Interview with Pasha Pashkov and Daniella Karagach
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Interview with Pasha Pashkov and Daniella Karagach

Posted on Friday, 23 Jun 2017, 09:51 by admin
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We have interviewed Pasha Pashkov and Daniella Karagach after their win of Professional Rising Star Latin at the UK Open in January 2017, and recently they won the same event in Blackpool.

The top Amateurs are great dancers, but it is more about youth, strength, power, and a little bit more physical dancing. When you look at Professionals it is more about musicality, connection, detail.

Congratulations! I hope you are as happy today as you were yesterday

[Daniella]: Yes, we are!

Let me ask you first how you started dancing.

[Daniella]: It was in New York. When I was a child, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I could not sit still (laughing). My Mom, who is an adolescent psychologist, decided that, instead of me taking medication for the hyperactivity, she enrolled me in dancing. It basically solved everything. I started doing better as school, doing better at life, sitting still, and making sure that everything ran smoothly. Dancing became the focus of my life. Ever since I was three years old, I was dancing. I started ballet at age 3, Latin at age 6, and Ballroom at age 11.

So you were diagnosed with ADHD at three years old??

[Daniella]: Well, no, at around six years old. I started ballet when I was three because I was always dancing at home. I started latin, in addition to the ballet, when I was six. I fell in love with it. After that, you couldn't separate me from dance.

So that is how your career started?

[Daniella]: Yes. When I was about eleven years old, my partner Leo and I became successful in our competition. We won many comps while dancing Junior I and II, even in Youth, wherein we danced a level up. So we were really successful with my previous partner as well. Pasha and I had the same coaches. At one point, they recommended the tryout with Pasha, as he was looking for a partner. I was only fifteen years old at the time and he was already twenty two. At first, I thought: No way, he is too old! It took him a while to convince me (laughing).

Pasha, what about you?

[Pasha]: I started dancing back in school in Russia, Perm. We had a dance class in school. The teacher who taught that class was a Ballroom teacher. After school, she was teaching kids Ballroom dancing. She came up to my brother, (he is my older brother but was in the same school), and told him that I had potential and maybe I should try. So my brother told my parents, and I started going to that school. I liked it. I participated in one competition a couple of months later, but did not do that well and stopped dancing. It was not really because I did not do well, but because I was doing a lot of other stuff like tennis, swimming and taekwondo. I couldn't possibly do it all.

You seem like a sporty person

[Pasha]: Yes, and my parents were very sporty as well, so I guess I take from them. It all started when my Mum got a phone call from a friend who said: “listen, my daughter is dancing and we are looking for a partner and maybe Pasha would like to try”. My Mum replied that I already did try but can try again. So I went to the studio and I loved the coaches there. At first, I stayed mainly because of the social environment there. I was enjoying the company of people there. At some point later, I felt that I am fairly decent dancer, that I can do it, and started participating in competitions. Of course, once you start getting good results, you feel encouraged. That's how I stayed. I started dancing when I was eleven years old, and moved to America when I was fifteen.

Why did you move to America?

[Pasha]: My Dad won a green card in the visa lottery, so we moved there as a family.

So it wasn't for dancing?

[Pasha]: No, not at all. In fact I did not want to go because I did not know anything about dancing in America. In Russia, I had a partner and everything... But my parents said: don't worry, we will find you a partner and everything will be fine. However, we moved to Ohio and there was no Ballroom dancing there whatsoever. Not that there is no Ballroom dancing in Ohio, but in the area we were, there were only social dance clubs so there was no competitive dance studios, no partners, no coaches. I found a partner in New York so I moved to New York. I lived there for few years on my own.

How did your parents react when you decided to move to a completely different state at the age of fifteen?

[Pasha]: Well, my parents trusted me. They knew I was responsible. I was a very serious kid (laughing). I loved Ballroom dancing and I knew that this was what I wanted to do. The opportunities in New York were great. I had a partner and coaches and my parents did not want me to lose this opportunity...

[Daniella]: Your Dad lived with you for a while

[Pasha]: Yes, I wasn't totally alone. First, for a year, I lived with my partner's family. When I was sixteen I lived on my own, which was very hard. My Dad came and stayed with me, helped me out until I got to college. When I started college, he went back to my Mum to Ohio. When I was twenty two years old I met Daniella.

But hold on, what happened for the six years in between?

[Daniella]: He was in college and he was in a very successful partnership as well. He was the U.S. 10 Dance champion. Pasha, you can tell yourself (laughing).

