We talked to Szymon Kalinowski and Grazyna Grabicka, the winners of the UK Open 2012 Amateur Rising Star Ballroom. Szymon and Grazyna dance for Poland. In 2011 they were semi finalists of the same event in Blackpool. See their profile page.
I believe that I, as a man, should give a chance to my partner to dance right. My role is to support her so she can dance in agreement with her emotions and feelings not against them
First of all congratulations on winning the UK Open Rising Star Ballroom. It seems it has become a tradition now that Polish couple wins that event...
[Grazyna] Very good tradition!
Tell us your story, how did you start dancing, how did you meet?
[Szymon] I started dancing when I was eight years old. However, I was fifteen when I started competitive dancing and when it became a serious passion of mine. My best results started when I met Grazyna three years ago. I enjoyed dancing before but with Grazyna we started treating it seriously. We are based in Szczecin, Poland.
How did you start? Was it your parents who brought you to your first dance class?
[Szymon] It was my Mom's idea. She wanted me to learn to dance but I did not like it initially. So I quit. But shortly afterward I realised that I miss it actually! So after one year I started again.
[Grazyna] I can say I started dancing even before I was born because my mother was a dancer. She has a dance school in Minsk, in Byelorussia. My Mom was pregnant six month but still danced as, at the time, she was bound by a contract and had to do a tour.
You couldn't start any earlier than that!
[Grazyna] Not really (laughing). Before I met Szymon I danced in Byelorussia. I actually come from Byelorussia. I had several partners, initially danced all styles, then just Latin, but at some point I was thinking of stopping dancing altogether. Perhaps I was tired; my relationship with my partner was not great at the time. I struggled with combining dancing and education at the same time. I wanted to get to a good school, wanted to become an interpreter, I also had a job. So I decided that the upcoming Byelorussian Latin championships will be the last one for me.
[Grazyna] Yes, Latin. Before I met Szymon I decided to concentrate on Latin only. Anyway, so I thought this was my last competition and I wanted to finish with style (laughing). I needed some idea for my new dress for it... When I was looking through adverts on dancesportinfo.net I saw Szymon's advert in Partner Wanted section. We met through your site actually! I thought, why not, I can write to him. He answered quickly and sent me an invitation to come to Poland. I needed visa. I did not tell my parents anything about it. They knew nothing until I had visa and a ticket. Then I told them I was going to Poland for a try-out. I am very tall and I always found it difficult to find a tall partner, but Szymon was OK (laughing). We decided to get together. That's how it began three years ago.
How was your first try-out?
[Grazyna] Because I did not dance Ballroom for a long time it was really strange. I could not feel my body, did not know where my hands were (laughing). And I thought, oh my God, Szymon is so tall!
[Szymon] For me, it was something new because I always had shorter girls as partners. When we first tried out with Grazyna it felt strange initially to have a partner who is close to my own height but I discovered I could dance normally, without need to compensate for the height difference. It felt really good. I did not have to bend my knees (laughing). I realised that you can do so much more if partners are matched in height. So we decided we will dance together.
[Grazyna] I came for Christmas and New Year for two weeks. And then I decided to move to Poland permanently. My Dad has double nationality, Polish and Byelorussian, so it was easier to arrange the necessary documents and formalities.
[Szymon] When she came, she did not speak any Polish...
I am surprised because you Polish is fantastic, Grazyna!
[Grazyna] I had three years to learn it. Now, I am a resident in Poland. But to became one, I had to learn the language, the culture, tradition, food, everything and then pass the exam. It was important to me because it makes it so much easier for me, for instance, to travel to Europe.
How long did it take you two to feel that this is it? Immediately during the try-out?
[Szymon] Dancing felt good but, perhaps more importantly, we really liked each other. Grazyna stayed with me and my family during that time and we had time to get to know each other. We felt we had a good contact. It was important to both of us. I did not have that with my previous partner; we were different, opposite characters and did not have much in common. I felt I could communicate with Grazyna.
If Grazyna did not speak Polish, what language did you use to communicate with each other?
