Laila Ali Talks ‘Dancing’

LOS ANGELES (April 23, 2007) — It’s no surprise that Laila Ali is floating like a butterfly on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Ali, the daughter of boxing great Muhammad Ali, has cemented her own reputation in the ring with an unbeaten record since her professional debut in 1999. And her skills as a fighter translate nicely to the dance floor, she said.

“I think the stereotype of female boxers is that you’re not going to be ladylike. … But if you do know boxing, and you have seen me box, then I think people would assume I would be graceful,” she said.

Her father, after all, famously advertised himself as floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee, and he did. “My dad had class. He was graceful,” Laila Ali said of the now-frail Ali, 65, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

Laila Ali, 29, said she uses her athleticism and fitness to conquer dances including the mambo and rumba on “Dancing with the Stars,” which airs Monday and Tuesday on ABC.

“It’s also just being determined and focused. And my confidence is something that helps me along the way. It’s really stressful and a lot of tension sometimes, trying to learn (a dance) and you’ve got this camera crew there.”

But, she said, “I’m used to training under pressure so it works well for me.”

She’s also able to stand up to the partner-teacher, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, with whom she’s paired. He’s brought past partners on the show to tears, Ali said.

“I think they (producers) felt because I’m strong and confident we’d work well together — either that, or make good TV. I’m not going to let him get to me in any sort of way without saying something back,” she said with a good-natured laugh.

She and Chmerkovskiy have been garnering high marks from the ABC contest’s judges and winning viewer approval. For her part, Ali is enjoying the custom-made outfits, bedecked with glitter and rhinestones, that she helps design.

“I look at it as a new character every week. It’s like playing dress-up,” she said.

But there’s no grand plan to charge into entertainment for the photogenic, 5-foot-10 Ali.

“People have been asking me that since the beginning because they thought that’s why I started boxing,” she said.

After having proven her devotion to the sport, and with her upcoming marriage to former pro football player Curtis Conway, she does plan to expand her horizons.

A boxing-oriented workout DVD she shot with Sugar Ray Leonard was just released and Ali says it’s the start of more fitness ventures, including a book.

She’d like to set an example for young women and others about the importance of living a healthy life, she said. But she’s not in search of boundless fame.

“I grew up watching my father and I’m just not really into the whole superstar-celebrity thing,” Ali said.

“I’m kind of afraid of success in that area because I want to be able to live a regular life. … I dealt with it growing up and for the second part of my life I don’t really want to go to that.”

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