We talked to the winners of the Blackpool Rising Star Professional Latin, Nikolai Voronovich and Maria Nikolishina, the day after that event. Nikolai and Maria currently dance for US in the Professional Latin division. See their results page.
Take all the opportunities to educate yourself, to learn yoga, pilates, tai-chi, modern, contemporary dancing. If you do it with your brain, it will bring you success
First let me congratulate you on this fantastic result which was winning the Professional Rising Star Latin on Friday. Becoming the Blackpool champion is great and I hope you will repeat this success on the full Professional event as well if not this year maybe next year. When did you start to dance?
[Maria] I was seven years old when my Mum brought me to the dance studio in Moscow. She pushed me actually! But I enjoyed it a lot. I had lots of partners before I met Nikolai and since I met him, almost 11 years ago, the real dancing started for me.
Did you start with both Ballroom and Latin?
[Maria] Yes, in Russia everybody starts with Ballroom and Latin. I also had some ballet background.
[Nikolai] I also started when I was seven. I just liked sound of music of lambada, which was popular at the time. so I asked my Mum, that I wanted to join the dance classes. It was fun. But the serious career for me started when I moved from Novosibirsk, my native town, to Moscow. And in Moscow I met Maria who, I can say, was my first serious partner. We felt we could be a good team together! After we won yesterday... that brought memories of my teachers showing us videos from one of the Blackpool congresses and we all small kids were watching and listening when somebody explained how to perform natural turn. Even when I was a very young dancer I knew Blackpool was something special, far far away for me, but very important.
How did you two meet?
[Maria] At the time I had coaches who were based in Moscow but did master classes in Novosibirsk. Nikolai was there at the classes and at the time he split up from his partner. And...
[Nikolai] ... and I decided to move to Moscow because I wanted to continue with this career. In Novosibirsk it was difficult to find a partner...
[Maria] So thanks to our teachers, they made us meet each other. They paired us together
[Nikolai] I think it is very good story! Usually people start with try-outs. And out try-out was Russian Open Championship (laughing). 10 days before that event Maria learned all my routines and we performed, like, after one week of practice. And it was quite a success. You know, you just go and do it, and then you know this is the right person to do it with, or you know it will not work. So we realised after this competition that we can rely on each other and we can make it work!
You are dancing together for almost 11 years so congratulations! It is not so common in the dance world, is it
[Nikolai and Maria] No, it is not!
[Nikolai] You know, it is strange but it at some times it became a disadvantage. We are so used to our movements. It is sometimes difficult to find a new movement, an inspiration for a routine. But I have realised that this is actually more of an advantage and asset, of how sensitive we are to each other, supportive and how we can feel each other. We understand each other, we catch each others ideas with no words. All these years we dance with each other they made us confident and safe.
This is your first year as Professionals?
[Nikolai] Last year Blackpool was our last Amateur competition so we are Professionals for a year now.
But this is first time you danced the Rising Star competition. Why didn't you dance the UK Open in Rising Star or the International?
[Nikolai] We wanted to do just one Rising Star event, and out of three major English competitions we chose Blackpool to do that. As the most valuable one, most respected one to win. We've kept all our energy and emotions just for this competition.
When you turned Professional you have also switched the country from Russia to USA. May I ask you why?
[Nikolai] In general, the idea was about our future life. Of how we want to live, where we want to be in the future. It was not just about the sport, the career. We asked ourselves could we build up a business, develop our students. We were thinking of environment where we can prepare future life after we stopped dancing. After long consideration and trying few places we decided...
[Maria] ... also, when we danced Amateur, we fallen in love in these English competitions and we wanted to dance them. But Russian federation banned them. We could not imaging ourselves without Blackpool, without UK or International.
[Nikolai] All this politics, conflicts were factors in our decision, things which made us start looking where else we can be.
One of my questions usually is which competition you like most but I think you've just answered that question!
[Nikolai] another competition where we experienced similar emotions was German Open four years ago. People there, the audience, the atmosphere was great, special. But Blackpool is something amazing. Nowhere in the world you can find these same thing.
If you had to describe what's the strongest area of your partner and what is their weakest? Who wants to answer first? (laughter)
[Maria] Nikolai, you start!
[Nikolai] Since we first started to dance together it became very clear what each other roles were in the partnership. Maria is definitely responsible for creative, for designing the dresses, for thinking about our style. I never think about that and I know she is good at it. We always have something special because Maria always puts lots of attention in that area. She likes doing it, and I am so glad because I could never do it by myself. I could never imagine the dress colour, material. When it comes to dancing I can always become motivated just by the way she moves, by the sincerity she puts into her movement, her dancing. Sometimes when we get stuck, and it is not a technical matter, it helps me to look at her when she moves in such a natural way. It is so attractive and it inspires me to perform better. I can say this is her greatest feature for me.
