Katya Jones Dogs, Dancing, and Dating.
[1 minute 44]
This year will see the UK spend their first Valentine’s Day in national lockdown. “I’m just using this time to better myself, rather than to find a new relationship” says Katya on adjusting to, rather than resisting a new reality. Following a 12-year relationship with Neil, Katya isn’t ruling out romantic connections but intends to make them in-person, maybe while out walking Crumble, but not through dating apps.
A reconnection with animals, nature, new rituals and a slowing down have been shared experiences for so many in the last 11 months. Here, Strictly Come Dancing star Katya, tells us how lockdown has altered her perspective on finding love, why dating apps didn’t work for her, and how through Crumble, she hopes to make connections with new people.
Julian: You are a choreographer, a dancer and part of Strictly Come Dancing—a career that really does centre on interaction. The last 11 months must have been challenging?
Katya: We felt blessed that Strictly was able to go ahead. So much work went into making it safe and secure. We started working together and preparing for the show in July, it felt so good to be together again. Having all the dancers in one room after so long, the energy was just electric.
I was part of the show’s first ever same-sex partnership. It was really special. Sadly though, my journey with Nicola was cut short when I contracted COVID-19.
JV: So sorry to hear that Katya. It must have been really difficult.
KJ: Yes, it happened just after week three. We were tested every week and when I showed a positive result, we just had to stop dancing. It wasn’t the way either of us planned to leave the competition. It’s a big switch from moving 100 miles per hour and training 12-hours a day to watching your friends compete while you isolate. It was tough. We were able to dance in the final though, and Nicola is so brilliant.
The lockdown after Christmas—this one—was a big hit. I felt grateful for Strictly and being back in work, then suddenly that stopped, again. However, I have learnt from the first lockdown what works well for me, and what doesn’t. I used this time for myself and to learn new skills. I’m a positive person and I do have that energy to share, so if I can help spread that vibe online supporting a few people along the way, that’s what I’ll do.
I’m taking this time to plan my year. To work on my ambitions and crystalise exactly what it is I want moving forward.
JV: Yes, the lockdown has brought about a slower pace for some people. It’s a chance to really think about how we are living and changes we might want to make.
KJ: Exactly. You can get caught up in the negativity of this situation really quickly, especially after watching the news or being on social media. I decided to isolate and block all news channels. I stopped tuning into updates and instead created a filter, choosing the stories that reached me. I chose to improve and be excited for the future.
JV: Restrictions have made it harder for us to connect too, right? It’s tricky to date, but also a good time to get to really know someone. What do you think?
KJ: This is interesting. I’ve come out of a marriage, not even a long-term relationship, but a marriage. Neil and I were together for 12-years, married for 7. I haven’t dated or really thought much about it, because I’ve just been with this person for such a long time. Now, I’m single.
I’ve used this time to better myself, rather than to find a relationship. That way, when I do have another relationship, I’ll be comfortable and fun to be around. I do keep hearing stories about people finding love in lockdown though. Maybe it’s because you are almost forced to connect and are more open to meeting people because there’s not a lot happening.
Like everyone, I have days where I just want to sit down and binge Netflix with someone else. However, I’m focused on myself first, and I’m happy on my own.
In 2019 I turned 30, it was a challenging time. I didn’t like where I was, it felt like I was in limbo actually. My relationship was going downhill. I didn’t feel happy in my own company until May 2020, when I spent my birthday in lockdown. For the first time I realised, I am my own soulmate, I can entertain myself, I don’t need external validation. If someone comes into my life, it will be a bonus, rather than someone who’s filling a gap.
JV: Happy to hear that. I guess dating feels kind of new, maybe a little unfamiliar to you then?
KJ: Yes, because it’s been forever! That’s why I felt nervous for this chat, because I don’t really know dating life. I’m not sure how it works anymore. Neil and I met while dancing, it was natural and that’s usually the case in the dancing world. It’s not the normal dating circuit, where you’re out and about, meeting people and going on dates. I feel like a teenager again, or like a student.
JV: Have you tried connecting with people, like through apps and stuff?
KJ: I did try an app, I got really excited about it. Then it hit my self-esteem, I got bored and deleted it. I realised it wasn’t right for me. I actually outreached to my Instagram followers and asked them how they are interacting with people and dating etc. A lot of people said through apps—but this isn’t for me.
I don’t want to use apps as a way to kill time. I genuinely want to make a connection, maybe I’m an old romantic. I can see why apps are useful, especially right now, but I like talking in-person too much and that’s the right way for me.
JV: Talking of apps, we have met before at a Bumble event. You came along with Neil and your dog, Crumble. How is Crumble doing?
KJ: Aw she’s brilliant. Now that Neil and I are separated, we share her. It’s like having child custody. She is absolutely amazing.
Crumble is eight-years-old now, and we’ve noticed that she’s getting older. She used to jump into our laps and now she looks at me like: “Mummy, pick me up”.
Neil actually adopted another dog, so Crumble has a brother now. She’s a character. Very chilled, happy to chill, happy to be in bed if you are in bed etc. She just goes along with what I am doing but gets jealous when I’m with someone else. She jumps and barks. Crumble is smart too.
JV: Is it difficult for you and Neil to figure out who has Crumble and when?
KJ: It’s one of those things you don’t really plan for until it happens. Neil and I separated on good terms, we are friends, we work together and still talk—so that makes it pretty simple.
We usually alternate around our work schedule. For instance, I’m in Manchester this week for work, so Neil is looking after Crumble.
The second I found out I was in isolation though, I was like: ‘Send her over!” She gets excited to see both of us, we even Facetime her. It helps that she always has somewhere to go and someone to be with, it’s been straightforward for us.
JV: Did Crumble act differently when you separated?
KJ: A little. When we were in the final stages of the relationship she was quite tense, she could feel it too. She became timid and less active, sometimes she would stay in one corner which wasn’t usual for her.
Moving into new homes was obviously a big adjustment for her, we had to encourage her to get used to two new places and make them both feel safe. Her relationship towards us individually didn't change though, she’s still excited to see us both.
Yes, she definitely went on an emotional journey with us.
JV: Sadly, I think people underestimate how dogs can react to a situation like separation. Now, back to dating. Do you think people are more attracted to dog owners?
KJ: 100%. My single friends ask to take Crumble on dates with them. It’s a massive thing.
If a person has a dog, that’s a big tick from me. Having a dog encourages socialising too. I look forward to our walks so that I can see other dogs. There’s also a much greater chance that someone will speak to you. If you are walking alone, people will probably walk by. If you are walking with your dog, a conversation is almost guaranteed. Dogs make a big, big difference.
JV: Yes, I read somewhere that profile pictures including dogs have a greater response rate than those without.
KJ: I can see that. You would spend more time looking through their profile, I imagine. There are lots of subconscious connotations attached to having a dog, you could presume the person is caring, responsible, that they are active and like to walk etc.
You wouldn’t necessarily write all of that stuff in an online bio, but the pictures almost tell that story for you. I also always stop on pictures of mums, sisters or grandmas. I like it when a person isn’t afraid to show who they care about.
JV: Has Crumble initiated conversations with new people?
KJ: Crumble is an attention magnet. When we are on the underground, people are always looking and smiling at her—she knows how to play it too. She looks like a sweet angel, then climbs over and onto people’s laps. I apologise and they ask to take her home. She is cute. People notice her and talk to me, it’s nice.
JV: Have you ever met anyone through Crumble?
KJ: I haven’t, surprisingly. Then not that surprisingly because we have been in lockdown. There’s not really a chance to do anything or go anywhere.
I love looking for dog-friendly places to visit in London. There aren’t enough. Dog-friendly places would be a great way to meet someone, because then you immediately know, they like dogs too.
JV: If someone wasn’t a ‘dog person’ would that be a deal breaker?
KJ: I would ask why they don’t like dogs. Maybe they are scared after being bitten as a child. If it’s trauma related, this is something that can be worked on. I have friends who didn’t like dogs, until they met Crumble. She’s so small, she gave them the first step towards some confidence. In that case, yes, we could work on it because Crumble is cute.
If someone doesn’t like animals, without reason. That’s a no, a 100% no.
JV: And what about a situation where Crumble doesn’t respond well to a person you are dating?
KJ: That’s kind of happened before, not with someone I was dating but a cleaner. Crumble just wouldn’t settle; she would bark and bark for an hour or two. People often say that children and dogs express the truth, there was something Crumble didn’t like about her, in the end I had to let her go. There was an energy she was picking up on, and I listened to it. I’ll always listen out for this, dogs read energy really, really well.
JV: How does Crumble react when you’re around other people?
KJ: She’s cautious, she’s a good little guard dog. The first meeting is always a test. Whenever someone comes over to the house for the first time, they have to pass the Crumble test. If she likes you, she will calm down quickly and spend time with guests. Sometimes she will even go to their room to sleep, but she will always come and find me in the morning.
JV: Would you introduce Crumble to someone you liked right away?
KJ: Dogs are the first topic, or one of. I don’t try to conceal the fact I have been married, or that I have a dog. They are always things I’m honest about. Maybe Crumble will be the reason I meet someone in the first place.
JV: Would it take some time before you trusted someone you are dating to care for Crumble alone?
KJ: Oh, good question. First, I need Crumble’s approval. If she’s happy and likes being around that person, I can tell. Jumping in laps, responding to her name they are all the signs. She does this with my friends, so I can leave her with them.
I would need to make sure that they would be spending time with her regularly, because we spent a really long time training her as a puppy. If it’s one-off care, that wouldn’t work, but if the person was serious about spending time with her regularly and she was happy about that, I would be comfortable. It’s a nice way of showing that they want to be a part of your life by caring for your dog.
JV: And if the person you were dating has a dog or dogs…
KJ: I would love that! I would definitely love that. The more the merrier. I would definitely look after them, have them in my house. 100%.
JV: And if the person didn’t have a dog, maybe a second dog could be on the cards...
KJ: Yes, like a joint dog.
JV: Big step!
KJ: Well, if the person is committing to a relationship, they should be ready to commit to dog ownership. It shows a lot about a person by watching how they interact with animals, or your animal.
JV: Since you and Neil share Crumble, do you think introducing another person would change anything for you three?
KJ: Neil did have a relationship for a while, so we’ve been through that. I was a little bit jealous of another person being with Crumble. At the end of the day, she knows who her parents are and I’m pretty sure we will all be absolutely fine.
We are adults and it’s about Crumble. As long as she is happy and we are making her happy and safe, that’s what’s important.