We met Denys and Antonina two days after their success at the Amateur Rising Star Latin in Blackpool. It was a pleasure to talk to these young dancers, so full of passion and love for dancing. Denys and Antonina represent USA and are the finalists of the US Amateur Latin. See their profile page.
We never went for the trend in dancing. We worked on quality because quality for us is the most important thing
Congratulations to you for the fantastic result of winning this years Amateur Rising Star Latin. I am sure you must be very happy
[Antonina] Very surprised but happy
I have seen that on your face, you looked very surprised when they announced the winners on the night
[Denys] We were already very happy to be there in semi finals and then we made it to the final....
[Antonina] And when they announced the results it was... very unexpected
Can you please tell us how you started dancing?
[Antonina] I started when I was seven in Ukraine, in a small town called Mariupol. My grandma brought me to a dance class. I started from Ballroom but also had ballet training in Ukraine.
[Denys] I started when I was four in Chernivtsy in Ukraine. It was also Ballroom and Latin. I competed in Ukraine for a long time, I was third in Junior I and Juvenile. Then my family moved to Toronto, Canada when I was twelve. I continued dancing in Canada. I started other forms of dance then, jazz, ballet, tap. There were not a lot of couples in Canada, I was pretty successful there, became a champion. When I was fourteen and a half, I found a partner in Berlin, in Germany. So I moved there to Berlin and lived with her family there. We were dancing for Germany and were very successful. We became World Junior II 10 Dance champions and later twice World Youth 10 Dance champions.
After graduating from the high school in Berlin I joined a contemporary dance school and teacher there advised me to apply to a Dance Conservatory in New York: the Julliard School. The Conservatory accepted me on a full scholarship and so, after five years in Germany, I moved to New York. It is a very prestigious school, one of the best. I was there for four years. During the first year I did not dance Ballroom or Latin, but contemporary dance and ballet. During my second year I met Antonina through my German ballroom dance teacher Janet Marmulla and we started dancing together.
It was very difficult in the beginning because of the time in school and studying. We had very little time, my school started at 9 in the morning and finished at 7 in the evening as did Antonina's school. She was studying acting on a full time schedule at the New York Film Academy. So we could practice only after that. We practically did not have any teachers then, we had to manage on our own. It was a hard time for us. But we have stayed together though all the difficulties and bad results. After graduating from Julliard I went on to pursue a Masters degree in Dance Education at the New York University. I will hopefully finish it in December 2011.
You said that you met through your teacher in Germany?
[Antonina] When I was thirteen I moved to Germany. There were good teachers there and my Mom and I decided it would be best for my future to go and study with good teachers.
Did you move there with your parents?
[Antonina] No, I moved on my own. I found a partner and moved there. I knew Denys from competitions with Polina. They were a top German couple and pretty famous. Once, at the German Open championships, my Mom and I were watching him compete and we liked him very much. After that I moved to Berlin to study with his teacher Janet Marmulla. I had a dream once that I danced with Denys! (laughing) At that time Denys was no longer in Germany. He moved to New York.
[Denys] It was like that that I left Berlin for New York and 2 weeks later she moved to Berlin!
[Antonina] I had that dream, as I said, and I told it to my teacher who was previously Denys's teacher. And she became very interested in that right away! She knew Denys stopped dancing, he did not have a partner anymore and he started contemporary dancing... She said to me: that's very interesting, I am going to call him! I was quite petrified, I asked not too. I was very young at the time (laughing). So she called him and arranged a try-out for us in Germany. Denys came for one week, he checked me through and through. We practiced 8 hours! After a week he has decided to dance with me. So I moved to New York, being only seventeen at the time. It was a difficult time for me, I did not know the language and the culture was so different. I did not have any friends and Denys was practically a stranger to me as well. The 2006 was a very tough year for me.
So you are 21 years old and you, Denys?
[Denys] I am 25 years old.
Are you a couple in private life as well?
[Denys and Antonina] Yes!
How does it all work for you?
[Denys] It works pretty well, we do not have many problems. We are actually good in switching from dance practice to private life.
[Antonina] For me, it is not a problem. I can easily switch. After practice, I am able to leave the work behind and switch to social life. We practise a lot. So when we go home we just want to eat and just relax.
So if you argue during practice it does not enter your private lives?
[Antonina] Exactly. It took some time to learn to manage it. I am a bit more easy going in this way. It took some time... but now it is not a problem.
What do you like in her the most?
