Interview with Hanna Karttunen

Interview with Hanna Karttunen

Posted on Saturday, 14 Nov 2009, 23:55 by beccakarttunen
Read: 39,280

We have talked to Hanna Karttunen back in July 2009. She came over to give some group lessons in Leigh Ballroom studio in Eastleigh, England as a guest of Alex Ivanets and Lisa Bellinger-Ivanets. Hanna, originally, comes from Finland. She had many successes in the Latin field, notably the title of British Closed Professional Latin champion with Paul Killick in 2003, second place in Blackpool and second place at the World andf European Professional Latin championships. See Hanna's dance profile.

Hanna Karttunen - I love to dance

Hanna, what was the most important thing in your career for you?

I love to dance, I love to practise. There are special moments during the competition, not necessarily when you are winning something, these are the moments of absolute unity with the person I dance with and the connection which forms between us. It feels unreal. It feels like you are in different place. This is very special, this is something I did not have a chance to experience in anything else in my life.

I am very competitive and when I go to the competition I go there to win. But what I find the most enjoyable is long hours of practice, of sweating and trying to achieve something and finally getting there. It is the most beautiful sensation! Of course, when you have a goal since you were a little child – and I always wanted to dance and win – winning is very important as well.

I started dancing ballet when I was 3 years old. At the time it was not a serious dancing – it was more about being a little ballerina and wearing a pink tutu. Many little girls like that. When I was 10 years old I started latin and ballroom. I was 20 when I turned professional. I danced in Finland then, with Jaako in Youth age category. He was like a brother for me, we danced together since we were kids. But at that point of our career we found that we had different ideas about the future career and felt we were going slightly different directions. There was really no talk about splitting but, at that time, I had a possibility to dance with Rick Venezuela from America who was a professional and Espen Salberg, our teacher, advised me to try it out. So I tried it and I liked it and felt it was a challenge for me and a chance to check for myself if I have that talent, that potential to reach high. And I decided to take that challenge. I remember sitting with my Dad, we were at the competition, and asking him for his advice. Should I do it or not, should I move to America, should I take up this challenge. It was to be out last competition with Jaako. And Dad said: "Do you really want to dance? Then you must go". And that was it, no more hesitation. He has told me years later, half jokingly, that he should have let me go away so easily! Because of course, it was a big decision for us as the family.

You love latin, but you have gave up latin for the Exhibition dancing some time ago. What did it mean to you?

I was born to became latin dancer. I love latin, I love dancing latin. I love watching ballroom, it is so beautiful. But for me, I feel that latin was what I wanted to create with my body. First time I was lifted, I was scared, so scared I said: don’t do it ever again, I am a latin dancer and I want to keep my feet on the floor. But, with time and with the fact we were together as a couple in a private life, actually we were engaged with Victor da Silva, I found that I wanted to try it again and see how it feels like. Because it was something new, something interesting and I like challenge. I started to like it but still never thought I’d do it for real. But then the time came when Paul wanted to retire. We were doing Strictly Come Dancing at the time.

The program organisers asked Victor and me to do a live show on TV – we have never danced together before, we had 3 days to put the show together and then dance it live on TV. Victor then asked me: do you trust me. And I said: yes , and we put it all together, we performed and it was a great experience. Dancing felt good, we were a couple, and I thought to myself that maybe it makes perfect sense. We started dancing shows at first, we did not even think of competing. We did our first performance in Strictly Come Dancing in June, started dancing together in August and then the next year in May, in Blackpool, we came to give the lecture. But what happened was that one couple from the Exhibition did not get the visa and did not come, so we were asked if we could compete. We were not prepared, we did not have costumes, we were not in the program. We just came to do a lecture. We said to each other, we sleep it over and decide in the morning. And in the morning we just looked at each other and nodded to each other, yes, we will do it! And Chrisanne made some costumes for us, there in Blackpool. We had only few days to prepare it all, it was Saturday and competition was on Thursday. We had our routine ready as we performed at the shows, so it was not a problem. We always practised very hard so we were ready for it. What we needed was to put ourselves into competition mode. And then we danced and won. This is how we started our competitive career in Exhibition. We danced the next 3 Blackpool festivals and 3 years of World championships.

One feels that you and Victor created almost perfect performance...

