It remains one of the highlights of Strictly Come Dancing’s history – an intimate goodbye dance during the 2021 final between husband and wife Janette Manrara and Aljaž Škorjanec, ending in tears and a lingering embrace.
Strictly fans had seen the pair dance passionately before – but always in character. Now, Manrara was departing the show for the last time, and their real-life love shone through.
“We had tears in our eyes,” Manrara told Kate Thornton on podcast White Wine Question Time. “I think the beauty of what we do as dancers is exactly that… when you really let yourself go, and… just connect with someone, especially someone that you love so much, like your husband.
For his part, Škorjanec confessed he had been missing his wife since she left Strictly earlier that year. “For the first time Janette wasn't there” he said, in moments when he became “tired” or needed “a hug.”
The couple, who have been together for 12 years, first met professionally at Dance Attic studios in London. For Škorjanec, who comes from Slovenia, it was love at first sight. “I was 21… I was looking for love,” he told Thornton. “And I found it as soon as I walked into that studio.”
Manrara, who had just arrived from America, was less sure about the young dancer. “Handsome men normally come with trouble,” she joked. A recent break-up had left her determined not to date, and to “enjoy my career.”
Yet Škorjanec’s “amazing heart and beautiful soul,” she told Thornton, won her over. “Eventually the heart just took over and I gave in.”
From the start, their professional work as dancers tested their new bond. “I was touring China… while Janette was working in America, and then we sort of swapped,” recalled Škorjanec. There was a point, Manrara said, in their long-distance relationship where they weren’t sure they were “going to make it.”
Then Strictly came along in 2013, and changed their lives.
“We cried, we screamed, we laughed, like it was just the most magical moment,” said Manrara. “The first thing we thought is, ‘Oh my gosh, we can stay together.'”
The press scrutiny of their relationship that came with fame added more pressure.
“But luckily, luckily, we survived it,” said Manrara. “Because we love the show, we love the team, and we loved all the pros and everybody that we worked with – we've really enjoyed our kind of blossoming romance and everybody being a part of it.”
As a result, the famous Strictly ‘curse’ operated in reverse for the couple. “[It] allowed for our romance to really kind of blossom and grow,” said Manrara. “It created an opportunity for us to not just do what we love, but do what we love and do it together.”
Two years after they joined, Škorjanec’s proposed to Manrara in the Dance Attic, where they first met. “It was just the most perfect, perfect evening,” she told Thornton. “Everything was just… magical.” They married in 2017.
And having conquered Strictly together, they are now embarking on exciting new careers separately.
In 2021 Manrara launched herself as a TV presenter on BBC’s Strictly - It Takes Two, making her husband “proud”.
“There were not many of us pros that had… the courage to do something like that,” Škorjanec said. “To see her excel at that was absolutely beautiful, to sort of take that opportunity and run with it.”
He left Strictly earlier this year, and is training as an actor.
In the meantime, fans will be delighted to hear the couple are reuniting as dance partners, if only briefly, to tour the UK with a Christmas show.
“We both really, really love Christmas, and because of Strictly we've never really been able to fully embrace it,” Manrara told Thornton. “And that's how the idea of doing a Christmas show came up – we thought, ‘Well, if we're gonna do it, we might as well really do it’.”
For a short while, at least, fans will witness the real-life couple’s chemistry on stage again. “Putting our love to it…” said Škorjanec. “…I think it’s going to be a beautiful show.”