We talked to Pierre Payen and Isabelle Reyjal from France who won this year Senior Ballroom event in Blackpool. They were sixth in 2012 so winning this year was a great success and satisfaction for them. See their results.
...Blackpool is culture and tradition in dancing, and we need that. [...] and we need the other side of dancing which is trying to find new things. We need both sides, tradition and modern approach
Let me start with congratulations. We have predicted your win as your couple was the highest rated in our system. Can you please tell us how you started dancing?
[Isabelle] I'll start first because I started dancing first. It was 1985. I started dancing for fun as I was not sure what I wanted to do. I had several partners. Not long after I started dancing I came to Blackpool and was very impressed. I remember seeing top couples.
So how old were you when you started dancing?
[Isabelle] I was very old dancing-wise. I was 23 years old.
Did you start from Ballroom?
[Isabelle] Both Ballroom and Latin. I did not expect to get to the high level, just wanted to have fun with my partner. I had several partners and after the last split Pierre and I met in 1995. We started to dance together. Pierre was a complete beginner but I did not mind.
Where did you start dancing?
[Isabelle] In Paris. I had to leave my home in the country when I started to work and I was looking for some fun in Paris. So I thought, why not dancing. It could be nice. So I started in Paris in a very small school and I did not expect there was more to come (laughing).
And you Pierre?
[Pierre] I started 10 years after Isabelle. In fact, after I saw a show of the Eftedals in 1994, I started dancing socially. Six month later I found a partner, she was Japanese, and we danced for a year. After that I met Isabelle and we started to dance together. At that time I was a complete beginner and she was a finalist of the French Championships. So it was a big difference in our levels of dancing. We dance together since then. First, we danced Latin and Ballroom because we like both styles. But the judges preferred our Ballroom (laughing) so we decided to concentrate on that style. When I started I was 22 years old and we turned Senior six years ago.
[Pierre] So we dance Senior Ballroom.
So you first started dancing in 1994?
[Pierre] Yes, after I saw a show of Nadia and Johan Eftedal. At the same time there was a team match between Italy and France in Ballroom, and Eftedals did Latin for France. And I've been struck, like frozen, when I saw them dancing. I did not know then about dancing. I lived in the west of France before, then came to Paris, and I did not know anything about dancing. I went to see the show by chance and after that I said: I want to do that! I remember I came to the school and said to the teacher: I want to dance Ballroom and Latin. And he said, fine, you need a partner. So he found a Japanese girl for me. So that's how it started for me.
Why did you start dancing together?
[Pierre] Because we were together in private life. That's why we decided to dance together.
[Isabelle] It happened that we split from our partners at the same time.
[Pierre] It was a risk. I only had a year of dancing behind me and Isabelle had ten years. So there was a big difference of levels ...
[Isabelle] It worked.
Pierre was a beginner and you were a champion. Did you meet outside of dancing first?
[Isabelle] No, we just met in the dance school.
[Pierre] We were going to the same competitions. I was on a level 5 and she was on a level 1.
[Isabelle] He just arrived to the club, and I was already there for several years. I remember clearly the first time I saw him. It was at the group class. I saw that boy, from behind, and thought who he is. He was not even dancing or moving but I was impressed by the silhouette. Then we came to know each other. But first time I saw him was his silhouette from the back.
Are you still together in life?
What did you enjoy in dancing in the beginning?
[Pierre] For me it was music. I played a lot of music when I was young. I was a musician. I played flute. So music is definitely very important for me. When I played the instrument my professor was always telling me to stand still and not move. But I couldn't stop moving. It is funny, now I can move with the music. Music is a key for me.
[Isabelle] As far back as I can remember I always liked to dance. I did different sort of dance styles like classical. Jazz, modern. But the day I started to dance with a boy it was something like a revelation because suddenly I did not have to think of what to do, I could just follow. So I could have my own pleasure of dancing just by following, doing my own stuff, without thinking what to do. So it is a pity I did not know Ballroom dancing when I was younger because I would have loved it.
Did I guess correctly that winning the Senior Ballroom yesterday was your biggest success yet?
[Pierre] Yes (laughing). By far.
What other competitions do you like to dance?
