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I am using bits of my body I've not had to use before

Strictly 2
Seeing Jill Halfpenny glide across the floor on TV over the last six weeks, it's clear she has a real talent for ballroom dancing.Her near-perfect performances have led Strictly Come Dancing gossips to suggest she must have had training as a youngster.

But the EastEnders star is quick to put the record straight.

"Everyone assumes I did ballroom when I was younger but I didn't. It's not fair as it makes me seem as if I'm not trying," she says.

"I wanted to do it when I was little but my mum couldn't afford for me to do everything - so I chose ballet."

If she came to ballroom dancing later than she would have liked, Jill's now a complete convert, not least because of what it's done to her body.

"Everything has tightened up," she says. "Dancing has made me use bits of my body that I've never used before."

Jill, who plays Albert Square beautician Kate, usually goes to the gym three or four times a week for aerobics classes and boxing, but now prefers to get her exercise in high heels rather than trainers.

She continues: "If somebody asked me what I would rather do, three hours of dancing or an hour on the treadmill, I would take the dancing any time. The jive and the quickstep are the best workout. You're just knackered when you finish. It's only one-and-a-half minutes but it feels like you've been in the gym half an hour."

But while Jill is happy with her newly toned figure, she'd like to be taller.

The 5ft 3ins actress smiles: "I'd like to be stretched out a little. I'd really like to be 5ft 6ins."

However, Jill says training four hours a day for Strictly Come Dancing has at least left her feeling a little taller.

"It's not so much a visual thing, but a mental thing," she explains. "Dancing helps your posture and when your abdominals are feeling tighter, when you're standing up straighter, naturally you start to walk that little bit taller."

While she has loved training with partner Darren Bennet, Jill, who lives with her boyfriend Craig Conway in London, admits that dancing live on the television has left her feeling sick with nerves.

She reveals: "Perform- ing each week is terrifying. I think the first week I was the most scared I've ever been."

And it's been exhausting as well as scary. In fact, her regular workouts have been so rigorous that she has dropped off to sleep on the half-hour drive home from the dance studio.

The fitness regime has also taken its toll on her body. She admits: "I've got loads of bruises. Darren grabs me a lot and sometimes, if I'm spinning, I'll catch my heel with my leg and trip up. I have been in pain and very sore.

"One time Darren wanted me to spin around and put my foot on the floor.

"I did it really fast and felt a burning sensation. My toenail was hanging half-on, half-off.

"It's tough to do things like the rumba when you've got bruises, burnt toes and nails coming off.

"Trying to be sexy then is really hard."

But all her injuries and exhaustion aside, Jill would recommend ballroom dancing to anyone.

She says: "It's the most fun you'll have and you're having fun while getting fit.

"If you try it you will not regret it - and I guarantee you will become slightly obsessed by it. We all have."


British Dance Council - 020 8545 0085.

English Amateur Dancesport Association, 515 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, S7 1FU. Call 0114 2555236. - information on Latin, ballroom and other styles with lists of UK teachers. - for classes throughout the UK.



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