She’s waltzed back onto our TV screens for a second stint presenting Strictly Come Dancing spin-off It Takes Two. But what viewers won’t know is the emotional journey that Janette Manrara has taken to get there.
During lockdown, the 38-year-old professional dancer, who is married to fellow pro Aljaž Škorjanec, secretly went through a low period and, from there, says she manifested her new presenting career.
“Like anybody else that struggled in lockdown, I did a lot of self-reflection,” she says during our Halloween cover shoot in east London. “I hadn’t had that time to myself before to really take a step back and think about my feelings. When you do a show like Strictly, life is literally go, go, go and you don’t have time to think.
“I had never really been home and I was reflecting, asking myself, ‘Am I happy?’ It was scary. I wasn’t dancing on stage and that’s all I’ve known.
“So I put it out there as my manifestation that one day I’m going to present, one day I’m going to host. Literally a couple of months later I got It Takes Two.”
Born in Miami, Janette worked in a bank for several years before she got her break on the US version of reality show So You Think You Can Dance in her early twenties. She went on to dance with Jennifer Lopez and on the TV series Glee before landing Strictly with Aljaž in 2013.
Now hosting alongside Rylan Clark, Janette is watching this year’s drama from the sidelines. Not that she’s any less invested – and she’s been moved by two contestants in particular.
Comedian Jayde Adams was inspired by her late sister, Jenna, who had an inoperable brain tumour, and former footballer Tony Adams suffered from a mental breakdown.
“I’ve been in tears for Jayde and Tony – to come out and be that brave every week when they’re going through so much,” she says.
“As the conversation around mental health has become the norm, celebs are no longer afraid to talk about their feelings and to lose yourself in music is one of the best forms of therapy you can have.”
Meanwhile, Janette is supporting Aljaž, 32, during a career transition as he trains to be an actor. He quit Strictly nine months after she did, admitting he missed having her there. In fact, his exit is still so raw, he hasn’t braved going to the studios to watch the new series yet.
“He’s always been there cheering for me and backing me up,” she says. “Now he’s finding his own feet and I’m doing the exact same thing for him. We’re each other’s rock and support, especially for Aljaž right now, when he’s just figuring it out.”
She also feels for dance pros Kai Widdrington and Nadiya Bychkova who started dating in January and have been forced to dance off against each other for Strictly survival – and have both been booted off with their respective partners, Kaye Adams and Matt Goss.
“I really felt for them because in the eight years that Aljaž and I danced together, we were never in the dance-off at the same time. Then, in their first year as a couple on the show, they’re against each other,” says Janette. “It’s hard when you have that added love for each other.”
Janette and Aljaž met at London studios Dance Attic in 2010. Five years later, Aljaž surprised Janette by taking her back to the studios and getting down on bended knee. In 2017 they tied the knot and are just now learning to live like a normal couple.
“All we’ve ever known is our life dancing together,” says Janette. “We’ve toured together, we’ve travelled the world together so for us, to not be dancing together, that’s weird. That was a transition for us. I missed him a lot.
“It was kind of good for us in that way. We fell in love with each other all over again. It was nice to find my own feet but actually feel like I still need him. I still want him around all the time as much as I can.”
And Janette says the secret to their romance is to be respectful when it comes to bodily functions. “I’ve never burped in front of Aljaž. We try to keep that little bit of magic alive!” she laughs.
If they do argue, it’s about choreography. “When we dance together it’s very magical because the feelings we get
are inexplicable,” she says. “I don’t get those feelings with anyone else I dance with, but the passionate, creative side to get to that point is always tricky.
“I think we’ve both changed a lot and evolved together. We’ve had lots of ups and downs – ours is not a perfect relationship, but what we do have is communication. We’re each other’s best friends. It’s what’s helped us survive this crazy industry together.”
One constant in the past few years has been the question of starting a family, which Janette tells us can be tiring. “It can be frustrating as a woman to feel that constant expectation but, in saying that, we’ve been really lucky because the public have been so lovely and kind to us. Anything I’ve seen online about us has been beautiful. We count our blessings,” she says.
After so long in the spotlight, Janette admits she’s also felt the pressure of TV’s beauty standards. “Everybody’s got a thing and I have mine,” she says, without wanting to draw attention to what it is. “I forget how lucky I am to have someone like Aljaž, especially when you do a photo shoot and you’re trying on different outfits. He always makes me feel pretty – he’s done that brilliantly since day one.
“There’s a lot of pressure on anyone who’s on TV to look a certain way. I have felt pressure but since I turned 30 that has dwindled and the older I get, the less I care. There is a transition happening in the beauty world, and I think in television as well. Strictly is the perfect example that you can have anyone of any shape and size.”
She adds, “What makes Strictly so special is that it is so inclusive. There’s someone for everyone and it makes everyone feel seen, valued and appreciated.”
What the future holds is as exciting as it is unknown and we may see Janette following a different kind of career path.
When asked about the possibility of becoming a Strictly judge, she says, “Never say never. Don’t get me wrong, I think we’ve got an amazing line-up right now. But it would be an amazing opportunity.”
Janette and Aljaž will tour A Christmas To Remember later this year. Strictly: It Takes Two airs Monday to Friday on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer.
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