It was a joy to talk to the winners of Professional Rising Star Standard at the UK Open 2013, Andrea Zaramella and Kristie Simmonds. It was their first Professional competition together. Andrea and Kristie represent USA. See their profile page.
If you take a music and play it in the environment of the beautiful competition and have couples dancing to it, have extremely qualified panel of adjudicators and the audience you can really feel that energy
Congratulations! What a fantastic start of the Professional career. It was your first competition in Professionals, wasn't it?
[Kristie]: Yes, it was our first Professional competition together so we are very happy with the results
Let's start with the usual question: when did you start dancing and why?
[Kristie]: I started dancing when I was nine in Sydney, Australia where I am from. I started dancing because my older brother and sister danced. So I went to watch the classes, got involved and fell in love with it. I continued to dance whereas my brother and sister became teachers and own the studio but I am the only one who competes.
Which style of dancing did you start with?
[Kristie]: I started with Ballroom and Latin. No ballet or anything like that. I also did New Vogue when I was young, till I was about thirteen. So I danced in Australia and then moved to America for one year to dance with Ukrainian boy and then moved back home. I used to do 10 Dance until about four years ago and then just concentrated on Ballroom. Then I went to New York for some lessons and I met Andrea.
Why did you stop Latin?
[Kristie]: Mainly because the partner situation and my focus was more towards Ballroom. I enjoyed it more and always was more of a Ballroom girl than Latin girl.
[Andrea]: You are actually very good in Latin
[Kristie]: Yes. I enjoy dancing Latin but not competing in Latin.
[Andrea]: I started my dance career a long time ago. I was nine. I pretty much started because my Mum had always dreamed of dancing herself. At her time it was not possible to dance. Dance was seen as an extremely extravagant thing at that age in the South of Italy. The culture there was really restrictive and people were not really allowed to go out and dance but my Mum had always this desire to be a ballerina. She transmitted that passion to me. So one day she said to me: would you like to go to the dance studio to a class? And I said, why not, I can try. So since then, it was twenty years ago, I never stopped. I had one girl partner for the first five years and then changed to my second partner. I danced with her for thirteen years! Then she got married and I moved to America. As soon as I moved to America I found Kristie.
Why did you go to America?
[Andrea]: I always wanted to go there, liked the country. I used to go to work there from Italy and I remembered it as a nice place. We actually live and work in Charlotte, NC which is a beautiful place and the first time I went there I literally fell in love with this place. I thought that one day I would have loved to move there. When my partner in Italy decided to get married it was my chance to make some decisions with my life: whether to relocate to another place in Italy or somewhere else. I chose to relocate to America and I am very happy I did that. It is a beautiful country. That's how I met Kristie in New York and we decided to start our dance career together. And this happened a year ago.
So how was your first meeting?
[Andrea]: It is a very funny story! I was really looking for a partner and one very good friend of mine, also my coach since I was nine, Erminio Stefano saw Kristie and he thought about me immediately because he knew I was looking for a partner. He contacted me and said: I think you should get in touch with this girl because she could be perfect for you. So I said: OK and I texted her. I was in Italy at the time. So I texted her and asked if she would like a try-out together. Then I flew to New York couple of days later and that's how we met. We actually met somewhere in the city of New York and we walked together to the studio. We had a try-out and then, that very first night, we went out to dinner. She was very sweet, she still is! (laughing). But she was extremely sweet that first night.
[Kristie]: I was trying to make a good impression!
[Andrea]: That's right and I remember that. I asked her: are you always like this? And she said: I am on my best behaviour! And then I said: can you please stay the way you are and don't change please!
[Kristie]: I tried for as long as possible but... (laughing)
Are you also together in private life?
[Andrea]: Yes, yes
So her being sweet worked then?
[Andrea]: Yes, she is very sweet girl.
What was your first competition together?
[Kristie]: It was actually this competition last year, UK Open. It was also where we officially became boyfriend and girlfriend. So it was a milestone for us!
[Andrea]: So this is our first year anniversary competition. So winning it this year was a very nice way to celebrate.
Kristie, tell me please what you like about your partner
[Kristie]: There are many things I like about him. I think some of his stronger qualities would be his mentality. He is very strong mentally. Nothing really worries him or fazes him. He is fun, always happy, always smiling.
And what about her?
[Andrea]: Kristie has a lot of good qualities but I think one of the major things we enjoy doing together is to eat (laughing). We like to have so much fun together. And it is key for us. Dancing is one part we like to do together but we actually we have a very intense life outside of dancing. We like to do other sports. She tries to ski...
