We had the pleasure and privilege to speak to Slawek and Edna the morning after they had won the British Open Senior Ballroom Championship for the 6th time. A remarkable feat and only one other couple has achieved this since the Championship was introduced in 1967. See their results page and photos in our galleries.
...so really it is between Art and Sport. When you are tired it must look easy and beautiful...
Congratulations. It is very nice to see you and to congratulate you on your victory. You have now joined the dancing masters as very few couples have achieved 6 victories at Blackpool, in the event.
[Edna & Slawek] Thank you.
I would like to start and ask you about your dancing career and how and when you first started
[Edna] I started in 1985 with a German partner who was B Class in competitive dancing. He changed his home when he started to dance with me but then he decided he wanted to become a dance teacher and he changed towns again. That was a half year partnership.
May I ask how old you were when you started?
[Edna] 16 years old
So what then, after him?
[Edna] I had a Youth partner then. We started in 1986 Youth C Class and danced Ballroom and Latin . We danced together about a year and were in the Youth Class German Regional. Ballroom was quite good and Latin not so good. Then I was over 18 and with this partnership we were young and quickly angry and did not how to do things. Unless you have a teacher who keeps you focused well you always start bumping into each other with personalities and characters and so we split up quickly. Later on you know what you are looking for with a long term partnership and you do the right thing but then we were young so it was a quick discussion and we split up.
After that I had an Amateur partner it was Ton Greten he danced for Netherlands. He also did World Championship final but that was after me. We danced together for 2 years. We started in Germany in the lowest category. In Netherlands he was in ballroom the lowest category and highest category in Latin but in Germany he had no rank. So for the German Federation we must start in D Class and after 6 months we were up to S Class in ballroom but it was 18 months in Latin. Although he was much better in Latin there were problems and complications to get the points and placings and the judges were not always having the same opinion. In Ballroom it was easy the judges see quality and they mark it.
This was also my first appearance in IDSF competitions. We danced German Open and also Slagharen in Netherlands. That was 1987 to 1989 but there was some private problems and so we split up.
Next there were some shorter partnerships. You practise hard and your teacher tells you what to do and you do not have many people around you to tell you you are good. My parents were also dancers and they never told me I was good it was always critical. I need to improve footwork, technique and I never thought I was good. So I had some partners that wanted to dance with me because they thought I was good and they wanted to dance with a really good girl but then I found out that they were not very good. I had a few partnerships like this that were not so successful.
Strange because many dancers have a high opinion of themselves even when they are not very good. So your longest partnership is with Slawek...
[Edna] Absolutely my longest partnership.
[Slawek] Of course it also led to our marriage. In June it will be 6 years we are married.
So the first Blackpool you won you were not married?
[Slawek] It was 1 year before our marriage.
[Edna] We have been dancing together since 1995.
[Slawek] That was when we met.
[Edna] I was looking for a partner and I put my search advert in every club around Aachen. I was not searching beyond the borders but I thought if I put it in Aachen there are people from around coming for competitions and maybe somebody will see it.
[Slawek] At this time I was living in Belgium between Liege and Aachen . It is about 45 km from Aachen and I went to three clubs in Aachen looking for a partner.
Well let us start with you Slawek from the beginning. When did you start dancing?
[Slawek] It was in 1986 in Poland. In Krakow. I had a short time from the Beginners class to S Class. It was one and a half years.
How old were you when you started?
[Slawek] Oh, late. I was 22 years old. After that I went to Belgium and I danced with a Belgian partner. I danced for Belgium and was twice Belgian Champion. After I met Edna we continued to dance for Belgium still as Amateurs for 2 years. Then we danced two years for Poland.
[Edna] Yes from 1997 to 1999.
[Slawek] Twice we reached final in Polish Championship, 6th Place in Standard. At that time Malitowski was the Champion in Latin and danced with us the 10 dance Championship - his last Standard competition so far. Then in 1999 we started to dance Amateur for Belgium again.
