Interview with Aleksandr Altukhov and Cheyenne Murillo

Interview with Aleksandr Altukhov and Cheyenne Murillo

Posted on Tuesday, 16 Apr 2019, 08:53 by admin
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We interviewed the winners of the Professional Rising Star Latin at UK Open 2019, Aleksandr Altukhov and Cheyenne Murillo who represent USA. This conversation happened on Wednesday, a day after the Rising Stars, but before they were due to dance the Open event on Thursday night.

I always feel that if Cha Cha goes well for me, the rest is going to go well too. If it doesn't go well, there is always going to be that hesitation when going through the rounds

I have a pleasure of meeting the fantastic winners of Professional Rising Stars Latin. I hope you enjoyed the last night?

[Alexandr]: Very much so.

[Cheyenne]: Yes!

[Alexandr]: The competition was great and for us winning it was like a cherry on the cake.

Tell me how did you started to dance?

[Cheyenne]: I actually started dancing other styles, not Ballroom or Latin. I started with jazz and ballet and contemporary. And I did not switch to Latin until I was sixteen or seventeen years old.

Oh, where did you start?

[Cheyenne]: In Utah, USA. I started all that when I was three years old.


[Cheyenne]: Yes. My parents actually own the studio so...

[Alexandr]: They have one of the top jazz, ballet and contemporary dance studios in America. They have thousands of kids in the studio, doing all sorts of different styles, starting with ballet, jazz, you name it... Most people who are dancers in America come from this studio like Derek Hough, Julianne Hough, all from this studio.

So it is not too early to start dancing at three years old?

[Cheyenne]: No, definitely not. My niece started when she was two! She is on a team now, and they compete, and she is only four years old now (laughing).

[Alexandr]: It is good to start as early as possible

[Cheyenne]: And they like it.

[Alexandr]: I am originally from Donetsk in Ukraine, and I started dancing there when I was actually eleven. I was at the summer camp with my family friends and I had a crush on one of the girls. She was dancing, and I was not dancing at all. She asked me to go with her to couple of lessons because her partner just quit. He did not want to dance anymore. So that's how I started dancing, because I had a crush on a girl (laughing). She was very cute. Once I started I figured it is good for me, you get to see girls every day, you travel around the world, and I loved every bit of it. I think every six months I was changing partners because they were not able to handle me.

Because you have a crush on each girl you were dancing with (laughing)?

[Alexandr]: No, no! I was very intense, very competitive. I loved to practice, I loved to be in the studio, I loved everything about it. I was very much into it. I guess I am very competitive by nature. I study this industry, everything about it.

Did you both dance only Latin?

[Alexandr]: No, I did both styles until I was sixteen years old.

[Cheyenne]: I have tried Ballroom before... but it only lasted a month. It definitely wasn't for me

[Alexandr]: She started Latin when I moved to America. She was my student, my Pro Am partner. My then partner did Dancing with the Stars. Utah is only an hour flight from Los Angeles so they asked me to come couple of times to the studio so I could see my partner. I had to do it for 10 weeks every three days.

So how did you become Pro Am partners?

[Alexandr]: I remember the very first lesson she had with me. She had that drive. She wanted to win. Because at the time there were no boys in the studio for her we decided to try the Pro Am for six month while we were looking for a boy for her. There was no boy that age, or that dedicated at the time for her. So we started Pro Am and we won two World championships, three national championships in that division. And then, we found her a boy from Ukraine who moved, and they started dancing together in Youth. They were 2nd in USA. Unfortunately he had problems with visa and could not stay in USA, he got denied visa because he was very young.

At that point I was dancing with my partner Natalia, and we were quite successful as well made the finals in the International and UK Open. And then she decided to take a break from dancing. Our teachers back then, Shirley Ballas and Barbara McColl, they suggested why don't I try with Cheyenne. She is the perfect height and perfect age for me...

[Cheyenne]: I wasn't too happy about that

[Alexandr]: You know, to move from Youth and Pro Am straight into Professional is scary. She had no experience really. But we decided to give it a shot. We started in the Rising Stars and we were 7th at our first UK Open. This was our first competition outside of the country.

[Cheyenne]: It was five years ago

[Alexandr]: Yes, so at the time we had nothing to lose. She had no previous results to compare to, she had the looks, she had the drive. She was used to practise every day. We had lessons in Pro Am every day but she would do three or four hours by herself. She wanted to learn, learn, learn. She was hungry for it, to grow and get better.