[Andrea]: She is Australian and in Australia they don't really have snow so... Actually the first time she saw snow I was worried, because she was so emotional, so affected by this view of snow for the very first time. She did extremely well when skiing for the first time and she loved it. I've been skiing for five years, as a hobby of course, and I love it. Now I do snowboard. So the good thing with Kristie was that we were discovering that we like to do the same things together. So this is a key to our partnership and relationship that we like to do a lot of things together. We like to go out to nice dinner, go to the movies...
[Andrea]: That's a big one (laughing)! I try to like it, I try to survive it. She is a big shopper. She loves shopping. And I try to stay behind her and be on my best behaviour because literally we can spend hours in the mall.
Piece of advice from a more experienced husband: I always take an e-book with me and then find a nearest café and wait for my wife there.
[Andrea]: Exactly. That's what I do as well. I have my little games on my IPhone and when we go shopping I try to shop with her for half an hour and...
[Kristie]: He sits outside and waits
[Andrea]: Probably forty five minutes is what I can spend with her and then I sit and wait for the next hour or two until she is done. But, joking aside, we like to do very many things together. And this is what make our partnership work so well.
What don't you like in your partner?
[Andrea]: To be honest she is pretty balanced. She's got a lot of good qualities. To pick one which can be a problem is that she can sometimes be very emotional about things.
[Kristie]: That's normal. I am a woman. You don't understand!
[Andrea]: OK. That's normal (laughing). Sometimes though the level of her tolerance is very close to zero! I am trying to find a way to push this bar a little higher (laughing). It is in how Kristie approaches some situations. She gets too involved very fast. I think she should take more time before the “water boils over”. Beside that I am very lucky with her.
[Kristie]: His faults? I have to think very hard about it. Sometimes he has a terrible memory. So I have to do things for myself and him. He doesn't pack his own bag. His mother used to do it for him.
[Andrea]: I am the only child, sorry!
[Kristie]: He is from Southern Italy so he is used to a very strong female figure that's done a lot for him in the past. That does everything for him. So I have to slowly ease him into doing things for himself. (laughing)
[Kristie]: Because, as Australian woman, I don't do a lot (laughing).
Yesterday I was interviewing the Danish couple Michelle Abildtrup and Martino Zanibellato. He is Italian and she is Danish. She was talking of very similar cultural differences.
[Kristie]: We are completely different.
Michelle was saying she became a little bit more Italian a just a bit less Danish. Is this the same for you?
[Kristie]: We're kind of meeting in a middle. We've taken some positive things from each other's cultures and nationalities which made it very interesting household we live in. I don't cook, unfortunately. I can't cook and I don't cook. Maybe I can do breakfast and that's it. I thought I could cook spaghetti Bolognese before I met him but apparently I can't anymore! (laughing). It's illegal.
[Andrea]: She tried to do her best actually but she just did not know what the real thing is. We have this lucky combination, because I love to cook. It relaxes me a lot. Sometimes I am teaching in a studio for a whole day and I go home and, most of the people just want to lay on a sofa and have a glass of something....
[Kristie]: It is me!
[Andrea]: ...but I just want to get into my cooking because it relaxes me so much. I start from the beginning, even if to make a nice tomato sauce will take an hour, I start chopping my onions, and then I will go with my garlic and I stay at the stove and stir and do all that. It feels good. I really enjoy it.
[Kristie]: He loves to cook and I love to eat what he cooks. That's a good match!
Did I guess correctly that your favourite food is Italian?
[Andrea]: Thanks to my dancing I have been travelling a lot and I love Italian food but I also like to experience the food in the country or even specific to the region we visit. So when we are in Japan we will make sure we eat sushi. We go a lot to China and we try a lot of Chinese food which we like. Recently we've been to Hong Kong, which is famous for seafood, we tried this huge spicy crab with vegetables. And we loved it. We like food in general, we like to eat together.
So how do you manage to stay in shape then?
[Kristie]: We are pretty balanced. We go to the gym to try to keep in shape. We also dance a lot!
[Andrea]: OK, we are the type of people, who like to eat good food but not eat a lot of it. We don't like the fast food. We rather don't eat and save ourselves for a nice dinner at night. Sometimes we enjoy a dessert and a glass of wine but we make sure than ten days before the competition we don't drink any alcohol. Alcohol is bad for your muscles. So we try to be as healthy as possible.