[Edna] First of all, Slawek, you got your Belgian nationality, unfortunately a week after the Belgian Championships, so we decided to dance for Belgium.
[Slawek] Yes, I have double nationality: Belgian and Polish but we were living in Belgium.
[Edna] We also became Belgian Amateur Champions and we danced World and European Championships in Ballroom and we also, twice or 3 times, danced World 10 Dance. So when we became Senior we decided to stay with Belgium.
It is surprising that you say you started late because today many dancers start when they are about 5 years old or so...
[Slawek] Then we decided we would continue our career in Senior rank. I had to wait for Edna to reach the suitable age because I am older than her (laughter). I made a joke, maybe my next goal will be becoming World Senior Champion and that dream did come true. Now we have been World Champions twice and 5 times vice-Champions in Ballroom, 6 times Blackpool and 3 times International Champions.
Fantastic and you also dance Latin
[Slawek] Yes we do all 10 dances. In Latin at Blackpool we have been 5 times in the final, 2nd one time, 3rd one time, 4th one time.
[Edna] Two times 5th (laughter). First 2 times 5th.
[Slawek] Then 2nd, 3rd, 4th. This year we are hoping that once again it will be the final.
May I ask you why you did not decide to become Professionals? Generally when people are your age, dancing as well as you do, they go to Professional
[Slawek] Because we are both working. Edna is an engineer and I am a translator Polish/French, French/Polish and dancing is our hobby. Our dancing is only in the evening and at the weekends.
[Edna] (with lots of laughter) Well we discussed it and we decided we could not be Professional World Champions but we could be Senior World Champions. Some time ago there was an IDSF Open World Amateur Championship and we were only 2 places behind Mirko Gozzoli but we never came that close again.
[Slawek] Yes, he was young then.
[Edna] He was on the way up and we were on the way down (still laughing).
[Slawek] Senior level is becoming better and better but it will never be the standard of the Professionals.
Actually, I must say that I have had my doubts about Senior Latin, and especially with some couples in the first round, but Senior Ballroom to me looks better than Amateur sometimes. It has more maturity which Ballroom needs. It needs that experience whilst in the Youth this is lacking. It is more running around the floor than elegant style. Yesterday we were there from the first round and even then the standard was good. I can remember a time when you watched the first round and you thought "Oh, no..." (laughing)
[Slawek] Last year there were a lot of Italians but this year they did not come. In 2009 we won but there were 4 Italians in the final with one German and one couple from USA. In the quarter final there were 13 Italians but they did not come this year. They did not come because of the boycott.
[Edna] They were not allowed to come by their Federation.
Yes we know that very well...
[Slawek] So couples train very hard for this competition. With the Italians we won last year and 4 years ago, so this competition was certainly OK.
We can come back to this Federation issue but can I ask you, did you finish University?
[Slawek] I studied at University but I did not finish as I obtained my licence as a translator.
That is interesting. Many dancers who get higher qualifications only dance. May I ask you how much time you spend on dancing?
[Slawek] We practise every day.
[Edna] Between 1 and 2 hours.
[Slawek] About 1 hour 30 mins, 5 days Ballroom and 2 days Latin.
(Laughing) With the results I can see you practise more Ballroom. It is amazing from the amount of time you spend it looks like a hobby, I mean you do not spend 6 hours a day like many couples, but you are still very good so it must be talent!
[Edna] Also the years of experience. The more years you have together you can develop the dancing. You keep a certain level and just add small pieces to improve the quality.
[Slawek] I think also you have to practise constructively. Sometimes we practise only one hour, but still we try to improve something important. Most the time we practise what we had in the lesson.
[Edna] We practise exactly what we had in the lesson. Nothing left out
[Slawek] You are not just dancing without thinking about what you need to change
With age comes wisdom.
[Slawek] Maybe! (Much laughter)
Do you have many coaches.
[Slawek] At the beginning of our Senior career we had Marcus and Karen Hilton. Before 2002 the lessons with Marcus and Karen were not so regular, but only when they came to teach in Germany.
