Strictly Come Dancing is a massive show, it has been thrashing X-Factor in the ratings and looks like great fun and very glamorous. How much hard work is it?
You’d be amazed! You only really see the glamorous and fun stuff, so don’t get to witness the 95% hard graft, breakthroughs, frustrations, aches and pains behind the scenes. The viewers see us perform a 90 second routine on a Saturday night and a bit of behind the scenes VT but that barely scratches the surface. For example going into the Wembley show, which is the half way point of the series, Michael Vaughan and I had clocked almost 300 hours training time.
That is a huge physical effort, you must have to be in great physical condition.
That is really important. I’ve always been very sporty and am a typical Aussie outdoors girl – never happier than when swimming, surfing, hiking or fishing. My conditioning is vital to being the best dancer I can be, the best partner for my celebrity and the best performer for this massive TV show that is such a privilege to be involved with.
Give us an idea of your fitness and training programme.
Once the show starts it is potentially five months of solid dancing commitment, which in itself is the most fantastic way to be fit, but the actual specific conditioning needs to happen in the months building up to the show so I can hit the ground running. And because of the nature of SCD we don’t know whether we’ll be in it for two weeks or four months, so we train and prepare as if we’re going to go all the way to the final which will mean training at least five days a week, competing on the sixth and maybe, just maybe, grabbing one day off, but that’s not always the case.
So of course I train for endurance – otherwise eight hours in a rehearsal studio five days a week will find you out very quickly! Also I have to be strong so my frame looks great whether I’m doing an elegant ballroom dance or something fun and fast like the Charleston. And although we might not do the lifting we have to be able to hold out bodies perfectly throughout lifts and that takes a serious degree of strength – so it’s not just the blokes doing the hard work!
As dancers we must have high levels of stamina, power, mobility, flexibility, speed, poise and precision. If that is not immediately obvious to people it means we are doing our job properly by making it look graceful, controlled, elegant, fun and everything all the various dance styles require. But under all that we have to have trained like elite athletes.
Any tips you can share?
I do lots of of instability work which is perfect for conditioning my whole body to explode through all planes of movement with the power, precision and control that I have mentioned. So I use dumbbells and barbells whilst standing on a bosu ball, I do lots of suspension training – total body suspension. This means I have to work with my entire bodyweight keeping every action and motion under complete control at all times.
A strong core is imperative to what we do and these sorts of exercises develop great strength in the core stabilisers and from that we can really build our physical performance.
I also box, use monkey bars in a weighted vest and also hang upside down from gymnastic ring and , donning a weighted vest, perform crunches and kind of upside down squats, where I’m hanging with my feet attached to the rings, weight jacket on and then I have pull my body upwards by just bending at the knees and driving up through the thighs. Fairly agonising but it hits the spot!
I’ve worked with great trainers like Ricardo Macedo and James Duigan and they’ve been invaluable in getting me into optimum shape.
Yoga is also a very important element of my preparation and is great for body and mind. The physical aspects of professional dancing and the intensive requirements of Strictly are significant, but it also involves mental strength and clarity too.
And any dietary considerations?
Lots of seeds, nuts, olive oil, avocados, spices, lentils, veggies and keeping clear of processed foods. Mostly it comes down to just being sensible. We generally know what is good, healthy and energising and what is bad and depleting.
I’m hooked on quinoa or buckwheat, hemp, pumpkin and sesame seeds, kale, raw spinach, peppers. Chicken, fish, fruit, poached eggs all make up regular meal components. I snack on seeds, nuts, carrots, broccoli, hummus, berries, pomegranate, Greek yogurt, chickpeas. All my meals take no more than 5 to 10 minutes to cook, unless its a dinner party when I’ll spend all day in the kitchen! Favourite dishes to cook are: seafood, Mexican, roasts and Indian. but i eat everything in it rawest form where possible. I avoid sugars, drink a litre of veggie juice a day (anything green with carrot and ginger) and 1.5 litres of water. I eat fish, meats 3-4 times a week, cook with coconut oil and drink loads of coconut water. There is a great book called The Clean & Lean Cookbook and I swear by it!
I love good quality home cooked food ….and thank goodness I am so active otherwise I might be the size of a house!
You mentioned Michael Vaughan. He famously masterminded one of the greatest ever Ashes victories over your Aussies boys. No hard feelings then?
Ha, ha, no none at all! There is a bit of Aussie / Pommie banter but we have become the best of mates. Of course we are all only ever one show from going out so it can come to an abrupt end. But Michael and I have had the most fantastic time so far. He has gone from the most complete novice level, featuring towards the bottom of the leaderboard and even fighting a dance-off over the first couple of shows. But his work ethic is just immense – he has a typical sportsman’s approach – we survived those early stages on the show and that has allowed us to keep going and his efforts have started to reap incredible rewards. Even in those difficult early weeks when he wasn’t impressing the judges at all, he was still giving his heart and soul and I think people recognised that. So to go from a total beginner over a month ago to a standing ovation at Wembley Arena and three 9’s from the judges has just been the most awesome journey for us both. I work him very hard but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He is great fun but very determined and focused and I couldn’t have chosen a better partner to work with.
Natalie is available for personal appearances, seminars, performances and lessons
Interview by Guy Holland
Photography by Simon Howard