What would you say about English food?
[Andrea]: I have one favourite!
[Kristie]: English breakfast (laughing).
[Andrea]: As a matter of fact, when we go abroad and there is a possibility to ask for English breakfast, we ask for it!
[Kristie]: It is also similar to what we have in Australia. It is bacon and eggs, tomato and mushroom and all that.
I thought, Andrea, that, as Italian, you will not find anything you like in England!
[Andrea]: It is very, very different than in Italy. In Italy, it is very characteristic, we have bars. It is not the same as pubs in here, what we mean by a bar is that we walk in there and stand there. We never sit. We ask for a coffee or a cappuccino and they bring us this huge creamy milky coffee with some chocolate sprinkled on top which I love...
[Kristie]: or get an espressino...
[Andrea]: ...or espressino if you like. And then you have your croissant with cream of chocolate inside and you dip it into your cappuccino. And that's our breakfast! I personally never found anything like that around the world. It is pretty much the most Italian thing you can do: enter a bar, order a coffee and drink it standing up. But I like to experience different things as well. It would be, kind of, boring to go around the world and try to do the same thing all the time.
[Kristie]: It is nice to change
[Andrea]: It is fun to come to England and experience and taste what their speciality is. So English breakfast is one of those things. I like that you sit down and take your time. Italian breakfast you finish within 10 minutes, but for a good English breakfast you need at least half an hour.
[Kristie]: At least!
Could you tell me now what is your favourite Latin dance?
[Kristie]: My favourite Latin dance would be the Rumba or Samba.
[Andrea]: For me...
[Kristie]: Has does a fabulous...
[Andrea]: Don't say!!
[Kristie]: ... sliding doors. One of the best (laughing)!
[Andrea]: I am very bad in Latin because last time I danced Latin was when I was Juvenile. And then I went with Ballroom only.
[Kristie]: Thank God!
[Andrea]: So I stick with Ballroom. But I, kind of, like all of them. I always say I am Latin inside but Ballroom outside. My soul is Latin because I am a bit crazy guy. I try to look nice on the outside but my inside is always boiling. So I really like all of them in terms of music. I like the Samba music. It is very involving. I like the power of the Paso Doble, I like the spirit of Jive and the rhythm of the Cha Cha and the passion of the Rumba. I cannot really pick one.
And in Ballroom?
[Kristie]: my favourite is Foxtrot. Easily.
[Andrea]: Yes, for her it is Foxtrot. Mine is Tango. And always has been. It is my Latin soul. That's one of the things I have to work on actually. This is one of the things that we need to work on in our dancing. This is for me to try to control my desire to “go, go, go”
[Kristie]: He gets very involved and very passionate. And it has to be directed in the right way
[Andrea]: I get very passionate especially when it gets to Tango. And I need to calm down. It is not always easy when the rounds are getting more and more difficult, higher level. When I see a good couple close to us my emotion takes over and I need to control it. And it is always in the Tango, always for the past twenty years.
What are you favourite competitions or most memorable?
[Kristie]: I think it would have to be the UK Open. Because it was our first competition together and now, the first in Professionals.
[Andrea]: I agree, the UK Open is the special one. I like the International in the Royal Albert Hall a lot. That's one of my favourites because of that magic of that place. I don't like the Brentwood part, you need to do it. The Royal Albert Hall is, first of all, fabulous the way it is built. There is this kind of arena, you see all these people around and you are in the centre. A lot of celebrities known around the world were there.
[Kristie]: Like Robbie Williams
[Andrea]: Yes, Robbie Williams who is her favourite! (laughing). And Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli, all my favourite singers were there and for me this feeling of being in the same place where they performed is very inspiring. Of course, the Blackpool has its magic as well. But it is very tough competition.
You mentioned opera singers so do you like opera music?
[Andrea]: Yes... we don't actually have enough time to go and enjoy it as much as we would have liked. We sometimes take a night off and go to the theatre. We wanted to go to see the musical Wicked, and at Christmas we wanted to see The Nutcracker. In Charlotte we have a beautiful theatre but we were too busy with travelling and working so we did not have time to do that. So yes, we like these kind of things. Also, Andrea Bocelli is one of my favourite singer. We like to listen to him.
You have mentioned that you a lot of things outside of dancing. What do you do?
[Kristie]: We try to have a balanced life for ourselves so we can do a lot of dancing but also have a good life outside dancing. Especially because we are also a boyfriend and a girlfriend. If all we did was dance, we would probably be sick of each other after so many natural turns!