[Denys] What I admire in Antonina is her ability to focus on one thing and to set a goal and to have faith and believe in that. People can say: you can't do that or it is impossible but she will believe in it and will do everything for it. This is so admirable because a lot of people have fear of failure. But she takes this leap of faith and thinks she can succeed. This is definitely a thing which sets her apart from the rest 95% of population where everybody is a bit scared to go and do something. She is also very practical. When we practise and I have an idea which is a little too theoretical or artistic she would take the practical approach and tell me to stick to what we know!! (laughing) It keeps us on track.
And you Antonina, what about him?
[Antonina] Well, Denys is the most hardworking person I have ever met. He doesn't accept any limits. He can practise all day. He also has a very good heart, he is honest and kind. I like that about him that he never says bad things about other people. He has a pure and clear mind. His ability to structure our practice, organise everything is amazing. We don't just put our shoes on and go to dance our routines. We have a program of what we do, how long we do stretching, how long we work on our basic technique, choreography etc. He has a very mathematical mind!
Now comes a very difficult question! What do you dislike in your partner?
[Antonina] There is nothing! I do not have any bad words to say about Denys. He always treats me with respect, he is never rude or negative. He is a very good partner (laughing)
Come on, he must have something wrong!!
[Antonina] We may have some weaknesses but we complement each other and it makes our team stronger.
[Denys] Antonina is very passionate about dance and this passion sometimes brings us to emotional situations. She is very emotional person and when she gets emotionally involved with something she really cares about it. So sometimes at practice we have emotional moments! (laughing) But it is good. After those moments we often say: good we had that because it shows we care! If you have no emotions than you are passive. It is funny. In a way we like to have these moments because they cleanse our emotions, allowing us to let go of negative emotions and not gather them.
After winning this competition here, after getting that precious Blackpool title, people will now expect you to stay on top. Will this be a pressure? How would you be coping with it?
[Antonina] For us the quality is the most important thing. We have so much stuff to work on, we will focus on that. Of course, now, people will have bigger expectations from us and our job is to work on improving our dancing. So we do not stress about the result, we never did actually, we never went for the trend in dancing. We worked on quality because quality for us is the most important thing.
What do you understand by quality?
[Antonina] Quality is in the work of the body.
[Denys] It is about how the body interprets the music.
[Antonina] Also in togetherness, partnering
[Denys] And to portray each dance such that the characteristics of it are clear. And the body should not just move, but it should communicate certain expression of the music to the people. For me the quality is also related to honesty and sincerity of the movement. If I feel that there is no reason to do something, some movement, even if people say it looks good, I will not do it. It may be a nice line, but if I feel that there is no internal drive or motivation to do it, I will not do it.
[Antonina] For us, the sincerity in dancing is important. It is important not to fake it. In order not to fake it, it has to be very correct. So you need to work a lot on your body everyday to practise each movement, even your little fingers (laughing)
So you see dancing as an art rather than sport?
[Denys] Both of us had a lot of training in other dance forms and I've danced on stage a lot. Performing on stage is different because everybody is looking at you and you know they are there to admire your art. Even when you do a hand movement or a wrist movement you can totally show that, you do not have to worry about someone marking you. This is the element I like about dancing on stage - you can fully concentrate on the art, and not on competition. This element is also important in competitions. You have to remember that although you are competing you still need to take the time to show something beautiful...
[Antonina] .. and people can connect with you. This is very important to us. We strive to show beauty in our dancing. We strive to find the truth.
I guess that you are also doing shows?
[Antonina] Yes, we do a lot of shows.
So what do you prefer: competitions or shows?
[Denys] Hmmm.... It is our ambition to achieve the sincerity in whatever performance we are doing. So it does not matter. This is our life, we do it every day. So if you did not feel you sincerely connected with your dancing that means you, kind of, wasted your day. So there is no point in faking. I have moments in the competition when I say to myself it was worth coming here. It doesn't matter what round it is - it could be the first round cha cha or samba that I feel like I connect sincerely to my self and to the audience and it is then enough for me to consider the trip a success. I may then go home happy. In the shows you have a little bit more liberty.
[Antonina] We have more freedom to use the training we had in other forms of dancing and include everything we know. This is very fulfilling. Not just the Ballroom steps but we can be more artistic and creative.
Where do you live for most of the time?
[Antonina] We live in New York.
Do you go back to Ukraine sometimes?
[Antonina] I go couple of times a year to see my family. My mother comes to New York as well to see me. When we train in Germany she comes there to see us as well. Unfortunately she is not here with us, but later this week we will see her in Germany.
Did your parents call you to congratulate?
[Denys] They emailed me since my phone is usually off overseas.