What do you like about him?

[Cheyenne]: He is very competitive. He knows everyone results, I have no clue. You can ask him, he follows it all, even Ballroom.

[Alexandr]: I study all the marks. I am just curious about it. It is interesting for me, anything in the industry. I follow dancesportinfo, I check few times a day what is happening (laughing). I really do. I check WDC and WDSF results, anything...

What don't you like about him?

[Cheyenne]: Because he was my teacher and my Pro Am partner it was hard for him to change from the teacher-student relationship to that we are both partners now. He still thinks he has to teach me. And it still is hard for him to treat me as equal (laughing).

[Alexandr]: It is challenging for me, because I was a teacher myself. When we had our first lessons as a couple with other teachers I knew I had to back off a little. Because now we are equal. And it was difficult after teaching her for so many years. I think it was the most difficult thing in our partnership.

[Cheyenne]: And even this week they were telling him to let go, she is not your student anymore (laughing)

What do you like about dancing the most?

[Cheyenne]: Competing...

[Alexandr]: Yes. Competing, you know, travelling around the world, being able to listen to the beautiful music, seeing different places...

[Cheyenne]: Being inspired by dancers

[Alexandr]: I like the practice part of it too, being able to practice with the great dancers, to push to be stronger, better yourself. Being able to challenge yourself. It is a sport but it is an art too. It is the perfect combination of both worlds. If you go too much into the art part it is not good, and the opposite. It is about finding the balance between the two.

Is any of these more important for you?

[Alexandr]: I think last night I was just thinking about the music and just dancing. Usually I am very competitive, thinking about the sport aspect, pushing to the last second. I never give up.

[Cheyenne]: Last night we just had fun.

[Alexandr]: Normally, we have a certain routine we go through. And we were just talking this morning that everything was out of routine yesterday.

[Cheyenne]: We did not do anything like we always do

[Alexandr]: Yes. Normally we put the shoes on few days earlier to break them in. But this time we had shoes shipped from America, from our sponsors, at the last minute. They arrived like two days ago. Normally we arrive at the competition a couple of days before, but for this one we arrived late on the last night because we had to pick up the dresses which were not done, from London. Normally we go shopping for food to have a snack ready... but we did not do any of that. We did not warm up together but separate as she had a hair and make-up appointment in the morning. We normally talk to each other between the rounds of what to improve... but this time we let it go, just danced. And the semifinal and the final we just enjoyed.

So being natural proved to be really successful for you?

[Cheyenne]: Maybe we did everything wrong before (laughing)

[Alexandr]: Yes (laughing). Maybe we should learn from this experience

Which one of you is driving?

[Cheyenne]: We both drive, but he is driving here. Driving on this side of the road scares me (laughing)

Which competition do you like most?

[Cheyenne]: This one, it is my favourite

[Alexandr]: Yes, because I feel the International is a little easier. It is in a gym, the atmosphere is different... I am talking of Rising Stars. And Blackpool is a lot of pressure. It is stressful, you never know what is going to happen. UK Open is fun.

[Cheyenne]: And the music, I like the singers.

[Alexandr]: The hall is smaller, the audience is closer to you. You can see the people. At the International, in Royal Albert Hall, it is weird because you are coming straight from the top 48, no warm up through the rounds. And you don't see the audience. The floor is circular, and you only see the judges, you cannot reach out to the audience. But it is an amazing atmosphere.

You travel a lot for competitions, so do you try to combine it with a little holiday, see the place, or is it just work?

[Cheyenne]: When we go to the new places, we usually try to see some sights. But when we come to England, we don't. We come here so many times so we don't go sightseeing any more (laughing)

You should come to see Bournemouth in summer, it is beautiful, totally different than now in January

[Alexandr]: Yes, we have seen the pictures. It is really nice. Nice beaches.

I guess in Utah now the weather is cold?

[Alexandr]: It can be very cold. When we left few days ago it was -14C. And a lot of snow. It has beautiful mountains, so if you like skiing it is actually great.

Are you a couple in private life as well?

[Cheyenne]: Yes, we are actually getting married this year

[Alexandr]: We got engaged in August last year

Congratulations! In dancing it is simple, he is a leader and she is a follower. How is it in private life?

