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'Dance'-Off? Watch Your Backs -- and Then Some

July 2, 2009 By:
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So you think you can ... diet?

Cha-cha-chubbies? Give them some Oxygen -- which is exactly where "Dance Your Ass Off" is off and running -- and rumba-ing -- on Monday nights.

Dancing with the svelte -- that's partially the goal of "Dance Your Ass Off" (no donkeys were harmed in this series), as a bunch of heavy-hitters whose weight has stepped over the line learn to Lambada their way to weight loss.

Dance as diet regimen? Just ask the show's hot host, Marissa Jaret Winokur, the sassy zaftig Tony Award-winner who toned down and tore it up on season six's "Dancing With the Stars."

This grandniece of literary lions Nathaniel West and S.J. Perelman wrote the book on fat chances: Her Tracy Turnblad helped turn Broadway's "Hairspray" into a schpritz of sharp comic entertainment on its way to big box-office grosses.

Don't box in the big girl was part of its message as Marissa's mirth-laden portrayal shed constraints of what the hot and the heavy can do.

Big girls don't cry, and sometimes they win Tonys. And, sometimes, they get bigger by losing -- she lost chunks of weight after "Hairspray" and when she glided across that "Dancing With the Stars" ballroom, there was more room for her to spin and star.

Now "Dance Your Ass Off" shows it's also hip to lose those big hips. As for that posterior, post-rehearsal Winokur says that it's win-win ... lose.

Dance as a weapon of ass destruction? "It can certainly make it smaller," she enthuses.

One small miracle is her biggest fan at home: A survivor of cervical cancer, the 36-year-old daughter of an architect and teacher wasn't one to chalk up parenthood as an impossibility. Turning to surrogacy motherhood, she and husband Judah Miller -- a comedy writer who met his future wife when she starred in and he wrote for TV's "Stacked" -- now wolf down their soon-to-be 1-year-old Zev in a sandwich of snuggles and hugs.

"Zev is a clapper," the proud mama says of his reaction to his mom's fete. "I hold him face out, and he kicks just like he's dancing."

He can keep the beat -- he shakes, rattles and rolls, with emphasis on the rattles.

But can "DYAO" contestants -- each paired with a professional dance partner and nutritionist -- fox-trot their way to fitness ... and foxiness? It helps that at the end of the chorus line is a winner's check for $100,000.

Winnowing down the crowd is a team of judges -- and a scale. More points gained, more weight lost determine the dancing queen or king.

On a scale of 1 to 10 -- it's even better to lose 20. Wait ... loss is an asset for "DYAO" contestants, but it hardly describes Winokur's winning ways. She won just about every award possible for "Hairspray," except ... "The Fred Astaire Award. That's about the only one I lost," she says with a laugh. But that's okay: "I'm an actress, not a dancer."

She's certainly shown her acting talent in a variety of roles on- and off-screen, and showcased her pristine, oh-so-pretty voice on the sound track for "Son of the Mask."

But unmask her darker side, and there's a fighter inside.

"Oh, I can take him down," kids the actress about what would happen if given another chance after Larry David upended her in a scene on his comical "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

But then, is there any doubt she's a battler? "I wouldn't let it beat me down," she says of the cancer she fought. "I wasn't going to let a 'little' thing like cancer get in my way."

Even if it meant not telling the producers at first when she stormed the stage as Tracy Turnblad. It turns out that she got enormous support from all concerned.

It was a part that parted the John Waters -- the musical is based on his iconoclastic movie -- for her. When she auditioned for the role, Winokur said, "I can do that!"

"Hairspray" as "A Chorus Line" for the overweight? "In a way," she laughs.

The way we were ... Oh, how food mattered so much in her family. A Jewish thing? "Much more than in other backgrounds."

After all, she recalls, back in the day of those family Shabbat dinners, "we'd sit and talk -- and eat -- for two hours."

The only thing non-caloric at Sunday brunch was the hole in the bagel. "Bagels and lox ... Judah and I have to be more careful with our child" about overeating.

One thing she couldn't get enough of was her family's attention and thumbs-up attitude. It comes in handy: Winokur has matured into the mother of all moms. And as for her own? "My Mom is now my hero; I don't know how she did it all."

And Dad, the architect, built on the love: "I've always loved being a Jewish daddy's girl."

And now, she and Judah are role models themselves.

"Dance Your Ass Off"? The Winokur-Miller family knows how to laugh their tucheses off!

As for the Oxygen network show's contestants, take a breath and relax: They have a little bit of luck to go with their new waist-not attitude. After all, one possible participant didn't sign up for this bee-hive of activity.

So, who would win if fictional Tracy Turnblad had bid "bye-bye" to Baltimore and hustled her way over to the "DYAO" set?

Can't stop the feet. "Oh, Tracy would win this show," laughs life's big winner herself.

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