In the brain, fear and excitement are closely linked, arousing similar responses in the body. This would probably be welcome information to Samantha Hayes, who is about to take the biggest professional leap of her life.
When the casting roll-outs for Three's Dancing with the Stars were revealed, there were the usual suspects: a soap star; a Bachelor; a cricket player. But smack bang in the middle of the announcements was Samantha Hayes.!
It's such a departure from her serious news persona you can see why producers kept it quiet: the idea of Sam doing a jive in sequins and a spray tan is… surprising. She says when she first floated the idea to her family, they were split 50/50 between "Do it" and "Absolutely not". Sam's own knee-jerk response was less 50/50 and more like 100 per cent "No".
"My reaction was… 'Oh, no way. I have no idea how to dance!'" But here she is, bruised, bloodied feet and all. "I do love a good challenge," she says, grinning.
Her persona for the razzamatazz show is "Glam Sam", versus her normal role of "News Sam". But that's just a skim over the dichotomy really at work between Preparation Sam and Risk-taker Sam.
Within the 34-year-old lie two conflicting sides: the diligent perfectionist who over-prepares for every workplace scenario – a characteristic that has served her stellar career very well; and then there is the daring side – the one who moved to the other end of the country at 17 to try her hand at news journalism. It is safe to say she is both excited and petrified. "Every time I think about it, a cold rush of adrenaline hits me," Sam admits.
Sitting on a velvet couch at the Auckland dance studios, dressed in pale grey leggings and an oversized sweater, she basically curls in on herself when we discuss her live dancing debut.
"What people don't realise is that when I do a story for the news, usually I've come up with the story idea, done the research, gone out with my cameraman, and then afterwards I script the story and work with the editor to put it all together… I'm in control of the entire process. I've had to cede control to someone else now. And I find that very difficult," she laughs.
"Particularly when it comes to putting on a tiny little Latin dress with tassels and sparkles that might be quite revealing."
When Sam says the words "tassels", "sparkles" and "quite revealing", her voice goes up an octave or two.
"I keep telling myself throughout the process: I just have to let go, and have fun. So I'm putting on the sequins and I'm going with it. There is an amazing team of people working on this and I am just trusting them. I trust them! I mean, the whole point of the show is to have a good time."
Sam's personal history with dancing was less than your average Kiwi girl; there were no ballet lessons for her growing up in South Otago; Sam's after-school activities were all about horses. So she decided she'd at least give it a go before she turned down the Dancing with the Stars producers.
This would be the perfect place for a plot twist – one in which Sam would discover she was a natural dancer. Sadly, it was not the case.
"I was terrible," she laughs. "But when I left the lesson, I realised I'd had a really great time. And it was enlightening because it showed me that even though I had no idea what I was doing, it was still really fun. I thought maybe it'll be a great adventure. And why not? How often do you get to do something like this in your life?"
In typical Sam form, the minute she said yes to the show she put together a plan.
"The first thing I put on my to-do list was to watch all the previous seasons of Dancing with the Stars – New Zealand, Australia, UK, the US. But I haven't been able to watch one episode because every time I think about it, I freak out! It makes it all too real. So I just have my blinkers on: I go to dance practice and I'm in my own little bubble of me and my dance partner, and then I go and do the news, which is my happy place."
Unlike some of the other competitors, who are less high-profile, Sam's day job co-anchoring the 6pm Newshub broadcast keeps her on our TV screens five nights a week. She's been sitting next to news veteran Mike McRoberts for two years in a well-respected position she has worked hard to get, since the age of 17 when her star potential caught the eye of former MediaWorks News Chief Mark Jennings.
Doing both jobs now means the concept of work/life balance has been thrown out the window. From 8am each day you will find Sam and her dance partner rehearsing at the studio, and then from 1.30pm she heads to MediaWorks to start her proper job. From Tuesday through Friday she learns that week's dance, does a dress rehearsal on Saturday, then performs it live on either Sunday or Monday (contestants don't know which night they perform so must be prepared for either). This routine will continue for as long as voters keep her in the game.