[Edna] We must say we believe that we should have 1 or 2 teachers only, and from time to time have lessons with another. At times in our dancing we had lessons with Greg Smith from Netherlands and also Oliver Wessel-Therhorn from Germany. Circumstances can dictate what we get - like Oliver does not teach in the evenings and we are working and it is hard to get a lesson in the schedule.
[Slawek] Because we are both working we can only have the lessons in the evening or at the weekend.
[Edna] At the time RyanAir started we started to fly to London. Before it was too expensive.
[Slawek] Or you had to drive by car and it was taking several days overall.
[Edna] So the flying made it easier.
[Slawek] So since that time we were going to Marcus and Karen and for the last 3 years also to Mirko Gozzoli in Italy.
[Edna] In December 2007 we started with Mirko.
You have big coaches, great Champions...
[Edna & Slawek] Yes.
When you said you practise what you learned in the lesson I thought immediately you cannot have 10 teachers (laughing)
[Edna] No. No. There was a time when different information from different teachers did not fit together. We had to decide what makes us look better. When we have a video from a competition we check how do we want to look. Sometimes what feels good, right, does not look right. We have a lot of friends who take videos of us in competition and we look at these and we say this is what we want to look like. So we follow this way because this makes us look as we want to look. There was one Latin teacher at a club in Germany where we work and he said “You must feel the movement” and we said ”Tell us what we must do and then we try to feel it”. It does not work if we feel good but we look bad. When you look in the mirror and think: Oh my God, if I knew I looked like this I would not feel like this. There are some movements which feel bad when you start to learn them, but we say OK we learn them, we get used to them, and then after that we can start to feel them because then we know that is the feeling that makes us look good.
[Slawek] Sometimes you watch your video and you think that looks good but it does not feel so good but we keep it and work to try to develop and make it feel better.
Normally, we would ask if you could not dance what would you do, but as you both have jobs you would probably just be working. (laughter)
[Slawek] We would definitely have a different hobby. I like football. When I was young I played football in Poland, I like swimming, I like cycling.
[Edna] We both like cycling
[Slawek] It is nice to do something.
(to Edna) What would you do?
[Edna] I like cycling and swimming, I did swimming when I was younger. When I was a child and I went on a holiday with my parents to Spain I would swim every day. I know this feels good, it's relaxing but it is sportive action to keep my body fit.
[Slawek] Swimming is the second best sport for muscles. Swimming and cycling. In all the other sports, the muscles work differently.
What are your favourite dances in Ballroom and in Latin?
[Edna] It changes. At the moment it is the Waltz. I like Foxtrot and Tango but for now it is Waltz.
[Slawek] Probably Samba...
[Edna] ...and Cha Cha Cha . It is because we like what we put in it (laughter). The sustained movement for Samba is in him; he has this and I have the staccato action for Cha Cha. So it is easy for me to produce this but to roll my body through as in Samba is very difficult for me. I like Cha Cha more because it fits my body movement.
[Slawek] I like Samba and the Samba rhythm. I like Waltz because it is romantic
Do you have a romantic nature?
[Slawek] Yes (laughter)
One can see that on the floor...
[Slawek] Also because it is a distinguished dance.
What is more important for you: the art part of dancing or the sporty part? How do I describe it... competing or presenting maybe.
[Slawek] It is all coming together. I mean when you are dancing a competition like Blackpool you have to be strong physically. It will be 5 or 6 rounds . It is nice if you are good in the first round but when it comes to the final to keep your art and your art of dancing would be very difficult if you were not physically fit. What has happened to us is that since we became Senior we dance more rounds than in Amateur. Amateurs dance less. OK, in German Open we danced 4 rounds...
[Edna] Once 5 rounds...
[Slawek] But normally 24, semi final and the final. Since we are Seniors it is a paradox. We are older and we have to dance more. It is tough for us so we have to really prepare for a competition like Blackpool and World Championship because it is harder.
So stamina preparation is very important for you.
[Slawek & Edna] Very important.