[Pasha]: Yes, we were U.S. 10 Dance champions several times, while I was going to college at the same time. There are four years of my life I cannot remember (laughing). I was teaching, so I could support my dancing, going to college and trying to do well there. I was fully committed to dancing... so I cannot remember those years as I was like a zombie! No sleep... I was going from one place to another. At first, I was doing well in college because I was really trying. Later, I realized that I am sleep deprived. My attention slipped down and I wasn't doing that well anymore. My grades went down but I was determined that, no matter what, I am going to finish this thing (laughing). I got my bachelor degree in Finance.

[Daniella]: At the end of his college we already started dancing together.

[Pasha]: Yes, so at the end of my college I offered Daniella to dance with me.

So tell me how it happened.

[Daniella]: We had the same coaches in both Latin and Ballroom.

[Pasha]: My previous partner went to "Dancing with the Stars", so I was looking for a new partner. My Standard coach said to me that I should try to dance with Daniella. I was not sure, as there was six and a half year difference between us. This is a big age difference. However, my coach said: "doesn't matter, she is a right partner for you", and that was it. So…I called her up and I asked her to dance with me.

Was it just for Standard?

[Daniella]: No, we both did 10 Dance. He was a 10 Dance champion in Amateurs and I was a 10 Dance champion in Junior II.

[Pasha]: And then.... Daniella, what happened after that?

[Daniella]: He basically called my Mum and said that he had a guy looking for a partner and he would love for me to try out with him. He later told us it was Pasha. I knew of him, as he was very successful with his partner, but for me it would have been a huge step. I’d go straight into Amateur from the Junior II age group. I never danced Under 21, only started Youth. I knew it would be tough because everybody was older than me. I would have to dance against women and I was still a girl of fifteen. I was nervous.

And he, being twenty two years old, probably looked to you almost a pensioner (laughing)

[Daniella]: Yes (laughing)! But my coach said to me: "you'd end up in Amateur anyway". There is no difference if you turn now, or later. So... I showed up at the try-out. Both of us were really nervous. I was shaking.

[Pasha]: I wasn't nervous.

[Daniella]: I was really shaking. I know you were as well (laughing). The moment we touched our hands, it was clear. I remember thinking: "that's it, it is perfect for me".

[Pasha]: Same thing for me. The moment we got our connection, and took two steps, it felt right.

[Daniella]: Our try-out was maybe 20 minutes long. That's it. We knew instantly that we were right for each other.

Did you like each other as well?

[Pasha]: We started dating shortly after

[Daniella]: This is funny. We started dancing together on the 7th of December, and my birthday was December, 26, when I turned sixteen. On January 1, we started dating (laughing). It is funny, because my Mum, just before the try-out, was asking: "what if you start liking him. What if you start having feelings for him"? And I was like, no way, he is so old! It's never going to happen (laughing)!

[Pasha]: And then, four years later, I proposed on New Year's Day as well. We got married two years later, on July 18.

[Daniella]: We just had our eighth anniversary of being together. And married now for almost 3 years.

[Pasha]: Shortly after that try-out, we had our first competition. Daniella never danced even in Under 21, and she had to dance in Amateurs. It was a qualifier for the nationals. So we qualified, and one month later we won the US 10 Dance championships. I think we won three years in a row. We also came to compete in the UK 10 Dance Championships, which we won as well. After that competition, we decided we had enough of the 10 Dance (laughing), and wanted to focus on Latin.

[Daniella]: Actually, our Standard coach advised us on this, so we knew our Standard was really bad (laughing). Actually, our coach is like our life coach, like a brother. He was in my life since I was eleven, and in Pasha's since he was fifteen...

[Pasha]: He said to us: “guys, we need to talk”. He took us for dinner. I was thinking he was going to tell us to focus on one style. He invested so much time and effort into us. He helped us a lot. I remember when I couldn't afford the lessons, he'd teach me for free. He is an amazing person.

And his name is?

[Daniella]: Erminio Stefano

[Pasha]: So, at the dinner, he says: "guys, you need to focus on one style, and it should be Latin" (laughing). "But you are our Standard coach!". "Yes, but I can see that you have a bigger potential in Latin. So it is time to focus all your money, time and energy on Latin"

And you did?

[Pasha]: Yes. Actually, within the next year, our Latin results went up. You could tell a big difference in our dancing. Big jump. We went to Blackpool and were in the 96 in the Amateur Rising Star Latin. That year we stopped 10 Dance, and a year later, at the next Blackpool, we were 6th.

