First Published January 2022
KYLEE’S HERE TO EXPRESS HERSELF
If you were tuned into last Sunday night’s episode of DANCING WITH THE STARS (DWTS) on RTE 1, you’ll have seen professional dancer KYLEE VINCENT guide her celebrity partner, none other than Offaly’s own comedy overlord NEIL DELAMERE, safely through to the next round of the show. And that next round promises to be something extra-special, because this coming Sunday is always one of the most anticipated and exciting of each season…it’s movie week!
Truth be told, Neil couldn’t possibly be in safer hands, and his amazing start to the show with two stellar performances already under his belt are proof of that. From Pretoria in South Africa, Kylee joined DWTS last season with quite the dance CV to her credit. The softly-spoken but immediately and endearingly warm and friendly Kylee is – as we’ve already seen evidence a-plenty of – a World Champion, having won the WDC (World Dance Council) Under-21 Latin Championships in 2011. She also claimed the WDC’s South African Under-21 Latin Championship that same year, before going on to secure the Under-21 Open British Latin Championship one year later. Since 2013, Kylee has toured the world with the Burn The Floor dance company.
And on top of all that, she’s been keeping Neil in-check while turning him into a dancer! And every bit as impressive as everything I’ve already mentioned, is the lady herself when you get a chance to talk to her. Which, luckily for me, I did!
When I had the pleasure of spending some time in Kylee’s company last week, last Sunday night’s dance was still on the horizon, so that was where our chat began…
“So Sunday night we are actually dancing the Charleston, which is quite a scary one to start with or to have as a second dance because you get to do lifts, and tricks, and throws, and drops! So it involves quite a lot. I think Neil is going to treat the audience on Sunday [laughs], as he always does! I think people are going to be shocked by what he can do. They’re in for a big surprise, that’s for sure [laughs].”
From a technical point of view, for Kylee as a teacher and choreographer, how difficult is it to come up with a routine that’s as short as they need to be for television, as opposed to a normal routine that might be part of a theatre show or a competition?
“As a choreographer, we kind of do what the music tells us to do. So when we get our piece of music, we have a listen through for what the music is telling us, for where the accents are, where the music breaks are. Then we take the concept, the story that we would like the audience to see, and we portray that story through the music and through the dance. So it’s actually quite a nice way to choreograph because you’re not thinking of an hour-long story that all needs to make sense from beginning to end. You’ve got that minute and a half to impress everyone and get in as much content as you can. It’s a fun process!”
In the way that some songwriters will tell you about how, for example, they might have got the idea for the chorus first and then proceeded to work everything else around that, might things work the same way for Kylee, I wondered? Would she get an idea for the middle or maybe the end of a routine first and build things in whichever direction she needed to from there, or is it always a more linear process?
“I think it kind of depends on the number you get, or the story that you get to tell. Sometimes it’s easier to build the story from the beginning, sometimes it’s easier to take it from the end. It completely depends on what dance you’ve gotten and what song you were given. Or maybe, you can’t come up with a concept just yet, so you create a routine and then decide that this concept would fit nicely with it. Or maybe the other way around. Maybe you want to portray the story first, and then you go and find the music and the choreo.”
As DWTS returned to our screens a few weeks ago, not only did Kylee and Neil have the honour of being first to hit the floor that night, but that, of course, meant they were also the first pair to dance in the new series…
“I was really happy to open up the show. Neil was really happy to get it done and out of the way first [laughs]. I think that was his main focus! Be first so you finish and relax for the rest of the show [laughs]. But I think it was a nice strong number for Neil, it wasn’t your typical paso, it was more rock ‘n’ roll. So it was easy for him to go out there and have fun, and I think the excitement overtook the nerves which was a great thing.”
So what is Neil like as a partner for Kylee? What traits does he have that make him a good student and good to work with?
“I first thought Neil was going to come into the studio, and because he’s a comedian, there were going to be thousands of jokes and we’d be giggling more than actually working! But Neil takes this so seriously, he works so hard. He comes in, he’s got his stretches, he warms up first, he’s looking after his body, and he just keeps going. He pushes SO hard. From a teacher’s perspective, that’s the most important thing, to have someone who is willing to try everything, willing to learn, and give their time up for this. That’s what makes Neil a great student in the studio.”
I wondered if Kylee had any idea of who Neil was before she actually met him for the show?
“So my husband – well, both of us – we both love watching comedy things on YouTube and going to comedy shows, and the minute Neil’s name came up, Stephen was like ‘I know him! I ‘ve seen him on YouTube!’ [Laughs]. So my husband [Stephen, also a pro dancer on the show] pulled up all the videos and showed me absolutely everything on Neil. So I didn’t know him before, but before I met him, yes, my husband had informed me on every little thing [laughs].”
Last time round on the show, which was Kylee’s first season, everyone knows that she had a much harder task on her hands with Father Ray as her celebrity partner. What we can clearly see from Neil already, however, is that there’s a lot more room for Kylee to be creative and to express herself as a teacher. Not comparing Neil with Father Ray, but how much of a difference does it make to what Kylee can do in her role when her partner this year allows for a much more adventurous approach to things?
“It’s really exciting. As a choreographer and as a dancer, it’s a real pleasure to see what you’ve had in your head come to life. With Neil, that’s what’s happening. Everything that I imagine or create, is slowly coming to life. That’s what we dream of. That’s what Neil is bringing for me this year. Yes, he takes a while to learn the steps, he doesn’t learn fast, so the process is still slow. But I think because he’s so committed to being in that character and to portraying that story we’re trying to tell, it makes life so much easier!”
