Interview with Fedor Isaev and Anna Zudilina
If you do not want to see those adverts Become a member!

Interview with Fedor Isaev and Anna Zudilina

Posted on Tuesday, 21 Aug 2018, 19:28 by admin
Read: 9,535

We have talked to Fedor Isaev and Anna Zudilina, this year winners of the Amateur Ballroom at Blackpool Dance Festival. Anna and Fedor represent Russia and have won pretty much all the competitions they have taken part in 2018.

[...] the audience can watch just one or two couples for as long as they want. [...] The judges must look at all the competitors and have only short time to make a quick decision.

Fantastic result!

[Fedor]: Thanks! Yesterday was quite an emotional night for us. The competition was very strong, Amateur level is now growing and I think that all the couples did their best. It was a pressure for us as UK Open champions to lead this group, and it feels quite a responsibility. But I guess, it is a good problem to have (laughing).

Can you tell us your history of dancing?

[Anna]: I was born and lived in Moscow, Russia. I was about four years old when I first started choreography dance classes. From the age of seven I started the Ballroom and attended classes in a number of clubs. We met with Fedor when I was about twelve. Before that I competed but did not really have big successes in Junior and Juvenile.

[Fedor]: I started dancing when I was ten years old. I did not really want to, my Mum brought me to the classes. After a while I started to like it. I had few partners and we danced competitions in and around Moscow, nothing international. Only when we started to dance together we got successes at home and abroad. We are now dancing together for a long time, thirteen years. So our dance history before we met is quite short.

How old were you when you started to dance together?

[Anna]: About fourteen years old

So how did you get together?

[Fedor]: It is a simple story, it was our coach who suggested it. Our parents were OK with it...

[Anna]: We had two try-outs. We were the same height so our parents thought it was not good. So we tried again in front of our coach and they said the height difference is not a problem. After two years Fedor grew so much so people started saying perhaps we should split up because he is too tall (laughing).

Which competition do you remember the most?

[Anna]: The International

[Fedor]: It is quite a story. It was the last year for us in the Under 21 and in Blackpool we finished in the semi final. But everybody said it was a good performance so we were hoping for the final at the International. It was a difficult summer for us, we practiced a lot and we were ready for the International. So we came to Brentwood and started dancing the Under 21 competition. The first round was great, the second round was great and comes the top 48, and we are out. We did not make the quarter-finals of the Under 21. Obviously on the same day there are always the Amateur qualification rounds. We did a little thinking between the Under 21 rounds and the Amateur qualification rounds and decided to change something because it was not working. I remember one thought going through my mind: let's do everything to the maximum from the beginning, more energy, more musicality, more everything. We passed the qualifications and got to the top 24 with ease. So we decided to do the same the next day in Albert Hall. Everything to the maximum, big smiles, big energy.

[Anna]: We were so happy

[Fedor]: Then something special happened because we made the semi-final. We did not make to the top 48 in Under 21, but made the semi-final in Amateur (laughing).

[Anna]: It was like a roller-coaster for us. Emotional roller-coaster.

[Fedor]: We felt we could have done the same in Under 21... But now I realise that it is good we dropped out early in Under 21, because it forced us to think twice before the Amateur. But this semi-final was so unexpected that it brought that extra joy to us.

So winning the Amateur Ballroom yesterday was something you can compare to that feeling then?

[Fedor]: It is different. Then, it was an unexpected happiness, yesterday it was...


[Fedor]: Let's say well deserved.

[Anna]: We worked very hard for a long time for this result.

[Fedor]: In that old story it was a gamble. Of course you do the best, but you never know where you finish. Yesterday, it was a very serious competition and we aimed at the final, maybe the first, maybe the second place. We expected that sort of result.

[Anna]: Maybe not that we expected it but it wasn't a surprise. We thought we deserved a good place after all that work we put in.

[Fedor]: It was not a gamble, it was a serious game.

What is more important for you: cheering public, or judges marks?

[Anna]: Definitely the public.

If there was such a competition would you prefer to be selected winner by the public vote or by a very professional judging panel?

