It was a no-brainer for Maia Dunphy to twirl into ‘Dancing With the Stars’, she tells Ciara McDonnell
The pan-stick is being primed and the spandex glitter stretched — Dancing With The Stars is returning to our screens shortly, starring a new bevvy of Irish celebrity talent, which this year includes author and television presenter Maia Dunphy. She can’t reveal who her dance partner is quite yet, or give us an inkling of what her first dance might be, but she does let me into a secret. She told her dance partner a big fat lie last night.
“Well, it was a white lie really,” she tells me, while icing a knee, which has borne the brunt of a week of brutal training and simultaneously playing with her son Tom.
“I’m going to see Johnny’s family in the UK today and my dance partner asked me what time I was flying to see if we could get in a session. Tom is not in crèche today, I had no childcare, so I told him I was flying early in the morning — I’m not really flying until 4pm.”
Maia is feeling broken after the first week of training, and has come to a realisation about her approach to this learning process. “My knee is a joke,” she says.
“It looks like I’ve fallen off a motorbike and I only trained four days this week. I’ve been doing whatever my dance partner asks of me — I’m so eager to please him, but I’ve realised that it’s like studying for me. I can’t do eight or nine hours in a row — the knowledge just won’t go in.”
Fellow contestant, publisher Norah Casey has proven to be a rock of good sense to the mother of one, who is bowing under the pressure of expectation and people pleasing.
“The other day we trained for six hours and took an hour’s break,” Maia explains. “When I got back, my dance partner was astounded because I was getting everything I had learned wrong. I was so tired. Norah Casey told me not to do more than I’m able for, just to try to impress my partner. It’s not like you’re clocking in and clocking out; the time you put in has to be worthwhile.”
With a baby and a career to juggle while her husband comedian Johnny Vegas is working on location, Maia has had to realise her limitations, and her strengths.
“I’m effectively a single mum here; Johnny hasn’t been here in eight weeks, he’s flat out working on a movie. My parents are great, they have Tom one day a week, but I have to pick him up from the crèche every day at half five and then home to feed him and myself, check emails and other bits of work.” Support, says Dunphy, is overflowing amongst the celebrity line up for DWTS.
“Our rehearsals are all separate and while we don’t see each other on a daily basis, we get along really well,” she says. “We all met up to do our promo photographs and we were all in these ridiculous rig outs with insane makeup and silly hair and there’s a real camaraderie already. The lovely thing is that a lot of people didn’t really know about other people’s careers until we all got together, and we’ve really gelled.”
With dancing, or for some, the inability to dance as common ground, the celebrities are boosting each other through the experience.
“We have very different age ranges, demographics, backgrounds, careers but what’s lovely is that doesn’t matter because we’re all in it for the shared experience. Yesterday I came out to take a break and [former Munster rugby star] Tomás O’Leary was there and we chatted non-stop for 10 minutes. I didn’t know him from Adam before this, and I don’t know anything about rugby, and yet he’s my pal.”
With such a packed schedule and clear nerves about how she will be received, I ask Maia why she said yes to the opportunity. “When they asked me to do this first I said no way. I’m not a performer — I’m actually quite shy,” she maintains.
“I have had so much control over everything else I’ve done work-wise over the years, it’s been pre-recorded or I’ve written and produced it. If I fluffed a line before, it didn’t matter, because it would all be smoothed out in the edit room. With this, it’s live telly. When I went on The Late Late Show recently I was walking on and my mouth was dry — I know Ryan [Tubridy] really well, I knew what I was talking about, but I was so nervous because there is nowhere to hide on a live show.”
And yet, I press, she said yes. Maia says that after sleeping on it, her decision to do the show was a no brainer. “I think that most people would probably say yes to this if they were given this opportunity,” she offers. “My best friend Alice asked me to list the potential negatives of this experience and I said, ‘well I can make a huge fool of myself ‘. She pointed out that even the people who can’t dance at all on these shows rarely embarrass themselves, because the audience knows that they’re doing their best.”
The production values of the show were a selling point to the television presenter, and the success of last year’s season made it a much easier decision. “Last year, Irish people, who are deeply cynical, took to the show and loved it. The show looks amazing; the same people who make the costumes on the BBC version make our costumes. It was as good as Strictly and I didn’t see any negative press throughout last year’s season. I think last year, they were a brave bunch to say yes, but not this year — we know what we are getting into.“
She vehemently insists that she can’t dance, saying that on the first day of rehearsal her dance partner was shocked at her lack of skill, but that she’s trying her level best.
“The professional dancers — particularly the female ones — move in such a different way to us non-professionals. I am so obviously counting the steps in my head, with my shoulders slouched — it’s dreadful.”
She may be extremely self-deprecating about her abilities, and undoubtedly nervous about live television, but Maia is clear about why she said yes to the glittery dresses. “The idea of going on telly at my age and making a food of myself definitely makes me feel slightly nauseous. I knew that if I said no, I would find myself on my couch in January, half a stone heavier after Christmas and watching everyone having all this fun that I was missing out on — that made it an easy decision.”
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