We talked to Yegor Novikov and Yana Blinova the winners of the Professional Rising Star Latin at the UK Open 2012. They represent USA in Professional Latin. See their profile page.
So it is so important to stay honest and true to yourself, just focus on what you are good at rather than trying to focus on other people around you
Congratulations! Yesterday you won the Professional Rising Star Latin. I guess it is a step towards your next goal which is winning the Professional Latin in Blackpool! I would like to start with asking you about your history, how did you start your dancing?
[Yana] Well, my parents are doctors and also dancers. They opened up a studio in Washington, DC. So I began dancing when I came to America. My last partner Krasi, we competed together in Blackpool two years ago...
How old were you when you started dancing?
[Yana] I started dancing at fourteen
Nowadays it is quite late, isn't it?
[Yana] I know! I started doing all the 10 dances but with my previous partner we've only focused on Latin. I did not dance Standard with him. When I met Yegor we continued Latin.
How did you meet?
[Yegor] We knew each other from the competitions in America. We competed in the same competitions. I started dancing when I was about ten years old in some after school classes. It was in Russia, in Samara. I was there till the age of seventeen and then I moved to USA. I was on my own, my parents remained in Russia. I turned Professional very early, I was almost eighteen, my previous partner was five years older than me and she turned Pro back in Russia. So we've started our first competition in ProAm division where I was Amateur. We competed in USA and also in England. We were finalists in Blackpool and in the UK Open.
How did you decide to dance together?
[Yana] Not easy that one!
[Yegor] Basically, for me, there came a time when I thought I need to make a next step. I've seen Yana at the competitions and like her personality and style and energy. So we've got together...
In private life?
[Yana] No, no, just in dancing
[Yegor] Let's be clear about this (laughing). It is a very easy partnership. Very easy, very fresh, no stress, very healthy
Do you consider yesterday's results as your best to date?
[Yegor] It is definitely one of our best results. We won also Professional Rising Star Latin at the International last year. This was our second victory at such a big event as both the UK Open and International are consider major competitions for the couples within the Professional Rising Star division. There is also big competition in the US called Ohio Star Ball, a major event for couples from the US and also international, where we ended up as finalists in the Open division.
As young Professionals you have to teach and compete... Do you find difficult to do both teaching and dancing together?
[Yana] Yes, I do. We teach many hours and our energy level is depleted, bodies are aching... We have to push ourselves both mentally and physically to give our best every time we practise. It is challenging... But we help each other.
[Yegor] It is a bit different for me. I love teaching. I try to find things I enjoy in whatever level couples I teach: kids, adult amateur couples, Pro/Am... I find teaching beneficial for me.
What do you like the most in your partner?
[Yana] He is very respectful, very patient and very talented. He is willing to share and help me, our partnership, our team and I appreciate so much the fact that we never fight, we never disrespect each other, never raise our tone... The tone is always very calm, very understanding of each other. It is very exciting to me because I've never had this before where I did not have to fight with my partner! We are always happy to be around each other.
Yegor, any complements about Yana?
[Yegor] Absolutely! She is so easy going. She brings that fresh energy to our couple. We can come to any conclusion easily, with joke, with laughter, not making a big deal of small things. And I credit it to her.
And now, what is the worst side of your partner?
[Yana] That he is so good! (laughing). He is so incredibly amazing!
Yana, this is not honest! (laughing)
[Yana] Really! I cannot say anything bad about him. He is very respectful, he is willing to listen which I appreciate a lot because... OK, when we first started I was thinking somebody as high up as he is, such a good dancer, he will not be listening to my point of view, to my suggestions... But he is open to anything I have to say...
[Yegor] I really have to pass that one!
[Yegor] Come on, what is bad?
[Yana] I don't think there is anything bad. I really don't.
[Yana] We literally did not... we danced together now for eight months or so, and we did not fight once
[Yegor] We are dancing since May... Maybe it is long dancing honeymoon period but we never had any bad feeling about each other. I know it sounds weird, but somehow, with Yana, it just works. I find Yana extremely easy to talk to, to work with, to communicate with.
So nothing wrong about her either?
[Yegor] (laughing) Absolutely!
It just sounds unbelievable (laughing)!
[Yegor] I know! Let's just put it this way. There is nothing I found as yet! Time will tell... (Yana is laughing).
Are you saying that when we do another interview you may have something to say here?