Exhibition is not about lifts only. Of course there is an important element of strength and difficulty of lifts as Exhibition dancing is physically very demanding. But, as I am a dancer, I wanted to bring element of dance into that movement. I wanted to create an impression of dancing in the air as I would do it on the floor. Victor is a perfect partner for that as he always made me feel as I could, when I am in the air, use his frame, his body to feel the floor. I could feel the floor through his feet. We connected these two bodies and felt we could create something special with or dancing.

You have decided to come back to Latin at some point

Victor and I separated in our private life. It was a difficult time for both of us, we did not feel it was possible to continue dancing together. I loved every minute of our dancing, despite the physical pain and bruises which are inevitable in the Exhibition dancing, I’ve never regretted and I loved it all. But couldn’t do it anymore. It was January; I split up with Victor and Slavik just split up with Elena. It was a good timing to try out and see if we could do it together. I was, at the time, so emotionally down, I wasn’t able to give him a clear answer if we could or could not dance together. I suppose I needed time for myself, I needed time to think it all through.

I went back to Finland, stayed with my parents for couple months and finally came to the decision that dance is still what I wanted to do. I did not feel that I could dance Exhibition style with anybody else, it was so special with Victor – the only way I could express myself was through latin. Slavik is a great dancer, we felt good together, so we’ve decided about March time that we going to do it, we will dance together. But it proved difficult, we were not based in one place, constantly moving, changing places and to find that connection together was a struggle all the time. We both love dancing, but we probably had slightly different views of how to commit, how to achieve our goals. It became a problem, not between us, but for our development in dancing. I never felt that we’ve committed to each other as I would have wanted.

I was particularly disappointed with our performance at the UK Open, not so much with the result, but with the dancing and that I wasn't able to deliver as a dancer what I felt. We were not connected as a partnership, it was not Slavik’s fault or my fault – it just did not work out, it did not "click". We talked to each other after UK Open about how we felt about it, I definitely did not feel I'd be able to develop my dancing as I wanted to if we continue the direction we were heading to. I said to Slavik that we had to make a change, it would have to be a change in the focus towards our dance, we would have to become much more focused together as a partnership or we had to stop. Slavik has already decided to stop, had other plans, so this conversation was easy in a way.

So you are back with Victor again

The same year, in May, I was on my way to Blackpool. I arrived in London from Finland and Victor arrived from South Africa. We met in the airport in London first time in 1.5 years. My heart almost stopped when I saw him! We greeted each other politely but I wasn't sure what kind of emotions may come out. It could have been anger, happiness, anything. But I looked at him and felt warmth. This is because we cared for each other very much. We shared so much history, through our dance, through living together, being together, having home together. It is not something you can discard easily.

We haven't communicated for the past 1.5 years at all until that day we met at the airport by accident. We have found each other in different circumstances, and the time passed and helped to forgive and forget in a way, so we felt free. We felt we could be together again. It was the first Blackpool for both of us we've come to since our separation – I wasn't able to come to the festival year earlier as I was in the hospital and Victor did not come either. It felt magical really for both of us, to be there again together. We spent most of the time there together and went to the practise. We found out that we both felt we missed that special connection we had while dancing. And we wanted to see how it feels like again. And it felt like we've never stopped and never separated from each other. Before that Blackpool I was really not sure what I wanted to do with my career, I was not sure if I wanted to compete anymore, or do shows in Latin or Exhibition or theatrical dances.

Meeting Victor at that time felt like destiny again – we met, we started to practise and we decided we wanted that partnership again. We are very close friends now, we care for each other very much and we both love to dance with each other. I feel very happy at this moment of my life.

Will we see you and Victor at the Dutch Open performing?

We are not sure yet, we do not plan to compete. But many things in our life happened unplanned. Actually, Dutch Open and Blackpool feel very special to me. There is something magical there, it is the floor. When you arrive on that floor, there is this intense feeling from the audience that is so special. Winning is great of course but this feeling is something I love the most.

Your most successful career in Latin was with Paul Killick

To me Paul is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. He could be so very demanding, even difficult at times, but I always knew how much he respected me and how much he loved to dance with me. And he was always able to bring this out of me that I wanted to do more. I can say that we were always able to inspire each other. And we were great friends as well. We spend most of the time together, we travelled together, and we shared a lot together. We know so much of each other. These years were very special to me.

You danced with Chris in Strictly Come Dancing, very first edition. What do you think of SCD, did it help to promote dancing?

