Aljaz and Janette
Dancing is their whole world, Janette Manrara and Aljaž Skorjanec will tell you, with little or no prompting. Well, it was and then that world was turned upside down.
Lyra Rose, a child they were beginning to think might never bless their marriage, was born on July 28 and life hasn’t been the same since.
She was delivered by Caesarean section because of Janette’s petite frame. “I’m so small and Aljaž is six foot four so I was advised that I might struggle if the baby turned out to be large.” In the event, Lyra weighed in at a healthy 7lbs 7oz.
“It was the best day,” says her adoring mum. “We were both so happy. We had music playing in the delivery room and we were singing along. She was born to the song, Little Bitty Pretty One.”
And she turns out to be a good ‘un. She’s a sleeper – often for five or six hours at night – and then either parent will get up to feed her by bottle.
“Because I had to get back to hosting It Takes Two [Strictly’s weekday spin-off show], it made sense for me to bottle-feed her as I’m away from home for a couple of days each week. We were lucky she took to the bottle from Day One.”
When Lyra was six weeks old, Janette, 39, began doing gentle exercises. Looking at her now, you’d never guess she’d given birth three months ago.
“I’m working with two women. One of them specialises in post-partum training for athletes, the other in pelvic floor recovery. My skin has tightened up pretty quickly; and the scars are already fading.”
Just as well because she and Aljaz are about to embark on a 17-date UK tour, Dancing in a Winter Wonderland, which comes to the Bath Forum on 19th December.
We’re joined by Aljaž, 33, complete with wraparound smile. “We waited so long for Lyra,” he says. “Now we have her and it’s the best feeling in the world.”
After failing to conceive, the couple were days away from going for Janette’s first IVF injections – she’d already started on a course of pills – when she fell pregnant naturally.
He's certainly taken to daddy duties, as he calls them. “I love looking after her. I’m at home the whole time now so, when Janette is in London for It Takes Two, it’s all down to me. I’m really enjoying the fact I can be there with her full-time for the first months of her life.”
Fatherhood doesn’t faze him. “It’s pretty straightforward: she’ll cry if she’s hungry or needs changing or is ready for a sleep. And I’m there for her.” So, how good is he with a nappy? “I’ve got it down to one minute, a Formula I pit-stop.”
For the first years of their relationship and subsequent marriage (in 2017), Aljaž and Janette lived in north London. Today, they are talking via Zoom from their new home near Wilmslow in Cheshire. Why the move north?
Says Aljaž: “I partnered Gemma Atkinson on Strictly in 2017 and she was based in Manchester where she presents a breakfast radio show. I got to know the area and the countryside around it and I liked what I saw, particularly the south side of the city. It was so green; it reminded me of my home in Slovenia.
“Gemma and I got to the final of Strictly so we were rehearsing in Manchester for the full run of the show. And the local people were so friendly. It made me think I’d like to live there one day.
“When we wanted to start a family, we went to look at properties around Wilmslow and fell in love with the house where we now live.”
But how does that work with Janette’s TV commitments in London at the moment? “I don’t present It Takes Two every day,” she explains. “I share the role with Fleur East who I got to know really well on the live Strictly tour last year. She’s terrific: she gets a 10 from me.
“As for travel, the trains are pretty good. It takes me just under two hours to get from Wilmslow to London’s Euston. When we lived in north London, it could take a good hour-and-a-half in the car to drive to the rehearsal rooms in Fulham.”
What about Aljaž? Hand on heart, is he missing dancing? “Not as much as I thought I would,” he says. “Anyone who’s looking after a baby will know that it’s a 24/7 commitment. You have to be very disciplined, very efficient.
“But yes, I do miss performing. I do miss what I love doing the most. I have to be honest, though: what I’ve loved doing the most the last twelve weeks and three days is being a dad.”
He’s had a little help from his mother, Natasa, over from Slovenia for a couple of visits, and Janette’s Cuban mum, Maritza, flying in from Miami.
"...I do miss performing. I do miss what I love doing the most. I have to be honest, though: what I’ve loved doing the most the last twelve weeks and three days is being a dad."
Natasa and his sister, Lara, will be helping out with Lyra during the rehearsal period for Dancing in a Winter Wonderland and Maritza will be back to cover the tour.
He makes no secret of the fact that he can’t wait for baby Number Two, something about which Janette, unsurprisingly, has a view. “We definitely want Lyra to have a sibling,” she says. “We both come from close families and we’d like that for her.
“But, because of my C-section, I’ve got to wait until I’ve fully recovered before I fall pregnant again. This was major abdominal surgery.” So, when would she like that to be? “Yesterday,” says Aljaž, unable to resist butting in.
Traditionally, the couple would alternate Christmas in Slovenia one year, Miami the next. Lyra’s arrival has changed all that. “We’re staying home this year. But, because we love Christmas, we decided on a tour celebrating our favourite time of the year.
It is a brand new show featuring what Janette describes as everybody’s favourite music. Accompanying them on stage will be eight dancers – four male, four female – and two singers.
What are her personal highlights? “An instrumental section featuring the music from Edward Scissorhands, so beautiful to dance to. By contrast, there’s a megamix of all the best seasonal tunes ending with Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas.
“There’s a little bit of everything. I even get to sing Santa Baby. And there’s loads of new content, including a whole New York City session this year – from Frank Sinatra to jazz tunes – that we didn’t have in last year’s show.”
She will barely have time to digest her Christmas pud before she sets out on the road as the host of the Strictly 2024 tour, a mix of celebs and professional dancers.
It kicks off with five shows in Birmingham from January 19 and finishes with five shows at London’s O2 arena from February 9, 28 performances in total.
By then, of course, this year’s winner of Strictly will have held the much-prized glitterball aloft. So, who’s it going to be?
“I honestly don’t know,” says Janette. “This year, more than most, it could be anyone. Layton and Nikita have been strong from the get-go. Angela Scanlon and Carlos Gu have surprised everyone. Nigel Harman and Katya Jones opened the series with an amazing paso doble; I think we’ve got more to come from them.”
Who else? “I never thought I’d say this but Angela Rippon, at 79, is a front-runner with Kai Widdrington. And don’t discount Ellie Leach and Vito Coppola: their jive blew me away. I think she may turn out to be the dark horse of this contest.”
And Aljaz? “Whoever is the cleverest at interpreting their dances as the competition progresses. The longer it goes on, the individual dances become more important than the popularity of the celebrities. And any of the people Janette has mentioned are capable of pulling it out of the bag.”
Finally, if Lyra turns round in 10 years’ time and says she wants to go to dance school, what will be her parents’ reaction? “Absolutely,” says Janette. “Look at the life dance has given us. We’re both big believers in following your dreams.”
Says Aljaz: “But, if she says she wants to be a doctor, that would be good, too.” Janette agrees. “You don’t work a day in your life if you’re doing something you love.”