Ever since she was a little girl, Bindi Irwin has grown up in the limelight. She talks exclusively to Hannah Doody about what it was like starring in the American series of Dancing with the Stars, losing her father, Steve, and how she plans to spend her 18th birthday this year.
Style: So Bindi, how has life been after the Dancing with the Stars whirlwind?
Bindi Irwin: It’s like waking up from the most beautiful and crazy dream. The last five months of my life have been really exciting and filled with so many fun and interesting challenges. When I arrived in LA, they put me in sequinned dresses and heels and were giving me fake tans and eyelashes and I was like, “Wow! This isn’t what I’m used to!” It was such a shift in thinking and environment but it was a great experience and so much fun.
S: Was it difficult to adjust to the schedule?
BI: It was busy; it’s seven days a week and I’d never danced before in my life. Whether you’re a swimmer or a runner or if you’re like me and you hike a lot and deal with a lot of animals – you can be a relatively fit person but dancing is completely different and readjusting your entire body is quite a challenge. I mean, after a few weeks, things start to slowly kick in and sink in and then you’re really able to push yourself forward.
S: Had you ever been interested in dancing prior to the show?
BI: I’d always admired dancers. I think dancing and music unites us all and it’s something that, in society, we will always have. When I was little, I used to have this pink fairy dress that I’d put on and I’d dance around the zoo, so I kind of just danced for my family but I never actually imagined that I’d be able to learn to dance like I did on the show.
S: How did you come to be on the American Dancing with the Stars?
BI: I was approached to be a part of the show. Dancing with the Stars America were so sweet; they asked me and I already had a bunch of things that were scheduled and I was like, “Oh, I can’t do it at the moment.” And they were like, “That’s OK, don’t worry, we’ll try it again another time.” And then it worked out really well for me to do it this year.
S: What’s your relationship like with your partner Derek?
BI: He is terrific. I’ve gained a big brother. He’s so kind and so caring and he’s always there for me. Spending seven days a week with this person, you really have to trust them with some of these huge lifts. He was so patient – I walked in heels for the first time and then fell over on my face and I watched his confidence just wash away and he was like, “Yep, we actually have a long way to go.” He’s an official wildlife warrior now and he’s been a great person to have around. No matter what happens, even outside of that ballroom, he’s become a friend for life.
S: The American show is really next-level, isn’t it? Do you think the training you received would have been of a higher standard than if you’d been on the Australian Dancing with the Stars?
BI: Every single Dancing with the Stars production is huge. But America – it’s fascinating. It’s just so widely watched. It has 14 million viewers every episode and every show is like this Broadway production.
I admire that so many incredible Australians have been part of Dancing with the Stars. I can see just what a glorious experience it is but how much work it is. Here in Australia, we have this really great work ethic so the Australian Dancing with the Stars is amazing because all of the Aussies work really, really hard.
S: What was your favourite routine to learn and to perform?
BI: That’s a tough question. Derek took each dance and just created it to tell a story about who I am or a part of my life. At the end of every week I’d say, “This dance is my favourite. No, this dance is my favourite.” There were some beautiful moments.
I think the contemporary for Most Memorable Year that I dedicated to my dad – that was my favourite routine. It was so meaningful, but it wasn’t easy. When I lost Dad, I just tried to push that emotion to one side so that I could focus on being happy. I never realised that I really needed to revisit these times of my life and parts of myself that I pushed away. I think I was ready for that; it really unlocked something inside of me and pushed me further for the rest of the show but then also in life – I think it changed my life, honestly.
I understood at that moment that dancing – it wasn’t just about movement. It was about telling a story and sharing who you are and it was just about affecting others and feeling each and every moment – just listening to the music and listening to your heart. That was the first time I really realised that I might have a chance. That’s why I wanted to be a part of this show – to be able to share my story and hopefully inspire other people to remember that you can find that happiness again.
S: It’s inspiring that you can take what was obviously such a difficult time for you when you were young and turn it into something positive.
BI: It’s not an easy thing. It’s OK to be sad and that’s understandable but it’s also all right to find happiness again. The sun may never shine as brightly but it will shine again and that’s so important to remember.
S: Do you intend to pursue dancing in any way?
BI: I’m back at Australia Zoo now and it’s great to be home. I think at the moment I’m going to stick to dancing with crocodiles. But who knows what the future holds? I’d love to continue on with more filming work and reach more people – the best way to do that is through television, I think.
S: Did you really lose your toenails on the show? Is that true?
BI: Yes, I did. Three or four are absolutely gone and now where the toenails were – they’re all calloused over. And the bottoms of my feet – at one point it looked like I had some kind of flesh-eating disease! One of the routines I was in this metal box and some of the edges were a bit rough and my feet just got shredded. But that’s all healed up now. You know, I’m kind of like unless it’s broken, you can carry on.
S: Your 18th birthday is coming up next year; how will you spend your birthday? Do you have any big plans?
BI: It is. Eighteen, can you believe it? Every year we have a celebration here at Australia Zoo and this year will be the same. All kids are free into the zoo and it’s this great day where we all get together and celebrate. It’s a nice thing where I’m able to share my birthday so it’s not just about me; it’s about everyone who comes to visit.
S: So no plans to go out and hit the town with your friends?
BI: No. No, no. People keep asking me. They’re like, “So, do you party? Do you have this rebellious kind of side?” I’m like, “Well, last Saturday night I was at home reading a book and drinking tea.” Honestly, someone texted me and they’re like, “So, what are you getting up to?” I sent a picture of my tea and book and I’m like, “Yeah, it’s pretty crazy.”
I think that I’ve been really lucky. I’ve been able to travel and do so much conservation work and just really be able to see the world. I feel like my time is so much better spent doing other things that [partying] is not even on my radar. So if I’m spending some time with friends, usually it’ll honestly be like a beach picnic or something like that.
S: One last question: what’s your spirit animal?
BI: That is actually a really beautiful question. I’d have to say a bird – any kind of bird, really, is my spirit animal. My favourite place to be is in the sky and on top of mountains. Just being able to fly is a beautiful thing, so I’d have to say birds for my spirit animal.