The Strictly star tells Lizzie Catt about the torn meniscus that almost ended her career and how reassessing her wellbeing has helped her to find happiness
Viewers of Strictly Come Dancing are used to seeing Janette Manrara gliding effortlessly around the dancefloor, helping her celebrity partners with fiendishly tricky footwork and launching into breathtaking lifts.
But the professional dancer, now co-presenter of Strictly companion show It Takes Two, says that surgery for a knee injury left her seriously doubting if she’d ever be able to continue dancing.
Cuban-American Janette, 38, was born in Miami, Florida, and started formal dance training in her late teens after performing in musical theatre.
She dreamed of a professional dance career, but had a degree in finance and six years working in banking as a back-up.
Her big break came on US show So You Think You Can Dance in 2009.
But by 2011, touring the US with live show Burn The Floor, she was injured and in agony.
“I had a torn meniscus and needed surgery on my left knee,” she says. “It was really scary because I kept dancing. The doctor had said, ‘You can actually dance on it for a few more shows, but it is risky’.
Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
“It was so painful. I was taking ibuprofen all day, every day.”
Janette made it to the end of the tour and arrived for surgery in LA. It was, she says, incredibly nerve-wracking.
“They looked after me fantastically well but you know, my body is my tool. It’s how I make my living. So the day I came out of hospital was really scary. My knee and my whole leg were so swollen, I couldn’t walk on it or even put weight on it.
“There was this intense worry and fear, ‘Oh my god, am I ever going to be able to dance the same again?’”
Janette is certain that making sure she did all her physio aided her recovery. Despite being told she’d need six weeks off following the keyhole surgery, she was able to start training again ahead of schedule.
“As soon as the swelling went down and I was able to do my physical therapy, I thought, ‘Actually, I’m going to come out the other end of this better than I was going in’.
“I was back up in four weeks. I think it was the consistency of sticking to the exercises I needed to do that was so important.”
In 2017, Janette married fellow Strictly professional dancer Aljaz Skorjanec, 32, who recently announced he’s leaving the hit BBC show after nine years.
The pair are currently dancing their way around the UK in their show Remembering The Oscars. Janette says that having to put the brakes on their “go, go, go” lifestyle during lockdown changed everything. She and Aljaz were able to properly unpack and settle into their new flat almost a year after moving in and Janette began hosting interviews on her Instagram that gave her the skills and confidence to bag her dream job of presenting It Takes Two when Zoe Ball stepped down in 2021.
Janette also took two online wellbeing courses that have inspired an exciting new project.
“The first course was from Yale University in the USA,” she says. “You don’t have to be a super genius to take it, it just happened it’s Yale that offers it. They created it for the students there to help them cope with the pressures of university and it’s available for anyone who wants it.”
Janette loved it so much she signed herself up for a second, “much more intense” course, gaining a certification in wellbeing.
“I haven’t spoken about this yet but I’m actually in the middle of writing a book,” she reveals. “I’m taking everything I reflected on in lockdown, looking back on the last 11 years of my career and, wow, it’s been a ride.”
As she approaches her big birthday in 2023, she says: “I’m not afraid of turning 40. Actually, I’m quite the opposite. I’m really excited. I feel like I’m very proud of the life I’ve led up until now. I’m not afraid of the ageing process, of wrinkles. Which is probably a good thing as I had all those years living in Miami and putting no sunblock on my face.
Dave J Hogan/Getty Images for St)
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“I do look after myself better now,” says Janette, who recently became an ambassador for Scandinavian health and beauty brand New Nordic.
“I think it’s nice if you can always feel good about yourself, so looking after my skin, dancing and exercising is really important to me. I take their Collagen Shots every single day – I am all about working on yourself from the inside out, and it’s all natural.”
Slowing down and focusing on wellness, she says, has given her a new, holistic approach to health and happiness.
“For me, health is more than just eating healthy and getting to the gym,” she says. “Doing this wellbeing course really opened my eyes to the full package – being able to have your mind, body and soul balanced and connected with one another through activities that make you happy, or food you enjoy that’s good for you.
“Some problems will come up, because they always do but, for me, that triangle was crucial to learn about because all I thought about was just work, and ‘go, go, go’. I was able to finally balance myself out and the right things started aligning around me to now be in a space where I’m really, really happy.”
- New Nordic Collagen Shots are a daily liquid supplement with a unique cherry coffee extract (£22.49; newnordic.co.uk)
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