She's the 'pocket rocket' who has been burning up the Strictly Come Dancing dance floor for the past eight years, and now Janette Manrara is relishing the next chapter in her Strictly story as the new host of companion show It Takes Two.
The popular Cuban-American professional dancer, who reached the final last year alongside pop star HRVY, is sharing presenting duties for the week nightly BBC2 spin-off series with self-confessed Strictly superman Rylan Clark-Neal, who joined the team in 2019.
Here, in an exclusive interview, Janette, 37, who is married to Slovenian pro Aljaz Skorjanec, chats to TV Times about hanging up her 'sparkly dancing shoes' and why her dad is her toughest critic…
Congratulations on your new role on 'It Takes Two'!
“I’m super excited. I’ve always wanted to get into presenting, and dancing is all I’ve done my whole life, so for me to be doing a talk show that’s based around dance, I can’t ask for a better combination. So, I’m really excited but really nervous as well.”
How are you feeling about replacing Zoe Ball, who hosted the show for a decade?
"I remember when I first met Zoe nine years ago, she made me and my then dance partner Julien McDonald feel so special and so welcome. I thought I’d love to be able to do that for someone one day. It’s funny… My dad loved watching Zoe on It Takes Two and I remember when she announced she was leaving, he said, ‘Well, I don’t know if anybody’s ever gonna be as good as Zoe, whoever steps in has got some really big shoes to fill.’ So when I told him, ‘Hey dad, it’s me!’ He was like: ‘Oh gosh, I’ll need to be supportive now!'"
What do you hope to bring to 'It Takes Two'?
“It’s going to be great for the It Takes Two audience to have such an insider now hosting the show. Because I’ve been part of Strictly for eight series, I know about every single aspect of it; from a choreographer’s point of view, to a teaching point of view, from how everything works backstage, to how ruthless the schedule is, and how exhausted the professionals and the celebrities are. So I’m excited to bring my expert knowledge to the show. And, of course, lots of dancing!”
Are you pleased to be paired with Rylan as your co-host?
“I met Rylan when I appeared on It Takes Two last year and I can’t wait to spend some proper time with him now. We’ll be hosting individual shows throughout the week - we only get to do the first and the last show before the final together - so we won’t get to see too much of each other but I’m looking forward to us becoming even better mates!”
And you must be enjoying having fun with this year’s celebrities?
“Oh absolutely! I’d always tell my celebrity partners on Strictly that I couldn’t wait for them to do It Takes Two because it’s one of the most fun times of the week. You get to step away from rehearsals, embrace whatever happened at the weekend, talk about your journey and get excited for what’s to come. What I really like about It Takes Two is you get to see everyone’s personalities a bit more than you do on the main show. I want to bring that out as much as I can.”
Looking at the Class of 2021, which stars stand out for you?
"Oh, they are all so incredible! I think [CBBC star] Rhys Stephenson is highly talented and has got some great moves already up his sleeve. And I feel like [Dragon’s Den star] Sara Davies is really gonna be doing it for the ladies. Oh, and Judi Love… she REALLY commands the dancefloor! Everybody’s gonna bring something to the table, for sure.”
What will you miss most about performing on 'Strictly' every Saturday night?
“I’ll miss all the professional dancers; they really are the backbone of the show. They’re the ones who teach the celebs, perform the amazing group dances, and come up with all the incredible routines we see throughout the series. To be working side-by-side with them was so inspiring. And, of course, I’m gonna miss the dancing. It was a really hard decision to hang up my sparkly dancing shoes on Strictly, but I’ll ‘keeeep dancing’ outside of the show.”
Looking back on your eight years on the show, what are your favourite memories?
“I can’t say I have a standout year but I’ve had some amazing memories throughout my time on Strictly, starting with the salsa I did with [EastEnders actor] Jake Wood in 2014, then being a troll with [JLS star] Aston Merrygold for a cha-cha-cha in 2017. The contemporary number I did with [Paralympic table tennis champion] Will Bayley was the first time I actually cried as soon as I’d finished dancing with a celeb, because it was just so emotional. And reaching last year’s final with HRVY was extra special because it was the only final I’d ever got to. The American Smooth we did wearing those gold sequin tailsuits, I enjoyed like it was my last dance… and it turns out it was!”
Are you a teensy bit jealous that your husband Aljaz will still be dancing on 'Strictly' every Saturday night?
“Not at all. I’ll definitely be an even bigger cheerleader, now I’m not involved. I’ve always been everybody’s cheerleader, but especially of Aljaz because he’s my husband; we’re each other’s biggest fan. When I told him I’d got It Takes Two, he was screaming and crying because he knew how big this was for me. Everyone talks about the ‘Strictly curse’, but this show has been a blessing for our relationship because we’ve been able to do everything together. So it’s going to be a different dynamic for us but, nonetheless, an exciting one. I’m still gonna be on the sidelines on a Saturday night cheering him and everyone else on - like some kind of Strictly groupie!”
Strictly: It Takes Two continues Monday-Friday at 6.30pm on BBC2
With over 20 years’ experience writing about TV and film, Vicky currently writes features for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week magazines plus news and watching guides for WhatToWatch.com, a job which involves chatting to a whole host of famous faces. Our Vicky LOVES light entertainment, with Strictly Come Dancing, Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice UK among her fave shows. Basically, if it’s got a shiny floor, she’s all over it! When she’s not watching TV, you might find Vicky in therapy… retail therapy that is!
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