Jude Dobson: I'm proud I gave dancing a whirl

Why stepping out of her comfort zone was worth it.

By Donna Fleming
There's a saying that Jude Dobson held close to her heart when she agreed to take part in reality TV show Dancing with the Stars.
It's from Sir Edmund Hillary, and goes, "It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."
She kept those wise words in mind as she stepped way out of her comfort zone to take part in the competition.
"It wasn't about trying to do better than anyone else; it was about doing well for me," says the TV personality, who was the first celebrity eliminated from the Three show last week.
"I wish I had stayed longer, of course, but I am glad I did it. It was challenging and I took some risks. I am proud of me."
It's back to normal life for Jude after her exit from Dancing with the Stars.
Jude reveals there were lots of tears shed backstage after she was eliminated, but most of them weren't hers.
"Everybody was crying and I was like the auntie, consoling them and saying, 'Somebody had to go.' Manu [Vatuvei] was hugging me and crying, and I was saying, 'It's okay, it'll be all right'. There were a few tears when I sat out the back with Nadia [Lim] and Aaron [Gilmore] – I felt sad then. But, to be honest, I think I'd had the death knell in the first week when I got low marks."
Jude and her partner Matt Tatton-Brown (34) received the second lowest marks in week one when they danced the jive.
Jude gave it her best, but was hampered by a freak injury that had happened just a few hours earlier, when she somehow got her thumb stuck in Matt's pocket while doing a lift during a dress rehearsal.
She suffered ligament damage, with her hand swelling and then turning blue.
"It was really painful," concedes Jude, who performed in the live show shortly afterwards with her throbbing hand strapped.
As it was her right hand – the "leading" hand, which has the most contact with her partner – it made a lot of moves tricky. Brandishing a whip at the start of the routine was also hard as she struggled to hold it.
"But that's how it goes; these things happen sometimes," says a philosophical Jude. "You just have to get on with it."
Jude and Matt dancing the foxtrot.
By the time the elimination episode came around the following week, she knew she would have to pull out all the stops because she was starting at a disadvantage.
"I knew it would be quite hard to get out of the bottom two because you really need the public vote to pull you out."
This time, she and Matt got higher marks from the judges for their elegant foxtrot but, unfortunately, it wasn't enough.
"As I was standing there waiting for the results, I was hoping it wasn't going to be me who was leaving, and then
I thought, 'Oh, it is going to be me'. Yes, I was disappointed; I didn't want to be the first one out, but somebody had to be.
"And the thing I was glad about was that at least our last dance was the foxtrot, which is such a cool dance, and it wasn't manky or half-cocked. I was happy about that."
Jude was initially apprehensive about appearing on the show but it proud she gave it a go.
The foxtrot is special to Jude, as it was the favourite dance of her late parents, Naomi and Bill Kirk, whose 63rd wedding anniversary would have been two days after her final DWTS appearance.
She dedicated her performance to her mum, who died three years ago, and her dad, who passed away last year.
"As I was driving there I was thinking about how much my mother and father loved dancing, and how the foxtrot was their thing. They would have loved that I did it."
Jude actually had her mum with her on the dance floor.
As well as wearing her mum's rings, she has a ring featuring a man-made diamond created from Naomi's ashes.
"It sounds freaky if you are not into that sort of thing, but I thought it would be a nice thing to do. I also carry my dad's handkerchief in my handbag, so I have both of them with me."
In another poignant moment, the day after she was eliminated, she received a touching message from her childhood ballet teacher, dance doyenne Valerie Murray, who established the SABA Young Ballet School in Auckland and taught for 60 years.
Valerie, who lived near Jude's parents, had been following her former pupil's progress.
"She sent me a very sweet note saying, 'Your mum and dad would have been so proud of you dear,'" recalls Jude. "That was lovely."
Although Jude did ballet from the age of five to 12 – when she swapped her pointe shoes for riding boots to focus on her passion for horses – she says she's not a natural dancer.
When an email arrived out of the blue with the words "Dancing with the Stars" in the subject line, it took her 36 hours to open it because, while she's always up for a challenge, she wasn't sure if DWTS was something she could do.
Strapping on a pair of heels and doing ballroom dancing on live TV with a partner is a far cry from ballet classes when you're 12, she points out.
So she rang her friend, former children's TV show presenter Suzy Cato (50), who took part in the show last year, for some advice.
"Suzy said, 'Give it a crack, and just trust your partner.' Robert Rakete, who has also done the show, said the same thing. It was helpful to speak to people who are of the same vintage to me – I'm not 20 and I don't bend like a rubber band."
Life is gorgeous with her family in it! Jude adores being a mum to Ella (pictured), Jack and Rosie.
But it wasn't just the dancing side of things that Jude – who at 52 was the oldest female contestant – had to think about.
For the last 15 years she has largely been behind the camera, running her own media production company and putting together a digital parenting resource called Raising Children.
And while Jude fronted a documentary she made last year about Kiwi involvement in saving the French town of Le Quesnoy during World War I, it has been a long time since she was beamed into people's homes five nights a week with her lifestyle show 5.30 With Jude.
"It has felt a bit like coming out from under a rock," the mum of three admits. "But it has been nice to say hello again."
One of the things many DWTS contestants find daunting is the prospect of wearing costumes that can be rather skimpy.
Jude initially wasn't too fazed about that – a former model, she got used to wearing clothes that weren't necessarily her style. But she did take a deep breath when the wardrobe department presented her with the black leather leotard she wore in the first show, which morphed into a less revealing dress during the dance.
"I'd said to Matt, 'I don't want to wear anything that shows my middle-aged mummy tummy.' He said, 'Well, your tummy is definitely covered', and I said, 'But everything else isn't.'
"I was a little bit nervous about wearing it, but everyone was so supportive, I thought, 'What the hell, why not do it?'"
Matt and Jude let it all out on the dance floor during their time on DWTS.
The positive feedback she's had for just taking part at her age, let alone wearing some-thing so daring, was a boost, Jude says.
"I've got so many friends saying, 'Good on you,' I felt like I was out there dancing for every middle-aged woman."
She says she would never have had the confidence to do it if it wasn't for Matt.
"He has been incredible – he has the patience of a saint, that man," says Jude.
"I had a few 'What am I doing?' moments, including one during training when I kept getting one step wrong all the time. I was so frustrated I burst into tears – actually, it was more of a slow seep from my eyes.I said, 'Maybe I shouldn't be doing this.'
"He was really encouraging and he said, 'You need to be kinder to yourself'. Matt really is a good human being and I feel so lucky to have been paired with him.
"We will stay in touch – he's been to dinner with my family and I've got to know his wife Kelsey, so that's one of the good things that has come out of this."
Jude and Matt say goodbye with host Sharyn Casey
Other positives include the camaraderie with the other contestants and dancers, and getting to support her chosen charity, Plunket.
Jude – who recently became a great-aunt and is loving having a little baby in the family again – is keen to promote the service and remind people that it does rely on donations.
"It is a wonderful resource that we are lucky to have and we do tend to take it for granted."
Her husband Graeme and children Ella (23), Jack (20) and Rosie (15) have been hugely supportive, and her initial fears that having their mum dancing on TV would be embarrassing to her kids have been unfounded.
"After I did the jive in the dress that wasn't really a dress I wondered what they would think, but they were all okay.
"Jack said, 'Mum, you rocked it'. The one thing I didn't want to do was embarrass my kids and none of them were, so that's good.
"It's been a great experience, and if, along the way, I have inspired anyone else to get out there and try something new, then that's good too."

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