"Being a journalist and doing the news is my first priority, and then second to that is doing a really good job on Dancing with the Stars," she says. "And we've got some really big news happening throughout this: for example, the royal wedding, the Prime Minister is going to have her baby. So if there's a big news event unfolding one week, I may not be very good at dancing that weekend. I hope the public will be forgiving!"
It's the public's perception of her that played a big part in Sam's decision to say yes to the show. As a newsreader, she presents a formal face to the world because she has to; world news is rarely, if ever, a laughing matter. But it means that when it comes to us knowing the real Samantha Hayes, there can be a bit of a gap. "Part of the reason for doing the show is to have the opportunity to be myself a little more on television, to show people a bit more of who I am," she says honestly. "There's not a lot of room for personality when it comes to reading the news. I love to have fun and joke around and [Dancing] is somewhere maybe this will shine through a little more."
The truth of Sam's personality is that she is actually a big ol' nerd who just happens to look like she could moonlight as a Bond Girl. Her favourite things include Antarctica, horses, and news research. She's been at the top of multiple sexiest woman polls of the past, but it's a label she doesn't understand. The sexy nature of the Latin moves she has to perform on the show makes her grit her teeth – she far prefers the ballroom style of moving: smooth, straightforward, "floaty and nice".
Her dance partner, who she can't name just yet because Dancing with the Stars apparently requires an MI5 level of security, has been "very patient" when it comes to getting her performance-ready. "He's been able to pick up really quickly how I learn things," she says, before she starts laughing.
"We do have a slight problem – going back to my tendency of trying to be in control of everything, all the time – where I may have given him some suggestions for choreography. I've got some ideas" – the giggling intensifies – "and somehow I don't think he's very interested. Oh and the other thing I do is… well, he's the male, so he's supposed to lead. But often I will take the lead, and he'll just stand there looking at me, waiting for me to realise what I've done… yet again.
"I'm a little bit bossy," she says finally, a bit sheepishly. "But we're getting there!"
Would she describe herself as competitive? "I definitely have a competitive nature," she agrees. "But it would be a bit bananas for me to be competitive about this, because I have absolutely no skills in this area at all. I just want to have a good time – and not be the first person voted off!"
The other good part of staying in the competition longer – minus the terror – is that for every episode she's in, she'll be raising more money for New Zealand Riding for the Disabled, which offers therapeutic horse riding to those with physical and intellectual disabilities. "I know how much of a positive impact horses can have on a child's life," she says.
In between the samba-ing and the newsreading, there is another type of duet going on in Sam's life – no apologies for the dance pun – and that is the fact that she is dating someone. It's not a comfortable topic for her.
"Because of the nature of my job, so much of my life is public. And while that's generally awesome, it means that details of my life I would like to keep private do tend to make it into the public sphere, and they have their own challenges," she says. "But yes, I am in a relationship and we are really happy. He's been incredibly supportive through this busy time; I don't think I could do it without him, really."
Has she practised her dance routines in front of him? She bursts out laughing. "I have found that when you do some dance moves in the studio, you tend to think, 'Oh my God, I'm doing it!' and then when you go home and try and recreate it… it's not quite what you imagined it to be. So yes, I've shown him a few moves and he is being wonderfully encouraging about how good they look!"
No matter what happens with the dancing, Sam says it's been invaluable to get out of her comfort zone.
"It's really easy to say no… but saying yes was the right decision because it means you force yourself into doing something you wouldn't do otherwise and, in doing so, you learn a lot about yourself. And the other thing is that people do generally only know me from the news, and perhaps if they get to know me in a slightly different way through this show, that would be a really good thing. They may not like me" – she starts laughing – "but that's a gamble I guess I'm willing to take."
Dancing with the Stars screens on Three on Sunday and Monday evenings from April 29.
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