We met Jurij and Jagoda Batagelj at the lobby of the hotel where we stayed in Blackpool. We have already talked to them and recorded the interview last year when they won the Amateur Latin event but we have found out later that the recording was unusable! This year Jurij and Jagoda danced in the Professional Open event and finished in the semi final. Jurij and Jagoda represent Slovenia. See their profile page.
Life is about enjoying love, being grateful about positive things which happened, are happening and will happen!
Please tell us when you started dancing together?
[Jagoda]: I started dancing when I was 12 years old. We moved to Slovenia with my family. I was born in Slovenia, actually Yugoslavia, but because my father was a military pilot we were also living in Serbia and Croatia. When the Balkan War started we moved back to Slovenia. One day I got a flyer in my school about some dance classes. The whole class decided to join in, but I was the only one who showed up! (laughing) I wanted to give up and go back home as none of my friends were there but somehow I stayed. And I loved it.
Did you start with Latin?
[Jagoda]: I started with social dances, and did some of modern and at some point you had to make a decision if you go jazz and modern or Ballroom dancing. For me, there was no question - I immediately decided to go Ballroom dancing. There was a problem to find a boy partner as there was much more girls. So firstly I danced with another girl. Then I had a partner but he was not very serious about it. Then another one, and the third one was Jurij. I will tell you a story how we got together but this is for later (laughing).
[Jurij]: I also started when I was 12. Before that I was competing in skiing. At the time there was this dance boom in Slovenia. I also got a flyer at school about dancing classes and I applied. My mother was abroad on some business trip at that moment and I remember I did not even tell my parents about the fact that I applied. When she got back I just said I was dancing! They could not believe it! When I was a child I was very active, even hyperactive and I remember they kept on asking, why, why dancing? It was very strange. Very soon I realised that I love dancing and love to be centre of attention. And dancing gave me that. I was very unruly. My teachers could not discipline me and they had to throw me out many times - so I was more outside than inside the studio! But I was very ambitious and competitive and soon got really serious about it. My second partner was also very competitive and with her, I was really lucky, I fell in love with the whole of dancing and performing. We were very serious and, in a very short time, we got very good results. We improved very fast during these four or five years together. We got to the 4th place at the World Youth Latin.
So, being successfully with this girl, why did you split up?
[Jurij]: I was two years older than her and at some point, after I finished school, I went to Ljubljana to the University to study there. My partner did not go and she was already thinking of stopping dancing anyway. So I was left without a partner. I actually had other plans. Because I loved theatre and performing arts I wanted to do some of that. I also wanted to get into jazz, ballet and modern and I stopped thinking of Ballroom dancing altogether. One day, I visited my old dance school and my teacher in Ljubljana. I just wanted to pop in for a moment to say hello to her. But she said: can you stay? I have a good partner for you. You should try, she is very good. And I said to her: I don't want it really, I've already decided what I do. But she insisted: please, please, stay and try. And then she called Jagoda.
[Jagoda]: His teacher contacted my teacher and they asked me if I wanted to try with Jurij. It was a shock to me, because comparing to him I was a beginner! I knew of him of course and actually I had his picture pinned up on my wall over my bed! He was my idol, one of the best couples in Slovenia. I went to competitions to watch him. He was like a God to me! And then suddenly I get to have a try-out with him!
Is he still like a God to you now? (laughing)
[Jagoda]: Come on! No, he is a bit. He taught me everything I know and I am very grateful to him. Anyway, when they called me I jumped into a first bus to Ljubljana to meet him. I cannot even remember if I told my parents about this try-out. I just went. When I got there I could see he was in shock when he saw me.
[Jurij]: I was in shock that my teacher suggested a beginner... What was my teacher thinking about setting me up with that beginner? So I said I am not doing it! I was very negative towards it. I did not have my shoes, none of my dancing gear, with me as I just came to say hello. I had my jeans on and took my trainers off. But from the moment I took her hand I fell in love with how it felt with her. At that moment I knew I wanted to do it again. Jagoda was so trusting, she followed me perfectly and I thought to myself it could be a great partnership!
[Jagoda]: But he left me waiting for a whole month...
[Jurij]: Yes, but at this time I was not sure I will make it through exams to the University in Ljubljana. I did not know where I will be. It was summer... So I told her that after a month I would give her the answer. That's how we started
[Jagoda]: Nobody from my dance school believed me when I told them, after a month, that I dance with Jurij. I went to his dance club summer camp and everybody was asking: what are you doing here? It was because Jurij was late by two days returning from his holidays so I was on my own. So when I said I was dancing with Jurij they laughed: where is your partner??! It was a bit like a fairy tale for me...