Do you acquire your dance stamina purely through your dance practise or do you have another fitness regime?
[Edna] For the moment only through the dancing.
[Slawek] Only through the dancing because we do not have much time and the time we have we use for dancing.
[Edna] Bianca Shreiber said once at UK interview “The better your technique the less you need to be fit”. So we said OK, we improve our dancing and technique and the stamina is not so important (laughter).
[Slawek] Also you must dance economically. Of course you cannot just walk but when you have to dance 5 rounds and the final, you cannot put everything into 2nd round. You must be just good enough to pass to next round.
[Edna] Our problem is that we cannot hold back. We've seen in the past some stars that won many competitions, but in the early rounds we thought they were not good on the day. Later though, it was much better. We are not able to do that. Yesterday, Mirko Gozoli came to us and said “You don’t need to do so much. It is still an early round. Keep calm and only later show all this nice movement. You don’t need to show it all so early. There are so many couples around you will pass easily”.
[Slawek] I remember in 2003 Marcus said “Don’t go mad in the 48“. It was crazy because I was wanting to show everything, but he was right. The closer you are coming to the final, there are less heats. In 24 only 2 heats and then semi final and final only 1 heat.
Yes, there is no break...
[Slawek] Last year and this year Marcus was Chairman...
[Edna] We remember, after Bill there was Peter Maxwell...
[Slawek] Peter Maxwell was Charmain when we won for the first time
[Edna] Then one time Richard Gleave and he let the music play right till the end 2 mins 10 seconds. Final quickstep was long 2 minutes 10 seconds.
[Slawek] And the final jive with no breaks between
[Edna] (panting heavily) huh u huh u huh
[Slawek] So really, it is all both Art and Sport. When you are tired it must look easy and beautiful. Marcus said Blackpool is the hardest competition in the world. Many rounds, long music.
Huge floor as well.
[Edna] Yes, but this is nice for us really. Every time when we practise we think we must get more elongation in our programme then we get here and think, oh we don’t need so much. When we practise on the floor we think it’s not so big, We go home and it is big again. It is so difficult because even in Belgium when our competitors are really not that strong we just cannot take it easy. We want to show good dancing, we want to feel what we do in practise. We cannot just go on the floor take it easy and go home with 1st place. We must dance with all the power we have on that day.
[Slawek] Every time we must give 100% of what we can do.
I agree with you, if you train to reach a certain level then you should dance to that level. There is no purpose to train to be the best and not dance your best. I am very happy there are people who treat dancing as a hobby and yet achieve a very high standard. That is rare because you seem to either have people who spend many, many hours and have no life outside dancing or those who do not achieve a high level.
[Slawek and Edna] Thank you.
As you mentioned earlier this year is specific for unpleasant reasons and some dancers cannot come. Do you have an opinion at what is happening in the dance world at the moment?
[Slawek] My personal opinion is that everybody can dance where they want. We should be free even if there are different Federations. I want to go to this competition, I have to pay my own way there. I pay my own entry fee and so I believe I should be free to dance where I want. Many couples do not understand this. It is like you are in prison you will be punished if you dance there.
It is going too far. It is not even about our opinion. You just have to follow what some leader is saying. It is like in politics, the politicians decide no matter what the people think. I think it is very bad for all dancers.
Your next ambition is to become Senior II World and Senior III Champion (laughter) or have you not thought about that yet?
[Slawek] (laughing) I have to wait for Edna till she reaches the age for Senior II. For the moment we continue Senior 1 and we were happy that this time we won Blackpool for the 6th time. Our next goal is in September when we have the Wold Championship in Dresden, Germany and defend our title.
Do you also teach dancing?
[Slawek] We teach a little, yes.
But you do not see it as a future career?
[Slawek] Right now we are busy with our own dancing. Maybe when we retire we will have a little more time for teaching. If you have a full time job and working every day from 8 till 5 then you do not have much time to practise and teach.