[Cheyenne]: The same (laughing)

[Alexandr]: I am generally not well organised, in private life. Booking lessons for us, travelling, booking hotels... I am not good at it. She is great at it. She is even organising my schedule for a week. She sends emails to teachers, books the hotels, the tickets. I let her do all of it. It is a perfect balance, I am not good at it, she is amazing at it. She is the most organised person I met in my life.

[Cheyenne]: But he makes all the decisions.

[Alexandr]: I love cooking, I love cleaning, I love ironing, all of that. She doesn't. So hopefully I will be doing all the housework (laughing) and she will continue organising our life outside of home. She will be managing, I will be a househusband (laughing).

You mentioned cooking... what do you like to eat?

[Alexandr]: We try all sort of different foods. We like sushi, we like Mexican food a lot. We like Hawaiian food.

[Cheyenne]: We love Italian food as well. Actually it is my favourite and we cook it at home. You know, pastas, pizzas...

[Alexandr]: And garlic bread. You know she loves everything with garlic. Actually, last night we had few hours break before the semifinal and we went to the Italian restaurant near here. We had pasta with a lot of garlic and then we had to go back to the hotel to brush our teeth (laughing). We did not want to dance before the judges when they could smell we just had pasta with garlic!

[Cheyenne]: I also like spicy foods. Anything spicy.

[Alexandr]: Tabasco sauce is her favourite. She puts it on chips, on pasta.

So you must try some Indian food.

[Cheyenne]: I have tried Indian. We don't really eat that because where we live there are no Indian places.

Vindaloo is seriously spicy, you must try it one day.

[Cheyenne]: One thing is when it is spicy, and quite another it is so hot you cannot taste anything!

[Alexandr]: Last year we went to Moscow, and she tried the Russian food for the first time. She liked it.

[Cheyenne]: I just like eating. Everything (laughing).

So how are you able to stay slim and fit?

[Cheyenne]: I don't know to be honest (laughing).

[Alexandr]: She eats few times a day, but small portions. And she is lucky with her metabolism I guess. I have to watch what I eat.

Do you go to the gym?

[Alexandr]: Yes, we have a personal trainer back home in Utah. We go to the gym quite a lot before the major competitions. We do a special diet and special exercise to get ready for the comp.

What is the most important thing in dancing for you?

[Alexandr]: I think all the aspects of dancing are important, at right times. Working on your musicality, on performance with each other is important before the competition. Next week we go to see our choreographer to put the steps together. We go immediately after this competition to find out what did not work for us and to change for Blackpool. Later we work on the mechanical side of things, on the technique. And about three weeks before the competition we focus on the performance part and get the stamina going.

Can you describe each of the 5 dances in just few words?

[Alexandr]: I feel Cha Cha is very flirtatious. I like it, it is fun.

[Cheyenne]: I agree.

[Alexandr]: Samba is very rhythmical, very bouncy. Rumba is our favourite dance because it is very lyrical, very feminine. Paso Doble is the strongest, very powerful, has a lot of character. I love Paso Doble a lot.

[Cheyenne]: Jive is just fun

[Alexandr]: It is always the easiest for us, because it is the last. Always goes smoothly for us. Cha Cha is always the hardest.

Is it hard because of interpretation or you are not warmed up yet?

[Cheyenne]: Not warmed up. I guess it is because you have to go from zero to hundred...

[Alexandr]: I always feel that if Cha Cha goes well for me, the rest is going to go well too. If it doesn't go well, there is always going to be that hesitation thing when going through the rounds. Yesterday was a good Cha Cha (laughing).

I noticed Alexandr is dominating this conversation and Cheyenne is shy. But I don't see that one the floor. She is a good actress.

[Cheyenne]: Yes (laughing).

[Alexandr]: She is like that when she meets people for the first time. She is more open when she gets to know them better. She has done Dancing with the Stars in the past, she modelled for two years...

Do you like watching movies?

[Alexandr]: Yes

[Cheyenne]: Yes, we do. Action movies.

[Alexandr]: I like comedies and action actually.

[Cheyenne]: I don't like comedies that much.

[Alexandr]: We both don't like war movies.

[Cheyenne]: I cannot watch war movies...

Do you prefer movies or TV series?

[Cheyenne]: Movies

[Alexandr]: But she likes anything with suspense, like detective series, researching something like kidnappings...

