Marama Fox’s elimination from Dancing with the Stars NZ on Monday caused outrage across the nation. She talks with Leonie Hayden about leaving the show, ‘scrapping’ with producers, and why she wouldn’t back down on using her performances to showcase Māoritanga.
Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox is often painted, fairly and unfairly, as firey, mouthy and bossy. In episode one of Dancing With The Stars she was chastised by the judges for making jokes about telling her dance partner, Brad Coleman, what to do and even though she danced well, she received the lowest points of the night. When she labelled her dance partner a ‘skinny white boy’ with her typical irreverent humour, the reverse racism police were waiting. And it was all uphill slog from there, with judges regularly awarding lower points for dances that were demonstrably better than many of her castmates (in the author’s humble opinion).
Ever willing to compromise – a skill well learned after nine years at the table with National, I imagine – Fox put her head down, determined to make it work, and not only nailed the dance steps but channelled her energy into bespoke performances to te reo Māori songs, showcasing kapa haka and Māori design. This resulted in two of the most spectacular and unique performances the reality format has seen – a Viennese Waltz with long poi, set to Maisey Rika’s ‘Tangaroa Whakamautai’, and a fierce Paso Doble, the dance of the matador, featuring Fox in moko kauae wearing the colours of the tino rangatiratanga flag and Māori ‘warrior’ Paora Sharples sparring with the pair as the bull.
And then she was voted off.
It was a humbled Fox that chatted to me yesterday; she seemed proud and grateful for her time on Dancing With The Stars.
Which just made me angrier.
Leonie Hayden: Are you hōhā? Cos I am.
Marama Fox: I wasn’t hōhā, although I’ve got a popped rib and a sore shoulder. Every time I move it’s like owww. It’ll settle down now that no one’s throwing me around.
So are you happy that the show’s ended?
My first goal was just to beat David Seymour [laughs]. But it’s fine, it’s fine. I’ve got a lot of work to do and it’s really cutting into my days and my nights and my weekends and my everything. It was great and it was fun while it lasted but everyone’s gotta go home sometime and this week is was my turn.
I thought you brought more creativity to what is quite a stock standard reality TV format than anyone I’ve seen on one of these shows…
The first in the world, somebody said, to do the poi in a Viennese Waltz!
[laughs] I had to look up what a Viennese Waltz was. I saw them dancing with these things on their wrists, and I thought ‘I could do that with poi!’ It really came together. And what I loved about it was dancing to ‘Tangaroa Whakamautai’ by Maisey Rika, an amazing song. When I first put that forward, the producers rejected it. Twice! Said it wasn’t recognisable enough. I said, ‘Excuse me? To who? Everyone I know recognises it.’ If you’re going to ask me what my song is – that’s my song. If you don’t want Māori language songs, then don’t ask me.
Did you get a lot of pushback on those kinds of suggestions?
Yes. But once they saw it come together, they really appreciated it. And so the next week when we wanted to do the Pasa Doble and we wanted to bring in a warrior, that was ka pai. And had I stayed I was going to be doing a dance to Maimoa. So they realised it was good for the show and they started taking me a little more seriously.
It makes it all the more galling though, that you had to fight twice as hard to get them to recognise Māori culture, then you got it there and it was wonderful, and then you got voted off over a guy that literally fucking fell over.
[Cracks up laughing]
Pardon my language.
I know, aw Rog. I mean, I thank him so much for falling over cos that was my big fear, that I would fall over on national television and look like a tosser. So thanks Rog, thanks so much cuzzie. You’ve broken the ice now. But you know, it’s a popularity contest, it’s a narrative, it’s a whatever-it-is. That poi dance was pretty special and just the way everything came together with so much help from other people. I helped design some of the patterns for the dress, I got paua from down in Carterton. It looked beautiful.
What I was most proud of, out of the whole thing, is that it helped illustrate so clearly, without me saying a word, that when you add Māori language and cultural elements to something, it doesn’t diminish it, it elevates it. Don’t be scared of it.
You’re being very positive.
