Strictly Come Dancing is dominating the Saturday night ratings again. The BBC flagship programme fills millions of homes every week with the glitter, glamour, fun, dynamism and drama of competitive dance. And in the thick of the action for several series has been the striking figure of Natalie Lowe.
Natalie has made a great impact on the show since her debut for the seventh series and six years later she is still one of the most recognisable figures amongst the elite professional ensemble. Her first two seasons have been highly memorable and taken her to with touching distance of the winners trophy. The Aussie forged memorable partnerships with actors Ricky Whittle, whom she took to the final on her début series, and TV Eastender Scott Maslen who reached the semi-final in 2010.
She has also formed entertaining partnerships with Olympic heavyweight champion boxer Audley Harrison and former Ashes winning England cricket captain Michael Vaughan. Natalie’s ability to forge strong working relationships and get the best out of partners with even the most limited of dancing skills ha always been apparent. She exudes typical Australian traits of friendly openness, endearing optimism and a natural radiance and vibrance, but she confesses to a absolute love of her adopted home and is now a confirmed Anglophile. “I just love it here, the people, the variety up and down the country, the opportunities, even the weather is not always as bad as people say!RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
“When I left Dancing with The Stars in Australia I had the choice of UK or USA and I just never really saw myself as a USA kind of girl. No doubt America would have been tremendous, but the UK always felt it would be much more like home and I don’t regret that decision for a second. “I honestly could not be happier. It is such a pleasure and privilege to be in this position and whilst it really is extraordinarily intense, physically hard work and very nearly a 24 hour a day commitment when Strictly is in full swing, it is an absolute joy to be involved.”
In the process of meeting and working with Natalie for this feature I caught glimpses of the time input involved. Emails from her would appear at 3.00am followed by another three hours later when she had grabbed her ‘nights’ sleep. “The preparation for the show starts several weeks in advance when we are working on the group dances that will be rolled out throughout the series. Then we are also developing our own choreography that will be put into practice over the course of hopefully several weeks with our celebrity.
But until we know who we have and begin to see what they are capable of and how far we can push them it is impossible to make hard and fast plans at this stage. “Once we are under way it really is a seven day a week job with up to 12 hours a day or more committed to choreographing, dancing, competing as well as the media activities and other important obligations around the show.”
What might surprise some is that there is no respite even after the tension and adrenalin of the weekend’s live TV performance. “It all starts again straight away. After the buzz and excitement of the show itself I’ll be up until perhaps 4am putting the new routine together and then up three hours later to start the teaching process again. Once the Strictly juggernaut starts rolling I generally work on four hours sleep in every 24 and that allows just enough rest and recuperation and maximises working time.”
All of which means Natalie must ensure her body and mind are able to operate with tremendous stamina, strength, consistency and clarity under circumstances that would have the most energetic person flagging. A champion athlete in her school days she has always had a love of physical activity and an understanding of the efforts and benefits of exercising and competing. Without a healthy body and mind it is clear five months of Strictly could be a shattering experience.
At 5ft 9 Natalie stands a full head above most of her fellow female professionals and her body shape and frame suggest 400m runner or Heptathlete as much as dancer which she admits works both for and against her, “Of course I am a different proposition to the ‘pocket rockets’ on the show but that is fine. By comparison there is quite a bit more of me to propel in all directions compared to most of the other girls and I have to do it with the same pace, poise and precision of smaller dancers who are perfectly suited to more ‘frantic’ and dynamic dances. However my longer limbs and more angular frame lend themselves really well to ballroom disciplines where I can capitalise on the elegant lines that are required.”
A dancer’s fitness
In some respects dancing on Strictly is like entering a Decathlon. Each dance is a different discipline and they might be as far removed as the grace of the Viennese Waltz to the manic explosiveness of the jive. Each one places different requirements on a body that has to be able to adjust, adapt and perform at the very highest level each time. The four-time Australian Dance Champion has worked several times a week with leading London PT’s and her workout routines are designed to maintain and enhance strength, stamina, flexibility and balance.
