It was a great pleasure to interview Petri and Ulla Järvinen in the Winter Gardens the morning after their second victory in the Senior Latin Championship at the British Open. It was an interesting interview filled with surprises and laughter. See their results page and photos in our galleries.
...You need the rhythm, you need to perform, you need the technique, you need to be fit. All the limits are there and this makes it the perfect sport!
First may we congratulate you on your achievement. Your dancing level was really fantastic and we were pleased that you won.
[Ulla] (Laughing) Thank You. Us too!
We would now like to start by asking about your dancing career. When you started, how, where.
[Ulla] I think it was 1991. When Petri noticed a news paper advert "Would you like to learn to Dance" and we went to the course
So you were together before you started on the dance course.
[Petri] Yes, we were already married.
Normally it is the other way around, couples meet after they started dancing.
[Petri] No, we met at a New Year Party
[Ulla] (Laughing) 29 years ago
Seriously? You are a long time together, How long have you been married?
[Ulla] Next week 19 years
[Petri] We started dancing when we were 25. Before that we both had other competitive sports. We were very competitive for many years. First our interest was disco and show dancing then we saw this advert and thought why not go for Ballroom and Latin classes. So we started but we still had the other hobbies at the same time but then we began to focus more on dancing.
[Ulla] (Laughing) I played hockey
(much laughter) Oh God! You are full of surprises
[Petri] So we started as “Amateurs” but it was really serious when we turned Senior.
[Ulla] That was when we really started to practice
[Petri] Yes, we became fully focused and serious.
So you are dancing in Senior over 10 years?
[Petri & Ulla] Yes
Oh God! (more laughter) you really do not look old enough. What have you found in your dancing the most challenging or interesting? The first thing that comes to your mind.
[Ulla] To learn new things. It is amazing when you learn something new. Rhythm for example. To hear the music and feel the step and the music together at the right time.
[Petri] I think dancing has everything and you continually develop. You are never able to say "Now I have it". When you go to a coach he or she says “This is what you need to improve” and it is this which makes it so motivating. Then there is the competitive element. You need the rhythm, you need to perform, you need the technique, you need to be fit. All the limits are there and this makes it the perfect sport. I do not think there is anything else which has this that you can do as a couple
Play Bridge. (Outburst of laughter)
[Petri] It is this combination I think that it is a competitive sport and that you must perform and continually develop and improve yourself
[Ulla] It helps to keep us fit and that is important as well.
[Petri] Oh, yes
I understand you started as a 10 dance couple, do you still do 10 dances
[Petri & Ulla] No
[Petri] When we started we had to dance both but after a few years we focused on the Latin. I like the Latin much more. Ballroom is OK but with our height difference it is a bit difficult for ballroom.
Which of the dances do you like the most?
[Ulla] At the moment Rumba
[Ulla] (Laughing) Oh, yes!
[Petri] I like the Cha Cha. Playful, cheeky. However, it varies. Sometimes there is a moment when this is the dance you like the most and then there comes a point when that changes but for me now it is Cha Cha
How much time do you spend on dancing?
[Ulla] We go to practice 5 evenings per week
[Petri] Yes 5 times per week and about an hour and a half
[Ulla] And sometimes 2 hours.
So you have a 2 day break?
[Ulla] Yes, usually it is Monday and Friday. Sometimes though, we have a lesson on Mondays.
Of course you also work and have a normal life. May I ask your professions?
[Ulla] I am a kindergarten teacher.
[Petri] I work for Nokia as a Director.
Can you tell us what you find the best and worst qualities in your partner.
[Petri] Do you want to start?
[Ulla] No, you can (more laughter)
Promise no consequences for the other!! (more laughter)
[Petri] The best is that Ulla is very competitive and will never give up and that is a great quality. The worst is that she does not listen to me (Much laughter) when I tell her “you did that wrong”. Maybe I have the wrong approach but sometimes she does not listen to me. The other thing that she is very good at is how she dances and reacts to my lead.
