The next day after they won the Amateur Latin in Blackpool, we talked to Troels Bager and Ina Jeliazkova. They were tired but very happy, after all they won all five dances and became Blackpool 2013 champions. Troels and Ina represent Denmark.
We often decide not to do a practice but to go to a concert, take a class of another dance style because there is much more in that for our own development
Congratulations, you must feel fantastic winning all five dances
[Ina] Excellent, yes
Can you please tell us when you started dancing?
[Ina] I started dancing when I was a bit older than usual. I did gymnastics, swimming and other types of sports and then I started dancing when I was about twelve years old and I have been dancing ever since.
What styles of dancing did you start with?
[Ina] I started with Latin. The classes were organised in our school and my parents took me to them. After three months I decided to drop all the other sports and focus on a more artistic activity like dancing. I thought it was much more me. That's why I took up dancing. It was back in Sofia, Bulgaria where I come from. I have been dancing there for the first seven years and then I moved to Italy for a year. After I split up with my Italian partner I started with Troels. It was eight years ago.
We will come back to that later. How was dancing for you then, before Troels? Any special memories?
[Ina] I have many special memories from then. Dancing was another experience - it meant a different thing to me. At first, it was something I did in my spare time, some activity I attended. And slowly it became something more and more. I learned a lot and met many people. So there is a lot to remember from those days.
[Troels] I started dancing when I was three years old at the local village dance school. My parents sent me there. I have two older sisters who were also dancing. It was just a social dancing. So my parents sent me there as a part of my education, to learn how to stand in line, to learn manners, to learn how to bow to the girl and take her hand. It was very simple and social and I did it for few years. Then I stopped as I was the only boy left there. I did other sports for the next five or six years like swimming, basketball and football.
A basketball? I thought you have to be very tall
[Troels] I am not tall but I was the fast one (laughing). I liked to be active. And one day, my partner from six years ago called me and asked if I wanted to come back dancing. Her sister was dancing and she missed it. I thought why not. We danced for few years together. I moved through the grades. It was still in Juvenile. When I was around fourteen or fifteen I decided I wanted to do it seriously. We have this kind of confirmation ceremony - this is a step when you move from youth to adult and this was when I decided: now, I am going to skip the football and I am going to do the dancing. I got a new partner and started to work with new teacher. When I was seventeen I moved to another town to dance there.
Still in Denmark?
[Troels] Yes, it was still in Denmark. I live in Denmark for my whole life actually. I moved to another town where I went to high school which made it possible to combine education and dancing. In Denmark we have a very good system of schools which provide education and you can combine it with your chosen sport. I was dancing with a Danish partner and then I got a partner from Moldavia. We won the Danish Youth championships and after that we split up. I was searching for a partner for nine months.
[Ina] So was I
[Troels] And we found each other.
How did you meet?
[Ina] It is an interesting story actually. When I decided to move abroad because I realised Bulgaria did not offer me enough opportunities to develop my dancing I went to Denmark first. I had a try-out with Morten Lowe. He was a finalist yesterday as well. So when I went to Denmark for the try-out I also met Troels who was there. So this is how we actually got introduced to each other. It was in 2004. We kept in contact and at some point we didn't have a partner - we were even at the same place at the same time but for some reason we could not make a try-out. Finally we decided we must do it and we met in Vienna. We had that try-out on a concrete floor! There was not space, it was some corridor, unsuitable for dancing but that's how we begun our journey together. It was a year and a half after we first met.
How was this try-out?
[Troels] I cannot remember the details of it but I remember it felt: this is it! There was no question about it.
[Ina] It felt natural
[Troels] We decided to dance together. We got confirmation from one of Ina's teacher in Bulgaria and Ina came to Denmark. She stayed for ten days or so and my teachers could have a look at us. The decision was simple. This was going to work.
[Ina] It was unexplainable - you have this instinct which tells you it is right. The chemistry was there. Once you feel it you go for it. It is a huge amount of luck to have all these factors combined and you have to grab that chance. Of course, you need to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit. You need to build the communication, the relationship in order to be successful. But you also need to remain yourself in that partnership which I think is crucial.
What happened next?