[Maria] He is very supportive and he is very protective. He knows I am very sensitive and I can react to people a lot, they can disturb me easily and he is always trying to shield me from this. He is sometimes like my Mum!! (laughs)
[Nikolai] I know this is one of my responsibilities because I know how sensitive Maria is. It comes instinctively that I try to protect her from people who can give us bad vibes.
And what is the worst in her? (laughs)
[Maria] There were things in the past. But now there are no weak points!
[Nikolai] I agree with Maria. There are no weaknesses in our team.
Are you a couple in life as well?
[Maria and Nikolai] Yes
Maria, what is his worst part?
[Maria] There was something in the past, but we are working on it and it is becoming much better... Otherwise, nothing really!
Not possible! Every man has got a bad side! (laughing)
[Maria] Perhaps it will come out later! (laughing) He hides it perhaps
What would you do if you could not dance?
[Maria] I could teach. We are quite successful in it actually. In Russia we had lots of students. Since we moved to USA almost a year ago we built our students base, not just beginners, few very good Professional and Amateur couples as well, kids. We are very happy teaching, this is something I want to do. I like to help my kids with dresses, design for them.
[Nikolai] You could be a good Mum (laughing). You can be a very good dress designer if you could not dance.
[Maria] What about you?
[Nikolai] Besides dancing I like traveling, I like route planning and organising travel details. So perhaps I could run travel agency because I have great pleasure from this. Not sure how it would work as a business but I have that passion for traveling. For the last year I was also thinking... maybe some small restaurant, something small, casual, maybe family run..
[Maria] he is a very good cook
[Nikolai] Maybe one day we can decide... who knows. We all know that success can come from doing what you like! Some people like to eat and they set up this restaurant to have a place for them and their friends to eat and this place can became a success...
I like good food very much but I cannot cook!! It is not the same (laughs) It looks like in the future you are open to all sorts of possibilities. Not just dancing then
[Maria] We both have university degrees. Nikolai is an economist...
[Nikolai] I have higher degree in human resources
[Maria] I have a teaching degree, in pedagogy
[Nikolai] But still when we think of the areas we have most skills, it is definitely dancing. We may have some other hobbies but when I ask myself where we are most efficient in, it is dancing of course! During that long career we have collected lots of knowledge in this area, lots of experience. And we think we can share something with other dancers, with our students.
As dancers you travel a lot. Did you ever find time to sightseeing?
[Maria] In the beginning when we started, we did not have enough money really. We would travel to the competition and the next day we would go back. But we have soon realised that this was an opportunity to see the world. Not just the plane, the hotel and the competition. So we decided to allow few days before and few days after the competition to stay in the country and to see a bit. We have a lot of memories, lots of pictures from every country we go to. Nikolai plans everything, I never know which hotel we stay in. He enjoys doing it.
[Nikolai] I always try to prepare some surprise for her
Do you use any special diet?
[Nikolai] No, we never do. We've never followed any specially designed diet. However, since we arrived in the US we realised...
[Maria] that this is not the best food in the world, we are still getting familiar with it. We realised we must be more careful of what we eat. In Russia, in Europe, we can eat everything and we always feel good. In America I find it is not so easy to find a good food so are more picky now and we started to eat more healthy food.
By "good" do you mean tasty or ...?
[Maria] No, I mean healthy, organic, not such a processed food
[Nikolai] ...not genetically modified....
[Maria] We can feel it immediately, for instance with milk. I can feel it is just a regular milk from the shop. Even in the Starbucks coffee I have to order an organic milk.
[Nikolai] When we moved to California we tried all the fruits they have there and we realised that maybe they are grown with some chemicals which makes them tasty but not healthy for you. I can immediately feel that in my stomach.
I can see you are connoisseurs with food!! (laughing) So what was the most exotic, most interesting food stuff you had?
[Maria] No, no, nothing special. We look at the exotic food but we won't try it really. In Chenzen...
[Nikolai] We went to this restaurant in Chenzen (China). You could see all the pictures in the menu of ducks, hen, pigs... and then horses, bears, dogs, snakes, tortoises. We were not sure was it a mistaken pictures or what was it!! (laughing)
[Maria] You could choose everything
[Nikolai] Did they really cook all these animals? I don't know. I remember this special soup we had in Japan. It was pumpkin soup I think, served in a glass and cold. It is something strange for me.
[Maria] I wouldn't call it exotic! Just strange. But we think that when you come for the competition you should not experiment.
I guess that your immediate plans for the future is to win the Professional Latin in couple days here in Blackpool. But what are the other plans?
