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Strictly's Giovanni dazzles at the intimate Albany

Giovanni Pernice - Dance is Life, Albany Theatre, Coventry, Feb 21 only.

What a coup for the Albany! This was a sell-out start to Pernice's national tour of the country with his new show, Dance Is Life.

It's the third time the Strictly star has chosen the intimate Albany stage to kick-off his hot ticketed series of one-night stands.

And I have it on excellent authority from my companion - who saw the whole Strictly Come Dancing tour at the vast Manchester Arena last month - that Giovanni's smaller show was 10 times better.

Actually she said 100 times better, but perhaps it was the nearness to all the action, seeing the actual steps, not to mention the Sicilian-born dancer's dazzling pectoral muscles, that boosted the enjoyment.

Then there were the lights, diaphanous costumes, great chemistry during the paso doble, Argentine tango, and samba, accompanied by bursts of real fire, not to forget fellow Strictly dancer and choreographer Luba Mushtak, who last November was crowned Children In Need champion for her quickstep with Boyzone singer Shane Lynch.

But what surprised me most was Giovanni's rapport with his fans - especially Natalie from Tile Hill, who was invited up on stage to join him in a pizza with a glass of red wine. The pair ate as Giovanni's team of amazing fellow dancers twirled around them.

There's also this handsome Italian's ability to make jokes at his own expense, not least about the fact that he's been a finalist three times on the BBC's most popular programme with various celebrity partners, but never actually won the glitter ball - although he does hold the Guinness World Record for jive kicks and flicks as well as Charleston swivels. He's also the Open Latin Dance champion back in Italy.

It's true the Coventry audience was made up of mostly, though not entirely, of women, and it wasn't long before he and Luba got us all on our feet to try out a few John Travolta-style hip twists and finger clicks.

It all ended in a standing ovation.

And all the time Giovanni's girlfriend, the former Pussycat Doll singer Ashley Roberts, was sitting quietly in the front row, cheering him on.

* Coventry is definitely attracting the dancing celebrities. Brendan Cole has just been on at Warwick Arts Centre, and on April 30 Ian Waite and Vincent Simone will be at the Albany with their Ballroom Boys tour.

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