[Isabelle] It depends on the atmosphere I think. We like going abroad for competitions, outside of France. We like to feel the different vibe, get to know different stories of the places and people.
[Pierre] And the public. For example, we like the competition in Schladming in July when it is very, very hot, and it is not the most important competition, but for us it is a preparation for the German Open in August. We like to go there because the audience is great there. So, because of that, it is a nice competition for us. But there are all the other big competitions during the year like Stuttgart or Vienna where we go. Blackpool is very big for us of course.
[Isabelle] Sometimes you have a very good feeling in a small competition because it is well organised and has a nice atmosphere. So there is no rule. We go away for the weekends actually.
Which aspect of dancesport is more important for you: competitive side or art?
[Isabelle] We are very different in this. For me, the competitive part is not that important. Of course, everybody likes to win and have a good result but I would do competitions even if it did not work out for us because for me it is such a release of pleasure to dance with a partner. It is a pleasure you give to the public and pleasure in performing.
[Pierre] For me it is competing (laughing). I like to compete. When I was a musician I wanted to be first in the Conservatoire and now, in dancing competitions, I want to be first. Whatever I do, it can be sailing, windsurfing I want to be first.
So what are you doing outside of dancing?
[Isabelle] I work in French Customs Office. That's my job.
Are you a custom officer at the borders?
[Isabelle] No, I work in the office. For the French government. I have another hobby which is very important for me. It is gemmology. It is all about precious stones, knowledge and teaching.
It is very costly hobby? Do you collect diamonds?
[Isabelle] No, I am not a collector myself but I try to improve my knowledge and teach others.
It is useful in your job
[Isabelle] This is why I started working for Customs. They hired me for my knowledge of precious stones. I was a special officer in Paris dedicated to gem traffic. The people I worked with were not smugglers, they imported or exported stones. So they had to pay VAT, taxes and other duties and I was an administrator. My work was not to try to catch a bad man but to assess the value of stones.
It is interesting. You are the first Customs Officer I've ever known (laughing).
[Isabelle] It is a full time job which does not leave much time for our dance practice
[Pierre] I work for an American bank in IT. I also teach dancing.
What do you do in IT?
[Pierre] I manage the help desk team, for internal and external customers. It is a very interesting job.
You have heard about our problem just before Blackpool, when our servers were hacked. Funny thing, our servers are in France!
[Pierre] Oh yes, we have heard. You lost your data from the last September.
[Isabelle] Do you have any enemies in France then? It is strange that they attacked the dancing site.
It could have been a rehearsal for them before attacking something more important. I cannot understand why we were targeted. We are not that important (laughing)!
[Isabelle] And you are not associated with one federation only
[Pierre] You are the only site where we can see results from both organisations. For us it is good because we dance in WDSF but we can see the other organisation results and know what is going on there.
Tell us how you prepare for competition? Do you practice a lot?
[Isabelle] Well, we train three or four times a week.
[Pierre] We don't do anything special. Sometimes I do a bit of cardio training like running or cycling. Isabelle doesn't like it (laughing). We try to vary our practice. For example, one day we work on improving the mechanics of the movement and work on what our teacher says only. Another day we work though the choreography to get our stamina. Because we don't have access to our studio all the time we go to the other places. Some places are good for running around because there is a big floor and other place has a small floor so we work on our lines, our balance and other small things. You can only do six steps and then stop and you have to turn around.
[Isabelle] We don't have many places to train. Unfortunately the sport is not developed enough in France and there is hard to find big rooms.
[Pierre] We have a beautiful studio but it is not available all the time. So when it is not available we go elsewhere.
You are saying that the port is not developed enough while you, a French couple, won the Senior Ballroom, another French couple was in the Professional Rising Stars Latin final...
[Pierre] Yes, they are from our club.
[Isabelle] Yes, they dance for Italy though, Angelique and Stefano. They are from the same dance studio
So it looks the French dancing is starting to pick up
[Isabelle] The basics are not very strong in France.
[Pierre] We have to work on the basics. One good thing is that we have the Dancing with the Stars in France, the TV show. That brings people to the school and they take lessons. Eventually it will grow and benefit the competitive dancing. At the moment we have problem with competitive dancing as there are few very good top couples but there rest is a little bit weak.