[Anna]: Ideally by both (laughing). I think the true champion should be winning in both departments.

[Fedor]: The difference between judges and audience is that the audience can watch just one or two couples for as long as they want. They can appreciate their entire performance. The judges must look at all the competitors and have only short time to make a quick decision. And that decision is very important. And that makes their point of view very different.

[Anna]: But you as a dancer should try to win both

[Fedor]: The judges are not really that different to the audience.

They have much more knowledge, they know what to expect

[Anna]: But they are still human (laughing).

Do you prefer to dance shows or competitions?

[Anna]: We are not experienced enough in shows. We started to do shows only this year, so for me, I prefer the competition. I don't feel shows are my thing.

[Fedor]: I think it may change with time when we gain more experience with that. Definitely when we are Professionals we will be able to answer your question better.

So are you planning to turn Professional soon?

[Anna]: No, not really, no plans.

[Fedor]: Today we just enjoy our victory (laughing).

Did you go to the party yesterday?

[Anna]: We had a party with friends.

[Fedor]: A small celebration

No hangovers today (laughing)?

[Fedor]: Nothing like this (laughing). Well, because of this interview today I couldn't allow myself (laughing)

I am sorry (laughing)!

[Fedor]: Coming back to the question you asked about shows. Preparing for the shows gave us some hints of what to improve in our competitive dancing.

[Anna]: Yes!

[Fedor]: We feel that working on our shows made our competitive dancing better. But as we said, we have not enough experience with shows to say what we prefer. We do competitions a lot!

Do you have friends outside of dancing?

[Anna]: Mainly from the dancing. I have one friend from university but many more from dancing.

[Fedor]: They are mainly other Ballroom couples because we meet all the time when we practice. It is easier to make friends like that.

Isn't it a problem that you compete against each other?

[Fedor]: No problem, it is easy for us. In Moscow there are a lot of couples from WDSF side and we don't compete with them (laughing). So we have a very good relationship with them.

[Anna]: We never meet them at the competitions.

[Fedor]: I think we are easy going anyway, we also have friends within WDC.

What is the most important thing for you in dancing?

[Fedor]: I think it is ability to make an impression on people with our performance. Ability to infect them with our energy, to drag them with us, to tell the story with our dance.

[Anna]: Yes, to be able to connect with the audience, to feel their involvement. I also love that you are constantly learning, that you push yourself to change in response to what you see or to the feedback from audience and judges.

[Fedor]: It is a great environment to improve yourself as a human being because it challenges you every day. It is up to you, it is your choice, and how you act and treat these challenges. You can become a stronger person or you can crumble.

[Anna]: You learn of how to approach challenges in life, deal with anger and frustration... It makes you as a person.

And what is the most important thing in life generally?

[Anna]: It is a very philosophical question. Well, I really enjoy a process of learning, learning of everything.

You have mentioned a university before

[Anna]: Yes, I did Sport

[Fedor]: And I did Art.

[Anna]: I loved meeting all sorts of people there, from various sports, and find out about their experiences. It was fascinating.

[Fedor]: I agree, it is important never to stop learning. Most of our answers are similar because we spend so much together, we have like a telepathic connection (laughing). Learning from the successful people is the most exciting thing at this moment of my life. Maybe I will change my opinion later in the future.

[Anna]: It is fascinating to be able to speak with people who achieved success, already been through that journey. In our own field, or in another field, like speak to Elon Musk about engineering.

[Fedor]: It is interesting for me to find out how they think, how they acted in certain situation, what they did in similar circumstances or at the similar point of their career. And to be able to learn from this because their experience is priceless.

What kind of music do you like?

[Anna]: I love just to listen to any music, both in life and dancing. I like opera, hip-hop... everything (laughing). I am not fussed, I just listen with the phone.