[Grazyna] We used a combination of poor English and Russian! (laughing) Maybe that's why we had such a good contact because we could not speak much to each other!
[Szymon] Yes, it makes it impossible to argue (laughing)
[Grazyna] One thing he managed to tell me is that he always wanted to have a partner from the East, Russia or Ukraine or Byelorussia
[Szymon] I always dreamt of having a Russian partner. Their dancing style fascinated me and I always thought they were hard working and committed. And pretty of course!
Are you a couple in private life as well?
[Grazyna] Hmmm... Actually, yes. But it is complicated, our dancing affects it.
[Szymon] On and off
[Grazyna] Sometimes if we had a fight the day before, I wake up the next day and I don't want to see Szymon's face! We live in the same house. It is hard to have a rest from each other.
[Szymon] It is hard sometimes, but you can get used to it! In the beginning it was difficult. It was a new experience for me to have a partner around for 24hrs. I was seventeen when Grazyna moved in to my house.
Do you mainly train in Poland?
[Szymon] We practise mainly in Poland. In Szczecin our teachers are Antoni and Malgorzata Grycmacher. We go also to Olsztyn for lessons with Krzysztof and Dorota Tretowski who are based there. We also go to all the camps organised there.
[Grazyna] Krzysztof and Dorota actually introduced us to the real world of dancing. They told us about England and the atmosphere there. They opened some kind of door for us, shown us the way so we can find our own ways.
[Szymon] They shown us the right focus...
[Grazyna] Then, two years ago, we danced the International and it was awful. We were late for the competition, tried to get dressed in a taxi. I was still putting on my shoes when the first round started. My hair was all mess... We really felt our first English competition went very bad.
Do you find dancing in England different to anywhere else?
[Grazyna] Depends on what you mean. There is a very good level of dancing on Poland for instance, so it is not much different. But what is different is history and seeing people who are so important in dancing history. That inspires your quality of dancing and your style.
What are the most important competitions for you?
[Grazyna] UK Open, Blackpool...
[Szymon] And the International in the Royal Albert Hall. Dancing there is a great experience.
[Grazyna] I always feel like I am like a gladiator on an arena there! People are cheering from above, lights are flashing on you, there is this kind of roam... it is one special atmosphere. It is a very different atmosphere than anywhere else.
What about competitions outside of England?
[Szymon] Several years ago I was in Assen at the Dutch Open, not dancing, just watching. I loved it. I always wanted to dance there as there is this special atmosphere there as well. There is this great communication between dancers and the audience. But we did not, yet, had an opportunity to dance there.
[Grazyna] It was banned by IDSF...
But you came here...
So you are risking the ban, aren't you?
[Szymon] It is complicated. The decision to come here was not difficult though.
[Grazyna] We know we are preparing for Blackpool. We were disappointed when we heard that we probably won't be allowed to dance the Polish Championships next month. We are not sure yet if we, and the other good couples who came here for the UK Open, will be actually banned but this was the rule last time we heard.
It would be a shame that he couple who won the Rising Stars at the UK Open may not have a chance to dance the national championships...
[Szymon] No comment
What can you tell us about your partner?
[Grazyna] Oh, Szymon is very nice. I like him very much. He has this positive thinking, since the moment we met, I felt that positive attitude. He is also hardworking and focused on he wants to do but he has a great sense of humour.
Are there any faults in him?
[Grazyna] He cannot organise himself (laughing). He has troubles finding his socks in the hotel while they are in front of him!
[Szymon] Thank you! No, seriously, what I said earlier is important to me that it is easy to communicate with her. If I feel there is a problem, we can talk about it and solve it easily. She can compromise. Grazyna is very hard working, whenever I am ready for practice she also is. Sometimes I may be tired but she will go on: let's go, we have to practise. She is also very focused during practice and this is important. I like her style, I like her taste in dresses and make-up. She has good ideas and can contribute to choreography as well.
But there must be something wrong as well?