I guess it was your triumph after two days, when Jurij arrived and they all seen you dancing together...
[Jagoda]: Yes! Ha! Juri:I remember the first practice we did together. It was still in my home town. I always had a passion for choreography so I liked all the strange stuff, odd stuff and I had all these ideas. And Jagoda just went with me. Whatever I came up with she just followed. And I loved that in her that she went with me 100% and I knew she trusted me. Later she gained the confidence about her part, her share in the partnership. And I was happy that she gave me that challenge as well. So everything just clicked!
[Jagoda]: When we stated I was really a beginner not used to so much practice. Even now, Jurij is a workaholic. He just wants to practise all day long. At the time, it was difficult to do it but I did it. I did not say anything of course! How can you complain when you have a partner so much better than you. So we practised a lot and soon we got good results.
What was a first competition for yourselves as a couple, the first success?
[Jurij]: It was the Under21 final at the International.
Do you remember any results when you were very disappointed?
[Jurij]: Definitely! There were quite a few, not just one or two...
[Jagoda]: I remember the World Championships in Australia was very disappointing. It is funny how you see things differently after some time passes. Then, it was very emotional. Now, I still feel emotional about it, but I can see exactly what went wrong and how it all actually came from us.
[Jurij]: I am very grateful that I had all this experience.
[Jagoda]: good and bad...
[Jurij]: Yes. It made us strong. It made us believe in who we are and that we have to push ourselves. Sometimes it comes easy and sometimes it comes hard. But this is what makes it interesting in the end. At that moment it may feel like the end of the world for you, but after a while you see it is not!
What do you do in your spare time?
[Jagoda]: For the last year and a half we have a Shih Tzu puppy, now it is a grown up dog really. He takes up all our free time! We are grateful every day that we decided to have him. He made it clear for us what the life is really all about and that we should not worry about everyday small things... But focus on all the good things life brings us. I know it sounds silly, but I think that it is thanks to him we managed to get to the top Amateurs last year!
So what is life about?
[Jurij]: Life is about enjoying love, being grateful about positive things which happened, are happening and will happen!
[Jagoda]: Life is about learning and just being in this happy place as much as you can!
[Jurij]: ... and enjoying every moment of life. I really believe that the dog gives you that. You have another responsibility. The day for us starts with walking the dog. We can see the nature and all the beautiful things around us. We can see there is more than just dance hall, dancing and music. If the practice doesn't go well, you just say, it is just a practice, there will be another day.
[Jagoda]: Nothing to panic or worry about.
[Jurij]: You feel you still have so much of other things in life. When you feel angry with yourself or your partner and you go home, you open your door and there is this wonderful dog waiting for you, wiggling his tail, you think to yourself: what is not to love there! It brings a smile and all the problems are forgotten.
[Jagoda]: He showed us meaning of unconditional love he has for us. And we have for him! It makes life easy and makes everything fun.
[Jurij]: Please don't think dancing is not important to us. Dancing is very important to us. It is a great passion for us. I think that before it was more about the superficial things like results, trophies but there is so much more in life than that!
I can see that you both approach life with passion, with emotion...
So I wonder, how do you see your partner? Any faults?
[Jurij]: Hard question! Sometimes she gets too emotional or too affected by things which are not important. Something unimportant happens and Jagoda can get angry. She gets involved sometimes against bad things which do not affect her personally but she wants to help. But sometimes you just have to let go and not do it if it is not your problem.
I would say this is positive about her!
[Jurij]: It can be both.
[Jagoda]: I don't know what to say! Well, like I said earlier, he is a workaholic. Sometimes he does not know when to stop. But I think it has changed in the last year. He is more aware now of things we talked about before, of other things important in life. That the whole point of life is to enjoy it not to make it difficult for yourself. So he is getting better but he still wants to work, work, work! I am different so it bothers me a bit. But I am perfectly aware that we would never get so far if it was not for his discipline and hardworking.
[Jurij]: I can definitely say that I can get very addicted to things. Once I start it I cannot stop, I cannot see the boundaries. I don't have that sense. For other people I can appear rude or arrogant but that's how I am. I try to control it but it is hard.
You seem to complement each other!
[Jagoda]: This year is our 13th Blackpool together. If we stayed together for so many years it means something! We are now married for 2 years. It will be 2 years in July. We are very lucky. All these years we've been together taught us a lot about each other. We still learn every day from each other. We don't try to change each other. We accept what we are. It comes with years of being together.