[Yegor] I am not saying I will but give it time. It is just a joke! Honestly, if you talked to us behind the camera we would say the same things about each other.
Are you similar characters, similar view of life, or do you complement each other?
[Yana] We are so much the same. It is funny, but we think so much alike. We don't even have to talk sometimes and we will come up with the same ideas, or we will do the same actions. We literally think sometimes of the same thing at the same time.
[Yegor] I agree, we are thinking the same things at the same time. We see things very often similar way but, talking about the personalities, we are very different. I am more calm, and she is more like a fire, more sparkling...
[Yana] Yet, sometimes I am more calm than you...
[Yegor] I actually thought back about your question of what might be a problem with me... I am actually taking too long time for everything.
[Yana] Yes! (laughing) Aha! But being a patient person as I am I can take it!
Now you are complementing yourselves! As I understood you are not a couple in private life
[Yana] No, no
So how do you deal with this? You have to travel a lot, moving a lot... How do you combine your private lives with your professional lives?
[Yegor] I agree. It seems to be very convenient to be in relationship with your partner because you spend so much time together. But in the other hand I find it's great to have your personal life separate. And still have a mutual respect for each other. It's my personal feeling...
Yes, but how do you even find a time for any life outside of dancing? Do you have time to meet friends? Do you have the same friends or separate friends?
[Yegor] Actually, I don't even know Yana's friends!
[Yana] I am focusing on my dancing a lot now because it is very big opportunity for me to dance with Yegor and everything is going so well. Right now, I want to put all my energy to this partnership. When we are not travelling but practising, say six hours, I do find some time to see some friends. I have friends from my martial arts circle, rock climbing...
[Yana] Oh yes. I am very much into sports. I am sports junkie! So I get to see them, not as often as I used to but still... I try to focus at my dancing as much as I can to see where it takes me.
Now I can understand why Yegor is so careful with you! Martial arts....
[Yana] (laughing) Well, it is definitely my passion. I love fighting.
If you, for some reason, could not dance, what would you do?
[Yana] I have a degree in nutrition. I would go back to the Health field. I would also try the culinary school. I love to cook so I would probably work in the Health field but take the hobby of the culinary art.
What kind of cuisine you prefer?
[Yana] I love the exotic foods! So rather than doing the Italian, French I would love to do something exotic.
[Yana] Thai food maybe, some Indian... lots of different spices, maybe something like Ethiopian food, more exotic. I would love to play with flavours, learn about different ways of cooking, different textures, so much I haven't yet explored and I would love to explore.
Is there any particular food you like the most?
[Yana] (with a sigh...) Russian food!
[Yegor] Definitely our Russian food (laughing).
This is so different to what you described!
[Yana] Yes, but it takes my back to my childhood, the safe place. It brings all these memories.
[Yegor] She is a woman and you cannot count on what she just said minutes ago!
[Yegor] She talked about exotic cuisines and now she wants to go back to the Russian, childhood food!
Actually, I am Polish, so I can understand your food! I like some of it as it is a bit similar to our own. And I can definitely see no similarities to Thai!
[Yana] What I mean is I would like to learn it because I don't know it, don't know how to create it!
And what about you Yegor?
[Yegor] Steak and potato (laughing), if we are still in the food subject!
I can give you an address of the fantastic Steak House in Bournemouth if you like, but let's talk about it later. Yegor, what would you do if you could not dance?
[Yegor] Since childhood I was thinking of acting and then of becoming a script writer or a director. These sort of things involve imagination, they are some kind of art form. It would be interesting to be...
What you said corresponds to what you do as a dancer, doesn't it. For instance, on the floor, you are acting, don't you?
[Yegor] Absolutely! Being on the floor is like being on the stage. Often you have to do things which are foreign and uncomfortable and you have to find the way to to make it work. So you really have to believe in what you do...
I can see how Yegor's interests relate to dancing but I cannot see how Yana's culinary interests do! (laughing)
[Yana] It is also a form of art! You have to use imagination to come up with different designs and colours. I took many art classes in school and college, in singing and acting, where I had to use my imagination. And I can see how much more you can put into culinary creations than just taste. And that's beautiful...
Dancing is beautiful...
[Yana] Yes, very beautiful...
[Yegor] Also juicy and tasty (laughing)
OK, what do you find most important in dancing?