I think that Strictly Come Dancing s a wonderful program. When you go there as a Professional dancer you must realise it will take all your time. That’s why I’ve done only one series. I knew I would be able to develop my own dancing, the way I wanted to, while I was involved in it. I knew I would dedicate only 3 months to it and then I would be out and dancing again myself. Some people, some dancers choose to go there and choose not to develop their own dancing anymore. So, from our point of view, it is a loss of some great dancers but it is also an opportunity for some of them, who, for instance, might not have been able to make the Blackpool final, to make their dancing successful for them, in a different form. They might feel that they can develop certain other things, become known more, perhaps acquire this celebrity status. And I believe that everybody is allowed to make their own choices and do what makes them happy. If you are asking about the general public, I can say that everywhere I go everyone knows and loves Strictly Come Dancing. It is very entertaining. I and Victor perform in many different countries and have opportunity to talk to people from many countries – we’ve done many shows for them – and people love it.

Did you take part in the Finnish edition of the program?

No, I did not. They asked us to dance the show for them but we were not able to, always wrong timing. Recently, in spring, I spent quite a lot of time in Finland and went to see the program live. Jukka Happalainen is judging there, so I went with Sirpa to watch. And the organisers asked if I could perform, but I did not have partner at the time. So it was not possible.

Do you find dancing more of a sport or more of an art?

This is very difficult question. Dancing is demanding physically, we need strength and stamina. So in this sense it is a sport. But, for me, the dancing is about art, it is creative performance with your body. But to be able to create something with your body you have to have strength in that body. When I dance, I never think of it as a sport. For me, I love the artistic side of it. I do not feel like an actor on stage, I feel like I this is coming from inside of me. It is about different emotions. I feel that I’ve developed that strength of bringing my own emotions from inside of me. So I do not feel that I am acting at any point of time. I am portraying what I experience with this person, at that time.

What would you change in dancing, if you could?

I would like to see more awareness of two people, really, truly connecting with each other. Not just the physical connection, not the eye contact, but something coming from inside, from their souls until they become one. This true emotion, and motion that the partnership brings out that richness of a dance. They become strong and intense through that connection. And they draw the audience with them. I do not believe that you can force the audience to go for you, but you can win them for you.

What is the difference between the Amateur and Professional dancing for you?

I think that when you become professional you begin to thrive more and you find your individuality, your own character. But, saying that, I believe that the Amateur field is so strong now and there are many real personalities there. However, you see more maturity in the Professional field than in Amateur. Maybe this comes with age as well. You become more aware of the world, you gain more knowledge and experience. When I started to dancing in the Professional field I was only 20 years old and I did not represent a mature professional dancer, I was a very young youth girl really. I was interested in everything and excited to try everything, learn everything but I did not know yet my personality which developed through the years later.

What gives you more satisfaction, Exhibition or Latin dancing?

I wouldn’t like to compare them because to me, it is dance, and with dancing in its best the form of the dance does not matter. You are expressing with your body, in this case with your partner, some emotions from the inside of you, from your soul. And it doesn’t matter what way you do it, up in the air, or on the floor. It is still an expression of yourself.

Which dances do you like most?

Tango! I love to watch and I love to dance it, if I can. If I teach the ballroom couple I always ask: let’s do tango. I love the strength and power of this dance. But I appreciate the other dances as well when I watch and see this fluid flow, and I mean this flow of movement, not the forced movement. My favourite Latin dance is the Rumba.

It is sad to think that we will not see you on the competition floor anymore...

For now I think that I will not do any competition in Latin. Definitely not now - competing is not in our plans. I do feel, however, that I still have too much dance inside me to finish performing all together. As for the competitions, I don’t want to say "never" – there were so many times when I thought that was it and then something come from around the corner and changed that. But with the Latin competitions I have this feeling that I am satisfied with I have done and I do not think I will be trying to go back. But with the Exhibition - yes, I think so. We have already done the show in USA and other countries and it seems to be a busy time ahead for us. We would like to focus on creating beautiful show numbers for the different audiences we perform around the world. We are happy that there are still people wanting to see us again.

Good luck! Thank you very much, it was a pleasure talking to you.

beccakarttunen Monday, 16 Nov 2009, 20:28

Wonderful! Thank you so much!

sambatogo Sunday, 15 Nov 2009, 08:33

A Classy Lady and a wonderful dancer. It is wonderful to hear what she is up to.Those that are young and some that are old, should take notice of what she says. She has been there, and done it well!