[Daniella]: I was only seventeen years old. It was so scary.

[Pasha]: It was a good decision to focus on just one style. It helped us a lot.

Why do you think that focusing on one style improved it so much? Is this because of more time spent on it?

[Pasha]: For sure. You invest more time, more concentration, more commitment. You practically double the time you put into the style.

[Daniella]: Also, it is very difficult to compete in both styles, because it is not five dances, it is ten. You have 10 minutes to change. It is so difficult, especially at the championships. It is harder to switch focus and mood. It is easier to make one style stronger.

What do you like in dancing the most?

[Daniella]: The music. I don't care what music it is, but I get that internal fizz, the bubbles, like brewing inside (laughing). It is that energy which I cannot hold back. No matter what music it is, as long as it has a beat.

Latin or Ballroom?

[Daniella]: Doesn't matter, I am obsessed with music. And…I love dancing with Pasha. I feel that him, being my husband, having that chemistry helps us with that special connection. It is not fake. We can truly, deeply, get into it. The emotion is real.

Do you think that being together helps with dancing or can be a problem?

[Pasha]: In our case, it helps.

[Daniella]: We've been together for eight years and we did not have one fight. We don't fight. I am very straight forward and ...

[Pasha]: We are lucky as we are two people who match.

[Daniella]: Of course, we have arguments. The way I feel music is different from the way he feels music. Sometime I do go before him. I want to lead him and I have to stop doing it, obviously. But, we never had an actual fight. Sometimes you see couples, who look like they want to kill each other (laughing).

But doesn't dancing collide with your private live though?

[Pasha]: No, because our private life is very easy going, no problems, so it doesn't affect our dancing in a negative way. And as Daniella said, the only time we argue is actually on the dance floor.

I don't believe you! (laughing)

[Daniella]: Ask anybody, ask our friends! We leave our arguments in the studio.

[Pasha]: As people, we both like our own space. We give each other space. Even though we live together, we teach together, we dance together, we are 24/7 together, we never feel claustrophobic. It is great. When people say, you have a great partnership, I always wish one can experience it. It works so well.

[Daniella]: We are so different. We have different personalities. For me, I have no filter, I speak whatever I feel. I don't sugar-coat anything. When you want to hear the truth you ask me. If you don't – don't ask me. If something bothers me, I say it straight away. I don't moan, I just say why I am upset. And Pasha is so sweet. He is calm, and mature. He is such a nice person. When we get mad at each other, I am over it in 20 seconds and he is able to behave like it never happened (laughing). I am very much a “feeling” dancer, while he is very analytical.

It is pointless of asking both of you about your partner's faults because you are married (laughing), so let me ask each of you about your own faults.

[Daniella]: I think my biggest problem is that I am so straight forward. It gets me in trouble all the time. I say things which don't need to be said. My friends know me very well, Pasha knows me, so they know I never mean to hurt anybody. If somebody comes to me wearing a hideous outfit and asks how they look, I am not going to say, you look great. I am going to say you look awful, go change. It is just me. A lot of people can feel hurt... Pasha needs to deal with it (laughing).

[Pasha]: Because she is so straight forward, a lot of people are not ready for it. Like the society, in general, is not ready to hear so much truth. Her true friends, they appreciate it, they appreciate a person in their lives who always says what she means.

[Daniella]: But I am also very warm. If I love somebody, I truly care about them. That's why I have few but really real friends. If I let somebody into my life, I can die for them and I will do anything I can to make them happy

What would you like to change in yourself?

[Pasha]: Being on time?

[Daniella]: Oh yes, I am never on time! I don't know, inside my head I am so disorganized, I don't have concept of time. I don't feel 30 minutes have passed. I thought it was just 5 minutes! Pasha keeps me on time and organized

What about you Pasha?

[Pasha]: I feel I am too analytical. I am over analytical. I wish I could let go a little bit more.

You want to be more emotional?

[Pasha]: No, it is not that. I feel that thinking about things helps me get over them. But then, I over analyze. As they say, I get to the state of analysis paralysis. It gets me stuck... I am getting better now, but I wish I was able to let go more. Even in dancing, the moment I overthink, I get tight. The best things happen when I know what I want to do, and I let go and let things happen naturally.

What is the most important thing in dancing for you?

