Last May, Melissa Joan Hart showed off her bikini-ready body on the cover of People magazine. As an encore, the ‘Clarissa Explains It All’ and ‘Sabrina‘ star will put that super-toned body to work on ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ And lucky her, she was partnered with last season’s champ, Mark Ballas.
But as she’s finding out, it’s not easy. Hart already misses her husband, Mark Wilkerson, and their two children – Mason, 3, Braydon, 17 months – who she left back in their Connecticut home while she trains in Los Angeles. She’s also suffering the aches and pains that come from putting in up to six hours a day in the dance studio. Worst of all, she feels behind the other teams. “But you know what?” she said. “I’ve got the reigning champ. He’s not worried, so I shouldn’t be worried.” We got her to pause long enough to catch us up on her life and dancing.
Catch Melissa and Mark on ‘DWTS,’ premiering at 8 p.m. EDT Sept. 21 on ABC.
How has training been so far?
I started [last] Friday, it’s been a whirlwind.
You’ve been training for a few days?
I was on vacation, so I couldn’t start my rehearsals until that Friday. I’m a little behind.
Do you know anything about your performance yet?
My first dance is gonna be the Viennese Waltz. We’ve been mainly working on music, and watching footage of these dancers, also the Cha Cha. We’re making good progress quickly, but were not pushing it yet. We’re taking it easy. With our time, just trying to warm up into it.
Take me through that first dance session. How did you and Mark Ballas meet?
I was kind of nervous. It was a long day for me. I met him late at night, Friday night. It was definitely a great moment and I was really excited that Mark was my partner. I really don’t know a whole lot about the show but I knew him and I knew that he was one of the best. The best choreographer, the best of the group, just amazing.
What was your first impression of him?
I was really impressed because he was in a suit and tie. I was in jeans and a tank top, but I had a bag full of shoes and clothes. I was like ‘should I wear this or this? what about these shoes?’ He said he had never had a partner come as prepared as I did. That was nice to hear. I was like ‘Okay at least I’m on point somewhere.’ So that was good. We got to talking about my strengths and weaknesses. Chit-chatted about my past and his. We got to know each other pretty quick. We danced for a few hours – he showed me the basics of the Waltz. Then it got late and we got hungry, so we went to dinner.
How much are you training right now?
We are training every day, but we’re four or five days behind the rest of the group so we’re trying to make up for it. And we’re leaving town, going to Connecticut, so we are losing more days. We’re gonna do about 5 hours today. It’s tough but so exciting because you have the adrenaline. You don’t want to stop. It’s kinda like going to a dance club. I was like ‘I’m exhausted but I don’t wanna stop!’
How is the training schedule going to change once the first episode hits?
Five hours a day with a break in between. Starting next week we’ll start doing six hours a day, but that will include lunch. Once we get our choreography, he’s gonna want it perfected. We have two dances for the first week. We have four weeks from yesterday so we have to hit all the dances. I really need to get more limber and stretching.
Are you doing anything on your own to get ready for the dancing?
On my own I have been working on doing the splits, stretching, getting that going.
Are you worried that you guys are a little behind on everyone else in terms of training?
A little bit, but you know what, I got the reigning champ. I got the best choreographer. I think that he’s not worried so I shouldn’t be worried.
Do you have any experience dancing?
I did ballet as a little girl. I love my dancing, and of course in my 20′s a lot of nightclub stuff. So you know, never at this level. Never ballroom.
Three months ago you were on the cover of People magazine showing off your bikini bod. What was that transformation like?
A lot of it was diet. I had to get my diet in check. I had to start a new lifestyle pretty much. I made the decision in January to lose the baby weight and get in shape. To get in the best shape of my life, because I’m not getting any younger. I really wanted to do it this year, so I kicked it into high gear, went to see my nutritionist who gave me some good tips.
What were some of those tips?
I started with cutting out starches, sugar, dairy, high protein, low starches. Having good healthy snacks like hummus, chicken wraps, soft chicken tacos. When I wanted to hit it really hard, I would cut out ketchup, sugars and starches, and stay away even from rice and corn. Have things like goat cheese and almonds instead of dairy. It was a lot of work but you start to feel totally healthy. It’s so nice. I have this amazing energy that I didn’t have before.
Any funny diet moments?
It’s funny because I can’t handle caffeine, I get too crazy – but when I was really clean on my diet I wouldn’t drink any coffee. But I had so much energy, everyone was like ‘what is wrong with you, how many coffees have you had today.’ And I just felt so good. I hadn’t had any caffeine.
How is your diet now? Any guilty pleasures?
I do drink lattes pretty much every day now. I’m trying to get rid of them. My schedule is just crazy. We moved three weeks ago, we went on vacation last week, then the dancing kicked in. I’m not ready to give them up yet. Maybe later in the competition. They’re like my little blankie!