[Fedor]: I am also open with my musical tastes. We are always searching for some new music for the shows. Even if we are not doing a lot of shows, but still searching. I spoke to Domen Krapez and he said to me to start preparing music for the shows in advance. Also because we will need to be changing it in the future, you use it once and already start searching for a new one. So we are building up a collection for the future. We are also trying to bring some non-dancing music to the dance. Of course, the tempo will be there, but melodies come from some other genres, not just a jazz... In private life, I like to listen to rock music or hip-hop. I love jazz as well. Anything really.

In dancing, do you prefer vocal music or instrumental?

[Anna]: It depends on a song.

[Fedor]: If it is a great piece of art it doesn't matter.

How do you like Blackpool music?

[Fedor]: Oh, I loved the new Foxtrot "From Russia with Love". I found it quite special in the final (laughing). I was watching the Professional Rising Stars and they played it in the final, and I was waiting for it in our final. Very good.

[Anna]: I love the music in Blackpool. Ashley Frohlick with Empress Orchestra is very professional. We love him.

[Fedor]: Yesterday, I was watching the new Over50 Latin event, which was danced the first time in the history of this Festival. They played the famous Cha Cha and people started to clap their hands. Event in the first round they make the crowd get crazy! That music is moving the audience and that is very special.

So music is an important part of dancing for you?

[Fedor]: It is something which I cannot separate from dancing. The most important thing for me is what makes me excited. And music is a great source of inspiration. But sometimes you have enough of music and you need to find another source of inspiration for you, maybe a new routine. So it changes for me.

What do you do other than dancing?

[Anna]: Not much (laughing)

[Fedor]: Well, dancing is quite a big thing for us. We are doing a lot of practise. We are working a little but it is in dancing. We are always trying to find time to learn something new. For instance, recently we did some courses designed for small business, like how to improve your communication. It is cool to know, it is outside of our usual area of expertise. It was very interesting to be surrounded by the business people, to see how they think, how they talk.

I guess it was a very different set of people

[Fedor]: They were so sharp and quick in making decisions. For us, art people, it was so strange (laughing). It was a great experience and I wish we could do it again. Maybe in the summer we will have a chance to do something else. We try to explore the world, it is not only Blackpool (laughing).

You do travel a lot, so what do you do in that spare time waiting in the airport or sitting in a plane?

[Anna]: I like to read.

[Fedor]: We both like reading books.


[Fedor]: Paper

What type of books?

[Anna]: Biographies mainly. And these self-improvement books.

[Fedor]: She reads much more than I. She checks if the book is good and if yes, she tells me to read it (laughing). She is giving me only the good ones.

What do you use computers for?

[Anna]: I am totally useless with computers.

But do you use things like YouTube?

[Anna]: Oh yes, of course. Another thing on my phone. But I am not on Facebook. Fedor is doing all the social media stuff.

Who is booking the tickets, the flights?

[Fedor]: I am. I just use some apps on my IPhone.

Well, the phone nowadays is a computer really

[Fedor]: Yes, and I am using it for everything I need.

Do you like to play games?

[Fedor]: No. I found it quite dangerous for me at one point because, as I said, I like challenges and it could be addictive... I could not stop. So I decided not to start and not to play at all.

[Anna]: You know, in one of the books I read they said you should try to form good habits. It is easier to live with good habits. But it is easier to have bad habits.

[Fedor]: They said it is very difficult to form a good habit but once you do, it is easy to live with it. And the other way round, it is easy to get a bad habit, but they make your life difficult. Playing games is a bad habit for me. It could be good for others. We have a student and she is a very successful lady, she runs a big business, and she plays games just to take her mind off work, just to switch off. Nothing wrong with it.

Who is usually driving a car when you are travelling?

[Anna]: He is

So what do you do, Anna (laughing)?

[Anna]: I am recovering after the comp while he is driving. I catch up on my beauty sleep. I like to enjoy life. Fedor is so sweet, he lets me.

What do you like to eat?

[Fedor]: I like eating. That's my thing.

[Anna]: I don't like to feel much pleasure from eating food.

[Fedor]: We are quite different in this. I like everything, good food, bad food, just food.

[Anna]: It would be great if we did not have to take food. I'd be happy if somebody created a pill which you swallow and that's what give you all the food you need. I don't want to waste time eating.