[Isabelle] Especially in the young ones. We have Senior couples who are not bad, but the young people don't come into the competitive dancing. So there is no growth at the moment.
Who do you train with?
[Pierre] Michele Bonsignori and Monica Baldaseroni, Angelo Madonia and Alessia Betti, Valerio Colantoni and Yulia.
[Isabelle] And we used to work with Manfred and Anastasia Stiglitz.
Do you also come to England for lessons?
[Isabelle] We used to have Doreen Freeman as a teacher ten years ago.
I am asking because some people think you need to go to English teachers to get good results in the English competitions.
[Pierre] We don't, that's why we were surprised to win yesterday (laughing)!
[Isabelle] We were in the finals last year, but winning Blackpool is something else. We could have never expected such a thing. We are not a political couple, we don't take lessons here, our teachers don't judge Blackpool.
So it proves that you don't need political connections to win here!
[Pierre] Yes, and also last year there was an Italian couple dancing who was not taking lessons in England either and they won as well.
[Isabelle] At least there is no such problem in the Senior field. We couldn't have dreamt of that results, really.
If you read any interview on our website you can guess I am going to ask you now about what you like and dislike in your partner
[Isabelle] There is no a thing I really dislike about Pierre but I am afraid of his reactions when the results are not what he expects. His reactions are extreme both ways. He can be very, very happy and over the moon or very, very unhappy and wants to jump out of the window!
Unhappy or angry
[Isabelle] Both! He cannot speak to him, no point of trying to reason with him then. For me this is something I really dislike about him because I become frightened not about our results but about his reaction to it.
So is there anything you like about him? (laughing)
[Isabelle] He is not a bad dancer (laughing). Also, we have the same vision of what we must do, still improve. We generally agree what is the way forward and what steps we must take to go further, like the type of training or the teachers.
[Pierre] I like that we are in synch in what we want to do in dancing. I think it is important. I don't think we ever disagree in what we need to work on and what we need to improve, even if Isabelle's more dancing point of view and mine is competitive point of view. At the end it is the same goal. What I dislike, now I am used to it, is that Isabelle never does warm-up (laughing). She sits, has some tea...
French drinking tea!
[Pierre] Yes, she does. She drinks a lot of tea. And then it is our turn to dance, I mean the next heat is us, and she stands up, puts her cup of tea down and stands up. That's it! For many years it was a cause of stress for me. Now I am used to it, so I warm-up alone and focus alone.
And it works!
[Pierre] Yes, it works (laughing).
[Isabelle] It is my way of working.
[Pierre] For some people we are like an example they want to follow. And I think we are very bad example (laughing). She never warms up, she doesn't stretch at the end of the competition. After dancing Isabelle just sits down and remains sitting through the whole round (laughing). So it is a bit strange
[Isabelle] Well, if it works for you, it is OK. Everybody should find the best way which works for them. I believe that if you are relaxed enough your body is ready to do the effort.
Interesting point of view
[Pierre] It was very stressful for me in the beginning, but now, years later, I am used to it.
Do you travel a lot?
[Pierre] Yes. We do between 20 and 25 competitions per year.
[Isabelle] Around Europe.
[Pierre] We have sponsors but we pay for our trips. Federation pays for the World Championships but for the rest we do. We go to Germany, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Italy, England...
England as well?
[Pierre] Just Blackpool (laughing). We don't go to Crystal Palace for instance, because it is not a right timing for us.
[Isabelle] When we were Amateurs we used to go to UK Open.
[Pierre] Yes, now as Seniors we don't go anymore. But next year we decided to come just to watch because we really miss that competition.
What about the International?
[Isabelle] It is in the middle of the week and you have to take days off work. And it is not easy, you cannot take so many holidays
[Pierre] It is job issue.
Yes, you are not like some people who don't do anything else but dancing.
[Isabelle] We have full time jobs...
OK, tell me what kind of food do you like?
[Isabelle] Fried potatoes and chocolate!
[Isabelle] No, first fried potatoes and then chocolate (laughing). It is a perfect meal for me.
You are breaking all the rules I know about eating right for dancing
[Pierre] And I think I will break another one...
