Interview with Klemen Prasnikar and Alexandra Averkieva

Interview with Klemen Prasnikar and Alexandra Averkieva

Posted on vasárnap, 12 aug. 2018, 23:59 by admin
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We interviewed Klemen Prasnikar and Alexandra Averkieva, Amateur Latin winners from the UK Open 2018. They are a couple also in private life and they represent Slovenia.

Dancing is not just a part of my life, it is my life. I like that dancing fills me with feelings

Let me begin with the congratulations. You certainly look pleased.

[Alexandra]: Thank you! The word "pleased" doesn't quite describe our feelings. It feels unbelievable, amazing.

It is the first time you won with Ferdinando, isn't it?

[Klemen]: Yes, it is.

I know that you have read our previous interviews and that you have an idea of questions I like to ask. So let me start with the usual question about your history of dancing. How did you start?

[Alexandra]: OK, I started to dance when I was about eight years old, I think. My older brother was dancing already so I was familiar with it going to the studio with my Mum to pick him up.

Where was it?

[Alexandra]: In St Petersburg, in Russia. I wanted to start earlier but they did not have a group for such young kids so I had to wait. Later my brother stopped but I continued and stayed in that studio for quite a long time.

Did you start with Ballroom and Latin?

[Alexandra]: Yes, in Russia, at that age, you always do all ten dances.

Did you do any other dance style?

[Alexandra]: Yes, I did a bit of ballet even earlier, when I was six. But it was not serious. Anyway, I did Ballroom and Latin for a long time actually. Then I moved to another studio for a partner. I did not have many partners before Klemen, maybe four.

Not many?

[Alexandra]: Not many (laughing). You change partners quite often when you are a kid, mainly because of height difference or age difference. So when I moved to another studio, Klemen happened in my life (laughing).

OK, back to Klemen now

[Klemen]: I started dancing when I was about ten or eleven. I wasn't very young. In Russia kids start earlier, in Slovenia this is about normal age. I went to primary school in Ljubljana and the nearby studio organised dance classes for us. For the first few months we were most of the time just playing football so I liked it mainly for that reason. It was not really serious, we were fooling around half of the time (laughing). But I continued, and before I knew it I had a number stuck to my back and I was taking part in competitions.

Was it still in Juvenile?

[Klemen]: No, I think I did one or two competitions as Junior I and then as Junior II.

Did you have any achievements then?

[Klemen]: Yes, I progressed quite fast. I represented Slovenia at the World Championships and at the time it was only two couples from each country. We were 3rd at the nationals, but one couple could not go so we had a chance. It was not a big success, we made a second round, but it felt "wow!". I think after a year I split from my partner and I started looking for a new partner. Slovenia is so small and I think at the time there was not many girls my age who were available. There was no choice... I then got a Russian partner and after that I danced with a girl from Ukraine. We were quite successful, we were Slovenian Youth champions. Then, in Amateurs, I started to dance with Sasha.

How did you meet?

[Alexandra]: It is quite a story (laughing)

[Klemen]: We have a mutual friend who is originally from Russia but moved to Slovenia to dance with a girl from our studio.

[Alexandra]: Previously he was in my studio in St Petersburg...

[Klemen]: So when I was looking for a partner, he told me that he knows a girl in Russia who will be perfect for me. And she is also searching for a new partner. So I asked him why he thinks she'd be perfect. And he said, because she is as crazy as you are about dancing (laughing). She also comes to practice one hour before everybody and stays after everybody is gone! She does Rumba walks like you do, and you will be perfect for each other.

[Alexandra]: Two crazy people. Very nice (laughing)

[Klemen]: So I contacted her, and she flew over to Slovenia. We had a try-out on my birthday and that's how we started. We have an anniversary on my birthday (laughing). Double celebration.

[Alexandra]: Actually, this year it will be 10 years dancing together.

Have you ever met before?

[Klemen]: No, we never met. Or at least, we do not remember ever meeting each other.

[Alexandra]: We were never that successful before internationally. So I don't think we have met.

[Klemen]: We were both young Amateurs. I was straight out of Youth.

OK, so you did not know each other. Sasha, you received an email from Klemen and what did you think?

[Alexandra]: I remember that first email. I read it but did not reply for some time. It was funny, but I went to check his results first, of course on dancesportinfo (laughing). And there was only one picture of him, and it was not the nicest position (laughing). I was thinking to myself, hmmm... not sure. Thankfully, that friend Klemen mentioned convinced me he was worth to try. So I flew to Ljubljana with my Mum, and we met him and talked to him and after the try-out I thought he was very nice.

