations of life that were held for him—one at his home in Waimea on the Big Island, where he lived for the past 15 years and operated the popular Flumin’ Da Ditch adventure tour in Kohala; and the other at a relative’s house in Waialae.

“All the family gathered,” she recalls. “We had the sushi man come; we sang songs, and it was just a great night. Th e next day, we went out to Paiko Peninsula (in East Honolulu) where I used to live, and we spread his ashes out there. It was just wonderful.”

Inaba started dancing at age 4, learning hula at St. Clement’s, followed by Creative Movement at HanahauÊ»oli, where she attended through fourth grade, then dance at Punahou, which she graduated from in 1986.

“I always loved to dance—it was one of the places I felt completely free to be myself,” she says. “But I think the real kicker was I tried out for the varsity volleyball team, and was cut. So, it was then that I decided to go full force in dance, and I’m glad I did, because look where it brought me to today.”


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SALVATORE FERRAGAMO dress; GREYMER shoes; WILLOW ROE jewelry, all price upon request.

At age 16, Inaba already was scouted to be a pop star in Japan, but she decided to wait until after high school to move overseas. She spent two years in Tokyo, released three singles and appeared on a weekly TV show as a dancer. Th en, she moved to L.A., where she studied choreography at the University of California, Irvine, and soon after, got her big break as one of the sexy Fly Girls in the hit sketch comedy television series “In Living Color.”

Th at role led to countless other opportunities that many only dream about. She toured with Madonna, and worked on numerous feature films, television shows and music videos, including “Showgirls,” “Miss America,” “American Idol” and “Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann.”

But it’s her role as a judge on ABC’s Emmy Award-winning show “Dancing with the Stars” that brought Inaba the most recognition.

“This season will be our 20th season, and our 10-year anniversary on television, and that is a huge accomplishment for any television show,” she says proudly. “I remember back when we had our 300th episode, which was two seasons ago. I grew up watching a series called ‘M*A*S*H,’ and it’s famous for being one of the longest-running television shows in history. We passed ‘M*A*S*H’ a long time ago.

“It’s mind boggling that I’ve been on a show for 10 years. Th at rarely happens in television. I’m very grateful, and the thing that really warms my heart about it is: it’s a show about dance, and about people facing their fears, which are two things that are big issues in my life.”

On the show, Inaba critiques each performance with no hesitation to tell it like it is, which, of course, is great for live TV. However, she also is quick to give credit to each celebrity contestant for taking on a challenge that proves to be both physically and emotionally demanding.

“You don’t always have to win. Sometimes, you face your fear, and you fall flat on your face, but you learn something about yourself,” she explains.

Clearly, Inaba knows her stuff on the dance floor, but unfortunately, she doesn’t dance anymore because of health reasons. Diagnosed with spinal stenosis about five years ago, and Sjogren’s syndrome two years ago, she says her medical conditions make it dangerous to dance.

“I’ve had to learn different ways to express myself, and that was a difficult transition. With spinal stenosis, and arthritis in my neck. And Sjogren’s is a chronic condition, but it’s totally treatable and manageable.”

It’s been a tough few years, but Inaba says her medical situation has given her a new outlook on life. She’s learned to take better care of herself and has incorporated alternative healing practices into her lifestyle. She does acupuncture, yoga, Pilates and meditation, and she’s made going to the beach part of her therapy.

“What I have learned, that’s different now, is it’s about balancing my family life as well,” she explains. “Before, I was more career-driven. Luckily, I had stenosis, and I say luckily, because it taught me a valuable lesson. And then, I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s, and these things helped to slow me down. Now, I realize it’s possible to continue with the things in my work and my private life that I’d like to pursue, and it’s really important for me to maybe move back to HawaiÊ»i, and spend more time with my cousins and my family, and have a family of my own.

“These things are much more important to me now. Having a family of my own is my No. 1 personal goal. I’m 47, so I don’t know exactly how that will come to be. I may have to get creative.”

Th at family picture she’s envisioning includes her boyfriend, who is from Italy and composes music for television. He also surfs, which Inaba admits was a skill she prayed for. He favorably passed the test.

“I’m so happy,” she gushes. “He talks about moving to HawaiÊ»i all the time. It’s really nice that I have met my soul mate. We have the same dreams. We both want to do so much in this life, but we also want to have the right balance between sharing our time with each other—and hopefully, a family in the future, if we’re so lucky—and with doing our work out there.”

Some of her projects include producing a live show, hosting a daytime talk show, and producing a TV series.

