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Strictly Come Dancing: the professional dancers who quit the show and why

Find out why these pros decided to leave the BBC ballroom show behind...

strictly pros who left
Francesca Shillcock
Senior Features Writer
31 March 2022
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aljaz skorjanec© Photo: Getty Images

Strictly Come Dancing has seen many fantastic dancers come and go throughout the 18 years it's been on TV. But fans of the BBC ballroom competition were shocked when long-time professional dancer Aljaz Skorjanec announced earlier this week he was walking away from the show.

MORE: Strictly's Aljaz Skorjanec breaks silence on reports of backstage fallouts

Aljaz is not the first big name from the competition to quit and his announcement comes just weeks after fellow Strictly alum Oti Mabuse revealed her departure. Take a look through our gallery to see some of the professional dancers who exited Strictly Come Dancing and moved on to different things…

Aljaz Skorjanec 

Aljaz Skorjanec shocked Strictly fans this week when he announced he was quitting the show after nine years. The reason for him leaving was not explicitly given, but he did admit the decision was a swift one. 

MORE: Janette Manrara shares heart-melting update after husband Aljaz's shock Strictly exit

"A little while ago I made the tough decision that Strictly 2021 would be my last," he said on Instagram. "The show has given me an opportunity and freedom to create and express myself in front of millions of people every weekend for the last 9 years." We'll miss you Aljaz! 

WATCH: Janette Manrara opens up about reasons behind career move

oti mabuse© Photo: Getty Images

Oti Mabuse 

Not long before Aljaz's announcement, two-time Strictly champion Oti Mabuse revealed she was stepping away from the show and has been focusing on other TV pursuits ever since.

MORE: Oti Mabuse husband Marius' chic London home – take a tour

The dancer, who won in 2019 and 2020, revealed she was quitting in February in a statement which read: "I can't put in to words how difficult this decision has been, but I have decided not to return for the next series." 

Oti's news was revealed a month after she began working as a judge on ITV's Dancing on Ice. She's also set to front brand new show, Romeo & Duet, a dating show on ITV with a musical twist. 

Keep clicking for more photos...!

janette manrara© Photo: Getty Images

Janette Manrara 

Janette Manrara, who joined in 2013, decided she was waving goodbye to her role as a professional dancer on Strictly last year but, much to fans delight, she didn't go very far. As of the 2021 series, Janette began her new role as a co-presenter for the spin-off show, It Takes Two alongside Rylan.

MORE: Janette Manrara reveals double wedding celebrations as she returns home to Aljaz Skorjanec

Janette explained at the time that being a presenter was something she'd always dreamed of doing. In an exclusive interview with HELLO!, the popular pro has since revealed that she had always planned on making an exit long before she actually left. "A dancer's career is so short. You can only dance at a top level for a certain amount of time," she said. 

"I've always loved entertaining and making people smile, and I do like interviewing people and sharing their stories. So the change to go into presenting, I think, was a very slow, long process."

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Anton Du Beke 

It's not been officially confirmed by the BBC or by the dancer himself if Anton Du Beke will return as a professional dancer for the 2022 series. The King of Ballroom, who is the only professional still in the show who has been part of the Strictly family since the beginning, stepped away from dancing last year as he took to the panel to be a judge while Bruno Tonioli stayed in LA due to travel restrictions. 

MORE: Strictly's Craig Revel Horwood talks Oti Mabuse exit: 'It's brilliant news'

But even fellow judge Craig Revel Horwood thinks he should stay put on the judges table. "I was pleased they got him off the dancefloor and then put him where he belongs. I hope he comes back next year. I loved it, absolutely," he told The Sun.

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AJ Pritchard 

AJ Pritchard departed Strictly in 2020 after four years and explained he wanted to pursue other ventures away from the show. A few months later, it was confirmed he was taking part in that year's series of I'm a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!

J then went on to appear on the reality show for its first season in Wales alongside Shane Ritchie, Giovanna Fletcher and Mo Farah. 

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Kevin Clifton 

Kevin Clifton lifted the iconic glitterball trophy in 2019 after winning the show alongside his girlfriend Stacey Dooley. But it wasn't long after their victory that he announced he was departing from the competition after seven years as a professional. Kevin didn't disclose the specific reasons at the time, but a few months later, after landing a "dream role" in the West End production of Strictly Ballroom, Kevin divulged that his move to the stage was partly behind his exit. 