How are you maintaining the weight loss?
I started trying to lose weight in January, then came the diets and workouts. When People magazine came calling, I hit it really hard because I knew I only had six weeks. I just made sure I did not cheat. I hit the gym six days a week, I did everything right to my body. It was six intense weeks, and it got me off on a good foot. It changed my lifestyle, and my body, and now I can have a treat here and there, have a bowl of pasta, and I’m not gonna destroy it. I just have to be careful I don’t do that too often.
What special tips are you using nowadays to keep the weight off?
I allow myself one cheat a day, usually at around lunchtime. I just try not to overindulge. I can enjoy a bite or two or something and I’m like ‘okay thanks.’ I don’t need a whole pie, I can just have two bites of a cherry pie. I’m enjoying it because I am able to have it but I don’t need the whole thing.
And I’m sure dancing is great cardio for you right now.
Dancing helps right now. I am not able to hit the gym because of my schedule. I look forward to dancing everyday because it’s definitely worth it. I also get my vitamins, water and my sleep too. Those things are important. Especially water, I try to make sure I keep drinking water.
What have you learned so far?
I learned the Cha Cha and the Waltz, which we’re doing the first week. He’s giving me the rules, not really the moves. For example, in Tango, the only time you’re allowed to do a lift is in the Argentine tango, stuff like that. There are certain dances, also, where you are supposed to be in hold the entire time, when do you lead with the heel. I’m learning those rules of all these dances. The full ’101.’
What’s your favorite dance so far?
The Cha Cha came pretty easy. That was about an hour and we were doing the Cha Cha. The Waltz was pretty good, it’s just it’s a very difficult dance, and it’s very technical. The Cha Cha is more fun and the Waltz is harder for me. I’m glad that’s my first week’s dance, because I can get all this time to work on it.
Have you already picked out your outfits?
Yeah, we’ve looked at magazines and look at pictures and talk to the wardrobe people. He has a lot of good ideas about what I should be wearing. The wardrobe department is so amazing that I’m not really worried about them putting me in something that’s not fabulous. They have always done an amazing job. Mark and i give little tips here and there that we don’t like.
Mark has ideas about what he wants you to wear?
He definitely wants me to wear gloves, the long ones, for the Waltz. But I’m not very picky about it.
How about skimpy outfits? Do you have any limits to skimpiness factor?
Not really. But I just really don’t wanna show my belly button. Ever since having babies I’m not really happy with my bellybutton. So if I can avoid that, that would be great. But, once the show gets going and I get in shape, I’ll be fine.
What else are you working on? I know you have a fantastic candy store already (Sweet Harts Candy in Studio City)
Yes! I brought Mark a box of treats from my store the first day, he loved them. We’re gonna open a few more stores by the end of the year. And then I have a pilot we’re working on, hopefully a TV show going by next year. We might also be shooting a feature in Thailand in January. A comedy that gets romantic. We’re looking at releasing a movie we did last year called ‘Nine Dead.’ We had offers for it to go to DVD, but I think we might get a theatrical window. We might have a movie coming out soon. It’s a thriller, it was amazing to work on. Literally nine people handcuffed in a cell and they have to figure out why they’re there. Every ten minutes they have to figure out – a masked man comes in a shoots one of us in the head. It’s done in real time and it’s a psychological thriller.
When will we get to see the new TV show?
Unfortunately I can’t talk about it, but they’ll make an announcement soon.
Your show, ‘Clarissa Explains It All’ was a fixture for so many young people. But I have to ask, what did Clarissa explain?
Everything! Every week it was a different scenario, whatever was kind of complicating her young life. Whether it was her brother, her friends, her family, the bully at school. That was a fabulous show, it was so fun. It was a lot of work for me as a teenager, but it was fun and great.
Those clothes were gorgeous.
I had such amazing outfits I got to wear. The show definitely opened the door for the rest of my life.
Did you get to take home any of the clothes?
I still have some of it. I kept pretty much some of Betsey Johnson. I have a collection of Betsey. Some of them are pretty torn up, but I definitely have a lot.
On Sabrina you were a teen witch. If you had magical powers, what would you want to do right now?
I would be home with my family right now having breakfast with them. And then come back for my dancing. In in Los Angeles, I normally live in Connecticut. I moved there three weeks ago.
Why did you move?
Family, to get away from Hollywood, schools, change of pace.
Any plans to open up stores out there?
Hopefully we’ll go nationwide soon. We just have to get a few stores in California under our belts first.
What would you be doing now if you weren’t an actress
I have always wanted to be a dancer, although I would probably have to retire by now, you know, I am in my 30s. But now I get to live that dream. It would have been good if it would have happened the other way, if I danced as a 20 year old and acted later on in my 30′s….but you know what, that’s alright.