[Maria] Actually we did a lot of competitions in the US. Since we moved there, 11 months ago we did 26 competitions! But this year we will probably do just the main ones such as Manhattan, Millennium, Embassy or Emerald where many good couples come to compete. We also go to Disneyland in Paris, to Assen...
[Nikolai] We try to participate in the World Series competitions (WDC). We have a good opportunity now to be chosen to the World Championships thanks to the wild card, which is very good idea. We will of course try to qualify from the country as we hope that this result can make us more recognised by the US judges as well. Anyway, we will try to do what we can to be in Innsbruck in 2012 for the Worlds.
What is the most important in dancing, perfection, technique, joy, something else?
[Nikolai] I think we came a long way now, and certain aspects were more or less important for us in certain periods of our career. And some point, for sure, it was a technique.
[Maria] We arrive at the point that we can express what we want, what we feel. This is the best! It is not a technique, it is something what comes from within
[Nikolai] There is no one single answer to your question. The passion and emotion is important but you cannot do it if you do not have technique so it is always a combination.
[Maria] You cannot achieve anything without believing in your own abilities. You cannot try to be what somebody else sees in you, you need to be yourself.
[Nikolai] Sometimes you see a good dancer trying to copy somebody, some other dancer. It is something we never accepted and we never did it in our career. Be yourself on the floor, be yourself as a dancer
Do you think there is a difference between the way you were dancing as Amateur and Professional?
[Nikolai] Yes, we feel a big difference.
[Maria] Our whole life was changed completely. It is hard to say was it just the dancing changed or was it affected by the fact we have completely changed our lives... People said they could see we were different.
[Nikolai] In Amateurs we were successful in the very first year we started dancing together. And then we got stuck, we did not really found the right environment for us, perhaps the right teachers to help us to go forward. We had certain qualities, but something was missing which prevented us to go further. After few years of being in the same position we had like a mental block and self doubt. We knew we prepared hard, and we could do everything with our bodies to the music but something was not quite right in our own heads... And now, when we turned Professional, something has changed in our minds and this was what truly made a change in our dancing.
What advice would you give to the younger dancers?
[Nikolai] First advice which comes to mind is: look wider. There are so many things in the world which can help you improve your understanding of movement, to develop coordination. If you stuck with doing just the Latin classes you will never find the right words for your body and your mind. Take all the opportunities to educate yourself, to learn e.g. yoga, pilates, tai-chi, modern, contemporary dancing. If you do it with your brain, it will bring you success.
Do you think dance is more of a sport, or an art?
[Nikolai] Taking physical aspect of it - yes, it is a sport.
[Maria] But yesterday, it was nothing like a sport!
[Nikolai] Yes, but you must be fit, your muscles must be toned... OK, you practise a lot. You practise art as well
[Maria] But as a final product - it is not a sport!
[Nikolai] Yes, small aspect of it is sport. And maybe here comes the conflict between the IDSF and WDC. We consider it is art.
[Maria] We have seen some competitions where the main emphasis was sport and it did not look right
Do you enjoy competitions more or shows?
[Maria] We do not do many shows. We actually did one before we came here. Only a little one in the club we teach in Los Angeles, for 130 people. We knew all of them, they came to support us and we felt it was special. It is difficult to compare.
[Nikolai] In the same time, as we are not experienced in shows, it is more stressful for us. When we walk on the competition floor we feel like a fish in a water really.
Do you think having many teachers is better, or have one teacher who knows you well and can concentrate on you?
[Maria] Well, to find that one teacher you have to try many first. And finally, when you feel you find a right one, somebody who can support you, you can stick with him. I also, like Nikolai, believe 100% that you should go wider. We had a teacher in Moscow, she never danced Latin but she danced contemporary and modern, ballet and jazz. And she gave us a lot of knowledge about body coordination, about muscle, about bones. Thanks to her we started to understand more from other lessons.
[Nikolai] It helped us to understand any other lesson. And to translate it in our heads from what the teacher want to see to what we need to do with our bodies to achieve that. Some of them did not give You directions, only destination point. They can tell you something is missing but they may not be able to explain how to fix it. Young kids can try and try and get it, but may not be able to repeat it without their teacher because they do not understand how their body works inside.
Actually, I would say don't be afraid to reject your teachers if you feel it did not work well. For us, we found, it is extremely important to have an emotional connection with our teacher. It is important for me to feel that teacher can see my potential. That he is helping us to discover all what we are capable for. So emotional connection between teacher and student is very important. We have such a team of teachers and knowing what a luck it is we wish to all the dancers find their team one day.
Thank you for the interview. Congratulations again and see you on the floor during the main event.
All photos taken on the day by Peter Suba