[Yegor] You have to stay honest to yourself because there are so many things around you, either during practice or competition that can be disturbing, things which you do not really need, various influences... So it is so important to stay honest and true to yourself, just focus on what you are good at rather than trying to focus on other people around you thinking: oh, this person is good and that person does this so well... Just let all these things go, calm down and concentrate on your own strengths.
[Yana] For me, it is very important to express what I feel at that moment. Or, how I want the audience to see me, how to translate my emotions to spectators. It is important to me to transfer that energy I feel, my happiness, to my partner, to people watching me, to be able to transfer my feelings to the spectator.
If you are teaching someone do you ask them to try to watch the old masters to try to maybe imitate them?
[Yegor] Watching the videos of old masters is certainly a part of the experience... I think every dancer watches them thousands of times. Of course, when you teach, you show your students what is out there, you show the legends. Without those greatest dancers there would be no past, no present, no future. But I personally don't think imitating is a good idea. It's great to study but impossible to imitate. And at the end of the day it is up to the dancer to make their own choices.
[Yana] I agree. I think that in the beginning when you start teaching particular person you will show them technique but you will also teach them the style of dancing. Once the student has an understanding what the dance should be, they can try to find their own version of it.
Do you have one dance you like most?
[Yegor] Paso Doble
[Yana] For me, it changes. Sometimes I prefer Cha Cha, and another time I would be in a mood for the beautiful Rumba.
What about Ballroom?
[Yegor] I love Ballroom. I used to compete in Ballroom until I was seventeen years old; since I came to America I do Latin only. I do both styles for Pro/Am sometimes. It is difficult for me to say which Ballroom dance is my favourite, it changes. Usually the one I focus on, practise more comes first...
[Yana] I really love Foxtrot. It is my favourite dance, for sure.
It is quite often when we ask people about their favourite dances if they chose Rumba in Latin they also usually chose Foxtrot in Ballroom. Yegor, I thought you'd say Tango in Ballroom...
[Yegor] Tango? Why?
[Yana] Because of Paso of course!
Do you do any other forms of dancing?
[Yegor] I did a little bit of ballet in the past. My plan is when I am back in the US, I will do some contemporary dancing like jazz.
[Yana] I did one semester in college in ballet. I also do the martial arts, as I said before, and there is this Brazilian form of martial art called capoeira which I love. It is a bit like dance. I absolutely love it. I always wanted to try modern because it is funky and groovy.
You travel a lot, don't you?
[Yegor] We compete in the US and in Europe now but we plan to do the Asian Tour next year and Paris Disneyland. At this moment though, as we have started dancing together not a long time ago, we concentrate on English competitions more.
I see, but let me ask this question anyway: when you dance some competition, do you try to stay and visit the place or do you just dance and go back home?
[Yegor] Normally, we just arrive at the competition, dance and go home. There are exceptions sometimes. For instance, my parents came to Bournemouth for the first time to see me and Yana dancing together. They came from Russia, they still live there and they did not have a chance yet to see me and Yana dancing live. They follow us on the internet, YouTube or dancesportinfo. So, we have decided to stay for a week here to see England. My Dad wants to see Liverpool for instance, because of The Beatles.
Do you see the difference between Amateurs dancing and Professionals dancing?
[Yegor] I think it depends. There are many Amateur couples who have their own style, their own idea about dancing, so they are, in this respect, like Professionals. They just chose to compete in Amateur field. But when you watching their shows, their dancing is just great, it is an art. When you put such Amateur couple next to a Professional couple nobody could tell the difference...
[Yana] I agree, it is your personal choice and I think that many Amateur couples are perfectly capable of competing amongst Professionals.
[Yegor] Sometimes you hear people saying that Professional dancing brings certain message, while it doesn't happen in Amateur dancing. But I do not fully agree with that. It very much depends on the level of dancing. You can definitely see a clear message from some Amateur couples and you don't see it from some Professionals... So it is very much their ability and personal choice where they compete. It may also depend on where they live. In US you rather be Professional as you will be dancing probably also Pro-Am and this is just part of your job.
How would you say couples should move forward?
[Yegor] I think it is good that there are many divisions or categories such as Rising Stars, Medallists or Open. Every couple has a chance to be a star, to shine and feel special because they are special. They are able to be the main couple of the event. It gives them opportunity not to get lost in this huge group of dancers. This is good for both Professionals and Amateurs. It gives you a well-defined series of steps you can climb and follow. It shows you a series of goals to reach. It guides you, it makes sense.