[Cheyenne]: OK, if there is anything like crime series, I love those. Forensic files, these things...

Do you watch them from TV or Neflix, internet?

[Cheyenne]: TV for me, internet for him.

[Alexandr]: I watch Netflix a lot. Recently I was watching Narcos, Friends. Friends is always classic... I like Office.

Which version of Office?

[Alexandr]: American one. I have not seen the British version yet. But they say American one is funnier. So I like the classic ones. Narcos is interesting for me, all these drug cartels...

Have you seen Breaking Bad

[Alexandr]: Yes, of course. That was good.

Do you like to read?

[Cheyenne]: I do, I like mystery books. If I find a good book I can read it really fast, like in one day.

Paper or Kindle or something else?

[Cheyenne]: I used to read paper but now I do on IPad.

[Alexandr]: I don't read that much, only the updates on dance current issues (laughing). We went to China and it was for the first time, knowing her for six years already, I've seen how fast she reads. She finished the whole book in one day. I was like, wow!

It is nothing strange in that (laughing)!

[Cheyenne]: I know!

[Alexandr]: OK, I know that but I have never seen her read that much knowing her many years.

[Cheyenne]: I can read fast if I really like it. People talk to you and you don't hear anything you are so much into it.

[Alexandr]: That's what I felt in China, I was talking to myself (laughing)!

What do you use internet for?

[Cheyenne]: Social media... Mostly Instagram.

[Alexandr]: Same. I feel that in America people are using Instagram more that Facebook lately.

[Cheyenne]: I think it is easier.

[Alexandr]: Yes, you get a picture, you get an update what is happening. So yes, we are using Instagram a lot. We also are booking trips, do a lot of shopping.

[Cheyenne]: There are not many stores in Utah... so we do a lot of shopping online.

You have mentioned that you are using dancesportinfo. What should we improve?

[Alexandr]: You should definitely have an Instagram page. It would be great to get some updates there. I would love that.

Do you know we are on Twitter?

[Cheyenne]: Yes, we do know. But we don't use it that much.

[Alexandr]: It would be great to see like a line up from a competition on Instagram and get updates through there

We have a problem with what to publish. We add about a thousand events every week. Sending a notification about every event would be unreasonable. We will be flooding people with information...

[Cheyenne]: Yes, I can see that. It is difficult. But maybe information about some major events, news, interviews.

[Alexandr]: Livestream from some of them would be nice

[Cheyenne]: Yes, like Instagram livestream.

Like DSI-TV?

[Cheyenne]: No, like a mini one.

[Alexandr]: Yes, they started to do it in America. They would come before the competition, meet the couples at the entrance and ask them if they are excited about the event, what they think, something like that. I watch it all the time. They are very casual. I think in Europe these events are more formal, but in America they are less careful about what people can see.

[Cheyenne]: Yes, it is nice to watch

[Alexandr]: I talked to the teachers, you know, they do a write-up on Facebook after a major competition. And I suggested they do it on Instagram because lots of kids, younger generation, most of them use Instagram. If there is not Instagram page, they have no clue. Facebook is not good enough. It was surprising, we have a lot of students, and half of them don't have Facebook.

They have Instagram? I guess Facebook is seen now as used by the older generation.

[Alexandr]: When we got engaged, half of the people we know who were over thirty did not know about it because they only had Facebook.

[Cheyenne]: Yes, we did not post on Facebook for some reason. We just forgot. We posted it on the Instagram, so all people who had Instagram knew about it. Only when I changed my Facebook profile picture for the engagement picture people were asking, what happened (laughing).

[Alexandr]: Yes, and it happened like three months ago (laughing).

What would you change on our website?

[Cheyenne]: It is pretty easy to search...

[Alexandr]: Once you know how to use it, it is easy. Sometimes it is hard, for me, to find pictures from the competitions. That's the hard part. When the photographer posts his pictures, like 1500 from one event and you have to scroll through 15 pages, it is hard to find your own picture. If it is not named...

[Cheyenne]: Sometimes they are already named

[Alexandr]: Yes, but when they don't know who it is, they just post hundreds of unnamed photos. It is hard.

What other dance websites do you visit?