[Szymon] Oh, yeah (laughing). You can easily get on her nerves. It is easy to make her angry actually. Sometimes a little thing I may do badly and she gets irritated! I suppose she does not like to make mistakes and she does not like me to make any! On the other hand, it can mobilise us.
What do you like in your partner's dancing?
[Grazyna] He is a very good dancer. I like the movement he produces... I like his musicality. I like the presentation. He is always very positive. We had people commenting to us about the positive energy he gives.
[Szymon] I like that about Grazyna that she is really dancing with emotions. She responds to me very well. Dancing with her feels like she is connected and understands what I want to do. She is the opposite of stiff (laughing). She is very musical, she looks good, awesome.
[Grazyna] He's never told me that! (laughing)
How in your opinion your partner contributes to how your couple is perceived?
[Szymon] I believe that I, as a man, should give a chance to my partner to dance right. My role is to support her so she can dance in agreement with her emotions and feelings not against them. Obviously I do not forget about myself and my dancing. I also need to produce the right movement. So I always try to make her feel comfortable as well as I try to make sure I dance well.
[Grazyna] I think the contribution of both partners to the couple has to be 50-50. Each partner has strengths in something. One can be good at presentation and the other in timing for instance... I know that quality of my movement is not as good as Szymon's. He is very strong in that. But I think I feel the music very well... But you must make sure these qualities add up together. There are always things like that which make the couple unique and complete.
Do you think this is something which just happened between two of you or is it something you have to work on?
[Grazyna] I feel that it happened... but during practise we consciously try to develop our strengths and qualities and to match them together to form this balance.
What do you think is more important in dancing: sport or art? How much effort do you put into developing each aspect?
[Grazyna] I would call dancing competitive art, not competitive sport. Sport, in my opinion, it is something you can measure e.g. high jump. In dancing you can be liked or not liked – judging is subjective. There is of course a physical aspect to dancing. You have to be strong, you have to have stamina. You have to be ready when the competition is, you cannot have any excuses. You cannot wait for inspiration for days or weeks like a painter or a writer. So it is not a pure art.
[Szymon] I also feel that way. The "sport" part of the dancing should be limited to working on your stamina, energy which then helps you to produce a good art. Sport in dancing is almost like a good quality material is for a painter. If you do not have quality material you cannot produce a beautiful painting. So, in dancing, the sport aspect cannot dominate the art aspect but it just a way to achieve a beautiful result.
You have mentioned before that your teachers introduced you to the concept of this style of dancing which is in England. What is the difference between this idea and what you knew before about the dancesport?
[Grazyna] Before, there was some sort of a mess in our heads. We really did not have any goals. Our dancing was about going to various competitions, occasional camps, but there were no results and no structure to it. And one day, our teachers took us aside as said: your results are quite bad, you do not have any goal, you do not have any idea what you want to do, you just dance. What do you want to do? Is this a hobby or something serious? You can spend money on this if you want. But you can set a goal and go for it. So we set our goal to winning Rising Stars in Blackpool. We did not expect to win at the UK Open. We hoped for the final, I actually prayed to God (laughing) from the first round. Every time we were called to the next round I was stressed like crazy! When they announced: the first place, from Poland... I was thinking, oh my God, who is from Poland? And then I realized it was us when Szymon stepped on the floor. I was just so confused, people were clapping, and I did not know how to curtsy.
[Szymon] Yes, she looked and me and came to hug me. And I said to her: it is OK, you now have to bow to the audience!
[Grazyna] I said to him: just hold me, my legs are shaking! I could not do anything but smile until my cheeks hurt (laughing). It was unbelievable.
I understand I do not have to ask you what the most successful competition was for you!
[Grazyna] Last night, definitely!
[Szymon] Going back to your question about what difference it meant to me to set a clear goal... Before, I watched the DVDs and YouTube and I was thinking I would like to be like these dancers but there was no understanding how to achieve it, how to get there. It was more like: one day I want to be there but not: how to get there. Our teachers helped, of course, just as Grazyna said. One day, at the International, we were sitting in the last row in the Royal Albert Hall watching all these tiny couples dancing. I said to
[Grazyna] we will be like them one day. I felt that this atmosphere there, the judges who were once the amazing dancers, all these things helped me to formulate goals and aim at them. It was a change in my mind.