[Troels] Well, we were both very focused. We both wanted to go and practise, practise, practise.
[Ina] We practised for eight hours a day!
[Troels] Yes. We were very hungry in that sense
[Ina] Very committed.
[Troels] We were very pleased with how the things developed. We started in end of 2005, in December. Our first real big competition was Blackpool.
[Ina] It was half a year later
[Troels] And we went straight into the semi-finals of the Under21 and Amateur Rising Star Latin. It was excellent. We were very pleased. I don't remember much of our competitions later in that year and next one I remember well was the UK Open 2007. We were 3rd in the Amateur Rising Star Latin and the only couple from that final who got to the quarter-finals of the Amateur Latin event. So we went straight to the top 24 and dancing amongst of all these very strong couples. We felt very good.
[Ina] We felt very together
[Troels] Being 3rd in the Rising Stars and in the quarter finals of the Amateur Latin at the UK Open made us very hopeful and excited about the coming Blackpool. We could still do the Under21 in Blackpool. It made us very hungry for success and we practised like mad!
[Ina] Three times a day
[Troels] It was a great time. It was all about dancing, dancing, dancing.
You said: at that time. Has this changed for you?
[Troels] Yes, I think it does change. In the beginning you have that certain eagerness... You are eager to climb that mountain so you practise and practise. You have that freshness, youth. And now we feel that even if we practice just for two hours a day it is not about a number of hours but what you put into it. It is all about the focus now. It could be just one hour but you know you have things done. So your own personal target, style and vision is so much more clear the older you get. You know what you want and you go for it.
I always wondered how come that such a relatively small country like Denmark produced so many good dancers. What do you think is a reason for Denmark's success?
[Troels] I think that one thing we Danish have, the tradition we have, is that we believe in basic principles. We give the dancers time to understand these basic principles and to develop their own style. When you look at the Danish dancers they are all different. We give them principles and basic understanding but also allow them a space and time and support the individual to develop. There is no formula for creating champions. It is very much down to the individual couple. So the way Denmark does it has been adapted through generations and it has been adapted to how the Danish mentality works as well. If you took the system we have in Denmark and applied it to say Germany or Russia or England probably it would not work. It is because there is a different mentality. Russia has their way of creating fabulous dancers, so does England, China and other countries. Denmark is also a safe country. There is financial support, there are good studios, teachers. There are opportunities to take up dancing with no much struggle.
Are you a couple in private life?
[Ina] You always ask this question (laughing)! No. we are not.
How do you manage you private life outside your dancing?
[Troels] We have never been in a relationship but we lived together for seven years.
[Ina] From the beginning when I came to Denmark.
[Troels] All that time we were very close friends. We were asked this question in another interview last week: is this relationship like brother and sister or best friends. And we cannot define it. It is neither, but something in between. We have this special connection.
It is simply Troels and Ina
[Ina] Exactly, this is our answer we give. It is Troels and Ina.
So you live together?
[Ina] Not any more. We used to.
[Troels] I live with my girlfriend now. Ina and I have our separate private lives but we are connected with everything. We know what each other is doing and it needs to be like this because still the dancing is our first priority.
Would you say you are soul mates?
[Ina] Yes, thoroughly. This is the word which sums us best. As I said earlier it is not just about looking good together or fitting together dancing-wise, it is so much more. There is involvement, compromises and understanding the human factor of it. And I think that at the stage we are right now, the fact that we have known each other for eight years, that I know what triggers him on, and he knows that about me, plays a big role. We are aware of our strongest points and the knowledge of that is more and more precious. The communication, the closeness, the relationship is the most special thing that is driving us right now. As Troels said, in the beginning, let's say 80% of your success is hard work and 20% is creativity. But then it starts to change and the mental state kicks in. Now it is 90% mental state! It is all about how you decide to do what you do together and how to spend time. We often decide not to do a practice but to go to a concert, take a class of another dance style because there is much more in that for our own development. We benefit a lot from that. We feel it gives us a great push to the next week of practice because there is a new story we can work on.
[Troels] We've always had the same vision of what we wanted. That made it very easy for us in the tough times, because we stick with each other and supported each other. We've never had any arguments or insecurities in what we want.