What about the taste?

[Anna]: I just don't feel the pleasure.

[Fedor]: I do. I like Chinese food. I like Russian and Ukrainian food as well.

[Anna]: I like chocolate. But I think that developing that attachment to various foods is a bad habit and you should not have it.

Do you go to the gym?

[Anna]: No, we do choreography dance. It is like a ballet. I tried running and I like running but I feel my knees are not happy with it (laughing).

Perfect holiday?

[Fedor]: New Zealand. I have never been there but I am a big fan of Lord of the Rings movies and books and I would like to see all these sites where they shoot it. Pictures look beautiful.

[Anna]: For me, one month of travelling around the world, and one month in some remote cottage. When I was a kid my parents had a dacha in the countryside and I spent my holidays there. It was great, very peaceful.

Do you take any holidays actually?

[Fedor]: We are wrong people to ask that question. Because we never take any time off. We are not good at having a rest. Our teacher said many times that sometimes you just need to do something else, not practise, and have a week off. We had a discussion after the International that maybe we should have a little break as it is a good thing to recover after a big event. But we couldn't, we just practised.

[Anna]: We decided to have four days off after Blackpool. Maybe I will go to the countryside and spend few days in that cottage.

[Fedor]: I will probably spend it at home with family. It is not long enough to travel anywhere for holiday, as we are travelling anyway all the time.

[Anna]: So I don't want to travel.

[Fedor]: Sometimes just a bit of time with family is a good thing.

How did you manage financially for all these years as dancing is an expensive sport?

[Fedor]: In the beginning it was parents who supported us a lot. Slowly, we started to have more couples and the studio...

[Anna]: We are quite lucky, our generation is, that we can work in dancing.

[Fedor]: Amateurs were supposed to have some other jobs, outside of the dance world, and practise in the evening. We are lucky that we can spend more time on our own art, and less time at work.

[Anna]: If you working for a studio it still helps your dancing.

Who designs your costumes, dresses?

[Anna]: Melnikoff's Dance Wear, and I am very happy to have them in our team.

And your dancing routines?

[Fedor]: It is not like we have one person choreographing our routines which we then keep. Our routines are developing from year to year, slowly, incorporating ideas... Quickstep is a good example. We put together our current routine in Quickstep just when we started to dance together.

[Anna]: Not all, but major parts of it

[Fedor]: And we are now dancing many of these step sequences for thirteen years. But Waltz, we change quite often. We work with different people, we like a process of working on group of steps and maybe we will and maybe we will not select them for our routine. But we will try them first. But I think the best ideas always come from ourselves. Maybe it is just our opinion (laughing), but it is the best from our point of view.

[Anna]: It feels the best for us. We feel ourselves. We make decisions, but we get inspired by other people.

[Fedor]: They give us an idea, and we try it. If we like it, we usually personalise it until it fits us. It is an exciting part of the process.

OK, still trying to find out what is Anna's role in your partnership (laughing)

[Fedor]: She is being beautiful and dancing (laughing)

[Anna]: I am still studying as well, should spend more time on it. I am working with the couples...

What are your plans for the nearest future?

[Anna]: Rest!! Actually, we will be watching the Professional dance.

[Fedor]: I am very excited about it, looking forward to watching them today and tomorrow. When we come back to Moscow we will start practising.

[Anna]: Yes, work

So when will you celebrate? No big party planned?

[Fedor]: I don't know. We should do it. But the question is when (laughing).

Maybe here? Or in Moscow?

[Fedor]: No, definitely in Moscow. Here, every day is a party. But if we are talking about something special, it is better to do it where your roots are. And your family. We will do something there.

Have you ever got drunk?

[Fedor]: No, never (laughing). We are professionals, we only drink water (laughing). Seriously, it is very rare that I drink alcohol. Partially, because I have a very weak head!

Not a typical Russian then?

[Fedor]: No, I cannot drink like that (laughing). I tried, I really did, but it was not good. I am useless with drink. Of course, I enjoy an occasional glass of wine or champagne or beer.

