The 'Dancing with the Stars' pro sheds the glam and gets real on parenting pressures, her hot husband, and going after her dreams.
Peta Murgatroyd lives a very sparkly life.
Proof: The Australian ballroom dancer, 32, rocks the sexiest bedazzled costumes on Dancing with the Stars—she’s been on the show 11 seasons and has won the Mirrorball Trophy twice. She recently showed off even more blingy outfits during her national dance tour, Maks, Val & Peta Live on Tour: Confidential, with her husband and fellow DWTS alum Maksim Chmerkovskiy, 38, and his brother (also on DWTS). And she’s just finished filming her first starring role, in the dance-competition-themed film Faith, Hope & Love, due out this winter. She even has her own line of glowy tanning products, called Peta Jane.
All of this is to say, it’s basically her job description to shimmer. But costumes and makeup aside, where Peta really shines is at home with Maks and their son, Shai, who will turn 2 in January.
“People see me every Monday night on Dancing with the Stars glammed up and with a celebrity on my arm.... It’s not Peta,” says the performer, walking barefoot up the driveway of her Los Angeles home. “This is the real Peta,” she says with a laugh. “I’m just that Aussie laid-back girl, and no fuss—I’d rather be in sweatpants than a gown.” Today, that’s exactly what we’re getting: She’s wearing a black bodysuit under a pair of black harem pants with her hair in a messy topknot as she lovingly watches Shai (she calls him “Poosh”) waddle toward his play area.
As soon as Shai heads out for a walk with his nanny, Peta curls her feet up onto a dining-room chair and gets comfy. She talks to Health about her most vulnerable moments, working through differences with her husband, and pinning her hopes to her dream board as she makes big plans for the year ahead.
When you’re starting a new season of Dancing with the Stars, do you have a go-to test for your new partners, like, “Let’s see what you’ve got?”
I usually start with just basic cha-cha and rumba, and I put them into a frame. You have to size up the competition so you can see where you and your partner are going to land. There have been some surprises, obviously. Like Tommy Chong [from Cheech & Chong]. Love that guy. But he was 76 when I got him. When I found out it was him, I cried; I thought that I was going to get a young, active person. I knew he was gonna be fun, but I [also] knew he wasn’t going to be capable of going very fast. But it ended up being one of my favorite seasons to date! He was such a wonderful person to get to know. He tried his guts out. I’ve never seen an elderly man do what I made him do—he surprised me, because we got to the semi finals.
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You’ve been in America for eight years, but what is still full-on Aussie about your personality?
I don’t want to say my “relaxed” attitude, because I can be very fiery, but I’m more relaxed than my husband—let me put it that way. He’s the complete opposite of me. Like, I take my shoes off as soon as I get through the door. In Australia, we would just be in our neighborhood barefoot, running around the streets, riding our bikes everywhere—barefoot. He is like, “I can’t believe you used to do that.” And when Shai runs around barefoot outside, Maks has a near heart attack every time! He grew up bundled up—layers upon layers—in Ukraine. We have come together nicely, but we do have very big differences in our backgrounds.
What do you remember about first meeting Maks?
We met at [my Broadway dance show] Burn the Floor. He came in with Karina, his ex-fiancée, to headline our show. We didn’t even really talk that much. I just thought that he was this pompous Russian dude. When I finally signed with Dancing with the Stars, that’s when I fully got to know Maks.
Tell us about your first date with him!
I feel like we didn’t actually have an official first date, because... It was funny, I was just a bit worried about a situation on the second season of Dancing with the Stars, and he said, “Do you want to talk about it over dinner?” I didn’t think anything of it. But he picked me up, and he took me to the Little Door on 3rd Street [in Los Angeles]—you know, fairy lights, candles, and very dimly lit. And I sat there, and I was like, “Oh, that’s what’s happening.” We had a little chemistry going, and were kind of flirting, but I didn’t know it was like that! So that was kind of our first date. I think we kissed in the car before I left to go back to my apartment. He was a gentleman. He was not at all trying to get me into bed or anything like that. He walked me to my door. He was great.
What’s your secret to keeping your relationship hot—especially with a toddler running around?
With a toddler, you have to carve out time for your husband. I will say that has been something that I’ve needed to work on, because he has told me at times, “I don’t feel like you’re giving me all of you right now.” It is such a touchy subject, and I know many couples go through this. When I wake up, my mind is immediately on Shai when it used to be immediately on him. So I definitely had to put myself in his position. Any alone time means the world to us, where we can grab lunch and then maybe see a movie.
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What is something you love doing together?
Ooh, I call it “house dreaming.” [Laughs] I have a major problem with Zillow.com, and now he has a major issue with it [too]! Sunday, we ran around and we looked at all these open houses. It sounds corny, but we dream together. We dream about our perfect house and what we want for Shai. And I just bought us both—again, cheesy, but whatever—dream boards. I really do believe that if you put it out there, you will get it.
Yes! So do you and Maks work on your dream boards together?
They came yesterday, so we just put them up. I think we’re both very hardworking, passionate people. We both don’t come from money, so whatever we have here is what we did for ourselves. And I feel really grateful, because I haven’t had one thing handed to me. My mom and dad did their best, but my mom is a receptionist, and my dad designed kitchens. It sounds fancy, but it didn’t earn any money.