[Pasha]: For me, it is a connection. The chemistry, physical connection, feeling each other's weight... this is why I am doing Latin dancing and not any other style. Two people dancing together is what I enjoy the most.

Who is cooking at your house?

[Pasha]: Both

What kind of foods do you like to eat?

[Daniella]: Oh, I love to eat. If I did not dance, I would weigh 500 lb! No joke, I can eat for 5 people!

[Pasha]: We eat a lot, we love to eat. We eat at home mostly. We like to cook. Our favourite dish is baked potato with salmon and melted cheese, as well as a Russian salad with tomatoes and sour cream, cucumbers and sweet onion.

Any particular food for you Daniella?

[Daniella]: Sushi rolls. No raw fish though.

Is that possible?

[Pasha]: Lets' say it is sushi for beginners (laughing). In US we have sushi rolls with cooked crab, or shrimp, avocado, all rolled in rice and seaweed.

[Daniella]: It's so good! And I like hibachi...

[Pasha]: When they cook it all in front of you.

Do you like sweets?

[Pasha]: Not really a sweets person

[Daniella]: I can eat 5 chocolate chip ice-creams!

Any favourite movies?

[Pasha]: Suspense thrillers

[Daniella]: Comedies

[Pasha]: We both like comedies.

Music?

[Pasha]: I like rock and rap.

You don't look like a rap person. Can you rap?

[Pasha]: No, no (laughing). If I had to express myself with voice, I probably could, but not well.

[Daniella]: We try to sing at home, and it sounds like a cat is being killed! It is not good. I like any music, whatever is on the radio.

Opera, classical, jazz?

[Daniella]: Not opera, not jazz, not classical. But we both like rock. We can listen to a lot of rock. Soft rock.

What is your favourite competition?

[Pasha]: Blackpool

What do you think of Blackpool music?

[Daniella]: Absolutely love it.

Did you love it from the first moment?

[Pasha]: Yes, I did.

[Daniella]: No, I hated it. I couldn't listen to it. Every time we prepared for Blackpool, I wanted to put something else. I started liking it when we made our first final (laughing). After making it to the final, and dancing to the live music. It was magical, because we never danced to the live music before

[Pasha]: It makes a great difference to dance to the live orchestra in Blackpool. You fall in love.

[Daniella]: The energy it the room is just intense. You hear everything, since the band is so active. You see them really taking part, even get up while they are playing. The experience is crazy. I think it is that experience which made me like it. Also, they make tiny changes to the music, which keeps it fresh

If you could change something in dancing, what would that be?

[Pasha]: I would love for the couples on the floor to get more time to be looked at. We have big competitions, like this one in Blackpool. There are over 20 couples on the floor at the same time, while the music plays for a short time. The judge doesn’t have much time to look at the couple. So perhaps, because of that, many couples, especially in the first rounds, focus a lot on the big things to stand out in those few seconds. It becomes, on the surface, a little bit flashy. If there was a way to do that, every couple would get more attention and time that they need to focus on the little details, which are more important. They would get appreciated for these details, rather than just get that attention of a judge to get marked into the next round

How to do it?

[Pasha]: Maybe give some superpowers to the judge (laughing) or maybe smaller heats? I don't know what the best solution is.

[Daniella]: I would like to change something in my own dancing. I would like to listen to him more. What I mean by that is that I would like to be more sensitive to what he feels. We are working on that now in our dancing

[Pasha]: To have more stamina so you never get tired!

[Daniella]: Yes! That's what I want (laughing).

Why?

[Pasha]: The quality of your dancing goes down the moment you get tired.

[Daniella]: At the final jive yesterday I was no longer dancing, I was just jumping, I was so tired. It was like cardio. So tiring...

You've just moved to Professionals. Why?

[Pasha]: A few reasons. First of all, it felt like it was the right time. Our main coach suggested it to us...

[Daniella]: Shirley Ballas

[Pasha]: Yes, Shirley suggested it to us before as well, but I guess we were not ready. We were like: “no, we still want to do Amateurs”. In Amateurs we had a pretty quick rise into the semi-final, within few years of dancing together, and we did not make it to the final for the next four years. We were close, but never made that final. Of course, when you are that close, you always want to try and try again. I think that's what held us there for so long, in Amateurs

[Daniella]: Many people were telling us we did not look like an Amateur couple anymore.

