Monday, April 16, 2018

INTERVIEW. Vanes-Mari du Toit waves Dancing with the Stars SA goodbye: 'I look back and think, Vanes-Mari you were crazy, but it was worth every sacrifice, every minute of pain'.

On Sunday night Vanes-Mari du Toit, the international netball player, became the 9th celebrity contestant to be voted out of Dancing with the Stars SA on M-Net (DStv 101), saying that looking back, it was worth every sacrifice, every minute of pain and that she won a life experience.

TVwithThinus spoke with Vanes-Mari du Toit who was paired with the professional dancer Johannes Radebe during the show, as she opened up about the additional challenge of learning to wear heels and her dream of branching out into sports TV presenting.

For the first time Vanes-Mari's talking about the multiple serious physical injuries she sustained and never revealed, losing 13kg and needing new underwear, dancing herself "older and more mature" - and also the unexpected pushback she and Johannes got for being an interracial couple on TV and how she won't give that negativity any energy.

Is there anything you think you could have done differently?
Absolutely not. 
I've done everything to the best of my abilities. I've given everything I have to this competition and I've left everything on the dance floor. The only thing that I would have changed before the competition is actually walking in heels.
I definitely would have forced myself to walk in heels. 

So it was an additional challenge in learning the dance routines, right?
I never used to wear heels at all. 
I'm 6 foot 2, it's never expected of me to wear heels and I never wanted to be the lamp post - I never want to be the tallest person in the room.
The first two weeks of our rehearsals when we started week 1, that first week was just about walking in heels and not falling over, not spraining your ankle. Literally just walking in heels was a big challenge for me. 

What has the experience of being part of this show been like for you?
This show has meant more to me than a trophy or a finale. Just the experience to be able to push yourself to the limit and learn so many things.
 And I got to meet an amazing human being with my dance partner Johannes Radebe who's such an inspiration for me. I've learnt so much from him; from his culture - not just as a dancer but as a person and life in general.
We've really grown together and to love another - two people from such vastly different backgrounds and we've created and formed this amazing friendship.

Also, the hard work and taking yourself outside of your comfort zone - you know that you're being pushed to your absolute limits right now and that you need to persevere. I always knew that I was a fighter and I always knew that I'm someone who never gives up but you know, when you're in situations like this dancing competition, that is when it comes out.
I can really lift my head high and be proud of what I've accomplished.

You obviously come out of a sports background, you're a strong sportswoman; psychologically you know about determination and pushing temporary pain to the background and focusing on the end goal. How do you think that helped you?
A very good question, I think in a way it's been great but it has also been a bit of a handicap.
Sport has taught me discipline, it's taught me how to work hard for your dreams and what you want to achieve, goal-setting, to persevere. But netball is different to dancing in that regard in that what's expected of you as a dancer is not only a physical attribute - you need to have a performance base as well.

What I struggled with being a sports person is being able to "perform" at the level that some of the performers are performing at. For the first couple of weeks I had serious anxiety going onto that floor. You're performing - just you and your partner, alone, in front of all of those people, in front of the cameras. I did have performance anxiety quite a bit because I'm not used to performing and being in that role and also "acting" it as some of my competitors who are performing artists.

You know, most performing artists - actors, singers - they've all done movement as a subject during. They've done dancing in some capacity when it comes to performing arts, they know how to count and move, where from my experience I have zero, zero experience when it comes to that. The executive producer Kee-Leen Irvine joked and said of me "She can't even walk while chewing gum at the same time". I had zero rhythm, I had zero coordination. 

But when it comes to playing netball in a team environment I'm very much a team player and I think that's why I'm so good at ballroom because that's a team effort - you connect with your partner, you're doing your part and he's doing his part. I struggled with Latin because you're very exposed as a dancer - you have to dance on your own and that kind of stuff.

So after you did the very first dance, was it then an icebreaker or did it make you even more fearful of the next dance?
It was more of an icebreaker. 
I think the fact that we got good reviews - we did our Quickstep first - and I did have a slip in the Quickstep - but that I could pull it through and still perform - it wasn't an icebreaker, it wasn't really being fearful of the next dance. What it did was that it opened by eyes. It introduced me to performing. So every week it got easier, if that makes sense. 

Every week it got a bit easier to step out onto the dance floor and to own it. But not being a performer, and being thrown into the deep end like that, that was tough. And being the last sportsperson left in the competition I just wanted to make sportspeople proud.

If you think about sportspeople, we're people who work hard behind the scenes and then we do our thing when it's necessary and we accomplish the goals that we set. But it's not a permanent "performing" situation - it's a hardworking situation; you're doing it for the greater good, you're doing it for your country, you're doing it for your team, you're doing it for so many other reasons.

With dance you're doing it for yourself and that's something I realised that I had to overcome that. 
I'm always doing so many things for everybody else that I forget about myself.

How do you feel about being voted out?
I really wanted to be in the finale - let's start with that.
I would have loved to be in that final. Johannes and I have overcome so many adversities but I do believe - and you can put this on record - I do believe that I am the most improved dancer out of all of the dancing contenders when it comes to where we started and where we ended up.

There's certain people with very natural abilities that dancing comes more naturally to, there are people who've got natural rhythm and performance - all of those are things that I really had to work hard at to accomplish and I held my own against them.

Falling out is a relative term because I feel we were so close to getting into the finale. We've danced every episode of this season of Dancing with the Stars SA on M-Net. I'm very proud of how far we've come.

I've won. I've won more than just a final and a trophy. I've won a life experience, lessons and memories that I will treasure forever.

What do you think of the judges?
Oh I absolutely love the judges. 
My honest, honest, honest opinion is that I do think they were sometimes a little bit too hard on me in the way that they've compared me to some of the other competitors and not to myself.

