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Credit: Craig Sjodin/ABC

It happens almost every season on Dancing with the Stars, and this time around it’s partners Karina Smirnoff and Aaron Carter debunking the buzz that they’re getting cozy off the dance floor.

“It’s really funny,” Smirnoff, 31, told PEOPLE after Monday night’s performance. “The rumors are that we are hooking up but then we’re not sexy enough on the dance floor according to head judge Len Goodman? Let me tell you, if that was the case, the dance would have been very raunchy, as Len wanted it to be.”

For Carter, 21, the rumors are off the mark from what’s really happening between the two of them: a budding friendship.

“We have a lot of respect for each other and I have a lot of respect for her,” he says. “She’s a lady and I’m going to treat her like that. She just went through a breakup so it’s important to respect her.”

“Honestly the last few months have been beyond difficult,” Smirnoff says about her split with fiance Maksim Chmerkovskiy. “If Aaron wasn’t by my side, kind of being there, a shoulder to lean on, I don’t think it would’ve been possible to get through it. He reminds me that I do what I love–dancing. And he’s always happy, always smiling, saying, ‘Come on, girl! You can do this!’ I tip my hat off to Aaron for being as strong as he is.”

The singer likewise had kind words for Smirnoff. “She’s incredible,” he says. “She’s dealing with a lot of stuff but what’s amazing is that she’s got her head up high and doing an amazing job. –Eunice Oh

Craig Sjodin/ABC