[Pasha]: They were telling us, you are ready to turn Professional. But we were so close, we wanted to make that final. And recently we thought, so what, we did not make that final. And what is that going to change, really? We want to dance, we want to compete in Professionals, as we have a lot of great competitions for Professionals in America. We have this opportunity now, why wait? So after the International, Shirley said: "what do you think of joining the Professionals"? And we were both so ready, we said: "yes, let's do it now"

But many couple actually do take years and years to slowly rise through to the finals of Amateurs...

[Pasha]: Yes, I know there are many roads to success. Also, success is measured differently for everybody. It depends on what you want, really. I don't feel we are over-achievers, because we enjoy dancing. It's our passion, but we also...

[Daniella]: ... we also want to win. We don't just dance for fun. We enjoy winning.

[Pasha]: Absolutely. But in our case, we did not want to stay in Amateurs for years and years. We wanted to dance Professionals anyway and we want to have a family.

Family?

[Daniella]: Absolutely. I want three kids. We have such a big family. Our families are doing great together. My Mum and his Mum are best friends.

What is the difference between Professional and Amateur?

[Daniella]: I feel that Amateur is a little bit more physical. And that's not us. We are not a physical couple. We're very much controlled and calm. I feel this is what everyone was talking about. I cannot really judge myself, but this is the feedback we received

[Pasha]: The top Amateurs are great dancers, but it is more about youth, strength, power, and a little bit more physical dancing. When you look at Professionals, it is more about musicality, connection, detail, breath and that makes it different for us. At some point, when we were in the top 10 in Amateurs, we were told by a few people that we look a little more Professional than the overall field. This is how we knew we were ready to move to Professionals

As winning is very important to you, do you feel that dancing should be classified as sport?

[Daniella]: Absolutely not

So how can you win if it is not a sport?

[Pasha]: They have contests in music. And it is not a sport. Chess is considered formally a sport but for me it is not a sport. For me, sport is a physical event, which obviously dancing is too, but the physical element is demanded by the tool, by the body. But… what is that tool for? It is to express music, art, personality, which cannot be really judged objectively like chess can be. It is a matter of opinion. We recognize it is a part in this industry, and we made a choice to be part of this community. So, either you have to decide to be part of this, or don't do it at all. For me, dancing is an art not a sport, even if it is demanding physically.

Would calling it a sport be causing it a damage?

[Pasha]: Generally, I don't think it is a problem. But usage of words is important. There are wars, like between religions for example, because of different words. People sometimes use the same word to describe opposite things. Sometimes they think exactly the same thing, but they call them differently. So choice of how you call something can cause trouble. If somebody calls dancing a sport doesn't bother me at all. But when they try to change the judging system say, to decide how many turns you can do like in the figure skating, I feel that will take away from the art of Ballroom dancing... Things like a connection, musicality, they, kind of, get lost in the process.

[Daniella]: The art is being substituted by flips and turns and jumps.

[Pasha]: And then it becomes about speed, speed, speed. When I look at the younger generation couples from different organizations, I feel there is a big difference. One is so overpowering, and in one hand it is admirable, these guys can do whatever they want. But on the other hand they don't give you a chance to breathe, there is no letting go, relaxation, and something human about it. It almost feels robotic. It is admirable, and I guess that's why I like to watch sports at the Olympics, but that's not why I watch dancing. That's not why I listen to music.

What do you use Internet for?

[Pasha]: Social media, Facebook, YouTube. Nowadays, because of smartphones, whatever you need is easily accessible. I google a lot of things I don't know, if I need a fact right now.

Booking holidays?

[Daniella]: We have a travel agent for it. A family friend who does it for us. If we want to go somewhere we ask her.

What about dance websites?

[Pasha]: The site I personally used the most is your website: dancesportinfo.net. Honestly, it is probably the only dance website I use. I cannot think of any other dance websites...

What about the dance organisations, competitions sites?

[Pasha]: We go to our national organization site, where we have the list of events, competitions and rules and regulations.

Is there anything we could improve in dancesportinfo.net?

[Daniella]: Publishing results quicker!

Before they are announced (laughing)? OK, that's probably impossible. But seriously, what would you want us to add maybe to the site?

[Pasha]: To be honest, whatever I need to go to your website for, it is there.

I guess we need to create another reason for you to visit us.

[Pasha]: I go to dancesportinfo to see the results. While I do, my attention can get caught by interviews, or the news, or photos.

[Daniella]: I use it for dance research. Not for myself, but rather for my students.

[Pasha]: So for the needs we have, it covers it from head to toe.

Thank you very much! Best of luck for the future!

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