MORE: Strictly's Kevin Clifton shocks fans with shirtless photo - and Stacey Dooley is swooning

He told HuffPost: "I was all set to move onto Strictly Ballroom, which was supposed to open in September. To be honest, that was the main reason I took the decision to leave Strictly Come Dancing. It was always a bit of a dream of mine to play that role in Strictly Ballroom.

"I'd been in touch with Strictly Come Dancing and said, 'If I get offered this, I'm not going to be able to say no to it.'" 

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Pasha Kovalev 

Pasha Kovalev joined Strictly in 2011 and swiftly became a fan-favourite. But, after reaching the final in 2018 alongside former Pussycat Doll star Ashley Roberts, Pasha said he wouldn't be returning to the show.

Pasha explained at the time that he wanted to find a "new challenge" to focus on. It also meant the dancer could spend more time with his family including his wife Rachel Riley, whom he met on Strictly, and their two daughters, Maven and Noa.

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Brendan Cole 

Brendan Cole was another long-running professional dancer on Strictly before he announced his exit. The dancer, who won the first ever series in 2004 alongside Natasha Kaplinsky, announced in early 2018 that he would not be returning. Brendan was candid about the reasons behind the exit, explaining it wasn't his decision and that he was left "shocked" by the move. 

MORE: Brendan Cole's wife Zoe says dancer is an 'absolute winner' after losing out on Dancing on Ice trophy

He told Lorraine at the time: "This is actually quite hard to talk about. Well, the BBC haven’t renewed my contract, we get contracted year upon year. They've just made an editorial decision to not have me back on the show. I'm a little bit in shock at the moment, I'm quite emotional and a bit raw about it."

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Joanne Clifton 

Kevin's sister, Joanne Clifton, arrived onto the show in 2014 and was paired with Scott Mills. The year after, she took a hiatus, but made a triumphant in 2016 when she was partnered with Ore Oduba and the pair went on to become champions.

However, choosing to end her short but successful journey on a high, the dancer then announced her exit after she was crowned winner. Joanne has since been pursuing a career in musical theatre ever since, much like her bro, Kevin. 

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Natalie Lowe 

Natalie Lowe joined the BBC competition in 2009 and throughout her seven years she was partnered with stars such as Ricky Whittle, Ainsley Harriott and Scott Maslen.

The dancer revealed in 2017 she was quitting, admitting in a statement it was a "difficult" decision to make. "From the friendships I developed, the amazing dances I was able to perform in and the experiences that Strictly provided, it has been an incredible and extraordinary adventure," she said.

However, Natalie has made appearances on It Takes Two since her exit. 

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Oksana Platero 

Oksana Platero joined in 2016 and was partnered with Judge Rinder. Although the dancer wasn't on the show long, it seems she left a lasting impact – and she and Robert Rinder remain firm friends to this day.

In fact, the barrister and TV star was key in helping Oksana's elderly family flee their home country of Ukraine towards the Polish border. The former Strictly star branded Robert "remarkable" for his efforts. 

MORE: Rose Ayling-Ellis shares heartmelting post to Giovanni Pernice as his future on Strictly is confirmed

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Ola Jordan 

Ola Jordan joined Strictly in 2006 and was partnered with DJ Spoony. Ola competed on the show for a number of years and was even crowned champion in 2009 alongside broadcaster Chris Hollins. The dancer then decided to leave the show in 2015 following series 13 in which she was paired with Iwan Thomas. 

MORE: James and Ola Jordan treat toddler Ella to holiday after health battle – exclusive video

Soon after, Ola spoke about whether she would return, explaining: "I did ten years and it was full-on. It's six months out of your life to do Strictly without any weekends or days off. Being involved with the show was amazing but sometimes you need to know when to hang up your dance shoes. I'm too old now."

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James Jordan 

Ola's husband and fellow professional dancer James Jordan joined the same year as his wife, but left a couple of years before her. James, who made it to the final in 2012 alongside Denise van Outen, left the competition in 2013.

At the time, the BBC said they had offered the dancer a "reduced role" but that James had declined their offer. Since then, he's gone on to do other shows including Dancing on Ice, which saw him crowned champion in 2019. 