[Ulla] He is working really hard and he would practice 7 times a week. That is good and maybe it is why we are here. He is a good leader and it is good partner. It is fun when we are dancing and we have a good atmosphere all the time and especially when we have competitions. We can really focus on each other. Sometimes when we are practicing he starts “You did this wrong” and I don’t like it. Sometimes, it is not, but it could be a poor atmosphere after that if it happens and especially at the beginning of the practice.
[Petri] Also we are very different. I am very calm and she is fiery, she is Aries, we have a nice balance.
As you were dancing 10 dances at one time, if you started ballroom now which of the dances would you like the most
[Petri] Tango. It is the Latin thing. Yes. Although I like foxtrot. If there is a nice foxtrot song it’s beautiful
[Ulla] Quickstep is nice as well
[Petri] They are all nice because they are so different. It is the same in Latin too. The dances are different with different character.
For coaching do you stick with one or two teachers or do you seek several opinions?
[Ulla] Now we have 3 coaches and then if somebody is coming to Finland then we have a lesson with them too.
[Petri] We have 3 Finnish coaches. Two leading and one support coach. Like Ulla said if some foreign coach comes to Finland we take lessons from them as well.
If a foreign coach comes to Finland do you sometimes get conflicting opinions or do you generally find it works with what you are doing or have been trying to do
[Ulla] It works
[Petri] It works and typically it is our coaches that are bringing these people to Finland. So they know their style and what they will teach. We have lived abroad. We had 6 years in UK and trained there with Margaret Redmond. Then 2 years in Holland. For our Senior career we have mostly lived abroad. It is only the last 3 years that we have been back home in Finland. We always represented Finland and travelled around.
When you spoke that you liked to learn something new what do you find most inspiring. Something in technique or a new way to express emotion or a new way for contact between you. What is the most important?
[Petri] For me it is the body movement and how you achieve it. Especially lately our coaches have said you really made good progress on body movement, the isolation and how that goes into lead. That for me in say the last half year has been the big thing to focus on.
[Ulla] I have been working very hard on legs. Straight, straight, straight
[Petri] Every now and then you get a bit of new choreography and it is different, then to master that is a good challenge.
If your coach gives you choreography which you do not feel comfortable dancing do you persevere until you make it comfortable or do you prefer to cut that out
[Ulla] Sometimes that has happened where something really does not work but we usually manage to make it work
[Petri] Sometimes we have had to work really hard to make something feel good but then other times, and especially if there is a big comp and you feel uncomfortable and “this does not work” then we skip it. Most cases we take it and make it work but there are a few cases where for some reason something just did not work.
[Ulla] For us it must be comfortable to create emotion and performance.
Technically speaking you are Senior 2 now
[Petri] Technically yes. Last week our coaches said "when you look at your videos from 3 years ago it is amazing how much progress you have made". The more you practice the more you learn. If you keep yourself physically fit, age is not a limit.
[Ulla] Practicing right is also so important. If we go into the studio we really practice hard and then we go home satisfied. We have a son at home and so we do not want to leave him.
How old is your son?
[Ulla] 11 years old. Our son is important, really important to us.
I guess he was proud yesterday
[Petri & Ulla] (Laughing) Oh, yes.
I am sorry I keep coming back to this age thing but I am just so amazed. Yesterday I was thinking "Oh, those guys must have not long come from Amateur as they are so good"
[Petri] Thank you. Dancing keeps you youthful.
Yes and you also live a normal life and that is quite the opposite to the majority of Amateur couples. They have no life outside dancing
[Ulla] Every time we leave the studio and close the door the dancing stays there and we go home to our normal life. Really we do not discuss much dancing at home.
[Petri] At the same time though, dance is a way of living for us. It is what takes our leisure time for sure.
So whilst other people are going to the pub you are going to practice...
[Ulla] What I really wanted to say was that we do not have any stress at home. We are never thinking “oh we did not win” or similar thoughts.
You do not take your arguments home with you?
[Ulla] Yes. That is correct.
