If there's one TV show that's a serious hot-bed for sizzling new romances, it has to be Dancing with the Stars NZ. And it's this that makes Shavaughn Ruakere burst into nervous laughter.
The Kiwi actress has just performed her first dance on the show and Woman's Day caught up with her before the show aired. Shavaughn confesses that rehearsals with her new dance partner are already flaming with passion.
"There's a lot of time it's just the two of you and you become very familiar with each other," she says with a smile. "Like with ballroom, you are very close to each other and I suppose I get a bit giggly.
"And in the opening scene, I was wearing a dress with lots of tassels that were going down the neckline, and he just reached down and got them out!"
The former Shortland Street favourite says she isn't ruling out romance on the show. It comes after her relationship with Rhythm & Vines festival organiser Toby Burrows – who she moved to Los Angeles with – recently ended.
And let's not forget she is used to falling in love in the limelight, with a well-publicised three-year relationship with Clarke Gayford, who is now expecting his first child with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
"I'm single, so it could happen," she explains with a mischievous look.
"The dating scene in LA is horrendous but I don't mind being single.
"I'm really happy with my dance partner (Enrique Johns). He's a really good teacher. That was my biggest thing. I was thinking, I hope we get along because we are going to be spending a lot of time together."
It's been four years since the TV presenter-turned-actress has been a regular on New Zealand TV as Shorty nurse Roimata Ngatai, and her much-anticipated return is filled with nerves. She's been packing in days of training and has even hired a personal trainer to whip her into tip-top shape. She means business!
"Rehearsals have been challenging," Shavaughn admits. "At the moment, it's very up and down and I will have one day where I can feel outrageously proud of myself because I actually learnt how to do something. Then there are other days when I go home and it's a lot to take on. It's already a bit of an emotional rollercoaster."
But the former What Now presenter confesses she had zero doubts about taking time out from the LA audition circuit to return home for the hit reality show.
She packed her bags for the City of Angels back in 2016 – and while she's tight-lipped about up-coming projects, she says that life in the US is good. "I love LA," she tells. "I have fallen in love with that city. I have had friends who have come over who I thought would fall in love with the place and they've been like, 'It's great but we miss home.'
"But I love both. It's so good to come home, but I also look forward to heading back at the end of the year. There's a good contingency of Kiwis out there to hang out with."
In between rehearsals, the down-to-earth star is trying to squeeze in time at the family farm in Taranaki, and rang in her 40th birthday surrounded by her closest family in March.
"Just getting feral on the farm has been so good," Shavaughn says with that larger-than-life laugh. "And I have six nieces and nephews, so I got to hang out with them a lot.
"When I'm rehearsing, I'm staying in Auckland with my brother, and he's got a 13-year-old and a five-month-old bubby, so I am getting a lot of family time."
Did she have any trepidation about the big 40? "I don't have issues with birthdays," she explains. "Being 40 is cool. You start working things out about yourself and you like yourself a bit more.
"And one of my best friends, Helena McAlpine, she passed away at 37, so I don't want to complain about turning 40."
Shavaughn has chosen to dance for the Breast Cancer Foundation in memory of Helena, the vivacious TV star who died after a long battle with the cruel disease back in 2015.
And Shavaughn admits she's been swotting-up on old episodes of the US version of the show, hoping to pick up some winning tips.
So, she's in it to win it, then? "My mum gave me a card for my birthday that said, 'Dance like you are the only one in the room,'" she says with a laugh. "And I am trying to remember that, rather than hundreds of thousands of people watching.
"And who knows, I might get the chance to improve on 20 years of dancing around a handbag on the d-floor at a party."
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