[Klemen]: It was not that simple as she said. When the try-out has finished I was super excited, I wanted to dance with this fantastic girl. So we went for a drink and I was like, when can we start, let's start right away! And she was like... hmm.... I have a few more try-outs and will let you know. You know how it is when a girl tells you that. You know what it means (laughing): don't call me, I'll call you... So I said to her, you must decide right now and tell me yes or now. And she said something like, I guess, it is yes then (laughing).

[Alexandra]: I think, at that moment, I realised he really means business. I thought to myself, wow, that's a determination!

[Klemen]: I could not let her go (laughing).

Are you together privately as well?

[Alexandra]: Yes, we are

How much her looks, the fact she is such a pretty girl, influenced your decision?

[Alexandra]: Interesting question. I would like to hear your answer (laughing).

[Klemen]: Let's say it helped! I still remember that first time I saw her. That long blond hair, coming through the door... I thought, oh my God (laughing), I am in for something. Everything about her felt special. It was the whole package, how she looked, how she presented herself. It is a big thing in dancing.

[Alexandra]: I remember when I walked through the door and saw him for the first time at the airport, I thought to myself that he looked very young. Of course, he had very different hair, much longer, no beard... So I thought he looked too young for me. But when we started to talk he sounded very mature and knew what he wanted.

Is this why you hesitated before giving him an answer there and then?

[Alexandra]: No, not at all. I just had other try-outs scheduled...

What don't you like about your partner?

[Alexandra]: I was hoping that maybe today you will not ask that question (laughing)!

[Klemen]: I've got a list of things (laughing). No, I am joking of course.

[Alexandra]: I think your dancing is very much affected by who you are, your personality. And the problem with Klemen is that he is very stubborn. Sometimes, he continues to argue even if he knows he is not right! So sometimes it can be difficult for us, as a dance couple, to agree on something. So I would say, this is the thing which is the most difficult for us both on the dance floor and privately (laughing).

[Klemen]: I think we are both quite stubborn actually. So when it comes to the heated debates none of us wants to give in. If you know how to direct your stubbornness and make it work in your advantage it can be a huge asset but sometimes it is not very productive if your ego comes first. I think that through the years we are together, we learned how to deal with this and make it work. At the same time Sasha is naturally very modest and humble and that can be a problem for her dancing. Often she is better than she thinks she is. If she would accept that, if she would be more sure of herself, she would be able to express herself even better through her dancing. It has changed a lot over the years but I still think she doubts too much... This kind of thing can sometimes work against you. But I love her for that (laughing).

Can you be humble and stubborn at the same time?

[Klemen]: Yes, definitely. But perhaps a better word to describe is that she is sometimes insecure. She always finds flaws in her dancing. But to be able to shine on the floor sometimes you need to have a little more arrogance, or that feeling "I am the best". But at the same time, at practice, she knows very well what she wants to do or how she wants to look, and if you try to change or mess with that, then she can become very stubborn!

What you like best about your partner?

[Alexandra]: Klemen is a really good competitor. He will do whatever it takes, he will stay in the studio for hours if needed, he will work until he feels he completed what he wanted. It motivates me a lot because I am much more laid back person.

I thought Klemen said you are very hard working person

[Alexandra]: This is how he sees me. But if I compare myself to him, it is obvious he is much more hard working.

[Klemen]: You see, she doesn't appreciate herself. But if it was 3am and I'd say to her, let's do a practice now, she will not have any problem with it.

[Alexandra]: But I would never offer it myself first (laughing). This is the difference. I would not initiate. What is great about Klemen in dancing, is that he has this desire to do well, to always do the best he can, whether it is just a regular practice or an important competition. He is very competitive, he always wants to do better.

[Klemen]: Probably the best thing is that she really knows what she wants in terms of looks, how to do certain steps, how to portray herself. Once she makes the decision, she sticks to it. I really respect it. I am the one to initiate, to try, to change, push for things, and she usually makes a final decision and decides what we stick to.

[Alexandra]: I am the one who calms the waters (laughing).

[Klemen]: She is the boss (laughing).

[Alexandra]: Good to know! I will use it at the next practice (laughing).

OK, what is her best quality as a person?

[Klemen]: She is genuinely such an good and honest person. She cares about everyone, about animals. If she sees anybody struggling, she will help. She has such a good heart, I think it is rare nowadays to meet a person like this.

Where do you like to go for holidays?

[Alexandra]: Oh, when we will have time! Previously we used to go to various Asian countries as we like tropical holidays. We enjoyed Thailand and Bali. We like the climate, the palms, the sea and the sun.

