Siobhan Marshall: Do what makes you happy


Siobhan Marshall has been all smiles on the recent season of Dancing with the Stars but, as Emma Clifton finds out, the actress hasn’t always been so body confident…

She first became a household name as the sultry and sullen Pascalle West in Outrageous Fortune, but Siobhan Marshall’s real-life personality has always been more ‘jazz hands’ than you’d think. So it’s only natural that, on the whim of “wanting to learn how to dance for free”, she signed up to TV3’s Dancing with the Stars.

When Good Health Choices sat down with Siobhan, it was two days after her waltz to Let it Go, and she was still sporting her Frozen-inspired nail art. The dance sent her into the dreaded bottom two, which she compares to being like “no one coming to my party!”

But if she’s taking it personally, it didn’t show. Siobhan turned up early to her cover shoot with two packs of muffins for the team, wearing leggings, a hoody and a down jacket so oversized she cheerfully describes it as “a sleeping bag”.

She was in the middle of rehearsals, along with her dance partner Charlie Billington, which take up 20 to 25 hours a week. Her only physical complaint was that her right shoulder muscle had slipped down and is pinching a nerve, so she had limited feeling in her right arm. Joking that she felt like a ‘real’ dancer, she pulls strapping tape and numbing cream out of her bag to demonstrate. Other than that, she had a ball.

“When you do the different dances, you feel different emotions. For the first week, we did the cha-cha, which is a fun, flirty dance and I felt like I was in love with the whole world. The next week we did the tango, and I was this emo blob. People hold memories in their bodies, and when you’re moving around you’re shaking it up, and bringing those emotions to the surface.”

When she was a child, Siobhan started ballet lessons but it soon became clear that tutus weren’t in her future. “You do it when you’re a kid and then you get boobs and hips and it’s like, ‘Woah! Recalibrating!’” She’s dabbled in dancing since – belly dancing was a highlight, and she’s a big fan of Les Mills’ Body Jam classes – and says weekly netball games keep her fit. But her overall approach to wellbeing is about listening to what her body wants and needs to stay happy.

“I Google what I feel like doing and then I’ll do that for a while. It’s like food; if you really feel like something then you should just eat it. It’s the same with exercise. I’ll say, ‘Body, what do you feel like doing today?’ and if it feels like a stretch, I’ll go to yoga. If I feel like a boogie, I’ll find a dance class.”

By keeping it relaxed, Siobhan’s found a way to make exercise feel like a fun part of her life, rather than a chore. As a result, she finds the endless Dancing with the Stars rehearsals less physically taxing and more mentally exhausting from having to learn all the steps. I ask if she’s surprised at how good she is at dancing and she bursts out laughing.

“I am so surprised! When we do something like hip movements, Charlie has to break it down into tiny movements, so when I’m performing I feel really uncoordinated and silly, like a giraffe trying to dance. But when I watch it back, I think, ‘I’m doing it!’”

She’s not too fussed about the competition aspect of the show, which is probably for the best, given the fickle nature of the voting audience, but says she wanted to improve for herself. “I’m competitive for myself – I want to be able to do all the moves, because it’s fun and it’s all part of learning.”

At 32, Siobhan has a good relationship with her body, one of the reasons she’s so open to challenging herself on such a public stage. But, like most women, it’s a battle that’s been hard won. She was just 21 when she landed the role of Pascalle and it was a rude awakening to the harsh standards of television beauty.

“For the audition, in the character breakdown, they described Pascalle as ‘a wannabe model’. I was like, ‘there’s no way I can play this role – my measurements aren’t those of a wannabe model.’ And that kind of messed with me for a while.”

It was her mum who helped shape her perspective, telling her that if she pretended to feel a certain way, that’s how it would come across. “So I got over it,” Siobhan recalls. “I got used to the costumes – I used to call my skirts ‘scarves’ because they were so small! My weight fluctuated, but we did shoot over six years so I suppose that’s normal.”

She jokes that she feels like a ‘monster’ in comparison to the tiny dancers at the studio where she and Charlie rehearse, but it doesn’t bother her the way it once would have.

“I used to be obsessed with that stuff when I was younger, and it took over my life. Whatever I ate, I was always thinking about the calories and then I was exercising so much. It was really unhealthy, a bit OCD. I’m glad I’m not like that anymore, because I have more time to think about other things.”

It’s the mental side of looking after herself that Siobhan credits with keeping her level in the stop-start world of acting. “It messes with your head. You have a job, and then you don’t have one for ages. And you audition so many times and never get the role, so you have to try to keep yourself in a positive frame of mind.”

And if she’s not naturally feeling positive? Then she just fakes it until she is. “If you’re not happy, or you’re grumpy for some reason, you can stop yourself and acknowledge, ‘Okay, this is what I’m feeling right now,’ and then you can almost manipulate your emotions to feel happy. You can put yourself in a positive place – it’s sort of like what you do with acting.” She jokes that it all sounds a bit Tony Robbins – but admits that she loves the famous US motivational speaker ‘because I’m a nerd.’

“If you’re thinking things that are depressing, or that aren’t helpful to you, then you probably will get depressed. But if you put your shoulders back, stand tall and fake it until you make it,
it really does help!”

Siobhan’s happiness tips:

    • Listen to your body and do what makes you happy, this way exercise will feel like fun rather than a chore.
    • Meditate. Siobhan does this daily with her boyfriend for anything from five minutes to half an hour, depending on how busy she is.
    • Practise positive manifestation by noting down the goals you’d like to achieve and write lists of the things you’re grateful for.
    • Get a dog! Having a furry companion is not only good for your mental health, all those walks will help to keep you fit.

From the editors of Good Health Choices