“Recently, I acquired the rights to a book,” she reveals. “Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it’s about, because I’m shopping it now, but it’s a really interesting young drama series I’ve been fascinated by.

“That’s really my love—to create. Some people tell me it’s a lot, but for me, and my career, I’ve always thought I’m supposed to do these things. It’s not so much like a dream, as much as more my destiny.

“There are many people out there far more talented than I am, but who never got the luck, so I feel it’s my responsibility—as somebody who had the opportunities that I did. To be able to be one of the first Asians on TV [Inaba is Japanese, Chinese and Irish], and to be a hip-hop dancer, is not really something you saw as an Asian girl. And now, to be in this position I am on “Dancing with the Stars” as a judge … I’m a local girl from HawaiÊ»i, and I’m Asian. These are big opportunities and responsibilities that I never took lightly.”

Inaba also is very much dedicated to animals, and launched The Animal Project Foundation (formerly known as The Carrie Ann Inaba Animal Project) in 2012. She currently has three dogs and three cats of her own, all rescued.

She also serves as a celebrity ambassador for Best Friends Animal Society, and twice hosted the Genesis Awards for the Humane Society of the United States.

“I realized I couldn’t just keep adopting animals, or I’d become a hoarder,” she laughs.

“It would serve everybody better if I just started a foundation and provide emergency rescue funds for animals that are in shelters, are in need of medical care or socialization classes, or need rehabilitation so that they can get adopted out.

“I also am developing a show called ‘Carrie Ann’s Animal House,’ which is kind of a daytime lifestyle show for people who love animals. I grew up with pets, and they’ve been a really essential part of my life. ~ ey provided me with so much love and unconditional support, and when I became an adult and found out how many animals are suffering out there—how many are homeless, and how many are put to sleep senselessly, just because there’s no room in the shelter—I decided that I needed to do something.”

The Animal Project Foundation also hosted its first L.A. Spay/Neuter Festival last year, offering animal care information and basic training tips, as well as spay/neuter, vaccination and microchip services.

“We sold out in one day,” Inaba says. “I did one little tweet about it just to test the waters, and we sold out that day on the spot. So, my goal for this year is to do it two weekends, so we can more than double what we did last year.”

So, while it’ll be at least a few more years before Inaba returns to the islands for good, at least it’s in her plans. Who knows—you might just run into her at some of her old hangouts, Sandy Beach or Ala Moana Center. Just be sure to hold the door: Her pet peeve is when people let the door slam in your face.

Inaba’s mom, Patricia, resides in New York, where she is originally from. But she has an extended family of numerous cousins and calabash cousins, who are still in HawaiÊ»i, including on the Big Island, where her dad grew up.

“There’s the pink Inaba Hotel in Kona, and it has a famous outhouse,” she shares. “It’s in the men’s room. And if you’re a man, and you’re using the toilet, there’s a window where you can see straight to the ocean, and it’s one of the most beautiful views any outhouse has. When I was young, every summer I would go up there and spend time with my aunts and uncles and cousins, and I would pump gas. It was kind of my first job.”

Throughout the years, she even has cousins who regularly send her sweet li hing mui, something she can’t live without. It’s just too bad KC Drive Inn closed. KC’s waffle dog was her favorite thing in the world growing up, and something she misses about HawaiÊ»i.

“It is my dream one day to come back and live in HawaiÊ»i,” she says. “~ at’s always been the end game.”

About the Setting

HILuxury traveled where “vintage Hollywood meets 21st century” to stage our cover shoot with Carrie Ann Inaba. Southern California sunshine beamed down upon the luxurious Montage Beverly Hills (montagehotels.com/beverlyhills), the backdrop for this issue’s feature spread.

Nestled in the heart of Los Angeles’ lively epicenter, Montage Beverly Hills grants visitors easy access to shopping and dining leisure within Rodeo Drive’s legendary galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Opened November 2008, the hotel framework was inspired by the neighborhood’s prominent Spanish Colonial Revival and Mediterranean architectural styles, and features classically elegant furnishings within its 201 guestrooms, 55 suites and 20 privately owned Montage Residences. Attuned to audiences with a refined palate, the Gold LEED-certified property exudes the Golden Age of California through Spanish, Italian and Moroccan aesthetics, and presents a sophisticated renaissance of L.A.’s glamorous movie star mansions in the Hills, circa 1920-1930.

On-property amenities include the 20,000-square-foot Spa Montage, which houses a mineral pool, 17 treatment rooms and a flagship Kim Vo Salon, its Italian culinary gem, chef Scott Conant’s Scarpetta, and the venue’s £10, a celebrated Macallan Single Malt whisky lounge.





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