Did you feel it was easier at the International as you were not expected to win and now you were?
[Yegor] The International was our first competition in England together. We came to Blackpool to watch but we did not dance then. We did not have any expectations of course. But you never know... we were a new couple, anything could happen. We could only imagine how other people see us, we did not know.
[Yana] I literally had zero expectations! It was my first time at the International, first time in the UK. I decided to have fun, top go and enjoy myself, enjoy the experience. When we reached the final it was extremely exciting. When they were announcing the placings my heart was beating so fast I could not hear anything! Yesterday was also my first UK Open and I was hoping for the best but you never know... things happen.
At the UK Open you were already recognised as previous winners of the International... So did you feel the pressure?
[Yana] It did not disturb me. I do not get nervous and I do not feel any pressure when people watch me. I try to make sure I dance the best I can. I want to make sure that my coach and my partner are happy with my dancing. I also want improvement... With every competition I want people to come up and say: you got better. More people watch me, the better. I love it. I feel I shine more if there are more people staring at me! It helps me to come out of my shell more...
[Yegor] I did not know you had a shell! (laughing) I understand perfectly what you mean by saying that there were expectations... But things happen, you may have a good day or you may have a bad day. When you are going towards certain goal... this feeling can disturb you. When I am feeling that I am trying to convert this anxiety into some positive energy. So instead of freaking out, instead of worry you can try to redirect the same nervousness to positive feeling. I know when I am feeling good, I can shine. I know that my partner can get that positive energy from me. So, instead of disturbing me, it can give me more to work with.
Do you prefer dancing a show or competition?
[Yegor] Usually when I arrive at the competition I have an overall look at the floor. I want to see how things move around, what is going on, what is the atmosphere. But I am trying not look at any particular couple. I try not to analyse things but generally see if it feels good...
[Yana] I enjoy competing much more than doing a show because it is almost like a game. When you dance a show, you know everybody watches you. When you are competing, their attention is divided. So I always want to steal their attention as much as I can, and make them look our way. So it is always a challenge to me, how I can grab that person's attention, make them look at me and how to keep it. It is a game, a good challenge, it is exciting. I want to attract you and I want to ensure that you stay attracted and don't turn away to somebody else! (laughing)
Not good for judges!
[Yana] No, but I try not to think of judges but of public. I want the public to scream my name or my number! I want to see them cheering and excited. I understand that I cannot keep judges attention but there are so many people in the audience I can have! (laughing)
Would you change anything in dancing if you could?
[Yegor] I think I would just give freedom to everybody so they can do whatever they choose, for instance, dance whatever competition they want as this is their own career. I like the idea of having many divisions or other categories so people can chose to compete the level they want. If they want to compete in Blackpool, why not let them. It gives couples so much experience that they cannot get anywhere else. Unfortunately, many people are missing out...
[Yana] When my sister first saw me getting ready for competition, with the make-up on, the false eye lashes she did not recognise me. She asked, is this Yana... I wish there was more freedom and more acceptance of different looks in Latin. Now, everybody has to be super dark, dark tan and long nails, your hair have to be glued on... But what if you want to have a lighter tan and don't want to wear long nails... I wish there was more acceptance of different styles. Often when the girl doesn't choose to fit into the perfect Latin style, the couple does not get marked very far.
When you watch old masters videos you can see how different the style of dancing or dressing was then.
[Yegor] It is part of the history and it is part of the development process. We would not be here now, if it wasn't for them then. It means we had moved forward... it means that it did not remain still and stagnant.
In your opinion, is it better for dancers to have one or more teachers?
[Yegor] I definitely believe in idea of having a good team of two or three coaches. There are so many things you could learn from these people. I am not saying that you should be closed to what other people are offering but you do not need too many "close" teachers to be successful. It is important to have a team because this people know you so well, inside and out. When you trying to push yourself to maximum, to create something special in your dancing, every single thing matters. Your choreography, your technique, your grooming, your emotions, your physical side, every aspect is important. And with the small team of teacher who know you very well, it's possible to achieve.
[Yana] We always share what we learned from one teacher to another. It helps to make ideas from both coaches work and it helps to develop a style which fits us best. If one coach was focusing on the choreography and the other wants to make sure it is competitive enough or artistic enough we try to put these things together.
Thank you very much for an interesting conversation.
All photos by Thomas Morton