[Klemen]: We said that our next destination will be probably Maldives. We are looking into it for some time.

[Alexandra]: It will be like a dream. Also, we visited some European places, this year we went to Croatia and it was amazing. What is important for both of us is to have a nice relaxing time, the sun, the sea, and no worries of any kind.

[Klemen]: We always take some time off right after Blackpool so...

[Alexandra]: The last Jive you dance feels great, as you know that in few days you will be lying under the palm tree (laughing).

Who is normally driving?

[Klemen]: I am.

Who is cooking?

[Klemen]: Sasha is.

Very traditional?

[Alexandra]: Yes, we do have rather traditional relationship

[Klemen]: It is not that I never cook. I do sometimes but most of the time it is Sasha. And she really cooks well so why bother (laughing).

Do you keep some diet?

[Alexandra]: It is really a question to Klemen. Although I cook, he really likes to take care of our diet. We also have our own personal trainer, he is a fitness trainer and a nutritionist. He is helping us to eat the best balanced diet for us.

[Klemen]: I think it makes sense to take care of what you eat. In any other sport, on a high level, you need to take care of your body preparation. And food is a big aspect of that. Couple of years ago I read a book, by Slovenian author, about a sports nutrition and examples of practical application with the Slovenian Olympic team. I found it so interesting, so useful that I contacted the author. We met him and it changed a lot for us. We changed our diet, started to prepare our bodies differently. We are working with him now for nearly two years and we feel quite a big difference.

So what do you eat?

[Klemen]: First of all we try to eat organic food and as little processed food as possible. In Slovenia, at home, it is easy because we have a huge garden which my father takes care of. We have all the fruits and vegetables from our garden. We buy other products from local markets where you can get free range foods. We try to keep our meals balanced. We are not super restrictive, but try to be clever with what and when we eat. If we have some sweets it is right before or right after the practice.

[Alexandra]: I cheat sometimes (laughing). I love sweets. Thankfully, dancing burns a lot of calories. I don't eat meat, I am a vegetarian but I cook meat for Klemen.

So I guess you don't eat fast foods?

[Klemen]: No, not really.

[Alexandra]: It is so rare, that it feels like a treat (laughing).

[Klemen]: It is more difficult if you are constantly travelling. It is hard to find organic and high quality food in some countries. Also it can be quite expensive. But we rather spend a little bit more and get our bodies functioning properly rather than cut back on this and suffer later.

[Alexandra]: Especially as we can really feel the difference.

We spoke to Andrej and Melinda some time ago and they talked about importance of the right food and diet.

[Klemen]: Yes, we tried to follow similar diet as well, but I guess it depends very much on the individual. What worked for them, did not quite work for me, I did not find that useful at the time. We did blood tests and food intolerance tests and obviously it is very different from person to person.

It is amazing that such a small country like Slovenia has so many great dancers!

[Klemen]: It is! I was lucky enough to grow up and get my dance education surrounded by dancers from Slovenia who were established and successful. So it was like passing the knowledge from generation to generation. When we were kids we were watching Andrej, Jurij and Matej and all of these great dancers. They were all in our club and it was such a huge motivation. We always had them there and if we ever had a problem or a question we could ask them... It helped a lot! We are still part of this club, the owners are Fredi and Daniella Novak. They always made sure that the established foreign teachers were invited there. Even as a kid I had this chance to get the best education from the best teachers in the world.

How do your parents see your dancing?

[Alexandra]: My parents are fans for life! Both of them. I actually always felt they supported me in whatever made me happy. From the beginning. Yesterday they were watching us live, via DSI TV, from St Petersburg and called me right after we won. My Mum was so happy! It makes me happy as well to see them proud... I can give back now for all what they have done for me. My Dad is a bit crazy about the numbers, he calculates our ratings and always checks the marks. He is very much into it. It feels great knowing they are both so supportive, watching us live even if it was 2am in St Petersburg.

[Klemen]: I was also very fortunate that my parents supported me in whatever I wanted to do. I never felt any pressure. We were not the richest family and it wasn't always easy for them... As you know the costs in dancing are not low. But I felt that they always put me first, before their needs. Of course, once you start earning and you become self-sufficient you want to give back and we are fortunate that we can do that now.

So how did you manage financially before you started to earn your own money?

[Klemen]: We were lucky in this respect that when we started to dance together we achieved good results straight away. For instance, we were 3rd at the Under21 in Blackpool, which was our first big competition together. At the time we were still dancing under IDSF and we were in the top 50 couples in their rankings so we got invited to some of the competitions, and the the prize money was enough to cover the travel costs. We were also lucky to work with a great teacher in Slovenia, Matej Krajcer, who helped us a lot with cutting the costs...