Did you start dancing differently as well?
[Szymon] Before, I only watched dancing in Poland, during competitions. I did not know the famous champions' names then. I've only watched couples who danced the competitions with me. The dancing world at the time for me was much smaller. And one day I watched my first DVD from Blackpool. I thought to myself: they are different, why are they different! I started thinking that dancing should look more like that. I realized that I do not really know anything, that the world of dancing is so much bigger! I started watching more DVDs for inspiration.
Dancing is a big part of your life. Do you have time to do things for fun, do you have any life outside of dancing?
[Grazyna] We both study. I study the Russian Language and Literature
[Szymon] And I study Economics, Computer Studies and Property Management. All in one.
[Grazyna] We actually struggle with time to study. I hope our university teachers will be more understanding during the exams. For me, it means, that I have to pack as many exams as I can in one day. I sometimes have to do four in one day!
[Szymon] We like to go to cinema or theatre together. We've been to see the ballet in Byelorussia and I like that very much. Grazyna took me, it was a first time for me. We like to watch moves together. We like to talk about them, analyse them like film critics (laughing). We like many things related or connected to art. As a hobby, I do dance photography. But more time we spend on dancing, less time I have for it. Sometimes, I give the camera to my Mom and she takes photos. I also like to photograph Grazyna. She has become a face for one of the Szczecin based jewellery shops and I was the photographer.
What would you do if you could not dance?
[Grazyna] I simply cannot image my life without dancing. I am sure that even if I was born to another family, or hundred years earlier, I would still find dancing somehow. I feel I was born to dance. I sometimes sit and study something but I am dancing in my mind! One day, in the future, I would like to open a beauty salon or dance dress design studio. I don't know... not now anyway.
[Szymon] For me, dancing is my life now. I do not want to do anything else. Event when I was a kid I had this on my mind. Not dancing is not an option!
How much time you spend practising?
[Szymon] It depends. We normally practise four hours a day. Additionally we often go for lessons and it means we spend the whole day dancing. We eat, then practise, then eat, then go to the lesson and so on. Before UK Open we practised so much that sometimes we finished at 2am! So, sometimes we practise and practise and sleep on the train. It is hard, also hard financially and our parents help us with money. In fact, they invest in us.
[Grazyna] We sometimes work a bit, but we really have to practise as much as possible. We are still Amateurs and still young and we feel this is an investment into our future. We have to develop quality and we feel this is the time to do it, rather than sit and do nothing.
[Szymon] Sometime you see young couples giving lessons for the whole day and having just one hour for their own practise. This is not for us, we need to concentrate on improving our own quality now.
[Grazyna] You have to gather the knowledge and understanding before you became a teacher yourself.
What are you plans for the future?
[Szymon] Next few weeks – some rest and then University exams. And practice in the evening of course!
[Grazyna] I also have to pass my driving licence exam. We will have very busy next few weeks.
Will you stay to watch the Professional Ballroom dancing tonight?
[Grazyna] Yes, of course. I always promise myself that I should miss the final to go to bed early as I am dancing the next day. But it will probably not happen! It is exciting to watch them dancing, see what is fashionable, get some inspiration.
What will be your next competition after UK Open?
[Szymon] We don't know really. We hope we will be able to dance the Polish Championships in February but we are not sure yet. Many Polish couples hope for the ban to be lifted but you don't know. Many of the potential finalists of the Polish Championships actually are here at the UK Open and they all may be banned from competing in the national championships. Anyway, we will be definitely coming to Blackpool.
Thank you for a nice conversation and good luck tomorrow at the Amateur Ballroom.
[Szymon] Thanks! I would like to take this opportunity to send our thanks to Roberto Villa, Morena Collagreco and to all our teachers and our parents. We would not be here without them!
All photos taken by Peter Suba