[Isabelle] Sorry! It is a strict diet. You must be very serious about fried potatoes and chocolate (laughing). If I give pleasure to my body, my body repays me with being able to do what I ask!
You have a very good figure so, again, it clearly works for you!
[Pierre] For me it is a pizza "4 Cheeses" and one beer. This is menu for a day before the competition. It is completely against the rules, I know.
Also not what I was expecting to hear from French people! I was expected to hear about some sophisticated foods and wine
[Pierre] No, no
[Isabelle] And we don't have time to cook.
[Pierre] We don't have time to cook but normally we are careful what we each for lunch and dinner. We eat light because we want to keep our weight down. But it is true that before the competition we eat strange things. We have been doing that for 15 years and for us this is a part of our preparation for the competition.
[Isabelle] We have to have pleasure during competition.
[Pierre] We don't eat pizza every day!
[Isabelle] But chocolate we eat every day
I like your diet! OK, who is cooking at home?
[Isabelle] We don't cook, really. Sometimes, we have some time, but I don't enjoy house work. I am not a good house wife. I don't like to wash, clean, cook.
So which one of you is organising travel, tickets?
[Pierre] We both do. I take care of plane tickets and she takes care of train tickets and hotels. Or I book plane tickets and car rental and she books the hotel.
[Isabelle] We are in a position that we can travel easily nowadays. Plane tickets are affordable, you can book everything via Internet. People who danced before us were not that lucky. It was harder to organise the trip, to look for the hotel, to get a map of the town. Now you can do everything over the Internet, no excuse not to go!
[Pierre] As long as you travel in Europe the costs are reasonable.
Do you finance your dancing from your day jobs?
[Pierre] Half from our jobs, half from other sources. We have sponsors, we have special deals with RS Atelier and RayRose. So of course we don't pay for many thing other people have to pay. Also, we give lessons, we teach dancing.
Any memorable or strange place you had to go for dancing?
[Pierre] I don't know...
[Isabelle] Three years ago we went to World Championships in Kingston in Canada. It was a big trip for us.
[Pierre] Isabelle is frightened of flying but we had to board a very small plane.
[Isabelle] And the trip to Guadeloupe
[Pierre] It was an invitational competition, it was 10 couples. Guadeloupe is a French island but it is completely different from Europe, the climate is hot
[Isabelle] It was hard to dance. I think that why there are not many dancers in the hot countries! And I could not eat chocolate because it melts too quickly (laughing)
Who is designing your dresses?
[Isabelle] With my dresses I trust RS Atelier. I have no imagination, so we go to them and we choose the dress together with them. They adjust thrm for me.
[Pierre] The lady there has a very good vision, better than us, so we trust her.
What about your suits? I guess there is no much designing going on
[Pierre] Couple of years ago RS Atelier were not making suits. I had them from others. Now I like to test suits for them helping to improve the feeling and the look of the suit. I hope we will do the same with shoes. I like to give my feedback of the product. In case of suits, we made many changes, small changes but important. We changed the look, the fabric, to have a different look, slightly lighter in colour. I like to participate in that.
What would you do if you were not able to dance?
[Isabelle] It is not a silly question because I know that I won't be able to dance 10 years more although Pierre can, he is younger. So that'll stop. Gemmology, as I told you about, is something important to me too so I can develop more in that area. I don't know, I am not sure if I'll do teaching. I would like to become a judge in dancing. I will probably try to pass my diploma and become a judge. I am not sure I would like to teach full time. It would be nice to look at dancing from another perspective, as a judge.
[Pierre] I would like to do judging, for sure. And I would like to continue coaching. I like to coach couples, to teach but also to coach them, plan with them how to improve their dancing.
Being Blackpool winner will help with that
[Isabelle] Coming here to Blackpool and winning was a great experience. For me Blackpool is culture and tradition in dancing, and we need that. We need that and we need the other side of dancing which is trying to find new things. We need both sides, tradition and modern approach. It is sad people from both organisations don't get together but I think they are heading the same direction...
Do you hope they will join their forces again?
[Pierre] Yes. I think it will be really good
[Isabelle] It should be because both sides work on developing dance, in different ways, but we need both ways.
So you think we need to develop both art and sport aspects?