Do you have friends outside of dancing?
[Kristie]: Yes, we have many friends around the world. We have friends in Charlotte where we live, in Australia, in Italy. We always are surrounded but lots of lovely people which makes life very good.
What do they think of dancing?
[Kristie]: Everybody is realty supportive. They love it. It is something so different for them and so normal for us. They love seeing pictures and videos.
[Andrea]: Many people outside of dance business don't quite understand what it means. So when we say we are going to do the dance competition they say: oh, it is going to be fun. They don't realise that we dance seven rounds yesterday and between the Rising Stars and the Open, we probably did eleven. They don't realise how though it is on your body and that you need to prepare for it beside the dresses and the make-up! They don't see the physical preparation and the lessons and all the traveling. We left America after our last show on the 21st December and between that time and tomorrow when we, finally, go back home it is a month. We've been away from home for a month and we've been to some eleven different places between Hong Kong, Italy, England and America. So a normal person will not understand how it is to be away for a month and be jetlagged all the time. That's when it gets tough. Even when you think, in your mind, that you can do yet another flight, another taxi you get to a point when your body cannot cope anymore. Your mind wants to keep up and does not realise that after twelve hours on the flight from Hong Kong to England your body even tries but cannot do it right. Your body just does not respond the way you want to. You get frustrated! You think, why something worked twelve hours ago, in different country and doesn't work now!
You must have a lot of air miles! How do you chose your flights and hotels? Do you go for economy flights to save money or business class to be able to relax?
[Andrea]: Unfortunately the business class is something we cannot consider right now. All our money and investments go towards our dancing. We sometimes get upgraded because as you say, we are frequent travellers. We always change airlines according to different times and places we need to go to and prices as well, so we have a lot of points with different airlines! So we have miles in all of them really. Same with car rental. So whichever airline we are flying we usually have a good status with them. We have been flying business class few times because we were upgraded because of our points.
[Kristie]: Once it was first class. That was luck
[Andrea]: We were upgraded to the first class and unfortunately you never want to fly anything else after that! You never want to go back to the real life.
How do you manage to pay for all your dancing costs?
[Kristie]: in the beginning when we started dancing together I had some money saved from working in Australia. I used to work two jobs in Australia. I worked in a handbag store and in a bar/restaurant. I was very busy between these jobs and dance practice but I managed to save quite a lot of money. That helped. We work a fair bit in Charlotte so we save like squirrels! We save money and then spend it when we need to.
[Andrea]: Shows and demonstrations we do help as well.
Do you plan to open your own studio?
[Kristie]: Both of our dreams before we were dancing together and now, was to open a studio. We will definitely sometime in the future. Not right now.
In Charlotte, or Australia or Italy?
[Kristie]: Everywhere! We will do franchise (laughing)
[Andrea]: With experience that we have had in all those years of dancing we have an open mind. We are open for various possibilities. One day, the dream is to have something in Italy, something in America and something in Australia. We love the States, it is such a beautiful country and we would like to live there. Also in Australia, life there is great, all the beaches and the weather. I've been there twice and I love it, it is fabulous there. And of course, I love my country so I want to be back in Italy as well. So we will see.
Does your family ever have a chance to see you dancing?
[Kristie]: Yes. The last time we went to Australia it was for my brother-in-law, my sister's husband, competition. And we danced there. So my whole family came and watched which was very lovely. Mum got teary.
[Andrea]: She has a lovely family. Very nice and friendly.
[Kristie]: We are both fortunate to come from very nice families.
Does your Mum, Andrea, come to see you? She must be proud!
[Andrea]: My Mum and Dad simply love it. They saw me dancing many times. Not recently, we are now in America and it is not possible for them. My Mum came to the Royal Albert Hall for the International and saw us. She tried to take any opportunity to come and see me at least when I am in Europe.
Is she here?
[Andrea]: No, she did not come this time. She may come to Blackpool because she misses me very much because I am the only child. So it hard for her.
I guess you called your parents when you won the UK Open?
[Kristie]: Yes! We both did. We speak very regularly on Skype. Actually my Mum messages his Mum on Facebook and it is very funny because neither understands the other language!
[Andrea]: It is another story. In a way if they were able to talk to each other maybe it would be easier for us! We would not have to talk to them as much as we do. They could entertain each other (laughing)!
So, Andrea, you parents do not speak English?