How do the people from your office react to the fact that you are dancing? My question is because we have had several e-mails in the past from dancers who wanted their names removed from our website because they have a serious job and they are having problems in their job.
[Slawek] First we find people are curious but then they think if you are doing some hobby in a very big way that could be an influence on the job efficiency.
That is the Managers but I mean the ordinary colleagues.
[Edna] They are not really that interested. Sometimes they will say they “googled” us but mainly they do not say much.
So they are not proud of your achievements?
[Slawek] No, no, they are proud but not that interested.
[Edna] When you do not talk about it and tell everyone then you discover some found out through the internet. There was one time a supplier came to the office and they congratulated me on the World Championship victory and that was when my boss found out and said “What?”. But now they know it and that I take my holidays for competition so as soon as I take holiday they ask “Competition?” Now when it is May they ask “ Is it Blackpool again? Which day is this?”. They do not say more and then when I come back some colleagues ask about it.
(Laughing) You should ask your company to sponsor you, finance you.
[Edna] No, they would not do that.
Do you have sponsors?
[Slawek & Edna] Yes.
[Edna] International Dance Shoes and Attelier Sylvia, Italian, for the dresses.
Do you believe that dancing will become an Olympic sport?
[Slawek & Edna] No.
[Slawek] Too many problems.
[Edna] I know that they tell us yes. They tell us in 2013 there will be some Senior Games and dancing will be included but I don’t believe it. I don’t think the Olympic Games will ever be interested.
[Slawek] We hope that it could be and it would be nice but this problem between the Federations is not good for dancing. Already skating has had problems with the judging and changed the system.
[Edna] They changed it for the Grand Slam. I hear they did a new system where they are doing solo dancing and voting on 10 different criteria. Very, very complicated and at the end it is still subjective opinion. The person watching has to sense how the person is dancing, how difficult is what they dance. They change the names of the criteria but these people sitting judging they only have their own opinion.
[Slawek] It is still just a subjective opinion.
[Edna] When you have these people who breathe and sleep dancing like Bryan Watson, Gaynor Fairweather, Karen Hilton, Allyson Fulham every day they are in dancing. They have been involved for so many years they have so much contact with good dancers and competitions they don’t need to think, they don’t need to feel if the choreography is easy or difficult. Out of the corner of their eye they see and they know good dancing or not. We even stand beside the floor sometimes and look and we know this is good, this is good and those couples pass simply because when you have experience you can see. You don’t need to put it all in these classes and names and detail.
[Slawek] You cannot say this is good musicality or this is good technique because everything is important and coming together.
[Edna] You can break it down to as many parts as you wish but at the end it is the whole thing. When you have trust and experience you know they don’t think this is my couple, this is the other couple, they sense, they know good dancing and they mark it. If the judge does this the results will be reliable and good but all this putting points on how was the hold, how high are the arms, was the footwork good, how difficult was the programme is just an alibi for more political points.
I love to be able to make comparisons. UK Championship there was Arunas & Katusha and you could enjoy them there was Mirko & Edita and you could enjoy them but it was only when it got to semi final, that they were both on floor at same time, you could look at them together and say “Now which one is better” and maybe even ”which one do I prefer”.
[Slawek] Yes, I understand sometimes the differences are so very small and it is what you feel.
Sometimes you see a couple and think they are good, then the World champion comes, and that first one is not so good because now you can see just how brilliant they could be.
[Slawek] Yes, it is always about the comparison.
[Edna] Yes, when you have two couples like Arunas & Katusha and Mirko & Edita, and in the past Marcus and Karen and John Wood & Anne they are all so good it is just trying to find some reason as to who has the edge today.
[Slawek] Sometimes for the judges it is a small physical thing, do you prefer this silhouette or that.
Yes, it is like art when you say what do I prefer Monet or Van Gogh.
[Edna] Yes. This probably is what is so difficult to explain to someone on the Olympic Committee. They find this hard to accept but for us as artists and not only sportive people we have to accept this. You cannot always judge one against the other and the judges must make a decision, sometimes one that hurts them, but they make their decision and the result is coming out of the majority decision and you hope that the better will win. One day it will be one and another day the other.