You have never had any arguments? I don't believe it
[Troels] Never about what we want! No, no, we had some arguments (laughing)
[Ina] But usually those arguments worked very well for us
[Ina] Because they gave us this kind of bite at the practice.
[Troels] Usually these arguments are results of eagerness. Because we want it so much.
Eagerness to what?
[Troels] To become the best dancer we can possibly be
How do you define the best dancer?
[Troels] I don't know the best of me yet. This is the most interesting thing in it. This is my journey to find out. I don't know, I don't have a set thing. The journey to discover all this is the most interesting thing. I am going to keep all the possibilities open. I am going to discover and challenge all aspects of my own self: the mental side, the physical side, the creative side, the different styles. Everything I am going to challenge and through that process the best possible Troels as the best possible dancer is going to be created.
Describe your partner in few words
[Troels] If I am to describe Ina in few words I will say she is: determined, passionate.... The word "depth" also comes to mind.
[Ina] This is an interesting but difficult question for me to sum it up like that. I think Troels is calm and comfortable in his skin. He is a quiet leader, in a very positive sense. He knows exactly what he is doing. He's got a great determination. Once he sets his mind on something he does it his way and he is going to get there for sure.
OK Troels. You said the word "depth" comes to mind, can you please tell us more about it?
[Troels] Ina surprises me all the time, there are so many layers of her. Once she gets into something, she really gets into it. Take fashion as an example. She checks everything about it, all the brands, all the new collections, she goes into depth of it. She is very thorough. She needs to understand that subject. She needs to understand the background. That gives her a very strong foundation. She also needs a challenge, both from me and from her surroundings. Once she knows something, she knows it really. And it makes her very strong.
[Ina] When he said I surprise him all the time I can say the same about him. He amazes me with his vision about things. We have different blood in our veins, it is like fire and water, so...
Who is fire and who is water?
[Ina] I am more like fire I think. He is more the water. So it is extremely interesting for me to discover all the time the new Troel. I feel he is growing all the time. Especially the last two years have taken him to the new levels. It is very inspiring for me to talk to him about very different subjects because he has sometimes a completely different point of view. And he speaks about it with such belief, that I know this is exactly what he thinks and it might be totally different to what I believe in. But that different point of view is very interesting for me. Knowing that he has that different view on things helps us to communicate.
Is it all so fantastic, never any problems? Does the world work that way?
[Troels] Why not? The world works the way you make it work.
Tell me about your worst moment in dancing?
[Troels] I don't believe in these things. When I look back I cannot remember that sort of thing. Even when we started dancing together we were straight into quarter finals. Our goal, very fast, became to get to the semi-final. I can remember times when I was disappointed not to make to the semi-final but thinking back, all these disappointments and tough times, it is exactly what made me today. It is what made me stronger. It made me want it even more. So I never look back and think: oh, that was bad. I really don't believe in those things.
You are not saying that all these years were all successes?
[Troels] Certainly, I am not saying that. Whatever was there made me what I am today. I managed, for the last two years, even to enjoy the tough times because they are part of life. So instead of saying: oh, it rains today and I was hoping it'd be sunny, I say: well, it is just rain, not good or bad, just rain. You don't always have to put a label on things like white is good and black is bad. No. It is just black or white. You come with it but don't need to take it emotionally.
Interesting point of view. I know some couples went through such tough times that they were thinking of splitting up even. Hasn't that happen to you ever?
[Troels] I think it is fashionable to talk about though time. It is like that in the movies often, the hero gets beaten and then pulls through and wins. It doesn't have to be always like that.
[Ina] That scenario is boring...
[Troels] I just don't like to label things, to put them in boxes. We have tough times but I enjoy them because I know I will come stronger from them.
[Ina] There is not that much to say about it really. What does it mean: tough times? Does it mean getting a bad result? If so, than we did not have really bad results. We started from the quarter-finals and since then, luckily, things are going well. Of course, we are humans, so we have bad days and good days but this makes us who we are now. We know how to deal with it.
How to learn to deal with it?