[Jurij]: You start to cherish what you've been through together and what you've done. 13 years - it is something I am proud of! It is not always smooth and easy, it is not love every day. It can be rough and hard. So you have to work things through.
[Jagoda]: and not give up...
[Jurij]: And you also enjoy days when it is great and amazing!
There must be moments when you argue... How do you try to resolve problems?
[Jagoda]: It changed. In the beginning, when we fought, we run away from each other, did not want to see each other. We almost stopped dancing several times
[Jurij]: Every practice! We were in love with each other, we practiced and worked together and did not really have the border between life and work. Between bedroom and ballroom! (laughing). So, after a while, we had to set some borders and rules. When we did that, it immediately got better. Of course, sometimes there is this tension between us but this is because we want to improve and to get better. But we are both conscious of it and when it comes to the disagreement we can fight, or not speak to each other but after an hour or two we try to resolve it. We try to swallow our egos which can be very, very difficult and say: I am sorry. It is the hardest word to say!
[Jagoda]: I think that the fact we could do it kept us together for so many years. That we could forget our egos, respect each other and accept each other.
Do you feel any difference in your dancing now when you are Professionals?
[Jagoda]: Definitely, yes.
Better or worse?
[Jurij]: Better. But maybe because we are there just for a year
[Jagoda]: Maybe this is just a "Professional honeymoon"! (laughing)
[Jurij]: We are still enjoying every moment of sharing the floor with the best couples in the world. It is an amazing feeling. We are so happy that we are there. I know it gives us a lot of motivation. It is a pleasure to try to find this passion and inspiration from other forms of dance. It is like a honeymoon right now!
Did it change your dancing?
[Jagoda]: I don't think we want to change our style of dancing.
[Jurij]: We don't want to change what made us successful. Whatever we did made us champions in Amateur field so now, in Professionals, we want to go same way but deeper. We had a little break after Blackpool last year to reflect on things that we've done. Good things and bad things. We wanted to see some things from the outsider point of view. When you are in it, you don't see it all. Now, more than anything, we try to please ourselves not the others. We try to discover ourselves. Some of the changes in choreography came from realization what is important and what is not important, what you like and what you are passionate about.
Do you have any free time? Jurij, last year you mentioned that you have a hobby which is flying model planes. Do you have time to do it?
[Jurij]: No, I do not have any free time really. We travel a lot. And any free time we have is taken by our dog.
[Jagoda]: Our dog is something we want to spend time with really.
[Jurij]: Last summer my friend and I restored an old boat and we spend some time in the seaside sailing. It was great. It was such an experience!
So you have a yacht then?
[Jagoda]: No, no, maybe in the future. At the moment it is just a small boat which we like very much.
Do you see any difference between Amateurs and Professionals nowadays?
[Jagoda]: Well, I want to say that I feel that there is much more respect amongst Professionals to each other. And from the audience to the couples. I was surprised with that. I did not certainly expect it. I just did not realise it before we danced as Professionals.
[Jurij]: There is a very good group of Amateurs right now. Watching them I feel that there is this new generation coming. I feel that they are all eager to get better and learn to be different from each other. That's great to see. I look forward to see them developing. About Professionals... it is better then ever. You have 48-96 great couples. You can see quality in the top 48 you could never see before. It is very strong. In the finals you have amazing dancing.
[Jagoda]: We are very lucky and grateful to be dancing in such times when there is so many good couples. Everywhere you look you see quality.
What is the most important in dancing for you?
[Jurij]: The most important thing is partnering, in both Latin and Ballroom. It is important to have this connection, to enjoy each other. To see your partner happy to dance with you is an amazing feeling. We love the music as well, we love to react to it and feel something comes out from the music and inspires your movement.
[Jagoda]: It is partnering which makes our style of dancing different to other styles. We both are very happy we chose this style because what else you may enjoy more than to dance to the great music and feel the partner dancing with you, reacting with you...
[Jurij]: It is important to understand the fundamentals, the basic principles of our dance form because this gives us freedom.
Do you see dancing more as a performance or a competition?
[Jurij]: The competition is within us. We are competitive.
[Jagoda]: constant challenge with yourself
[Jurij]: Competition is what your ego likes! But this ego can be an obstacle and work against you. It works against you when you are arrogant, look confident and your dancing disappears. It happens when you act, when it is all a big bluff. When you put aside your ego, the true "you" appears and true dancing comes out. You have to be true and sincere. Performance is just a performance but without true "you" it is not good.