Which competitions do you usually go to. For example mainly Finnish or international
[Petri] As I said we lived abroad so we have been to many competitions. Every year we come to Blackpool, we go to the International and have won that a couple of times. We go to World Championship, German Open and some of the other big IDSF competitions. Obviously we also do all our Ranking competitions in Finland as well.
When you are going to a big competition do you have a special regime for preparation?
[Petri] I think it is pretty standard but we like Blackpool, which is the big one, we build it up and I would say 3 or 4 weeks before begin to really focus on the event practice hard with the high tempo. We don’t think so much about technique, rather getting the routine and performance out. Having the coach helping as well fine tuning rather than making big changes.
When you are coming to Blackpool, where you know that you are going to have to do more rounds than is normal, do you do anything to build stamina?
[Ulla] We have practice nights in Finland and when we practice we dance one and a half hours nonstop. We do not stop and have a drink in between and thinks that is it.
[Petri] We practice with Junior, Youth, Amateur couples and we are the ones who dance the whole time . Some of them are chatting a bit too much but hopefully we make an example for them. When you are practicing then it is better to focus on that.
[Ulla] So for us yesterday was fine and we were not tired
So you do not specially go to the gym or whatever to practice stamina only?
[Petri] Well, I do a little bit of running
[Ulla] And I am stretching, stretching
Any special diet?
[Ulla] (laughing) Yes, maybe less sweets before a competition.
[Petri] Nothing in particular.
[Ulla] A lot of protein. I make sure that we get a lot of protein. And salad, vegetables, berries. Healthy food and sometimes but not often rubbish (laughs)
Does your son dance?
[Petri & Ulla] No
Doesn't he want to?
[Ulla] He plays a lot of football and hockey
So OK he has another 15 years to start (Laughter)
[Petri] He might, I don't know. When he was young we always took him to the practice with us so maybe when he was small he had too much music
I ask a question but you do not have to answer. You know the problems and the politics we are having at the moment how do they affect you
[Petri] Well, in Finland you just do not see that but it is a pity. For dancers it is a pity and I do not know what is at the heart of it but I do not think that it hurts anybody. All the best couples should be on the field competing.
So you say that generally in Finland there are no internal problems between Professionals and Amateurs?
[Petri] No, not really
It is a pity that the rest of the world cannot take the example of Finland
[Petri] Yes, things are good and there is a consensus.
In the years that you have been dancing have you noticed any real changes in the style of what you are being asked to dance, other than through your own development
[Petri] For sure, probably we started much too physical but now it is much softer, more speed, more body movement so there has been a big change in our dancing. Even for example in the last year. Sometimes there has been a dip but we are very much fighters and we get a bad result and we feel "we will show them" and so we come back
May we ask who trains you?
[Ulla] Helena Ahti-Hallberg, Jarmo Nuutinen and sometimes Jukka Haapalainen and Hanna Karttunen
Hanna is fantastic
[Petri] Yes, we have some very good coaches in Finland
[Ulla] They take such good care of us really
[Petri] When we were here in the UK for 6 years then Margaret Redmond was our coach. A really special and lovely lady.
[Ulla] In Holland we had Sander Pondman and Ilse Lans
Oh yes, the Professional couple. A very nice couple
[Ulla] Yes, really very nice. We are good friends now
[Petri] We always had good luck and all our coaches have been emotionally with us as well in dancing and that is important. If your coach gives you a bit of emotion when you are dancing that is important.
[Ulla] Really, really important
Do you think the fact that from the start you were a married couple helped you or caused a problem in your dancing or the other way round did the dancing cause a problem in your marriage?
[Ulla] No. It is in balance
[Petri] No. We have good chemistry so from our horoscopes we are balanced. I am very calm
[Ulla] And I am not (laughs)
[Petri] Of course you have your arguments but we always overcome. We may have an argument at the practice but never at a competition. Never. The argument at practice we never remember them, we go home and forget. We have also been very successful and that helps as well. When people have a lot of setbacks then that is more difficult.
Many couples say that the music at Blackpool is not authentic Latin do you enjoy dancing to the band or wish they would play CDs?