With you and Maks being opposites, what’s the biggest issue you butt heads over?
The way he speaks. I come from a very nurturing family where we don’t raise our voices unless we’re in an argument. In his family, they raise their voice even when they’re talking lovingly to each other. I’m like, “You want to go to the movies?” [Maks:] “No.” And I’m like, “Are you OK? Did I do something wrong?” So it was definitely that culture shock for me. He’s like, “It’s black-and-white. I’m saying it how it is, and I don’t sugarcoat anything.” He’s just so, so honest. Some days I can take it. Some days I don’t want to take it. [Laughs] But if that’s the biggest problem that we have, we’re fine!
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What’s the strangest thing you find sexy about him?
The man never uses soap, but he does not smell. Even after training he doesn’t have BO! I’ve smelt his armpits. It is the weirdest thing. Like, I have to wear deodorant; he wears a lemon spray under his arms. I’m like, “You’re a big dude, sweating at the gym.” He’s like, “I don’t know. I’ve just never used soap on my body.” It’s strange, but I find it super sexy.
Maks has been filming videos of you learning to cook for your website, All Things Fam & Glam. What inspired that?
Being a mother, I felt the need to cook for my son. I just had this yearning to be able to put a hot plate of food in front of him and see him enjoy it, knowing that Mama has done a good job. And I thought about when he’s 15 and says, “My mom never cooks; Pop is the only one who cooks”—that would kill me! Maks loves cooking. He doesn’t do it often, but he’s actually really good. He does a wild sausage omelet—wild as in good. And it’s kind of hilarious, because I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just trying to follow a recipe. Like, last night I misread the cheese for the lasagna. It said “one and a half cups,” and I put half a cup in!
What is the first thing you eat every day?
Three boiled eggs. I know that’s very plain, but it gives me energy, I don’t feel full after it, and I can go to the gym on them or I can go and dance on them. I will take boiled eggs to work with me, put them in a container, and I’ll eat them on the way to work. It’s so easy. And a smoothie, too—like a berry smoothie with bananas and some apple in there, maybe some spinach. And with full-fat Greek yogurt. If you’re going to do yogurt, just do yogurt. Cut out something else.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever done for your body?
Being in that spot of loving what you have and not trying to be anything different that you see on social media. Just, like, self-acceptance and realizing that you are who you are. You are made as a perfect human being. And you shouldn’t want to change it to impress somebody.
In fact, you posted a very real photo of yourself on Instagram just a few days after giving birth...
I mean, I almost looked five months pregnant! I had a good cry about it, because it’s all very well having a child in you and realizing why you are so big, but when you go home and you’re breast-feeding, and you’re super tired, and you look at yourself in the mirror like, “Why do I still look like this? This isn’t normal.” I remember calling Maks downstairs in the kitchen. He came up, and I burst into tears again. So I was like, “Oh, what the hell. I’m just going to show everybody.” I wanted to be real with people.
When is the last time you cried?
Four days ago. We had a disagreement about the bathwater. Maks jumped into the bath with Shai and was like, “Babe, it’s stone-cold.” And I’m like, “It’s not stone-cold.” I was like, “You need to relax with how you say things. It’s just how you said it to me. You didn’t say, ‘Baby, I think it’s a little bit too cold; can you add some hot?’ It was, ‘Shai’s going to be too cold,’ like it’s my fault.” I cried because I thought I did something really, really wrong. You know what I mean? I was like, “Did I really mess up? Was it really that cold?” I just want to be the best mom I can possibly be.
OK, so when is the last time you laughed?
I laugh a lot every day. Dirty jokes make me laugh—I’m a sucker just for dirty, filthy jokes. Dirty humor, that’s my thing.
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You have to be pretty tough for your job. When do you feel the most vulnerable?
If I feel incapable as a mother, I feel very vulnerable. Like, if I can’t get him to sleep on time, on that 8 o’clock dot. If it’s turned 9 o’clock, and he still wants to play, and I’m like, “What am I doing wrong?” I get emotional about that because I want to do my best.
What kind of comments from other people hurt the most?
There’ve been a couple about going back to Dancing with the Stars weeks after giving birth to him. But I think it’s the best thing that I did—because I wasn’t getting depressed at home, in my sweats, with milk all over me. I went out for five hours a day, and I was refreshed to see my child. I think it’s important for women to keep doing what they love—even if it’s in the slightest amount of time, because you don’t want to lose yourself. You want to feel like you still have that little glimmer of your life before.
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What do you hope for this next year?
I would love to finally take a honeymoon to Europe. I want to expand Peta Jane into a skin-care company as well. Maybe be pregnant again. Just to, I guess—without sounding horrible—get it out the way so the second one’s done. But we’re just like, “When are we going to do it?” Because I also want to work for the rest of the year. I want to audition like crazy for everything and anything on TV and movies that I could possibly stick my fingers into. If I’m on this road with acting, it would be amazing if that could just keep going.
Photography by Anne Menke. Styling by Heidi Meek for Opus Beauty. Hair coloring and styling by Carachele Tyvan. Makeup by Robert Rumsey for Cloutier Remix using Laura Mercier. Manicure by Christina Aviles for Opus Beauty using Chanel Le Vernis.