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When Martina Navratilova steps onto the dance floor to compete on Season 14 of “Dancing With the Stars” tomorrow night (3/19), she’ll have one of her biggest admirers backing her up – her professional dance partner, Tony Dovolani.  The Kosovo-born dance champ can go on at length about her achievements on and off the tennis court, her grit, the fact he considers Martina “one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”

He hasn’t always been as lucky.   Tony, 38, has had quite an assortment of celebrity partners to work with through the years, including Jane Seymour, Susan Lucci, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Stacy Kiebler, Wendy Williams and notorious “Kate Plus 8” reality TV personality Kate Gosselin – who, viewers will recall, clearly was not a joy.  But he avoided put-downs of Kate. “It wasn’t that bad,” he insisted.  Besides, he wouldn’t want any negative remarks to get back to her children, he said, like the family man he is.

Tony and his wife Lina have a six-year-old daughter, Luana, and three-year-old twins, Adrian and Ariana.  Last time I caught up with Tony, Luana had recently surprised him with a little dance routine of her own.  Now he says she’s glommed onto golf, and, being a golfer himself, he’s delighted.

Chatting between rehearsals, he gave the low-down about his experience with Martina so far.  “Dancing does not come easy for her, but she’s willing to do the work,” he said, “and from all her years of coaching and being coached, she knows what it is.  She listens.  And she is willing to laugh at herself, which is a very powerful strength.”  Also, to hear Tony tell it, “She’s been looking forward to dressing up.  Her whole career, she had to keep up this tough cookie image, so she’s having fun with this.”

(update: Tony evidently felt a little differently about making Kate comments by the time he got to Anderson Cooper’s show  – with some joking remarks that started a small flap and incited Kate’s response that she was “disappointed.”  Just another day in DWTS backstage drama.)

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