But I take it. I take it with grace because they know what they're talking about. Those judges are so educated in dancing, I've got so much respect for them. And they're lovely people too. 

We're not allowed to mingle too much with them at all, but the small encounters I've had with them has really been lovely. Bryan is a Latin champ and I'm still going to work on that - I'll get him one day. 

What was the hardest for you?
I had injuries that I never mentioned and didn't bring up.
I've torn my hip abductor which is your muscle in your hip - I tore that muscle. I tore the back of my knee. I had bleeding blisters - not just blisters. I dislocated my finger. I fell on my shoulder so badly that I tore a part of my rotator cuff but it's all things I chose not to reveal.

It was a choice: Am I going to be a victim to the set of circumstances or am I going to ride the bus?
So the injuries were a very big mental battle for me. 

Then also being in so many dance-offs. After being in so many dance-offs you start to think am I really that bad? Your mind wants you to think am I really that bad, I'm probably not going to make it, make peace with that, you're not as good as the rest.

And then I realised that where you land is just as a result of the scoring we just need to keep on working and control what you can control. So Johannes and I had a conversation about controlling the controlables - we can't control the judges' scoring, we can't control the voting. What we can control is the product we put on the floor and things like how many hours we work.

We have worked until midnight - we lived in the same apartment block - we have come home at 1am numerous occasions that we had almost contemplated sleeping in studio. That was how much and how dedicated Johannes and I were during this competition.
I look back and think, Vanes-Mari you were crazy, but it was worth every sacrifice, every minute of pain, every minute of self-doubt. 

Looking back I've grown so much as a person and I always say you grow when you're out of your comfort zone and this was completely out of my comfort zone.

How did your body change?
Did you see the picture I posted on Instagram? I posted a picture, my husband and I were on honeymoon until 10 January and on the last day of our honeymoon my husband snapped a picture of me in my bikini.

I told him "I don't approve, I don't like bikini photos of me, I will throw your phone into the ocean, do not do that. He didn't post it onto social media but then we looked back at how I looked 3 months ago and compared it to now and I couldn't believe how my body's changed.

I've lost 13kg. I still need to get from the wardrobe department how many centimetres I've lost - I'd love to know that. 

But my clothes are not fitting me anymore, I need to get new clothing - that's how much my body's changed. I need new underwear. My underwear is falling off me. I need new shirts and pants and everything. My body's changed for the better and I'm definitely planning on keeping it off.

I think it's going to set me up very nicely for netball going forward. We start in May with the Brutal Fruit Championships - our national championships broadcast on SuperSport. So that's what I'm going to be gunning for and hopefully after that continue my international career.
I've been jumping, I've been leaping, I've been twisting, I've been swiveling, I've been doing all these different movements and your body remembers these things.

So I think in a way dancing is preparing me very well for netball when it comes to agility and when it comes to movement. We'll see what happens on court. I think I need to get into gym a little bit because I've lost a lot of muscle since day one. I've become more agile and lighter but in netball you need to be a little bit more stronger - especially in the positions that I play, unless I change my position. I'll talk to the coach and see what happens. I'm excited about my future in sport and possibly in TV. 

Dancing with the Stars SA has opened up the realisation to me that I'm actually very comfortable in front of the camera and I'm very authentic - that's something I've realised. I've stayed myself until the end. Because of that I feel maybe there is a career for me in TV, so I'm definitely going to go for some presenting or acting classes, and you never know.

What type of TV presenting would you like to do? Like a SuperSport show on DStv?
I do do commentating but it's more behind the scenes. It's something that I already do for SuperSport. And here and there I'm on SuperSport for netball, but I would love to be a host of a show or a presenter for a show that's a sports TV magazine programme where we can highlight and showcase all of the lesser-known sports that South Africa is doing really, really well in.

We've got world champions in judo, in underwater hockey. We've got so many great sportspeople in this country who I feel get neglected and who need to be known. 

We've got world champions in triathlon and nobody knows their names. We've literally won gold medals in sporting codes like bowling and canoe-ing and nobody even realises what these people go through. 

So I'd love to go into their sporting minds and make it fun and maybe try out all of these sporting codes. I think it would be really, really cool to showcase what they do.

What did you not expect about this journey?
A difficult one. I didn't expect to lose the weight that I did. I didn't expect to make the level of friends that I made in this competition.
I really, really enjoyed myself. I didn't expect to come this far in this competition, to be honest with you. After being in the dance-off in week three or four, I was thinking "oh we are definitely not making it". But as it went on, the more and more we rehearsed and the better I got with certain things, the more I realised that I can actually do this. 

I never realised how much self-belief I really had in myself and how even more confident dancing could make me. I never expected that either. It's brought out different sides to me. I think I've danced myself older in a way and more mature. I've definitely grown in this competition.

I wanted to ask what did you learn about yourself but you've now already answered that, so let me ask what is there that you want to comment on that I didn't ask?
Uhm, it's a sensitive subject and I don't really even know how to bring it up in a nice way.
But Johannes and I both received some negativity around the fact that we're an interracial couple on South African television on Dancing with the Stars SA on M-Net. 
And some people don't understand that. And that was also one of the struggles and challenges that we had to face. We're not going to give those people any power. And viewers and fans didn't know that. 

So then let me ask, finally, why do you think it's important for South Africa and TV viewers so see an interracial couple, competing together, where they are both highly professional people in their fields, and doing something amazing like Dancing with the Stars SA?
I think it's amazing because that is the future of South Africa. 
And that is the type of South Africa that I would want to raise my children in. 
That's the type of South Africa that I want to live in and have my children in and that I want to be a part of. And that's why it's important to show this.