One thing I was annoyed about was I did it to help Ka Pai Kaiti but Vodafone take whatever out of every text. I don’t know how much and they don’t say how much. I also don’t know how many people voted. I do know people have spent thousands of dollars collectively over these last few weeks, so I want to know that every cent goes to my charity. Vodafone should take their fee off! It’s for charity for goodness sake.
That’s a really great point. Is there any way of finding out how many votes went through and what their cut is?
No, not until it’s paid out. But then we don’t know what their cut is. Vodafone would have to come forward and say so. Apparently it’s all done by accountants and it’s all moderated. Mediaworks don’t take anything. But why not just tell us?
It’s not like they can’t afford it.
I asked for them to auction the dress from that show for our charity, so that’s going to happen later this year at the Kiingitanga charity auction.
Having the future Māori king there in the audience was a highlight. We basically took over the show that night by having him on board, which sort of made it up to me that [the producers] had prevented me from getting to the 160th Kiingitanga celebrations because they wanted me at a rehearsal that took half an hour of walking around, the same thing we’d done the week before. I tried to tell them that surely it’s not vitally important but they insisted that I come. And then I found out that someone else was away and it was OK for them, just not for me. I was so annoyed by it. I said, I know this day is not important to you but it’s important to me and it’s historically important to this nation. So I was going to protest and stand in the middle of the dance floor with my tino rangatiratanga flag. But in the Paso Doble – I just wore it instead! I don’t think they realised I was wearing a tino rangatiratanga flag…[laughs]
I told them when I left, ‘You’re going to lose ratings cos all my Māoris are gonna stop watching’.
You’re not wrong! I’m sure the other contestants are very nice but it’s not super compelling watching without you, to be honest.
Aw you’re so lovely. They’re all giving it good go. I said to everyone when I left, it’s alright guys, this is not homelessness, it’s just entertainment. It’s been fun and now the fun’s ended and now I’ve got work to do. Enjoy!
That puts it into perspective for me because I’ve been quite angry about your trajectory. It’s hard to articulate but right from the beginning it felt like there was….
An anti-Marama vibe?
Yes! In episode one it was you and Robbie, you both got great comments and low points and other contestants who were much worse were getting nice comments and high points. It just felt a little like that ‘you have to work twice as hard just to be taken seriously’ vibe that we’re so familiar with.
Yeah it did feel a bit like that, and then I had the scrap with them over the song, and then I had the scrap with them over the Kiingitanga celebrations, and then I thought – bugger it. I’m just going to own it now. The night the future Māori king came I made them mention mention him in the credits, I had protocol meetings with the producers, I made sure Dai [Henwood] rehearsed it over and over again when he came in. Everybody stood when he came in. It was a great honour actually, to have our people here and to enjoy that moment as well.
One of the dancers came up to me bawling last night at the end, who’d come home from Italy, said the Paso made her cry and made her feel like she’s come home. So job done really.
I’ll try and take that away but honestly, I’m still mad. You contributed that beautiful thing and got voted off anyway!
It’s just like the bloody election! [laughs] Not always the right people make it to the top. Some people are still on there for fluff and entertainment value, cos they’re hilarious to watch, and some are doing better and better every week and progressing in their dancing skills. I’m happy to move on now.
Well, you deserve to rest your aching muscles for a bit.
I came off stage and literally cried because I was so sore! The night before I fell asleep in the bath. I was soaking in Epsom salts and I woke up in the freezing cold, which I think made it even worse. Tragic!
Are you keen to do reality TV again?
Reality TV’s not something I enjoy or watch. I did this for my health, as motivation to get physical, and for Ka Pai Kaiti, to support a charity. I’m not watching a day to day soap opera of someone’s life, I can’t think of anything more boring. But I’d be interested in leading a political late night show! Get interesting peeps on to talk about political literacy and great moments of activism in our nation where they can tell the behind the scenes story. Like Tame [Iti]. What were you doing in the bush with the guns Tame, Come on!
I hereby commission that TV show.
Watch Marama’s stunning Viennese Waltz
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.