Bosu balance work, gymnastic rings, TRX suspension training, spinning, Pilates, boxing, interval training, free weights, monkey bars and weight jackets all form part of her training sessions and are designed to give the the widest all round benefits to apply to every dancing challenge. “I love exercise and always have which definitely helps”, explained Natalie, “It is imperative to be in peak condition leading up to the show because there’s not much time for anything other that dance once we start and that platform of ideal physical conditioning and preparation has to be in place. On tour we can do 90 shows in three months and the intensity of Strictly is similar. There just isn’t time to go to the gym four or five times a week, so we have to be in optimum shape right from the word go, thereafter dance fitness takes over.”
Diet is also critical and long hours and erratic timings can make eating routines a little tricky but Natalie sticks to natural and organic products on a little but often basis. One of the joys of being on the show is the pleasure of working with her partners. “I know it’s all about them learning to dance and working with us to achieve the highest standards they can, but we really get a boost from them too.
Inspiring and being inspired
It can be so rewarding and uplifting to see them progress and tackle what are really quite incredible challenges at times. Some dances are so technical they take years to perfect yet some of these celebrities do incredible jobs in only a matter of days. I am constantly thrilled and amazed by the celeb performances. “Michael Vaughan was a great example. He started off as a genuine non-dancer and someone who was scoring pretty low from the outset and was receiving some quite strong criticism from the judges. But he was working so hard and within a few weeks he was scoring 9’s and getting a standing ovation from a full-house Wembley Arena crowd!”
Natalie doesn’t believe there is one particular type of celebrity partner who has a major advantage over another. “There is often talk about how the show suits a certain background but in my direct experience that isn’t really true. It is a fact that actors are trained to come out of themselves, put on a performance and they understand stage and presentation and camera and how best to use their body in these ways. On the other hand a sportsperson knows almost nothing about these elements.
However what they do know is training, preparation, drilling techniques, repetition and then performing under a spotlight. And then you’ve got the likes of Zoe Ball, a TV and radio presenter who did brilliantly well and Chris Hollins, a TV sports reporter, who became champion! I don’t think there is any definite perfect background or ingredient. If you can immerse yourself in it, commit fully to training and have the ability to turn in on in front the TV viewing nation you have a chance.”
But if one type of contestant has impressed her it has been the sportsmen. Because of her height and weighing around 60kg she is naturally never going to be paired with an older man standing 5ft 5. During her time on Australia’s Dancing With The Stars she partnered an Olympic sprinter, an Aussie Rules legend (with whom she won) and an IBO World Champion boxer and she believes she derived as much from the experience as they did.
“To see first hand their determination, dedication and application to something that was so new and alien to them was amazing. It was inspiring to me and made me realise why they had risen to the top of their respective sports. Nothing less than total commitment is required and they had it in abundance.” But it wasn’t all one way. Boxer Danny Green even came out of retirement after his experience of working with Natalie, claiming she had made the light heavyweight lighter on his feet than ever before, making him realise he could still compete and improve as a boxer – a fact proven by several notable victories following his ring return.
So far Natalie has partnered two actors in Strictly Come Dancing and they have formed outstanding partnerships. Some of her dances with Scott Maslen and Ricky Whittle are amongst the shows most memorable and head judge Len Goodman was even moved to comment that “Ricky and Natalie are the most formidable couple Strictly has ever seen.” Away from the glitz and glamour of TV and the world of dance Natalie takes every opportunity to indulge in outdoor pursuits such as: running, hiking, rock climbing, camping and all manner of water sports from swimming, surfing and water skiing to her great passion of fishing.
A dancer and her fishing rod…
It couldn’t be any further removed from dancing which is why she enjoys the contrast. “I adore water anyway and fishing just gives that time to relax and think and it is so therapeutic”. It is probably a safe bet to say Natalie is the only member of the Strictly cast who endorses fishing products! She is an ambassador for Okuma Ladies Pink Rods & Reels which supports The Breast Cancer Foundation. But as the BBC’s top rating programme continues to bond the generations in front of the TV on a Saturday and Sunday night, she is entirely aware of her profile and role model status and loves nothing more than meeting and working with the public.
Over the last 18 months Natalie Lowe has helped conceive, devise and has fronted a hugely successful new dance fitness class called FitSteps and achieved an ambition of actively taking the combination of dance and exercise to the masses in a fun, engaging and truly effective way. For more information on Natalie visit www.natalielowe.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook