RTE’s Dancing with the Stars opening episode in chaos after Covid forced dramatic last-minute turnaround

PREPARATIONS for Dancing with the Stars were thrown into chaos after dance pro Emily Barker became the second person to test positive for Covid-19.

The 25-year-old was in self-isolation this weekend after detecting the virus and will miss the opening show tomorrow night.


Pro dancer Emily Barker, in partnership with Aengus Mac Grianna, has tested positive for Covid-19Credit: BARRY MCCALL
Love Island's Matthew MacNabb has also tested positive for the virus


Love Island’s Matthew MacNabb has also tested positive for the virusCredit: BARRY MCCALL

Love Island’s Matthew MacNabb had also tested positive for the virus just days before the start of the new season.

The producers of DWTS had planned to feature six dancers in tonight’s opening episode, like last year, followed by the six dancers next week.

But those plans are in tatters after Emily tested positive this week, forcing her partner, former RTE newsreader Aengus Mac Grianna, to isolate himself as a close contact.


RTE declined to say how many of the show’s dancers tested positive – but the fact that all 12 contestants do not appear in the studio is an unprecedented move.

The show’s 2020 season opened with male celebrities speaking, and was followed in week two by the star dancers.

A DWTS insider told us, “You couldn’t do that this year because Matthew MacNabb tested positive and Aengus Mac Grianna couldn’t dance either because his partner Emily tested positive.

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“So what you get is a mixed group that escaped the virus. Emily going down with the virus is a huge blow to the opening show with five new dancers, only two of them in their teens. Emily’s experience will be sorely missed.

Actor Johnny Ward’s ex-girlfriend regularly posts her dance rehearsals and workouts for her 21,000 Instagram followers, but has been silent in recent days.

The source added, “With Ryan McShane leaving this year with a social media explosion that blew the show off, producers really need Emily’s familiar face on screen. Like Ryan, she has been with DWTS since first year.

“Her sunny disposition is needed more than ever this year – as well as her top-level professional dancing and instructor skills.”


Dancer Emily and celebrity Matt will now miss tomorrow night’s show as they self-isolate and follow public health guidelines.

But both are set to return to the show next week with their partners, Aengus Mac Grainna and Laura Nolan.

The celebrities attending this year’s DWTS are in “mini-bubbles”.

Outside of Zoom group meetings, there has been virtually no face-to-face contact between the stars in an attempt to stop the spread of the infection.

The source said: “It’s not like the other years where celebrities could bond with each other, and even hang out in each other’s apartments. There is no Marty party.

“It’s impossible this year. This is constant antigen and PCR testing, and masks should be worn all the time, unless you are on the floor dancing.


Judge Brian Redmond joked yesterday that he “would have a nose the size of the port tunnel” based on the number of antigen tests he performs for DWTS.

He said, “My nose will be so big because of all the tests we do. Right now I’m sitting here with an antigen test in front of me.

Neil Delamere with his professional partner Kylee Vincent


Neil Delamere with his professional partner Kylee VincentCredit: BARRY MCCALL

The dance judge admitted that DWTS’s fifth round would be “different” with the Covid restrictions, but stressed that it was worth it.

Brian said, “The safest place for these dancers is on the dance floor. In fact, Dancing with the Stars is one of the safest places thanks to the production team, the company and the help we got from RTE.

Yesterday, the reality judge sat down on 2FM with Lottie Ryan – who herself won the Glitter Ball trophy in 2020 – when the threat of an impending lockdown forced producers to shut down the show an week earlier.


Lottie recalled, “Everyone was in shock, but I remember Loraine Barry was going to talk to each of us and say, ‘Come on, you have to pull yourself together. We can do it.’

“Loraine was right, you have to be able to pull up your socks and continue. “

Also speaking yesterday on 2FM, DWTS judge Loraine added, “We only had one chance to go out and finish the show. This is why I said that.

“I knew people were disappointed because they had all worked on dances for the finals. But you just have to seize the moment.

“It’s the same now in 2022. We have to seize the opportunity and do the right thing. We have been waiting for two years to do this again and we must all remain vigilant. “

Known for his incisive comments towards dancers, Brian joked, “I’ve been waiting to give someone for the past two years.

“I’ll have so much to say over the next 12 weeks, after two years of keeping my mouth shut and sitting on my hands.

“So I’m dying to see these top six dancers this weekend. “


When asked about a winner for the new season, Brian said it would be even more difficult to win now as the number of celebrities competing had increased from 11 to 12.

He added: “I think Neil Delamere is an underdog with a chance he can definitely move. But my first favorite would be Ellen Keane.

The Paralympic gold medalist is already drawing attention on social media with her dance routines alongside her partner Stephen Vincent.

Ellen said she wanted to participate in DWTS to represent people with disabilities.

She said, “I am the first person with a disability to be on the show, so I want to talk about these issues.”


The athlete, born without a left arm below the elbow, is famous as a swimmer, but she also has dance training.

Ellen said: “I came to practice feeling a bit arrogant because I know I’m athletic and I loved hip hop, but it was so difficult. And then learn a whole new skill.

“The ballroom and Latin are nothing like hip hop. I found out that I had no idea. Professionals make it seem so easy and when I saw them I was blown away.

Strict new restrictions to help make DWTS more resistant to Covid this season include banning pros from teaching dance school students while the show airs.

Fearing that vaccinated pros like John Nowlan and Karen Byrne could still catch the virus from their students, the producers told them to stop all private lessons and focus on their famous partners.

Tomorrow night’s show will feature the first dances of Gráinne Seoige, Neil Delamere, Cathy Kelly, Jordan Conroy, Missy Keating and Nicolas Roche.

Next week’s second episode will see Aengus Mac Grianna, Billy McGuinness, Ellen Keane, Erica Cody, Matthew MacNabb and Nina Carberry on the dance floor.
There will be no eliminations until the third week of the show.

  • Dance with the Stars airs at 6:30 p.m. on RTE One tomorrow night.
Judge Brian Redmond says Ellen Keane is his first favorite


Judge Brian Redmond says Ellen Keane is his first favorite
Judges Loraine Barry and Brian Redmond


Judges Loraine Barry and Brian Redmond

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