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Celebrity Interview: Girl On Fire

How does the World Mambo Champion start her day? Louise Cummings finds out as she chats to Venezuelan Latin dance queen and Strictly star Karen Hauer ahead of her new Cambridge show, Firedance

Karen Hauer has had a busy morning. She’s been up since the crack of dawn, whisked off to the Good Morning Britain studios for a live breakfast TV interview, and is midway through cleaning up a puddle of wee deposited by her rescue dog Betty, as we begin our chat. I half expect her to sound world-weary, but of course, as a World Mambo Champion, accustomed to dancing 10 hours straight during Strictly rehearsals, stamina is not something she struggles with.

“It’s been a brilliant morning so far,” she enthuses. “I’ve been up since 6am, and had a fair bit of coffee – I’m such a coffee lover – so my brain is on fire right now; I’ve got ‘firebrain’! That’ll be the name for my new tour!” she laughs, referencing her Latin spectacular, Firedance, coming to Cambridge early April.

Karen is teaming up with fellow Strictly Come Dancing professional Gorka Marquez for the first time, in a fiery fusion of Argentine Tango, Flamenco, Contemporary, Paso Doble, Samba and Salsa, backed by an incredible live band, Latin musicians and a dynamic dance ensemble.

Latin dance queen Karen (29602133)
Latin dance queen Karen (29602133)

“It’s going to be a fantastic show. Gorka and I are a fresh new team, and we’re picking dances that really connect with us,” she explains. “With Gorka being from Spain and me from Venezuela, we love all the Latin rhythms and dances like the Tango, the Paso Doble, the Samba, and the Salsa, which really connect with the heart. The show has a Westside Story feel, and a Romeo & Juliet theme, plus we’ll be adding in ballroom dancing, mixed with commercial and contemporary, so it’ll be a beautiful fusion of different styles, but with storytelling too.”

Accustomed to flashing her honed dancer’s physique in an assortment of barely-there shimmering outfits, Karen admits she’s looking forward to the comparatively demure attire of Firedance.

“When it comes to Latin, I love the sophistication of the long skirts, especially for the flamenco, the dresses that are elegant and understated, the flowing fabrics for the more contemporary pieces, or the fringes for the fun dances. I love the bold colours too; the reds, the blacks, the blues. And of course the glittery costumes – I mean you can never get away from the glitter as a dancer, can you?”

Karen and Gorka to perform Firedance in Cambridge (29602126)
Karen and Gorka to perform Firedance in Cambridge (29602126)

Karen’s been donning the glitter since she was eight, when, after moving to New York, she was enrolled into a dance programme called Arts Connection in The Bronx. “Because I didn’t speak English, they thought the programme would build my confidence and help me to integrate with the other children. That was the best thing somebody could ever give me,” she recalls, her New York twang evident as she grows more animated. “I fell in love with dancing, and I never thought I’d end up in London however many years later – and here I am dancing away – and it’s paying my bills!”

Karen, 37, is Strictly’s longest serving female Pro, having notched up eight years in the shimmering ballroom, which beams joy into living rooms up and down the country every Saturday night in the run up to Christmas. She’s partnered a host of household names, from Westlife's Nicky Byrne and ‘Hairy Biker’ Dave Myers, to former TOWIE-star Mark Wright, and Sunday Brunch chef Simon Rimmer. She made it to fourth place last year with comic Chris Ramsey, with whom she performed her all-time favourite routine to PJ & Duncan’s iconic track Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble. “I had so much fun doing that dance with Chris; it’s definitely a Strictly highlight, along with when my wig fell off at Halloween and then I kicked it into the camera; you can’t beat that!” she chuckles.

During her time on Strictly, Karen’s attracted her fair share of tabloid attention following her split from fellow dancer and former husband Kevin Clifton, though – now happily ensconced with opera singer boyfriend, David Webb, in South London – she seems incredibly content.

“I feel like the show has helped me evolve as an artist, as an individual, as a woman, and as a performer. It’s definitely taught me a lot about life, particularly going through life in the spotlight - and I’m grateful for it because I’ve become the person that I’ve always wanted to be,” she confides.

“I’m very happy. My partner David and I are full time parents to our three rescue dogs, Betty, from Bosnia, and Marley and Stevie, from Greece; I adopted them from a foundation called Wild at Heart. We’ll probably end up with about 27 dogs by the end of the year at this rate!” she says, rolling her eyes.

Karen’s latest project is her Hauer Power fitness plan, which features snappy 12-minute workouts mixing yoga, pilates and body weight training. As you’d expect, she’s passionate about health and fitness; she stays hydrated, gets to bed by 9.30pm, and eats broccoli, kale and steak to fuel her body for endless hours of training. But like most of us, she can’t resist a naughty treat. “I think there’s a misconception that dancers don’t eat, or that we have to be on a diet, which is absolutely not true. I balance everything out and eat well, but I’m never going to say no to a Sticky toffee pudding! And when I finish a Strictly show, if there’s anywhere open, I’m all for the carbs. I say no to nothing!” she giggles. “In fact if I wasn’t a dancer, I’d probably be a professional eater because I love food that much!”

When Karen sets off on the Firedance UK tour this month, although she’ll be thousands of miles from where she was born, as soon as those hot, pulsing Latin beats start, she’ll be transported back to her Venezuelan home. “I love the feeling that I get dancing Latin, having been raised in a household where every day my Mum had salsa and merengue on the radio. All these different styles make me feel at home, like I’m going back to my roots.”

It won’t be Karen’s first trip to Cambridge, having performed here with Kevin, but nevertheless, she’s eager to explore the sights. “My God, I love it, it’s such a beautiful city to walk around; everything is gorgeous. I’ll definitely go for a stroll, check out all the cafes and the nooks and crannies,” she says.

Once the flames of the Firedance tour have been extinguished, there’ll be little time to rest, as a week later Karen embarks on the Strictly Come Dancing: The Professionals tour. But the summer is looking bright. “I’m taking the whole of July off. I am going to stay home with the dogs, and take them for nice walks. Well, actually they’ll take me for walks, no doubt!” she laughs, as Betty yaps a bark of approval in the background.

See Karen in Firedance at Cambridge Corn Exchange, April 4. For tickets visit cambridgelive.org.uk

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