[Antonina] I called my Mom right after we found out that we won. And she was so happy! My Mom supported us very much during our journey together since when we started. she was always very supportive. She is my best friend, my biggest fan, my biggest critic as well, everything! Even when we had very bad results and though times, she was always there, always listened and ready to pick us up. So for her, to see that we achieved our dream, is amazing.
So I guess, from what you are saying, it was one of the best days for you two days ago?
So what was your worst day?
[Denys] Well, the worst times were also the best times as it let us achieve this result...
[Antonina] ... perhaps when we were in New York, with no teacher, practising at nights, having very bad results... It was bad time but also good time because it pushed us to work harder.
What drove you to get out of these bad times? You did not give up
[Antonina] I have this faith that dreams do come true... And if you work hard and give 100% eventually you will succeed. I never had doubts when we had bad results. I always treated them as part of the process. No bad result could stop my love of dance. It was never a question. Dancing is in my heart and in my soul. I gave up so many things, I left my family when I was so young, which was extremely difficult, I left all my friends, my country. Dancing is very precious to me. Nobody and nothing can destroy it. Those bad results were just motivating us really.
[Denys] If you think close mindedly about Ballroom and Latin world then competitions can make you stop dancing... I mean, if you dance for the competition, only to compete. Sometimes we get our inspiration and drive from other dance forms where people dance to express themselves, to express the music or what they want to communicate. They do not have competitions. So for me, when we had bad results, it was not like somebody was placing a negative value on us but it was more like a sign that we need to improve our dancing and to keep dancing because it is what we love doing.
[Antonina] And we love dancing together. I think I found a perfect partner for me! The moment we met in Berlin and we touched our hands, I knew it was my partner. I just enjoy dancing with Denys!
[Denys] And I enjoy dancing with Antonina! She is my perfect partner.
What do you do in your spare time?
[Denys] I like to eat...
[Antonina] ... we like to eat!
In very small quantities I guess!! (laughing)
[Antonina] We love to eat and watch movies. We often go and see some performances. New York is a perfect place to watch great dance performances. I like to have contact with nature, go to the park, or to the beach.
What kind of food do you like?
[Denys] We like Japanese food for instance. Not sushi actually, the other Japanese cooked foods
[Antonina] We usually go to this one restaurant in New York. It is a mix of Korean and Japanese foods which we like. And miss it right now!
[Denys] When Antonina's mum visits she cooks us borsch, Ukrainian borsch.
[Antonina] She cooks a big pot of borsch and we eat it in one day!! We also love sweets. After we come home after practice at night, we have a quiet tea time with chocolate and cookies for an hour or two....
Are you going to buy and take with you the Blackpool lollies?
[Antonina] No, we do not like lollies. We like chocolate (laughing)
[Denys] English chocolates are not that good mostly... Thorntons variety are good. I like 50% cocoa, we like it milky. Too much cocoa is too bitter chocolate for us.
Which organisation are you dancing for?
[Antonina] We dance for WDC Amateur League since January this year. In America there are currently no IDSF competitions. Previously we were dancing for IDSF.
Which competition you like most?
[Antonina] We always liked Blackpool the most. It is not because we won this year. Blackpool was always my favourite. I live from Blackpool to Blackpool (laughing). I love the music, I admire the judges and the hall, and the people....
[Denys] I like Blackpool very much too. I liked Mannheim before, when German Open took place there. Also, Star Championships in England which is organised by BDF is good. It is very well organised. It is a pleasure to dance there. All-England is another great competition and so is Freedom to Dance.
Did you dance the International?
[Denys] No, we did not.
So you haven't been to the Albert Hall?
[Denys] It will be our first time this year. We hope we will be there. We heard from dancers that it is difficult to dance there. The floor is small and round.
It is interesting judging as well. Every round is judged by a different panel...
[Antonina] We did not know that!
What are your plans for the future?
[Antonina] We have a lot of competitions coming up. All of them are very important to us. International Dance Masters in Germany is in June. In summer we want to have a little vacation because we did not have any in two years. When I was little I used to go every summer to the seaside. We did not have time for two years, and it is my dream to do it this year. And after that, we will start preparation for the International. Denys will finish his studies at the University as well this year.
We would also like to use this opportunity to thank our teachers, friends, and my mom, without whom non of our success and development would have been possible.
[Denys] Yes, without a support team it is impossible to get anywhere. We are very fortunate and lucky to have people around us who believe in us and inspire us.
Thank you for coming to talk to us.
All photos taken on the day by Jure Makovec