What type of music you like the most? Do you, for instance, like the Blackpool music?
[Jagoda]: We love Blackpool music. We like any music which moves us.
[Jurij]: It could be anything, techno, modern, classical, anything as long as it affects us.
[Jagoda]: It is fun to dance to different styles of music. Blackpool music brings back memories for us.
Are you saying that the choice of music at the competition can affect your performance?
[Jagoda]: No, no. Of course, sometimes you can say this is not the best choice of music, but you can always find something in it and make a good performance.
[Jurij]: Let the music inspire you
So let me rephrase this question: the type of music can change your performance?
[Jurij]: Yes, of course! It can make it different.
[Jagoda]: That's the point of it and fun of it!
[Jurij]: I always look forward to it because I don't want to do the same thing every time I come out! Even with the same choreography and structure you can do it with a different flavour.
I asked about the Blackpool music because another couple told us they did not like it when they played it in their studio but loved it here. They had to come here to appreciate it.
[Jagoda]: We always liked it!
[Jurij]: We appreciate people who do it. There is a new director now, Ashley Frohlick and the Empress Orchestra, and you can see how much emotion and how much work is put into it. It is quality music. When you dance to this music in Blackpool is like a cherry on top of a cake. The atmosphere, the hall and this music played live is so special. You are in heaven! But it is a great music even when I listen to it in a car.
How do you prepare for competition? Do you follow any special diet?
[Jagoda]: We care about what we eat. We try to eat as healthy as possible.
There are so many definitions of what healthy is...
[Jagoda]: When we are at home we try to cook by ourselves. Because then we know what we eat.
Who is cooking then?
[Jurij]: Jagoda is. Let's be honest about it (laughing)
[Jagoda]: When we go out, which we do as well, we try to pick something with lots of vegetables. You know then you not getting a lot of fat.
[Jurij]: Sometimes we eat fatty stuff. Because, you know, in the end of a day I am not going to fuss about it!
[Jurij]: Of course!
[Jagoda]: Jurij can eat anything he wants and he will not gain a single kilo! He should eat more. His problem is he does not eat enough. I have different problem! (laughing)
[Jurij]: Also, I think, we should listen to ourselves. Your body is intelligent enough to tell you what you need. Everybody is different and needs different things. You should not look at another dancer and see he eats something so you eat the same thing! Something which suits one person may not suit another.
[Jagoda]: You have to be conscious though... If your body tells you: ice-cream, ice-cream all day it doesn't mean you need it. You have to be careful there! (laughing)
Any type of cuisine you prefer?
[Jagoda]: We love Japanese food, both of us. We love Italian food as well
[Jurij]: I love burgers, steaks. We can go on and on...
[Jagoda]: We love food!
When you come to the UK Open in Bournemouth, I have to take you to the place where they serve the best steak I've ever had.
[Jagoda]: The best steak we ever had was in New York, in the Steak House there. It was just amazing
[Jurij]: We can compare and decide which one is the best! You never know.
The owner of that restaurant explained to us that the Scottish beef is as good as Argentinean beef because the cows are reared in the similar climate but on the North hemisphere.
[Jagoda]: We will go and see (laughing)
Any strange food you've eaten?
[Jagoda]: When we came to Japan first time, everything was strange to us. There was hardly anything we could eat. Gradually, we learn to like it. And now we are in love with it.
What would you thank your partner for?
[Jagoda]: I would thank him for the discipline he gave me. Without this discipline we would not go that far. He knows what he wants and gives 100%. And he took me with him. So I am really grateful for that! And also for the passion he has which he had transferred to me.
[Jurij]: I would say I am thankful that she is true her. That she is honest, open, non-judgmental person. This is what is best in her. I haven't ever seen her faking anything. She is always true Jagoda! I get inspired by her. Her name means strawberry in Slovenian and she is equally sweet.
What advice would you give to the young dancers who admire you to help them to succeed?
[Jagoda]: I would tell them to stay positive and never give up. There is always some solution to the problems. I would say, whenever problem comes, there comes solution as well. Be open minded and positive to see it.
[Jurij]: I would say a lot of passion. Have passion. Be humble and accept that there is always something you can learn. Be hungry and look for these things to learn. Try to find inspiration every day, inspire yourself. And remember why you started dancing in the first place, remember the love of dancing. And then you can go far.
Thank you very much for an interesting conversation.
All photos by Peter Suba taken during the Blackpool Dane Festival 2011