Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Dancing with a Star

In a new series, intrepid reporter Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise each week to bring you the lowdown.

Rachel Grunwell lets her hair down and shakes it up with a dance lesson from teacher Aaron Gilmore. Photo / Michael Craig
Rachel Grunwell lets her hair down and shakes it up with a dance lesson from teacher Aaron Gilmore. Photo / Michael Craig

What is it? Candy Lane - one of New Zealand's top dancers who is best known as co-host of the hit TV show Dancing With The Stars - is the director of her own studios, where Aucklanders "from ages 2 until death!" can learn to dance everything from hip-hop and zumba to burlesque and ballet. Celebrity dancers made famous on the programme also offer private tuition, including Aaron Gilmore, Jonny Williams, Nerida Cortese and Carol-Ann Hickmore.

What's needed? Comfortable shoes, light clothing and a positive attitude.

The experience: I phone Candy Lane and she lets me choose my challenge, listing a smorgasbord of dance: jazz, ballet, rumba, Latin American, zumba. I'm keen for something that's do-able in an hour for an elephant with two left feet. She reckons I should tackle the cha cha. It's the first dance that the Dancing With The Stars celebrities are broken in on and I "should" be able to learn in one lesson, she reckons. I'm not so sure.
I arrive at the studios and Gilmore glides in with his beaming smile and welcomes me enthusiastically with a gentleman's kiss on the cheek. I'm dizzy already and I haven't even hit the dance floor.

First, we sit for a quick chat. He likes to scope out his clients' abilities, and what they want so he can tailor his tutorial. I tell him when assessing my experience that he should think MP Rodney Hide rather than Lorraine Downes (she and Gilmore won Dancing With The Stars in 2006).

The stunning Candy Lane swoops by to say hello and giggles that I have a small frame so "he'll be able to throw you around the dance floor". At least I have one thing on my side. Actually, I have three other things on my side too, as in three kids who keep me fit.

Champagne arrives at our table, but I try to palm mine off to the photographer. I need my wits about me. I'll already be dancing like a drunk without a drop. We have a mirror-lined studio to ourselves.

Most women would probably stare at Gilmore during their lesson; I spend the hour gawking at my feet and trying to save his.

Gilmore expertly leads me into doing a cha cha here and cha cha there, splaying my hands out in the "New Yorker" pose (with my fingers imitating holding a castanet or think "kick arse nails", he says), to stepping through his arms and doing turns. We repeat moves until I get them and then we piece each part of the dance together. Near the end, he's lifting me up and we're doing spot turns, reverse New Yorkers, spins and even a "dead man's drop". Woo hoo!

He declares that I've done all right. He jokes the proof of this is that "I'm still intact". Some clients mess him up a bit - long-nailed women tend to scratch him on the paws and he even shows off the tooth he lost when a burly bloke accidentally decked him mid-dance. Then there's the celebrity who accidentally kneed him in the groin after misjudging a move.

The dancing was pure delight. I'm no Lorraine Downes, but I gave all the moves a go and best of all I giggled my head off at Gilmore's anecdotes of his dancing days: when he was a schoolboy and given grief for dancing by rugger-heads, he'd tell them at least his sport was with girls and not "playing with boys".

Gilmore says he loves his job. It's a chance to step out of reality for a moment, express himself and have fun. He enjoys teaching everyone, from the "loved up" wedding couples to the cute little girls who like to look pretty and be precise. Gilmore reckons the key to learning a dance is to pretend to be a carefree kid again. Don't overthink it. And I think I just did just that.

How much? Roughly $60-$100 an hour. Gilmore charges $90-$100/hr or $50 for 30-minutes.

Worth it? Absolutely.

Try it: Check out candylane.co.nz, ph (09) 638 5646, 44 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden, Auckland.

Rating: 10/10 - This was fun fitness, the best kind!

- Herald on Sunday

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