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The Real Dirty Dancing's Jessica Rowe on returning to TV and achieving work-life balance

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been!”

By Zara Zubeidi
When presenter Jessica Rowe announced her departure from Studio 10 last year, she tearfully told the audience she wanted to be "a more present mum" for her daughters, Allegra and Giselle.
"My family need me," she said. "It's something I need to do – it's as simple as that."
Fast-forward 18 months – and plenty of precious family time later – and Jessica admits she hasn't looked back.
While she considers her time at Studio 10 as "the best job I've ever had on television", taking a step back from full-time work has been exactly what the star needed – not just for the sake of her family, but her mental health too.
"It's been wonderful," Jessica, 49, tells TV WEEK. "It's the happiest I've ever been. I feel very lucky I've been able to make this choice. I appreciate that for many families it's not as simple.
"For me to step back, but still choose projects that bring me joy and fit around my family, is wonderful. I'm still feeling professionally fulfilled, but I'm able to do it in a much more manageable way with my family, and it's fabulous."
Jessica says that as a result of the time off, her mental health has changed "enormously".
"I feel lighter," she admits. "It's wonderful."
Jess looks back fondly on her Studio 10 days with Ita Buttrose, Joe Hildebrand and Sarah Harris.
In between publishing her first book, Diary Of A Crap Housewife, and producing her podcast, "One Fat Lady & One Thin Lady", alongside former Studio 10 co-star Denise Drysdale, one of the projects Jess has recently embraced is Channel Seven's new show, The Real Dirty Dancing.
Joined by seven other celebrities, including Jamie Durie and Hugh Sheridan, Jessica flew to Virginia in the US to learn the iconic dance routines from the hit 1987 film, before strutting her stuff in front of a live audience in Australia.
Jessica thought the opportunity sounded "fantastic" but, ultimately, it was her husband, journalist Peter Overton, who encouraged her to sign up.
"He's such a support in the sense that he was like, 'If you want to do it, we'll make it work,'" she explains.
"Even though it [filming] was intense, we were away for a relatively short period, and that made it very appealing – although I did miss Pete and the girls dreadfully!"
Jessica says filming for the show was far more confronting than she'd expected it to be.
"There were times when I felt vulnerable, because it was a whole new experience for me," she says. "I struggled with the 'dirty dancing' aspect. It's not called 'uptight dancing' or 'daggy mum dancing'. For me, that was the hardest part – letting go of my inhibitions and throwing myself into the spirit of the movie."
Jess practises an iconic scene with choreographers Todd McKenney and Kym Johnson.
In particular, Jess struggled to unlock "a part of myself that I'd shut down" – that is, the "sexy" side of her.
"That was hard," she adds. "I didn't expect it to be as confronting for me and to struggle the way I did. When you're a mum, your focus shifts. I'm thinking about my family and looking after them. You forget about that part of yourself – it falls by the wayside because you get busy.
"Let's face it, you don't often feel very sexy. A lot of life isn't sexy... the grind of daily life. For me, it was confronting and, at times, excruciating."
In spite of her doubts, Jess feels confident she overcame that barrier.
"I was very proud of myself at the end," she explains. "I just went for it and thought if I do it, I may as well go down in flames in the sense that I won't do it half-heartedly. You need to put it all out there, and I reckon I did that."
Jess' courage extends to her everyday life, not just on the dance floor. The star, who turns 50 next June, says the older she gets, the braver she becomes when it comes to making choices.
"I feel like I've got nothing to lose, so I may as well give things a crack," she explains.
For that reason, she's open to "anything and everything" with regards to what's next.
Nobody puts Jess in the corner.
"You never know what's around the corner," Jess says. "And what I'm learning and continuing to embrace is to be open to all sorts of opportunities. You never know what's going to come your way, and it's so important to keep learning and growing.
"The older I get, I learn that planning isn't necessarily sensible. In my twenties, I used to think that career was linear, but it's not. It's all over the shop – you can go backwards, up, down... but that's the stuff of life."
As for how she'll mark the big 5-0, Jess would prefer to keep it low-key.
"You wouldn't think it, but I'm actually quite shy!" she says with a laugh. "The thought of being the centre of attention at my birthday party fills me with horror.
"But I'd love for me and Pete to go away together somewhere special. We went to New York for our 10-year wedding anniversary, which was amazing."
But that's not to say turning 50 isn't something to be celebrated.
"I do think 50 is a significant age," Jess says. "I loved my forties, and it can only get better in my fifties. You care less about what people think, and it's so freeing."
The Real Dirty Dancing airs Sunday, 7pm, and Monday, 7:30pm, on Channel Seven.

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