Katie Fanok in2010 toned—and glowing—after competing on Dance Your A** Off.
Katie Fanok has always been a walking—chassé-ing?—conundrum: at the risk of being un-PC, a fat dancer. Despite her many, many pirouettes, pliés, jumps, and à la portées, Fanok kept gaining and gaining weight. By age 11, she tipped the scale at 111 pounds—at least 15 pounds heavier than anyone else in her class. By age 17, at 5’4”, she weighed 175 pounds.
“I started dancing in utero,” quips Fanok, today a 27-year-old White Plains personal trainer. She officially began dancing at age three, taking jazz, tap, and ballet classes at a local dance school, where she not only trained but also competed. “I’ve never been nervous about being on stage,” she says. “I’ve always loved the pure freedom and honesty of movement.”
For up to six hours a day, Fanok threw herself into refining her technique at the barre. The hard work paid off: she was a five-year national dance competition winner with TapCats, her acapella rhythm tap team, and she received a Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award in the Ensemble performance category. Still, Fanok says her weight, which had become a significant problem by the time she entered middle school, held her back. “It was easy to blend in in school, but on the competition line, in a black leotard and pink tights, I stuck out.” She tried every diet—Atkins, MediSystem, Weight Watchers—but nothing worked. Her efforts, she admits, weren’t hardcore. She’d stick with a diet but “never long enough to feel the benefits.
Rather than fueling her active body with balanced, nutritious meals, Fanok overcompensated for the calories she burned dancing by overeating whatever was easiest to scarf down. Often famished and spent after a long block of evening dance classes, Fanok admits she made many a meal from the vending machines outside of the studio, “drove through every drive-through,” and sometimes polished off an entire cheesecake without bothering to put it on a plate.
Her growing frustration over her weight contributed to a vicious and destructive cycle of feeling down, then overeating, then “feeling like crap” again as a result. A morning meal of two bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches, followed up by midday Mickey D’s, made her feel sluggish and even more self-critical.
Despite frequent bouts of depression, Fanok says she kept up appearances, putting on a bubbly, happy-person persona. “No one ever knew how I felt.” Dance, however, helped lessen the blues. “Even when I was very sad and upset, I could let it all go on the dance floor.”
By the time she declared a double major in theater and dance at Muhlenberg College, Fanok’s focus had shifted from dancing to choreography. But she still dreamed of becoming a professional dancer. Yet by the end of college, she’d reached an all-time high of 235 pounds. “I had no hope of ever performing because I was too heavy.”
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It was her best friend who organized “an intervention,” after members of Fanok’s close circle of friends decided she must audition for the second season of Dance Your A** Off, the Oxygen reality show marrying celeb-ballroom-competition Dancing with the Stars and weight-loss-showdown The Biggest Loser (read: same gaudy sequin-and-satin get-ups, fewer protruding collar and pelvic bones). “I felt lucky my friends love me so much,” Fanok says.
Katie Fanok, full-figured in 2009.
At the audition, she says, “it was my first time dancing when I wasn’t the biggest one.” Fanok says she was nearly in shock when she learned, in February 2010, that she’d secured one of 12 spots on the show—shocked, excited, and scared—“scared because losing weight is something I’ve never been able to do,” she says.
Fanok flew out to LA for the show, and, with cameras on her at all times (save one half hour a day), danced daily for two hours in between cardio and training sessions and competed in weekly challenges; in one, she strutted around in a bathing suit at an impromptu “backyard barbecue.” (The contestants had a “keeper” who needed to approve all their movements.) Eventually, she says, “you get used to having a mic on your bra.” Still, she says, “it was the best experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
Fanok made it to the top six, leaving at the end of the eighth week of filming. When she returned for the season finale, she learned that, out of all the female competitors, she had lost the most weight overall—nearly 70 pounds. She has since lost another 40 pounds—or 110 pounds altogether—gleefully passing “the hundred milestone: triple digits!”
Fanok says, “I just needed a push—something exciting and worthwhile like DYAO to finally get me to shape up. I used to eat every bite and say yes to that refill of dinner rolls. Now, everything is ‘on the side,’ ‘cooked without oil,’ ‘steamed,’ or ‘grilled,’ just as the show taught us.”
Fanok today weighs 150 pounds and is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor—a vocation she hadn’t imagined in her “wildest dreams”—at Family Court Sports in Elmsford, where she leads a dance-inspired Ballet Body Sculpt class, among others. She also runs her own training company, Katie Fanok Fitness. “I want to be fit and to lead a happy and healthy life while helping as many people as possible do the same. One of the things I loved about being on the show was working out with everyone else. Now I have a new group of inspiring, supportive people to work out with.”