[Kristie]: She tries to learn
[Andrea]: She tries very hard but I personally have problem to understand your family because the Australian accent is so different. I speak English but they speak Australian (laughing)! When I first moved to America I thought that their language was difficult like shortened English but then I met Australians (laughing)! It sounds like shortened American. It took me a year to start to barely understand them.
[Kristie]: Even now I have to speak slowly sometimes ...
[Andrea]: So for my Mum it is absolutely impossible to understand.
We are all different nationalities here
[Kristie]: We are all different. It is funny sometimes we sit with friends and they are all from around the world
[Andrea]: It is something nice about dancing that you have this mixture of culture and people. You always meet new different people and experience different things. It is a beauty of life and it is what our business allows us to do.
[Kristie]: We are very fortunate. We have a good balance as well. We have a beautiful home in Charlotte, a nice car, we get to enjoy a nice peaceful life at home and also have a chance to see the world and keep up to date with what goes on.
[Andrea]: I believe, based on my experience of years of travelling, that in the end of a day, the world is the same anywhere you go. Because you can find bad people and good people, good culture and bad culture wherever you go. You have to always make the best out of it. You need to deal with every situation regardless of the nationality of a person you are dealing with. Everybody is different, has character and good and bad qualities regardless of their nationality.
How to be a star but remain a normal person?
[Andrea]: No matter what kind of achievement you are trying to get you always need to keep your feet on the ground. You always have to be a humble person
[Kristie]: You need to remember where you come from
[Andrea]: You have to have good solid values. You should not judge others and try to be friendly and nice to others. It happens sometimes than when a person gets results, get successful they change from what they used to be. You always need to remember who you are and where you are coming from. That really brings you down to earth no matter what you achieved in life.
What do you value more: artistic, musical, competitive aspect of dancing?
[Kristie]: For me music, generally in life and every day is very important. It is a very big part. I love music, all different kinds of music. I really enjoy it. So I love the musicality and the different characters of the dances which music gives. The very good quality of Andrea is that he is very competitive. I am also competitive but he is very, very competitive. Which, kind of, makes us balanced a little bit better.
[Andrea]: I also think that music is an extremely important part of the dancing because, believe it or not as we are not supposed to do it as competitors, but when the music that you are dancing to is something you really enjoy, the performance is better. It comes naturally for your body if you enjoy it.
Why do you think you are not supposed to feel like that?
[Andrea]: Because as a competitor you are supposed to, in a perfect world, always show your best from the first round to the final regardless of the conditions around you. It should not matter whether floor is too slippery or the music is slow, whether you like or don't like it. Or if you have a headache. The conditions should not affect the performance. But unfortunately we are only human and we have emotions, some more than others. I personally experience that when I enjoy the music I dance better. This is a great opportunity for me to mention the great job Ross Mitchel and his Band are doing here, also Ashleigh Frolick and his Orchestra in Blackpool. It is extremely powerful music and we enjoy it very much and gives you the inspiration to dance as well as you can.
Many people say that they love to dance to orchestral music, especially in Blackpool
[Kristie]: It is magical.
[Andrea]: I agree! If you take a music and play it in the environment of the beautiful competition and have couples dancing to it, have extremely qualified panel of adjudicators and the audience you can really feel that energy. This is maybe one of few places in the world where you can feel that energy on your skin. I remember the first time of my life when I entered the Wintergardens. I was sixteen years old and I don't really get emotional but that very first time I looked at that hall my eyes were watering! I could feel that these walls have seen so many past champions, so much of the history. If these walls could talk they could tell a lot! Same can be said about the Royal Albert Hall. It gives you the inspiration! And the music is part of this all package.
So are you saying that tradition is also very important?
[Andrea]: Yes, it is. Tradition is very important because regardless how the dancing changed, it developed from the basics, from that root. When you take the Professional couple from thirty years ago and compare to the Professional couple now you see bigger lines now, the space but the quality and the fundamentals, and the concept is still the same. And that's amazing.
Thank you very much, it was a pleasure to talk to you both.
[Andrea]: Thank you.
Is there anything you would like to add?
[Andrea]: Actually Kristie and I would also like to take this opportunity to say thank you for the great job you are doing with the website!
[Kristie]: And I wanted to thank you on behalf of my Mum. Because my Mum is on dancesportinfo all the time checking results and the information.
[Andrea]: That's what we need, as competitors, to have it advertised and our business known around the world for the different type of audience not just people involved with dancing. I think you guys are doing such an amazing job!
You are so kind. Thank you!
All photos by Peter Suba