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Actress Tilton says goodbye to 'Dancing on Ice'

Competitor's stay in competition brief but deeply meaningful

Charlene Tilton and her <i>Dancing on Ice</i> partner, Matthew Gonzalez, got voted off in week five.
Charlene Tilton and her Dancing on Ice partner, Matthew Gonzalez, got voted off in week five. (Courtesy of ITV)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(02/09/2012) - This past Sunday was the end of the Dancing on Ice road for Charlene Tilton. Her third consecutive week in the skateoff was the finale for the American actress best known for her role as Lucy Ewing on the television show Dallas, which she reprises in the new version of the series due to air this summer.

Tilton, 53, leaves with no regrets. A longtime fan of skating, she eagerly embraced the challenge of learning the sport even though she had little experience in any sort of athletic endeavor.

"When this opportunity came up, I brought my daughter with me when I first met Christopher Dean and auditioned for the show," Tilton said. "I was sure my daughter would say, 'Mom, there's no way you can do this.' She said, 'Mom, I think this will be great. Do it."

Dancing on Ice is a British reality competition show now in its seventh season that pairs celebrities with professional skaters, which are headlined by ice dancing legends Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.

For the past two years, Tilton has been working with two organizations in Los Angeles, Actors for Autism and a group that offers acting classes for people with disabilities.

"The disabilities come in all ranges -- from being quadriplegic to being deaf -- all kinds of physical disabilities," Tilton said. "When I give them scenes to do and I'm working with them, I'm genuinely not looking at their disabilities; I'm looking at them as actors. It's amazing to me that I can work with somebody in a wheelchair who is doing a scene from a sitcom and being really wonderful and having great comedic timing.

"I've been working with people who have challenges greater than mine, and I don't let them say, 'I can't,' and I don't ever tell them that they can't. I'm always encouraging them and being positive. I thought it would be very hypocritical of me if I didn't take this opportunity."

Tilton had a variety of health issues growing up, so she didn't play sports. She did appear on an episode of Fantasy Island in 1980. Her segment was called "Skater's Edge," and in it Peggy Fleming mentored Tilton's character to achieve her skating dream. In reality, Tilton did little more than stand on the ice and wave her arms while a double did the actual skating.

That wouldn't fly on Dancing on Ice, where American pairs skater Matthew Gonzalez, 25, put Tilton through her skating paces on a daily basis. Because Gonzalez is also based in Los Angeles, they were able to train there until shortly before the show started in January.

"When I met her, I could tell immediately she had a great presence," said Gonzalez, who previously appeared on Dancing on Ice in 2010. "She had charisma and personality, but her basic skating skills needed a lot of work."

Her first performance on week one received high praise from the judges, particularly for her strong Ina Bauer.

"She has a great turn out," Gonzalez said. "She did a side-by-side footwork sequence, a spiral on her own. That was a lot. I think she really impressed the judges."

The judges' scores are combined with viewer votes. Although she turned in a solid performance on movie week and in last week's dueling format -- in which couples performed two pairs at a time, each taking a turn with the same music -- she wound up in the bottom two. Both times, she survived the skateoff. Tilton found herself in the bottom two again on Sunday night's pop music week, and this proved to be her final skate.

She leaves with no regrets.

"For me to learn how to do something that takes physical strength that I didn't have, stamina that I didn't have, muscle tone that I didn't have and coordination that I didn't have was quite rewarding, I have to say," Tilton said.

The intense excitement and media attention in the United Kingdom surrounding Dancing on Ice was a pleasant experience for Tilton.

"I love the public response and I understand it," she said. "Christopher and Jayne are putting on an amazing show. They are absolute geniuses. They are showmen of the highest degree.

"I know being with them I'm in the presence of greatness," she added.

Tilton also offered words of high praise for Gonzalez, who from the get-go told her that her participation in the show wasn't about winning and losing.

"I told her it's her journey against herself," said Gonzalez, who, in addition to skating, works in television production in the U.S. (most recently on X Factor) and has also developed a social networking site for skaters, SkateContract.com. "If she can look back and say, 'Wow, look how far I came,' then that makes me happy."

"Life does not end when you're 50," Tilton said. "I feel the second half of my life is going to be stronger and lived more deliberately and more successfully than the first half."