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Model calls Korea second home

Stronger after touch-up criticism, Jessica Gomes tackles ‘Dancing with the Stars’

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model Jessica Gomes is out to prove she can dance.

“I know that I have rhythm,” the 26-year-old told The Korea Herald.

Having racked up experience as a gymnast for five years, Gomes says she mastered her groove as a teen doing hip hop routines in fashion parades but up until now has been dancing primarily at parties or in the privacy of her own home.

A fan of Beyonce and Shakira ― divas known for their dancing prowess ― Gomes jumped at the opportunity to take on ballroom dance in MBC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

The format of the series, which pairs celebrities up with professional dancers in week-to-week dance-offs, started in Britain as “Strictly Come Dancing” before being adapted and aired as “Dancing with the Stars” in various countries, including the United States. Now, the show has finally hit Korea.

“I love dancing and I’ve always watched the American one,” said Gomes explaining why she signed on.

“Dancing with the Stars” represents a major step for the Australian native.

Gomes has made waves abroad, starring in rap mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs’ controversial 2007 commercial for his “Unforgivable Woman” fragrance and becoming a 2008 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit rookie model. She continues to appear in Sports Illustrated and has nabbed gigs with Victoria’s Secret and Motorola, but Gomes primarily built a career in Korea modeling in ads.

Even though Gomes first started working in Korea when she was 18, it took her six years to make the transition from bikini beauty to celebrity.

After her memorable LG Bikini Phone commercial, Gomes landed her own cable show, “My Name is Jessica Gomes,” in 2008 and also got a stint in a movie this year, but “Dancing with the Stars” will be her first time starring on a major Korean broadcasting network. 
Jessica Gomes (right) and her “Dancing with the Stars” partner Park Ji-woo practice the tango for Friday night’s competition at a dance studio in Seoul on Tuesday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Jessica Gomes (right) and her “Dancing with the Stars” partner Park Ji-woo practice the tango for Friday night’s competition at a dance studio in Seoul on Tuesday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

Not everything has been smooth sailing for Gomes on Korean turf; she also endured criticism when a picture taken from a pre-retouched coffee ad showing her in a bikini sprung up on the Internet nearly two years ago.

The not-so-flattering picture made its rounds and still gets occasional press.

“People are going to judge you,” she said, admitting that the incident was painful. “There have been times when I haven’t been cautious about the way I look.”

“It’s not good. But it makes me stronger. It makes me want to get fitter.“

If fitter is Gomes’ goal, then she has more than achieved it.

Before the first episode of “Dancing with the Stars,” which aired last Friday, Gomes trained with partner Park Ji-woo a couple of hours everyday for “about a month.” Now, since she has to learn a new routine every week she plans on bumping it up to twice a day, everyday.

Gomes and Park practice in private because “it’s very competitive, so obviously we don’t want to show what we’re doing.”

The heat is on and Gomes hopes to make it all the way to the semifinals.

If she does, she will be here for over two months, the longest time she has spent in Korea.

“My biggest fans are in Korea,” she said, revealing that she thinks of Korea as her “second home.”

Gomes, born to a Portuguese father and a Chinese mother, feels “blessed” to be so well received in Korea.

“I think Korea is very accepting of international people,” she said in response to a question about the rising number of non-Korean celebrities and reality show contestants here. “For them to accept me is amazing.”

During the first episode of “Dancing with the Stars,” which was pre-recorded, Gomes made headlines. Photos of her popped up all over the Internet, proof that she still has it.

Decked out in a skin-baring number that showed off her curves, Gomes wowed audiences with the rumba. To the potential envy of her fans, she also received a smooch on the forehead from partner Park at the end of their performance.

“The kiss was improvised,” the 29-year-old gold medal-toting professional dancer said, and not without a bit of mirth.

Park, who lived in Britain for 17 years and is fluent in English, sung nothing but praises for Gomes.

“She is very good and she has excellent rhythm,” Park said. “She is very expressive.”

He added, however, that she could improve her posture and stamina.

One look at Gomes’ schedule makes it easy to understand why endurance is a must.

Just four days before the second round of competitions, Gomes was practicing their next routine, the tango, for over an hour at a dance studio in Seoul on Tuesday. Sweat has formed along her brow and as the pair move into their final position she slips and falls backwards.

Instead of grimacing, she laughs as Park pulls her up. She catches her balance, flexing her feet in her worn dancing shoes, a present from her partner.
As they wrap up, Gomes only has several hours before she has to go into rehearsals.

Then, in less than four days, this Friday night, she will be competing in a live broadcast for the first time.

“Actually, I feel better about it because we can just do it,” she said. She is also looking forward to going live on national television. “I think it’s going to be a lot more exciting.”

Gomes said that she wants to try her hand at the cha-cha-cha, and that if she could have it her way she would get to do a number to Lionel Richie’s “Endless Love” in a “big white princess dress.”

Lionel Richie and a big white dress may not be in the cards for Gomes, but if she makes it through to the next round, she just might get to try her hand at the Cuba-based dance.

In fact, if everything pans out, Gomes will get to master all the dances.

“I’m ready for a long competition,” she said.

By Jean Oh (