Aljaz Skorjanec: In pre-school I chose to follow the girls into dancing – thank God I did!

Gemma Atkinson, Aljaz Skorjanec
(Image credit: BBC/Ray Burminston)

Strictly Come Dancing professional Aljaz Skorjanec

Strictly Come Dancing professional Aljaz Skorjanec has revealed what made him first fall in love with dancing.

Here Aljaz Skorjanec, who will partner Gemma Atkinson in this weekend’s Strictly Come Dancing final, shares his backstage secrets...

How did you first fall in love with dance?

Aljaz Skorjanec: "I was in pre-school in Slovenia and over there kids get asked what they want to do for their sports lessons. So all the boys went to play football, basketball and hockey while the girls decided to go and dance. I looked around the room wondering which way to go, then I chose to follow the girls. Thank God I did!"

Has it been a fun year with Gemma on Strictly?

Aljaz: "Yes I love working with Gemma, we have such a good time. It’s amazing to have a partner who is here to learn and I get along so well with. Gemma hadn’t done any dancing before we started, so every week is a completely new learning curve. Strictly is supposed to be fun and I think we have a very similar sense of humour."

Have you learned how to get the best out of Gemma in training?

Aljaz: "Gemma is really good with learning steps, she picks them up fast and then the longest days are the ones spent perfecting little sections of the routine. I’m incredibly proud of Gemma – I haven’t been easy on her with the choreography, but only because I know that she can do it."

How have you helped her with Saturday night wobbles?

Aljaz: "I always give my partners a massive pep talk. It happens every year – you’re really sure of yourself and then as soon as they introduce you to the floor you think, ‘Where am I?!’. I tell Gemma not to worry about the judges, just to make herself proud."

How does Strictly compare to your competitive career?

Aljaz: "I competed for 13 years and I stopped fairly young because I didn’t like the political side of the competitive world, then I went into theatre, which was a beautiful experience. We were on tour for four years and that’s where I met my wife, Janette (Manrara), so we travelled the world together. Strictly is a completely different ball game, learning to dance and choreograph for the camera. I love it though, and it’s surreal to come from one of the smallest towns in Slovenia with one set of traffic lights, and now to perform on a BBC1 Saturday night primetime show."

Are you inspired by your fellow pros?

Aljaz: "Obviously the longer you do Strictly the harder it is to be creative, so it’s very inspiring for me to watch the other pros in rehearsal – a lot of them are people I looked up to when I was competing. I take references from Anton’s ballroom, Giovanni’s Latin, all of Janette’s choreography… I could go on and on!"

Does winning the show in your first year take the pressure off?

Aljaz: "You can never be complacent, you have to constantly reinvent yourself. Obviously we all want to stay on Strictly forever, so you always have to be on top of your game, you can’t sit back and relax. The other pros drive you to be better. Winning was an incredible and unexpected experience, it still baffles me that it ever happened, but every new season of Strictly is an empty book – and we have to write it."

Strictly Come Dancing continues on Saturday on BBC1 at 6.30pm.