[Isabelle] Yes, because it is both. That's why we like to go to both organisations' competitions to see and feel what happens, what is developing, because we feel both are necessary.
What kind of music do you like to dance to?
[Pierre] I like Blackpool music a lot, but it fits with one place: Blackpool. It doesn't really fit when you do it in a studio in France. Unless we practice for Blackpool, I prefer the new kind of music, pop music or music which has been adapted to dance. That's what I prefer.
[Isabelle] I like old music but re-done in a new way. Modernised.
Do you prefer instrumental or vocal?
[Isabelle] No rule.
Some other couple told me they never liked Blackpool music until they actually come here, to this ballroom.
[Pierre] Exactly. I agree. Here it is full package, when you dance here you need that music. You cannot separate them.
What are you plans for the near future?
[Pierre] We are preparing for German Open in Stuttgart in August. We will go to Schladming in July. Then we have the World Championships in Dresden in Germany. We have already some lessons and training camp booked in Italy.
[Isabelle] We live day to day. We have some general plans, competitions we know we want to do, but we don't plan for the next two, three years. I don't.
[Pierre] We plan for the next four months or six months. Then it is too far. We have to organise few months ahead because our teachers are very good and because they are very good they are very busy. So we need to plan with them which competitions we go so we can book the other weekends with them. So we have to now between four and six months in advance. Otherwise, to try to get a lesson with Alessia Betti a month ahead is just not possible.
Do you do shows as well?
[Isabelle] Not that much
[Pierre] Not so often, we used to do more.
[Isabelle] There is not a big demand in France.
Even after Dancing with the Stars?
[Pierre] Well, they took couples who only dance and haven't got a second job. So they get shows as dancers from Dancing with the Stars. It impacts a number of people who start to dance but it doesn't impact the demand for shows.
Do you prefer shows or competitions?
[Pierre] Well, hmmm.... (laughing)
[Isabelle] It depends how the competition turns out to be. Good result or bad result
[Pierre] Definitely competition for me.
[Isabelle] The show is usually too short as well
[Pierre] There are some things you can do during the show which you are not allowed at the competitions. So that's interesting.
[Isabelle] But we like to break the rules even during competitions.
[Pierre] During competitions we like to do some things which are borderline. What is fun for me is competition not show. With the show, you can control everything which is nice, you control the music, the mood, the lights but competition is, for me personally, more fun.
[Isabelle] At the competition you meet your friends. We like the atmosphere very much, especially in Senior. When we moved to Senior we noticed how different it is with the other competitors. We really appreciate it.
Better than in Amateurs?
[Pierre] Oh, yes. We did not mention it, but it is a pleasure to meet people we know as we meet regularly maybe once a month. It is a big circuit of people where everybody knows each other and there is no fighting against each other. Everybody is trying their best and the best will win. There is no fight.
[Isabelle] There is more respect than in Amateur field.
So it is more friendly?
[Pierre] Definitely. People take care of your things in the changing rooms, there is friendliness and respect between couples.
[Isabelle] It is nice to have friends from different countries: Italy, Spain, Germany or Portugal. We are very happy to see them often.
[Pierre] You can stay in touch thanks to the technology as well. We chat via Facebook. At the end of the day, we do dancing for fun as well, for pleasure. If something happens, it won't be the end of the world. I will not be happy, that's for sure, it is important, but it will not be the end of the world.
[Isabelle] We treat it seriously but lightly.
You say lightly but how angry you are when things don't go well?
[Pierre] I would break things if I could. I get very angry with myself (laughing) that I was not able to produce what I wanted.
Is he angry with you sometimes as well?
[Isabelle] It can happen but it is rare and not a big problem for me. If he tries that with me I stop him immediately. I don't want to hear about it. When he is calm we can talk again but not when he is in that state.
Does she get angry sometimes?
[Pierre] I don't think so. Not in dancing (laughing)
[Isabelle] It is not worth to get angry. You can be dissatisfied or disappointed but what is the use of being angry.
What about your life outside dancing?
[Isabelle] I generally have this view: things are not worth to get angry about. As long as you are in good health and have enough money to live on, you don't have to complain about too many things.
Thank you very much for an interesting conversation
All photos taken by Peter Suba