[Ulla] Oh the band. The band is fantastic
[Petri] The band is fantastic
[Ulla] That’s the thing.
[Petri] That is one way how we practice and prepare for Blackpool. For maybe a month and a half we practice to Blackpool music. There is nothing better than when that band starts and you hear that music. They are such good songs and you always listen. Actually my Nokia phone the ring tone is a Blackpool Samba (Outburst of laughter). It always puts me in a good mood. It was the samba from when we won for the first time. I might change it now to the Cha Cha from last night. (more laughter).
Not that chord which announces the next round. (More laughter). Do you remember the titles of the songs you danced to in the final.
[Ulla] Actually, I told him the Cha Cha title and he said "No" and I said "Yes, I remember it was the new one" but the rest I cannot remember (laughing again).
Do you have any advice regarding the costumes you wear or do you choose it all yourself?
[Ulla] I have one lady who used to work for Chrisanne, she moved back to Finland and she helps me.
[Petri] Also our coaches
[Ulla] Helena and Jukka with Sirpa help us also so it’s a big group
If you could change one aspect of dancing today what would it be forgetting the political situation?
[Petri] For sure the politics.
[Ulla] Yes the fear. Everybody is frightened. They are.
[Petri] Although we do not experience that too much . I suppose really to get more people into dancing . Although Strictly Come Dancing like programmes have brought people in we still need more in the sport. I hope too more dancing on TV. That is what we need more promotion for the sport. Dancesport is a fantastic sport.
Do you believe it will become an Olympic Medal sport?
[Petri] If all it means is that you have to impose a lot of rules then it will probably lose something. There has to be something artistic in dancesport. In skating you have these marks and technical merit, etc., is that the direction? It might be but I think dancing is much more the performance and artistry than just the technical side. Technique is very important and we have always believed in technique but dance is more than that.
[Ulla] It is very difficult.
You are eligible to dance Senior 2 do you see yourselves dancing that or will you stay dancing Senior 1 for the next let's say 5 or 6 years or you become eligible for Senior 3?
[Ulla] Yes, in Senior 1.
[Petri] Hopefully yes. Senior 1 is where the challenge is and we like challenges.
Yes you are doing quite well so it is understandable
[Ulla] Yes, somebody said "You must stop dancing now because you have reached a high level" and we said "We don’t care if we lose then we are happy".
[Petri] We do care.
[Ulla] Yes OK, but later on when we are much older. Why stop now?
[Petri] We have been World silver medallist, won Blackpool twice and been 3rd, 7 years in a row Finnish Championship so we can look back and be really proud but we still have the hunger to develop . It does not feel right to stop now, this is our way of living but the time will come when we feel we cannot develop anymore and then might be the time to stop
You have no desire to dance Professional at all?
[Ulla] We have not thought about that yet
Do you teach at all or do you prefer to not get involved in teaching and concentrate on your own dancing.
[Ulla] No we are not teaching at all.
[Petri] We have our own Professions and we really do not have time to teach others. Now teaching would be taking away from our own practice but when we finally retire then we might.
Do you plan to retire?
[Petri & Ulla] No. No plans. No plans at all
When you are Senior 10 World Champions maybe then. (laughter) Returning to your other sporting activities. Petri, your football, was that all at Amateur level?
[Petri] Yes entirely Amateur, but I was pretty good and as Youth my team won Finnish National Championship.
Ulla your hockey
[Ulla] I was in the Finnish National Team. It was not ice hockey it was indoor hockey. Floorball.
[Petri] It all comes back to our both being very competitive.
[Ulla] We made a goal for ourselves
You know that because of sport and Olympics we get involved in the drug testing but do you believe there is a drug problem in dancesport
[Petri] No. What could it help? Endurance yes, speed maybe, but not performance. We have never noticed anything and believe it is quite a pure sport.
[Ulla] We know the list of substances and we take great care about it.
[Petri] I think it is such a sport that it makes no sense. Dancing is not just one person it is two together.
So may we thank you very much for this interview and we wish you all the very best for the future and may it be a long one.