In a bit of an ego blow to Ravens fans, Karina Smirnoff, a dancing professional who knows all about the cha-cha, the tango and the waltz, has never heard of "the squirrel."
"What's that?" she asks Jacoby Jones, a Ravens wide receiver and her partner on the upcoming season of "Dancing with the Stars," who'd like to work it into one of their routines.
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3506 Gwynnbrook Avenue, Owings Mills, MD 21117, USA
It's only Ray Lewis' signature move, he tells her.
"Oh," she says. "You mean the slide, slide, knee, knee kick? I've never seen a squirrel do anything like that."
Jones laughs, but Smirnoff gets it — and knows exactly what such a move would mean to Baltimore. "Oh, yeah," she says. "We're totally putting that in."
Whether it's the squirrel dance, costumes in a certain shade of violet or B-roll spotlighting Charm City, team Jones/Smirnoff will surely be courting the Ravens faithful, in one way or another, as "Dancing with the Stars" kicks off its 16th season Monday night.
"We want to start off representing the Ravens Nation," Smirnoff says.
How long the pair competes will depend, at least in part, on the success of their routine, honed in Baltimore over the past couple of weeks.
Jones and Smirnoff spent days in town refining their dance, holed up — or at least trying to — in a studio at the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center. Despite the room's remote location, down a long hallway at the far end of the complex, word of the pair's presence leaked instantly, and starry-eyed fans in workout gear were soon pressing their noses against the glass.
At one point, a mother with five toddlers burst in, saying, "They'd just like to say, 'Hi,' " and motioning to the kids, who seemed more interested in Smirnoff's stretch bands. Even so, the pair posed gamely — Jones letting one boy climb onto his back while Smirnoff hoisted a girl.
When the brood cleared the room, the producer asked for a blanket to cover the door.
This was their second day of rehearsal. Smirnoff arrived first, hair in pin curls. Waiting for Jones, she gazed into the wall of mirrors and brushed on thick coats of mascara. She confided that when she first saw him the day before without a shirt on, his cut, tattooed physique made her want to head to the gym.
"Whassup, mama?" he says, finally strolling in and wearing a black T-shirt with writing on the front.
" 'I'm not a gynecologist'?" Smirnoff asked, incredulously reading the message. "Change the shirt."
Without protest, but with perhaps a wink, Jones slipped into a plain white one, treating his partner — again — to a glimpse of his abs.
The two share an easy rapport. They laugh a lot, and when Jones calls Smirnoff his female mini-me, he means to say she's a woman who can dish out and take her share of locker-room humor.
"She's so quick and flip at the mouth," he says with appreciation. "Listen to her."
They'll be attempting the cha-cha on Monday. And in "Dancing with the Stars" fashion, it will be a very modern cha-cha, set to a youthful radio hit. (They want the song to be a surprise.)
Jones knew nothing of the cha-cha before the other day — except that it was a dance. Worse yet, all the other teams had nearly a two-week head start on practice while Jones recovered from knee surgery.