[Troels] One of the big things is individuality. As Ina said, we are very different. We respect each other and we have a common goal. Through tougher times we built this trust to each other. But we know we want the same thing. So even if there is a period when I am not that inspired she knows it is not because I don't want it, but there is some other reason. There is this common goal, and there is no question about it.
[Ina] We don't even talk about it, because we know it. There were periods of time when both of us were not so driven but then you keep on searching. How do you do it? You take two weeks off and you take a trip some place, or just take holiday or you try some other dance style classes. And then you come back reviewed and with new strength.
[Troels] We don't take those two weeks because we want to escape for two weeks but because we know it is going to benefit our dancing afterwards. It is definitely one of those things: the common goal which is always there. We are different, we express ourselves in different ways.
[Ina] And we have to accept that I am who I am, and he is who he is. There are things which I don't like but I accept them because I know it is him.
[Troels] Working on the mental thing has helped a lot. Working with the psychologist has helped me to understand what I want, to accept myself even more and to be able to trust myself.
You keep mentioning that word: trust. It is important to you, isn't it?
[Troels] It is there. We don't think about it and we don't mention it. It is just there. We appreciate it and we feel it but we don't think about it.
What would you say is most important to you in dancing?
[Troels] The fact that I am able to express myself. Someone asked me: why do you dance? I just cannot imagine life without it because even when I think about not dancing, I feel that tension in my body. When I imagine myself not dancing my body gets blocked because there is something which needs to get out! I've tried to draw and to do all kinds of creative things but no luck. I am not good at it. So I just have to dance (laughing). This is where I can get my personal satisfaction from. I think there are many layers in dancing. Both Ina and I are very interested in discovering these layers. We would love to go to New York and take classes in African Jazz or body isolation or flamenco dancing because it brings us to discovery of another layer. I always say that if you always pick one ice cream flavour, say vanilla, you never know what the other flavours taste like! You will never know if you like them if you haven't tried. Same applies to dance styles. I have to try first to know if I like it. I have to try these things and get stimulated by them. There is a part of me that is egoistic, there is a part which is creative, funny, philosophical, happy or sad. All these parts get stimulated by my surroundings. So whatever I am choosing to be stimulated by it will help me express it in dancing. Going back to your question: all the elements like music, my own self, the partnering cannot be separated. It is all part of my dancing. I go to one class and it is all about creativity, another one is all about music but when I go back to the practice room, I want to combine all these things in my own way. I let my brain to work on it all. I was in New York for a week, had a lot of impressions, and then I play around and whatever comes up I grab it.
[Ina] For me, dancing is a great part of my life. It is a compilation of commitment, vision and will to express and challenge yourself to move a level. I feel that the dancing is both a reality and an escape from it. Sometimes I really feel that when I am on that floor I express a different "Ina". That there is something else in myself which gets out on the floor. But sometimes I feel I am on the floor exactly as I am. The nuances of that and ability to express all these different sides of myself is extremely interesting for me. That's why it is a never ending challenge because a person keeps on developing constantly. Some days when I am on the floor and I hear that one beat, my body would react in a way that is very familiar to me but another day when I hear that exact same beat, my body reacts in such a manner that is surprising to myself. That I feel is extremely interesting. That's why I keep on searching and wanting to experience that. I like very much the visual part of it. Dancing is a very visual art. We don't verbally express things but speak through our energy and our movement and through our look. This is equivalent of the colours you choose to draw your painting. You have the freedom to mix them the way you want to. And that makes you who you are.
I know some couples who tried to do different styles of dancing like Hip Hop or Jitterbug or Jazz and it was rather a failure...
[Ina] You have to have a great deal of respect to other arts. When we do what we do, we sometimes spend years to get just one movement closer to what we want it to be. Those people who do different styles also spend years and years working on what they do and on developing their art. You cannot expect to go to five classes of flamenco and tell yourself that you learn it and can apply it. It is extremely attractive to experience it in these classes and if there is a new feeling I discovered in myself when I did those moves that I recognise I can put into my own dancing than I am going to do that. I have too much respect to these other dancers to say that after five classes I can say my Jive looks like Boogie or my Paso Doble is now flamenco inspired. You have to be very careful not to lose that perspective. You still do the Paso Doble but there was something in flamenco which you recognised when you did a certain move. So for me it is crucial that you keep respect for the other arts.