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Kristina Rihanoff 

In 2008, Kristina Rihanoff joined Strictly and was partnered with former political journalist John Sergeant. However, her first season wasn't exactly a success as John decided to famous withdraw because he believed may have controversially "won it". 

Kristina then left the show in 2016 and told HELLO!: "It's a bittersweet situation. I was on Strictly for eight years, and I always love the dancing side of it. But I feel relieved because I wasn't happy towards the end. I'm also sad because I'm going to miss everyone."

aliona vilani© Photo: Getty Images

Aliona Vilani 

Aliona Vilani joined series seven of Strictly in 2009 and the series after, made it to second place with Matt Baker.

MORE: Strictly Come Dancing's 2022 professional dancer line-up revealed

She even won the show twice! First in 2011 with Harry Judd and secondly in 2015 with Jay McGuinness (who else remembers that iconic Pulp Fiction jive?!). 2015 was Aliona's last series and it was reported at the time that the dancer left to start a family. The dancer then welcomed her first child in 2017. Cute.

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Gleb Savchenko 

Remember heartthrob, Gleb? Of course you do. The dancer was only on Strictly for one series in 2015, but he was pretty popular on the show. Gleb then left and went on to star in the American version of the show, Dancing with the Stars.

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Artem Chigvintsev 

Artem Chigvintsev arrived on Strictly with a bang in 2010 and managed to become winner on his first series alongside actress Kara Tointon. The pair even went on to embark on a relationship, but Artem and Kara then split in 2014. Artem left the show that same year, and went on to join the lineup on Dancing with the Stars. 

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Robin Windsor 

Robin Windsor joined Strictly for series eight in 2010 and appeared on three series before bowing out in 2012. At the time, it was reported that Robin wouldn't be returning to the show due to sustaining a back injury. 

vincent simone© Photo: Getty Images

Vincent Simone

Before Giovanni Pernice came along as the Italian heartthrob, Vincent Simone was on the show.

Vincent, who was previously in a relationship with his professional partner and fellow Strictly star Flavia Cacace, joined the ballroom programme in 2006 and left in 2012. 

MORE: Call the Midwife's Helen George reacts to Aljaz Skorjanec's shock Strictly departure

flavia cacace© Photo: Getty Images

Flavia Cacace 

Flavia also joined in 2006 alongside partner Vincent, and went on to become champion in series 10 with Olympian Louis Smith. Series ten, which took place in 2012, marked her last series. Flavia is now married to her series 8 celebrity partner, Jimi Mistry. 

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Ian Waite 

Ian Waite joined Strictly in 2005 for its second series and remained as a professional dancer until 2009. However, when he left, he didn't go far, as he soon began appearing as a regular on Strictly It Takes Two as part of their choreography corner. 

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Darren Bennett 

Darren Bennett began his Strictly journey in series two and certainly made an impression as he went on to become that series' champion alongside Jill Halfpenny thanks their famously brilliant jive. Darren left in 2009.

lilia kopylova© Photo: Getty Images

Lilia Kopylova 

Darren's professional dancer partner and wife, Lilia Kopylova, also joined the show in 2004 and left in 2009. At the time, it was revealed that Lilia had "sobbed" after hearing the news she had been relegated to a troupe dancer rather than a professional with a partner on the BBC show.

Lilia refused the offer. "As soon as I put the phone down, I burst into tears and then carried on for around 40 minutes," she said. "It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, causing me lots of sleepless nights."

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Erin Boag 

Die-hard Strictly fans will know that the dancer was paired with fellow Strictly star Anton Du Beke throughout most of their professional careers. The star first joined the show at the very beginning and stayed apart of the Strictly family until 2013 when she walked away.

At the time, it was said the dancer had left to pursue other projects, but Erin then announced the exciting news that she was pregnant with her first child, who she welcomed in April 2014. 

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Karen Hardy

Karen was a professional on Strictly from 2005 until 2009. Her final series saw her partnered with the late Gary Rhodes. At the time, Karen waved goodbye to the show and it was reported she had "fallen out of love" with it.

However, she does continue to appear on It Takes Two to give her professional advice.

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Matthew and Nicole Cutler 

Matthew Cutler, along with his wife Nicole, was a dancer on Strictly for a number of years. Nicole joined in series two, before taking a break for series three, and left in 2008. Matthew joined in 2005 and, the following year, won alongside future-Strictly judge Alesha Dixon. Matthew then waved goodbye to the show in 2010.

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