Ask most people what they’ve been looking forward to most about the end of lockdown, and they’ll tell you it’s the warm embrace of a loved one, sharing a meal with friends, or finally boarding a plane after being grounded for more than a year.
Luba Mushtuk isn’t most people.
“I am looking forward to having my feet in pain because I danced for 10 hours. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I want my dancing pain to be back,” the Strictly Come Dancing professional declares, when we speak just before restrictions start to ease in London, where she lives.
“I’m very excited to be able to go to a dance studio actually, that’s my main goal, it’s not a restaurant. I will even go into the studio just to dance by myself.
“I know it sounds strange, but I love it,” says the Russia-born dancer, 31. “I love to wake up in the morning and be in pain everywhere, because it means that I did a great job yesterday.”
Sadly, she’ll have to wait a bit longer before she’s back on stage properly. The Strictly Live Arena Tour that was scheduled to take place this summer has been postponed – but Mushtuk’s dancing shoes haven’t been gathering dust during the pandemic.
“Obviously, being a dancer, it’s hard to just not dance at all, so sometimes I can be just silly and cook in my kitchen and dance with music on,” says Mushtuk, who moved from St Petersburg to Italy aged 12 to study under world champion Caterina Arzenton.
“Or I just put on my dance shoes and just want to want to feel them on my feet, because I miss them so much.”
She doesn’t go so far as to dig out any sequinned frocks from the Strictly archive, however: “It’s not about getting glammed up and putting the sparkly dress on. The most important part for me is to perform and give the emotion, to make people feel that emotion, that’s what brings me joy.”
As well as the odd foxtrot around her flat, she has been keeping fit with daily home workouts (“and a lot of stretching because I want to keep my body fit”), running and long walks if she’s feeling frazzled.
“Of course, as humans we have days that are a ‘no’ day, and my sort of meditation is, I call it ‘walk it off’. I always put some calming piano music on my headphones and I just go for a long walk. That calms me down and makes me release all the stress.”
While Mushtuk – who started out as an assistant choreographer on Strictly before making her on-screen debut in 2018 – says she is “very happily” living by herself, she has craved human contact at times.
“Some days, especially during lockdown, I really wanted a hug. I wanted simple stuff like a hug,” she says, quickly adding that she’s “grateful to have many, many friends – obviously, we have FaceTime and we can talk. That’s a great thing that we have this technology these days.
“It just means so much because each person who works there, from cameramen to production team to dancers to everyone who’s involved, they’re just so in love with the show.
“Because of that, it’s just such a joy to be part of this group of people who are so passionate about it. And I think that’s the reason why the show is that good. It’s because each of us just brings everything.”
Giving her all is something that’s important for Mushtuk.
“The mantra that I live by is, ‘If you really want something, you’ll find a way, you’ll find the time and you’ll find the strength to get it done’,” she says, and that’s not the only sassy saying she swears by.
Turning her hand to fashion design, the dancer has launched a collection with Merrrch, of hoodies, T-shirts and activewear essentials emblazoned with slogans such as ‘Don’t care… you can do better’ and ‘Get over it’.
“Those are things that I often use in my daily life. During rehearsals when my partners can be a little tired, I go, ‘You can do better. Come on, let’s go!’”
Looking back on her career so far, the plucky performer says she’s even learned to appreciate the setbacks: “Anything where you want to become professional, of course it’s never the easy road. But I’m here today and I’m very thankful for all those hard times.
“Any challenge that happens, it happens to make you learn something. I don’t want to say it’s there for a reason but just try to find the lesson out of it and try to build strength out of it – that’s how I always look at anything in life.”