[Troels] We need to remember we do the old fashion Ballroom dancing, the Latin section of the Ballroom dancing and we need to be influenced by the other styles but we shouldn't try to copy other styles. Jive is still Jive even if, for the last few years, it was influenced by the Boogie. We don't want to dance Boogie but we welcome the influence. You taste it in a different way, you comment on it.
Do you remember that film from years ago: Strictly Ballroom? It was about a boy who was rebelling against the strict rules of Ballroom and Latin. Would you agree with his view or with the judges?
[Troels] It is all about the balance. There needs to be someone who is ready to push boundaries. But also there need to be rules and fundamentals that define Ballroom dancing. This is what we do and we cannot change that. But again, if there is nobody to provoke or push the boundaries or challenge how far we can push them, the dancing itself will be stuck. There needs to be challenge all the time.
Can you name dancers who made the dancing as it is now?
[Troels] A lot of dancers influenced dancing to make it as is. In different ways. Donny and Gaynor who did a lot of West Coast Swing and brought that into the Jive in their time. In the 90s, they travelled to Cuba and Puerto Rico to the Latin American countries to bring that back into Latin. Ina and I talked a lot about the fact the Latin today is very much influenced by the normal life. In the beginning of the 2000s everything was about speed, and how fast you can move. It was like the life then, how fast you can live, travel and how smart you can be. And now, it is becoming more organic. It is back to what is healthy, what is good. So it is back to natural ways of doing things. And that gives way to personal input. I express Rumba differently because I am a Northerner, a Danish, a Viking. So I express it differently than Ina who is a warm blood Bulgarian. Even without thinking about it, I hear music differently. By allowing that you get uniqueness. If I go to New York, or Cuba, I will naturally "bring a luggage" of new experience and, after I came back to Denmark, I will hear the music differently and express it a bit different.
What word comes to mind when you think of each dances? Try one or two words only.
[Troels] It is a tricky question. You are asking me today, after we had such a great night of dancing yesterday, and only positive words come to mind! (laughing). OK, one word for Cha Cha: wicked! That's what I feel now
[Ina] Samba is celebration, Rumba is mystery, also regal comes to mind. Paso Doble - atmosphere, Jive - cool
[Troels] Rumba - togetherness, two of us. Paso Doble is victory. No idea why. Jive is blast! Samba is freedom.
I asked another couple the same question and what was surprising for me they said: Paso Doble - calmness. Perhaps the fact that you choose different word explains why you are all different in your own interpretation of dancing.
[Troels] Yes, sure. It is like if you were to mention a colour you associate with Paso Doble. Most people, maybe 90%, will say: red. Why not blue?
[Troels] Because I feel that's very soft but very strong.
[Ina] For me Paso Doble is dark purple.
[Troels] It all changes with you. Maybe if you were to ask me next year I will say Paso Doble is yellow (laughing). Red is passionate and strong. But this is only one dimension of the Paso Doble. If you look at the bullfighter he is never screaming, he is calm. He looks at the bull, tries to feel it, control it. And that's Paso for me.
OK, you started describing Paso Doble in terms of colour. So what about the other dances?
[Ina] Samba is orange
[Troels] I like this game (laughing)
[Ina] Cha Cha - I will go for rainbow, I cannot pick one colour for it. It is constantly changing. It flips from one colour to another all the time. The Rumba is black. Jive ... hmmmm.... is blue.
[Troels] Thinking of Rumba make me see lava: so let's go for lava colour, hot lava. Burning. The Paso is kind of blue. I cannot pick one colour for the Jive, I think it is like fireworks, different colours. Samba - orange as well. Cha Cha - I will probably say... hmmm, I don't know.
[Ina] We said different colours for different dances. We dance together, we have the same goals in dancing but we still see them differently and this is the beauty of it.