[Anna]: I don't like to drink at all. My Mum doesn't drink and I never did, I don't like the taste.

If you had an absolute power, what would you change in the dancing industry?

[Fedor]: Hmmm... I wish the dancing would become more popular amongst the normal people. I mean our genre, Ballroom and Latin dancing.

[Anna]: In the 1920's they printed Ballroom couples in some dancing poses on the cigarette packs. For instance, people could see how you do the natural turn in Waltz. So people were naturally familiar with dancing steps. But nowadays, people outside of dancing do not understand any of it. Watching dance competitions can be boring for people, so somehow, we should make them more exciting and interesting for them.

[Fedor]: Of course Blackpool should stay Blackpool. It has history. But maybe we could invent some new types of events that could be exciting to watch by people from outside of dancing. Like in boxing, you could have one couple dancing against another. They did it in Albert Hall and that was attracting the biggest audiences. Maybe it would be a good format. Also, people don't know the couples. In boxing everybody knows the names, the titles, their history and background so it is exciting to watch for people. They are like celebrities.

[Anna]: Well, of course not everybody is happy to have their private lives known to others.

That's the problem the celebrities have, how much to share. Because people quite like to gossip and find out about private details, girlfriends, boyfriends... That's why some celebrities "leak" some details just to keep being famous...

[Fedor]: Oh, I don't know then. I did not realise people do this on purpose. Maybe I am naïve.

What do you like about Anna?

[Anna]: Oh, don't say that you like everything (laughing)

[Fedor]: Yes, she is perfect (laughing).

[Anna]: He was saying all these great things about me to me, just before the final

[Fedor]: Yes, it was sweet because we purposefully decided not to criticise each other at all. You can ruin your performance by criticising too much, especially in a stressful situation.

[Anna]: Yes, we were trying to support each other

[Fedor]: And the last week before the competition we were only saying good things to each other (laughing). But to answer your question, I like that she is a very honest person and that she has this strong sense of right and wrong.

[Anna]: I am a very "black or white" person.

[Fedor]: She a Zodiac Libra. She has strong feelings about things, and she makes decisions which she feels are right. I like that.

[Anna]: He is an Aquarius. He cannot make decisions.

[Fedor]: I talk a lot (laughing).

So what do you like about Fedor?

[Anna]: I like that he likes to plan, set goals and works toward them. He will do everything to achieve these goals. He is very hard working and persistent and can think strategically. He is a perfectionist as well and very intelligent. I love intelligent people.

[Fedor]: It is interesting that you never say that I am smart when we are practising!

What don't you like about your partner?

[Fedor]: Simple! Amount of time she takes to wake up in the morning. It is really annoying, come on, just get up! She is making an art of the process of waking up, very slowly. I have to plan for her lateness in the morning! I have to tell her our practice starts about 30 minutes earlier so I go and pick her up at the time I would normally go, and she is about ready.

[Anna]: He is doing a great job.

So what annoys you in him?

[Fedor]: I am perfect, golden boy!

[Anna]: I cannot really remember anything...

[Fedor]: Aha, but at the last practise you were remembering all the bad things about me.

[Anna]: We know each other for such a long time. If we have a problem, we deal with it. Actually, one thing, I like him to give me straight answers more often. He can be really vague sometimes and I am a "black or white" person, I like to hear a precise answer. It is easier for me.

What was your biggest argument about?

[Fedor]: Whether to choose Latin or Ballroom!

[Anna]: Yes, I was more a Latin girl and he was more of a Ballroom dancer. So it was quite a decision to make. He won (laughing).

[Fedor]: I had a good point in that argument.

[Anna]: Yes, he said to me that he will make us win Blackpool if we do Ballroom.

[Fedor]: No, I was saying that there are not many Latin girls in Ballroom. So it will be a good thing to bring that to the floor, something special. And I think it was a good decision.

[Anna]: There are examples of great Latin dancers who later switched to Ballroom and won as well.

And it looks it was a good decision for you as well! Thank you very much for an interesting chat.

All photos taken on the day by Ivo Dimitrov