With the Charleston coming up on the Sunday after we spoke, and with the Paso already out of the way, is there any other particular dance that Kylee really hopes she and Neil stay in the show long enough to do because it would be amazing to put together a routine for it with Neil?
“Oh! All the dances have such unique qualities. There’s so many things that make me think, ‘Oh, Neil would be great with this’, or that it would be nice to create something here and there. I know that there’s Dedication Week coming up where the celebrities get to dedicate their dance to someone special in their lives, so I’m quite excited to create that. So hopefully we get as far as Dedication Week so we can get that one out in front of the public.”
Kylee is from Pretoria in South Africa, and her husband Stephen is from England. While working on the show, of course, they both live here in Ireland. But where do the couple normally call home?
“That’s a tricky question actually [laughs]. My husband and I, we tour a lot with dance shows. So hotels are our homes most of the time! But we do have home-home in South Africa at the moment, where all of our belongings are and where we can say this is our house, this is our bed, this is our kitchen [laughs]. But, you never know what life throws at you. So we’re just going with the flow at the moment [laughs].”
Kylee being married to Vincent very much mirrors the relationship of Janette Manrara and Aljaz Skorjanec (and indeed, Karen Hauer and Kevin Clifton once upon a time) on Strictly Come Dancing. Because Kylee and Vincent are married, and both are dancers by profession, I wondered if they are often booked as a couple as well? Because they have, for example, both toured together with Giovanni Pernice on his Dance Is Life show in 2018 and 2019…
“We have been lucky enough to always be booked together. Even if we’re maybe not dancing together, we’ll still be on the same show or the same contract. That’s made our lives super easy. I get to travel and dance and experience life with him all the time. So I’m really blessed. In this industry, as a dancer, booking gigs is a struggle on its own. So most people take what they can get, when they can get it. But we’ve just been really lucky and fortunate.”
Kylee and Stephen actually met while working for a dance company called Burn The Floor...
“So Stephen has been a part of Burn The Floor for almost nineteen years now. From the age of seventeen he went off and joined the dance company. When I finished school, I joined the company and we bumped into each other on one contract. We weren’t dancing together at that stage, but certain things happened on that contract where people had to leave and they had to recouple the dancers, and they put Stephen and I together. Then after a couple of months…! Yeah, he worked hard, I must say [laughs]. He was really sweet, and very persistent [laughs].”
Giovanni Pernice, who we mentioned briefly a moment ago, went home with the prestigious Strictly Come Dancing glitter-ball last year, finally winning the show with the inspirational actress Rose Ayling-Ellis as his celebrity partner. What was it like for Kylee to see someone she knows win a show as massive as Strictly is?
“Stephen and I have worked with a lot of the Strictly dancers actually. We’ve worked with Kevin (Clifton), Aljaz and Janette, Gorka (Marquez), Dianne (Buswell), so we’re a very close-knit, small group in Burn The Floor that always follow each other. And although Giovanni hasn’t actually done Burn The Floor, experiencing his tours with him, you get really close. It becomes sort of like a family environment, you look after each other. You live, sleep, eat, rest all together. So I was just ecstatic for him. I know it’s been a dream of his for a long time, and he’s been in that final way too often to not have a win! So yeah, I’m really, really happy for him. And it’s going to change a lot of views about the deaf community and how we can help that community as a whole, Dance brings people together, and that was just one more battle that they broke through to bring communities even closer.”
Kai Widdrington, who was still a member of the DWTS family in Kylee’s first season, went on to join the Strictly line-up as a full-time pro last year, and even made it all the way to within touching distance of the famous glitter-ball trophy with his celeb partner AJ Odudu. Is that a move that Kylee would like to see happen somewhere along the way on her own career path as well?
“I think Strictly is a dream for any dancer. It’s an absolutely amazing platform, not only to show your skill, but to connect with the public. It’s a different way of connecting, really getting to know your fans. And it’s a pleasure getting to see someone learn, and grow in a studio environment. Even working with Neil, from day-one to where he is now is absolutely amazing. Sometimes I wish the public could really see the actual day-one to where they are now. Yeah, Strictly is definitely a dream! No-one will say it’s not a dream of theirs [laughs]. Fingers crossed, you never know! [Laughs].”
To finish up our chat and let Kylee back to Neil – who I’m sure was waiting somewhere patiently in the background practising his moves in front of the studio mirror – I asked Kylee to share why dancing is such a passion in her life. And also, for people who might love to learn to dance but are scared to take those first steps, what would Kylee say to encourage them to dare…
“I’m not really an extravert. From a really young age, I’d never just walk up to someone and start a conversation. So dancing – and it sounds cheesy [laughs] – but dancing was a way of expressing myself. It was a way of letting out and showing a different side of me. That still happens today. I get to express myself in different characters, and forms that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to show people on a day-to-day basis. That in itself has connected me to new people. I would have never met people like Neil and Father Ray, and all of these pros that we’re working with. Dancing is a thing that brings people together. And I think that’s the main encouragement for people who are afraid of learning. It’s a social kind of thing. We come together to connect, and it doesn’t matter where you start off. It doesn’t matter if you have two left feet. By the end of it, you will be able to move, you will be able to find something that’s unique for you, so that you can express how you’re feeling and not feel self-conscious about it. We’re all here just to enjoy ourselves and to express ourselves.”
~ KYLEE VINCENT and NEIL DELAMERE return to the floor of DANCING WITH THE STARS next SUNDAY night (January 30th) at 6.30pm on RTE 1. To support Neil, here are your voting options: Text NEIL to 53125; from the Republic of Ireland call 1513 717101; or from Northern Ireland call 09011 331101.