[Alexandr]: We used to visit danceplaza long time ago, but for the past six years we only go to dancesportinfo

[Cheyenne]: I just go to dancesportinfo. I don't use anyone else

[Alexandr]: We use dancebeat in America as well, mostly for write-ups. We like to read dance-news after the competitons, because different people give their opinions. It is interesting. And that's just about it.

[Cheyenne]: I think we prefer dance-news to dancebeat. The English one is better.

You obviously come to the three big English competitions every year. What are your plans for the Blackpool?

[Alexandr]: As I said we normally analyse, look at the videos to check what was good and what was not so good. We also study the competitors we will dance against. You know, to see what they do differently than us. When you are dancing you cannot see yourself. Only when you watch the video afterwards.

We actually came to the room last night and we watched the final and the semi-final from the DSI-TV, and compared what worked and what did not work for us because we made some adjustments after the International. We were 2nd at the International. So we made some adjustments, changed the choreography, worked on some technique and we thought we looked much stronger yesterday than at the International. We will do the same thing when we come back to America on Friday. We will analyse videos on Sunday, Monday.

We already have a competition in Europe next Friday so it will be really busy till Blackpool. There is never a break really. Maybe there will be a little break in March or April, but after that we will have few camps to do before Blackpool. Then we will do Freedom to Dance in England which is leading to Blackpool.

Do you manage to finance yourself or do you also have sponsors?

[Alexandr]: We are Professionals and we earn money from our dancing. But we also have sponsors for shoes, Aida, who is sponsoring us in America. Ilia is great, one of the best sponsors, always ready to help. Like I said we needed the shoes, and he got them for us in one day. Overnight. He is the best really, we are very pleased with them, best sponsors we had. Vesa is sponsoring the dresses. We always get the most amazing dresses from Vesa. Our parents help a bit but we work very hard. We do like 15 lessons a week. We teach in between the competitions, we work a lot to be able to come to these competition and afford the lot.

What do you do for fun?

[Cheyenne]: We like to go to the movies...

[Alexandr]: We go shopping. We go vacations sometimes... She booked some vacations this summer and that's when I proposed. She booked them all by herself and I thought it was a great opportunity. She did not know anything and she hates surprises.

[Cheyenne]: I really hate surprises!

[Alexandr]: She likes to know. I had this conversation with her Dad and he said that if she was not a dancer she would be a lawyer or FBI agent (laughing)! She wants to know everything. You know, even at Christmas. She has six siblings in her family and they all have kids, so we have like 25 people at Christmas. And we have over 300 presents under the Christmas tree. She buys every present, she wraps every present, she organises it all, because she wants to know what everybody gets (laughing).

[Cheyenne]: It is like OCD (laughing)

OK, but was the engagement a surprise then or not?

[Alexandr]: It was a surprise.

Did she like it?

[Cheyenne]: It was a big surprise and I liked it. But it was a shock. You can see that face on the picture. When he asked me, and I looked at him and then looked at the camera I had the weirdest face.

[Alexandr]: You know, I booked a private dinner on a beach. It was beautiful. I did not know how I should do it, and the manager of the hotel suggested she connects me with the photographer who can help with ideas. And the photographer had this idea that we do a photo shoot for thirty minutes before the dinner and we will say to Cheyenne it is part of the package. Thirty minutes after the dinner is a sunset so it will be a beautiful sunset on the beach and she will take Cheyenne pictures on the rocks looking at the sunset and I will take the ring out, get on a knee and she will turn around and it will be captured.

So we did that exactly. I did not realise that there was an infinity pool behind me with 300 people and they were all clapping. Cheyenne was very surprised (laughing).

[Cheyenne]: I was shocked (laughing).

[Alexandr]: So I succeeded because she did not know and she never suspected anything. It was a total surprise.

What results do you expect in Blackpool?

[Alexandr]: We will focus on the Open event. We will push for the quarter final. In the major events we were in the 48 so now we will try to push for the quarter finals. Few couples retired but we know some Amateur couples will be switching over soon so we will try to get there as fast as we can. Tomorrow is going to be a strong day but hopefully we will dance as good as yesterday so we will see.

Are you planning to dance the Rising Stars as well?

[Alexandr]: Probably no. We already did, I think, four International finals in the Rising Stars, and twice in Blackpool. We won now, and we are ready to go Open.

Thank you very much for coming and hope to see you in Blackpool.

Engagement photos provided by Cheyenne and Sasha. Other pictures were taken on the day by Tomasz Reindl