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Strictly in love: The couples who fell for each other on the dancefloor

As Kevin Kilbane and his Dancing on Ice partner reveal they're engaged, Chrissie Russell finds out why it's so easy to fall in love while you foxtrot


Marcin Szymutko and Ksenia Yanchenkova, of Dublin’s Viva School of Dance, fell in love as dance partners. Photo: Mark Condren

Marcin Szymutko and Ksenia Yanchenkova, of Dublin’s Viva School of Dance, fell in love as dance partners. Photo: Mark Condren

Marcin Szymutko and Ksenia Yanchenkova, of Dublin’s Viva School of Dance, fell in love as dance partners. Photo: Mark Condren

It's often dubbed 'the Curse of Strictly': The scenario when couples meet professionally on shows like Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing with the Stars or Dancing on Ice only to end up romantically involved off camera.

Calling it a curse suggests there should be a danger sign over these fledgling relationships, that all who dance their way into a courtship should do so with care.

But what about the joy and happiness that a romance, forged on the dancefloor can bring? Far from looking 'cursed', Kevin Kilbane and Brianne Delcourt (who were both single when they met) looked adorably smitten when they appeared on TV recently, with the former footballer revealing he was "absolutely delighted" to be dating his Dancing on Ice partner. The pair have now said they're going to marry. And romance has also blossomed on the floors of Dancing with the Stars, with the RTÉ series playing cupid to Fair City's Johnny Ward and his professional partner Emily Barker as well as singer Jake Carter and pro dancer Karen Byrne.

So just what is the magic on the dancefloor that so often leads to a romance developing off it? Dancer Zoe Ashe-Browne (30) from Dublin started her relationship with partner Dominic Harrison (28) while dancing the lead roles in a Ballet Ireland product of Carmen in 2013.

The couple are now living and working in Belgium. Zoe says: "I can totally understand when dancers on TV shows end up becoming couples because when you start dancing together, it forces an intimacy so quickly with the other person that, if there's some chemistry there, it's kind of inevitable.

"My partner and I had known each other socially for about a year and a half before, but it was only when we got partnered together and had to communicate and work with each other that we realised we had that chemistry. Within four weeks we were a couple!


Kevin Kilbane and Brianne Delcourt

Kevin Kilbane and Brianne Delcourt

"But when we moved to Germany our director purposely didn't put us together. I never got a sense of being threatened or overly curious when he had to partner someone else but I did find it an interesting decision.

"However, over the years I've seen with other couples that when you've been in a relationship for a while you lose your boundaries with that person and that can make it difficult to maintain professionalism. It's fantastic when you perform together because you know each other so well but sometimes in rehearsal you can really hurt each other's feelings.

"If something mechanical isn't working with a colleague you would maybe say, 'Listen, I'd prefer if I'd more support on the left side going into this lift', whereas with your partner you'll just turn round and say, 'What are you doing?!'

"If we've had a fight at home then it's very consuming but having to dance together can speed up the process of making up, because you're forced to look at each other and touch each other and trust each other.

"It's hard to say if dancing together has benefited our relationship because we've never known any different. When you're falling in love then it's like it's happening at hyper-speed because you get so close so quickly. I know that we know each other very well and trust each other very intimately. For a connection, it's really wonderful to experience but it's very hard to articulate why it's so special."

Dundalk couple Lorraine and Brendan MacQuillan, both in their 60s, married in 2018 after meeting through set-dancing in 2013. After being widowed in devastating circumstances 18 years ago, Lorraine says she could never have imagined the joy dancing has brought to her life.

"One of my earliest memories is dancing, standing on my father's feet with the record player on in the living room. My parents loved to dance and it was always something I wanted to do - it just didn't happen for a long time! It was October 2012 when my friend Jill, who I'd met through a hillwalking group that I'd recently joined, suggested going to a set dancing class. I remember being nervous about going but when I went and the night was over, I was absolutely buzzing! I'd loved it and couldn't wait to go again.

"I mostly danced with Jill - in set dancing it doesn't need to be man/woman and you're in a group of eight people. But I can remember the night we were at a ceilidh and I saw Brendan for the first time.

"I didn't dance with him until we both were at a set-dancing weekend in Donegal and I don't know if he felt the same, but I knew the first time we danced together that there was something special. I felt a connection and I remember thinking, 'He's a lovely dancer, I wonder if I'll see him again'.

"It's funny because later on Jill and a couple of other friends who were watching said they'd also felt there was something going on. When Brendan popped the question and we got married in 2018, Jill was my bridesmaid. Dancing is a huge part of our lives. We go to two social dances and one ceilidh a month. Brendan started dancing long before me but he never really went to social dancing because he didn't have a partner, so it's great that it's something we can do together. We've taken up private lessons too and now we're learning a foxtrot and a cha cha cha. We were practising in the living room the other night!

"We've met so many friends through dance and it's brilliant fitness and great for the brain. It's also inspiring to see so many people older than us still flying around the floor. When you get fantastic musicians you can feel your heart thumping and it's so exhilarating and it's fun too. No one is looking at you and judging.

"I never even contemplated that dancing could have brought so much into my life. After my first husband's death it was very hard and I closed myself off from the world. But it really is never too late to try something new and you never know where it might lead."

Husband and wife Ksenia Yanchenkova (37) and Marcin Szymutko (37) spent 10 years competing internationally as Latin and Ballroom dancers and now run Viva School of Dance in Dublin. Ksenia says: "There's definitely something special about the connection you make with someone through dance. It's about so many things; the music, the atmosphere, you have to get quite close - almost nose to nose - so there's that sense of touch and smell, it all creates a certain mood. I'd say that people know almost instantaneously how much they like the person in front of them when they first dance together. I know the first time I danced with Marcin I knew and since the first time we danced together, I've never danced with anyone else.

"In the beginning when we were competing, we were spending almost seven days a week together training. A year later we were married! I think when you're spending so much time together, then you get the chance to know each other really well - and not just the good side of the person.

"Normally when you date someone, you're on your best behaviour but if you're training together then you're testing each other's patience, listening and commitment.

"Under pressure and stressed out, the worst comes out of you, and if the other person is prepared to accept that side of you, that's special.

"Sharing a passion is a wonderful foundation for a relationship but there are downsides too. Marcin was always better at leaving things on the dancefloor, whereas if something hadn't gone well, I would drag everything that happened on the dancefloor back home. You're also spending 24 hours a day together so you never get a chance to miss each other.

"Now that we're teaching we sometimes can see when a couple has chemistry. We did a fundraiser a while ago, putting together a Strictly-type show with all non-professional dancers, and one of the couples that we partnered is now married with a child. Other times people come on their own to classes then go home to their partners and it's just a hobby.

"It depends on the individual but it can be hard for the other side - it's hard not to get jealous because people do get close when they dance."

Irish Independent