People often say this is a good panel for me or a bad panel for me. It does not mean one panel is fair and the other one unfair but it is a panel which prefers my style of dancing whilst the other prefers a different style.
[Slawek] When we danced Blackpool 2003 it was the first time these judges were ever seeing us in a competition.
[Edna] Our teachers were Marcus and Karen and neither was judging.
But you won.
If you were given God's power and you could change anything in dancing which you wished what would it be?
[Slawek] For me or for dancing?
Dancing. But OK, for you also.
[Slawek] For myself - to have the quality of dancing I have now but to be young again. I think we are dancing better now than when we were younger.
And for dancing?
[Slawek] Dancing must be free and open for everyone. I cannot understand the politics because dancing must be free and it is so nice watching all the couples dancing
[Edna] For me, I don’t know if we need an Amateur and a Professional Federation because almost all the top so called Amateurs are like Professional. Keep the Amateur for those who dance like a hobby. The Federation should be voted by the members and I don’t feel that the members have a vote. If you have a club then the President is voted for by the members . With IDSF there is a register for Senior, for Amateur, for Junior you must be registered. All these Registered members they should vote. They want somebody that is comfortably representing them. The people who are elected from these registered dancers they should be responsible for the Federation.
[Slawek] There are so many competitors who don’t understand and they just have to copy everything. Normal couples they love their dancing, they love competing and they want to dance against every couple in the world. This should be the goal for dancing.
[Edna] If you have a teacher that you trust then you should believe in your teacher. We go to a club in Aachen and the young couples when they know we are Blackpool Champions they say "Oh, our goal is to go to Blackpool one day". If this is their goal then the teacher should make it important for them, tell them about this beautiful competition in Blackpool in May and tell them you must go there. Make it important, make them want it. I am sure Oliver Wessel-Therhorn does explain in the clubs where he teaches how precious these competitions are. This hall, this audience, the music, all the history must be made important.
Not to say, oh there is a competition in some sport hall and whatever music they play CD is OK, even if some old stuff or some popular modern music which is not good for dancing. They say, oh this is my own thing I built this up and my people must follow this.
Everybody that is here in Blackpool feels this is the Mecca of dancing, the home of dancing, you said something similar, but why do we feel that. There are so many other competitions even Championships.
[Edna] Because for us it is precious. Dancing is our sport, and this is the most precious. Historically it is where all the best couples in the world have always come to try to compete with each. At Blackpool there is the historical system that there were always all British Champions. At UK Open and there is International panel but almost champions or great coaches of champions.
For us in dancing these are the true Grand Slams like Tennis, Wimbledon, French Open, US Open.
So it is History and it gives us a sense of who we are today because of the past?
[Edna] Yes, I think so.
[Slawek] I remember when I first started dancing I saw all these great champions in videos and I remember one time in Poland Marcus came to do a demonstration and for all of us in Poland it was so very precious for someone like that to be coming to do a demonstration. I will never forget that because it was something that touched me. Few years later I had a lesson with this guy and I could compete at this great competition. Even this year we came on Friday and the Latin Professional music was playing and I had all these “goose bumps” and I was smiling. You have to feel this. I can’t believe all these people who come here can ever forget this.
[Edna] The finalists can never forget this. Our Latin teacher Felix Castillo was in final of Rising Stars and he said “when you are standing on that floor and you hear that music it makes you shiver and you will always remember how it was.
[Slawek] Also when you are standing on that floor and you see that front row, all champions, all big names, that gives you a sense of the importance of this competition.
[Edna] In dancing terms these are our stars, our pop stars. Like in tennis you have your Roger Federrer, your Andre Agassi, Steffi Graff , Boris Becker they are still famous.
[Slawek] You have respect for all these stars from the years before. This for me makes Blackpool the Mecca of Dancing.
So once again very many congratulations. Thank you for this interview and good luck for the Latin.