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Dancing with the judge: Hayley Holt on her ballroom journey

TV's gorgeous groover tells why she hung up her heels

By Ashleigh McEnaney
Dancing with the judge: Hayley Holt on her ballroom journey

She’s the bold, bolshie blonde snowboarding champ who holds her own against the boys on The Crowd Goes Wild. But although she’s built herself a reputation as a sassy sportswoman, Dancing with the Stars NZ judge Hayley Holt isn’t always the “total tomboy” she describes herself as.

All aglow in sequins and sparkles on the TV3 reality series last week, the former competitive ballroom dancer, 34, shimmied and shook her stuff on stage, performing an impressive dance medley with fellow judges Stefano Olivieri and Candy Lane.

Surprised by her own fancy footwork after saying goodbye to professional dancing more than 11 years ago, Hayley says, “Stepping out on stage was nerve-wracking at first – the lights, the screaming crowds and the fact it’s filmed live. It’s so easy to sit behind a judging panel and critique others, but then you have to get out there and prove you actually know what you are talking about.”

*Image: Jackie Meiring*
Image: Jackie Meiring

Ballroom blitz

The performance reminded Hayley of when she was first starting out in the ballroom at age seven. “Candy was one of my first teachers, so it’s pretty special to be sitting next to her on the panel. But I hated dancing at first. I only went because my mum made me. Me and my friend used to call it boring dancing.”

But despite her preference for slouchy sweatpants over sequins and satin, Hayley was soon hooked. “Dancing became my dirty little secret,” she says. “As much as I was a little skate-park rat, I grew to love the glamorous dresses and people fussing over your hair and make-up.

“It didn’t fit with my tomboy image, though. I remember one day, when I was about 14, I was in my Latin class and I had a competition coming up. I had the fake tan on, fake nails, bleached blonde hair and my legs were shaved. I looked down at my hands and thought, ‘Who am I?’”

The pinnacle of Hayley’s dance career was placing 19th in the prestigious Blackpool Rising Star Professional Ballroom Competition in the UK. And while she has many fond memories of her time dancing, she says, “The thing is, behind the glamour and the beautiful show, there is a lot of grunt work and I definitely don’t miss that part of it.”

After gruelling training sessions that left her feet bloody, Hayley threw in the towel for good at 18.

*Image: Jackie Meiring*
Image: Jackie Meiring

“I was at a turning point,” she recalls. “If I wanted to make it further, I’d have had to move overseas with my partner and dedicate my entire life to it. I just wasn’t ready for that.”

This year, as well as landing her “dream role” on DWTS – she starred on the series as a dancer for three seasons starting in 2006, partnering up with Danyon Loader, Brendon Pongia and Peter Urlich – Hayley has gone back to university to study politics. But after giving up alcohol eight months ago, don’t expect to see her at the pub with her peers.

“I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t done work on myself,” admits Hayley. “I love being back at school. I’m such a geek sitting in the front row of my tutorials. Things are going really well. It almost feels too good to be true. Life has its peaks and troughs, but I’m just trying to embrace what’s happening at the moment because everything is so very exciting.”

When asked if a someone special could be adding to her healthy glow, Hayley smiles, “Not at the moment, unfortunately. But in a way, I’m almost thankful I don’t have my eye on someone as it can be quite distracting. However, I’m not making any rules for myself and I’m definitely not closed off to the idea.”

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