She once sashayed her way into our homes with Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt on her arm. But now, former Dancing with the Stars personality Rebecca Nicholson has swapped the dance floor for a blackboard. In fact, the 29-year-old former professional dancer turned down the chance to return to the popular show for a very good reason – she wanted to start a school.
“I was asked to come back and I was gutted that I couldn’t make it happen,” she says. “But this year, I’ve fulfilled my dreams by becoming a principal and establishing my very own school in Auckland with the help of some wonderful people. This is my new adventure and it’s keeping me very busy!”
Rebecca appeared on the first four seasons of the entertainment show, partnering not only Tim, but Shortland Street actor David Wikaira-Paul, late broadcaster Sir Paul Holmes and ironman champion Cory Hutchings. It’s Tim, who placed third with Rebecca during season one, who she keeps in touch with to this day.
“I grew up in Gore and he’s an Invercargill personality, so we had lots in common from the start,” Rebecca explains.
So what’s been going on since her final season of the show, now screening on TV3? Rebecca tells how she realised a long-held dream by trekking to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal in 2008. It was during her challenging trip that Rebecca decided she wanted to pursue passions other than dancing, including teaching.
“I like variety in my life and I love that children have such vibrant personalities.”
Former travel agent Rebecca, who now lives in Auckland, decided to go to university and gain a Bachelor of Education. In her final year, she majored in Montessori teaching, where children from different age groups are taught together in an environment that fosters their individual talents.
“It’s a different way of learning, where children have more hands-on experiences and are guided towards independence,” she explains.
After graduating, Rebecca taught at an Auckland primary school for two years. But as a person who loves to set herself challenges, she wanted more, and that’s when she decided to start her own Montessori school.
“To leave a secure paid job, jump in at the deep end and start a school was a scary experience, but I felt up to it!”
Rebecca sought the moral support of her family, friends and her lecturers to establish her school and gained funding from a “wonderful” investor, Karin Waechter, who came forward to help. She also attributes her success to the encouragement of her partner Glenn Higham (34). The couple met on the summit of Mt Taranaki three years ago, while hiking with individual tramping groups.
“He’s an amazing behind-the-scenes person who pushes me to take risks. He always tells me that he has my back and that he believes in me.”
It was a year’s worth of small steps for Rebecca to start her new school – from sourcing property, to finding funding. She also had to design the curriculum and recruit pupils.
“It’s a big thing for parents to be involved with a brand new school because it’s the unknown,” she explains. “I had to be open and communicate with the families about what we have to offer.”
Rebecca was proud when Meraki Montessori Primary opened in Silverdale this year – with an initial intake of five students, who are aged from six to 12 years. Rebecca is not only the principal, but also one of two teachers.
Next term, she has three new enrolments and she hopes the numbers will grow each year.
“We’ve got the facilities to take up to around 50 students,” she says. “My goal is to get it to full capacity, but I’m hoping we can keep the operation relatively small, so that we can be more responsive to our students’ needs and retain a community feel.”
Rebecca, who has been a competitive ballroom dancer most of her life and was once crowned national champion, says she is loving her new career.
“My whole life I’ve been accumulating experiences in order for this moment to happen. All the opportunities I’ve had have helped me to bring this school to fruition.”
Rebecca still teaches dance part-time and enjoys working with couples who want to learn a choreographed number for their first dance at their wedding. Although she’s disappointed that she couldn’t appear on this season’s Dancing with the Stars, she is having fun watching the show from the comfort of her couch.
“I still have dancer friends on the show, so I like to watch and support them. It’s so much hard work for them and I’m happy cheering everyone on from home.”
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