[Troels] As long as it makes Ina the best, I don't mind what colour she thinks the dance is (laughing)
When we started talking about it I also realised I can associate colours with dances. Samba is definitely yellow for me (laughing)
[Troels] Sometimes it is funny to try to interpret dances differently. For instance, try to dance Paso Doble happy and see what comes out of it. At first, it doesn't fit but maybe just 2% of that feeling of happiness and freedom you can put into your Paso. It doesn't all have to be passionate and strong. It may give it a fresh look.
Is there a difference between top Amateurs and Professionals? If so, what is the main difference?
[Troels] I think there is a certain, for good or bad, eagerness in Amateurs.
[Ina] Yes, I agree
[Troels] It can turn to desperate look if there is too much of it. It can look fresh and hungry if there is a right amount of it.
[Ina] The Amateurs and Professionals are also usually a bit different age-wise. The Professionals are usually older and more mature. Their dancing is a reflection of it.
[Troels] I think, in Amateurs, there is this subconscious feeling that you have to "make it". In the Professionals it is different, because you either have "made it" or this is simply your profession and this is what you do for living. So it is not about making it.
Somebody described the Amateurs often are too fast almost rushing into the movements
[Troels] With maturity comes the better understanding of our bodies. The older we get, we need to be more economical with our body movements so we start to learn how to use our energy and time better.
[Ina] Also, you need to be clever with your routines. The choice of routine is important so you do the steps you want to do rather than must do in a space of time.
Are you choreographing your own routines?
[Ina] We do a lot, but we have teachers who we develop them together with us.
[Troels] No matter what level you are you need another person to look at it. You need this creative process. We enjoy making these things.
[Ina] Oh yes. We like to work with a third person, there is this idea bouncing going on. And often, from a mistake or a slip, another new cool step comes out. You put it in your routine and it becomes your signature move.
[Troels] When you are in this creative process you try new things. Someone from outside may say: that looks good. So he can help to pick up good moves.
Who designs your dresses?
[Ina] Everything we do ourselves. We have people who are very close to us and we ask their advice.
[Troels] We have sponsors who make them
[Ina] The design is a combination of knowing my body and what looks good on it, knowing where we are going to perform and what is the setting. It is a combination of very many factors. It should bring the best out of our dancing.
[Troels] We have made a clear decision that we don't want to sacrifice our dancing, and anything which comes into it like look, shoes, dress. When we were in Under21 we had a sponsorship but it did not work out. We did not connect in terms what we wanted to come across as. So we said: no. even if we needed the dresses as we did not have money. We would rather work harder and get what we want.
Who is doing all the planning, booking the flights, hotels?
[Ina] We sit down sometimes and do it together. I book my flights and he books his flights. Sometimes we book different flights.
[Troels] Yes, sure
How is it possible?
[Ina] We surprise you a lot today (laughing)!
[Troels] The main key in our partnership is trust and individuality. We do it our way.
[Ina] Sometimes I ask Troels to take care of something and I know he will. But we don't have this rule that he takes care of car rental and I take care of the tickets. We don't have it that way.
[Troels] Sometimes when we have long distance flights we don't sit together because we both want window seat. So we sit behind one another, because it is best for each other. It is just a flight, not a holiday
[Ina] It is just a matter of getting from place to place
[Troels] And each of us can get a proper sleep.
What is your ideal holiday?
[Troels] Depends on my mood. Now, I feel I would like to go somewhere and just sleep, drink and relax. Sometimes I would love to go to a cottage with friends, and sometimes take my girlfriend to a beach holiday. It depends on how I feel. At the end of March we took 10 days holiday to recharge before Blackpool. So I went for one week to Egypt and did nothing and relax.
[Ina] For me it also depends. Because we travel so much I enjoy being at home as well. So I go home often. Right now, I would like to go to Brazil. Even now, when I am tired from the competition I would love to go tomorrow. But I also would love a relaxing, doing nothing holiday. I did not have that for a long time and it will be nice to do it.
Do you plan to move to Professionals soon?
[Troels] No, we haven't decided about Professionals yet - we enjoy being Amateurs, it is a very strong field and we feel motivated and inspired - we are enjoying our journey together and we just want to stay focused on the future events.
So see you at the International then! Thank you for the interview
All photos taken on a day by Moni Csepelyi