[Alexandra]: Many times he helped us with our dancing also when we did not have money to pay for the lessons. He was amazing.

[Klemen]: We will be forever grateful to him because we could not afford much, but he was there for us...

[Alexandra]: Of course, slowly, we started to teach a little. And we worked on our dancing to improve our rankings, slowly building the reputation...

[Klemen]: The first two years were really difficult. Our parents still had to help.

[Alexandra]: We did not have any foreign teachers at the time so it was easier with the costs and also we did not have to travel as much.

How long are you now working in Asia?

[Klemen]: About six years now. We spend quite a lot of time there, there are lot of competitions there as well. Luckily the prize money became better so we do not have to teach as much. We can dance the competitions and earn money like this, which allows you more time for your own practice and development.

What do you like most in dancing?

[Klemen]: For me it is the music and movement to it. The music gives me so much inspiration, it moves me. When I find music that inspires me I can practice for hours and hours and not get bored. When I dance, I try to express myself using my body like if it is a musical instrument.

What type of music do you like to dance to?

[Klemen]: Live music. Whether it is an Empress Orchestra, or Ross Mitchell or any good Latin band, I find when there is a live sound you get the percussion so clearly that... It gives another edge to the whole thing

[Alexandra]: I think in another life he was a drummer because he is into percussion so much!

[Klemen]: When we practice is the studio we normally use some of the older tunes.

[Alexandra]: Some classic old Latin music

[Klemen]: Some authentic Latin music from the 50's and 60's

[Alexandra]: I think I am a little bit more open for the more modern styles. I quite like to listen to R&B and don't mind dancing to it. It is not as rich and doesn't give you as many possibilities for self expression but I don't mind that sort of music in the first round (laughing).

[Klemen]: We both find that the authentic Latin music is so rich, and full of soul and with more substance. It gives us more possibility to express. However, like the first round yesterday, we had to do the Cha Cha Cha to Michael Jackson and it was just perfect for the occasion. It was the first dance and it was perfect for both dancers and audience to create a good and buzzing atmosphere (laughing).

What part of dancing is the most important for you?

[Alexandra]: I like that dancing gives me possibility to embody all sorts of feelings and expressions. When i dance, i feel powerful. Of course, I enjoy the music, the partnering, how people react to what I do, but how i feel when I am on the dance floor is the most precious to me.

What don't you like about dancing, what would you change?

[Klemen]: I think, in the ideal world, teachers and judges would be separated.. Of course for many reasons, this is not possible in our field. In most of the other sports you have your coach, and you are judged by a completely different set of people. In our world, this two jobs are joined together so it makes things a bit more confusing. Of course, everyone is trying to do his best, but we are all only human. We all have preferences and attachments so it is very difficult to separate these two jobs completely.

But how would do you ensure the best people do judging, but also you want the best people to teach...

[Klemen]: It would be difficult I know, but you asked if I could change anything, that would probably be it.

[Alexandra]: I think in dancing it is not possible, because dancing is very subjective. Many other sports have strict objective rules. Dancing has rules, but it is open to interpretation because of its artistic element.

Do you think introducing various judging criteria may help?

[Alexandra]: I personally think it would kill dancing... it would kill the spirit. The more restrictions you impose, especially on the higher, more experienced level, the duller the dancing becomes. Couples may lose their uniqueness and a sense of personal style...

What is the difference between Amateurs and Professionals?

[Alexandra]: We will see tonight! (laughing)

[Klemen]: Nowadays there is not that much difference. If you look at the top 100 Amateurs they already dance and live like Professionals. We all teach, we all make our living from dancing. So, from that point of view, we all can be called Professionals. Of course, there is still a difference in experience or skill. But I would say it is just a label nowadays. Everybody can turn Professional, there is no qualifications or passing any exam required, it is just a decision.

[Alexandra]: When couples from Amateur pass to Professional you can see often the change in maturity. Actually, you can already feel that in the semifinals and finals of the Amateur competitions. Dancers are more mature, they better know their style, they know what they want to bring to the floor. In Professionals it is even clearer, I think. Years of dancing, and years of life experience help to actually realise who they are as people and what they want to be as dancers. It helps them to bring something special to the floor.

Are you planning to turn Professional soon?

[Alexandra]: At some point...

[Klemen]: I think, for now, we want to achieve more as Amateurs.

[Alexandra]: We won the Worlds last year, and UK Open this year. Of course we want Blackpool...

I guess many couples hope you turn Professional and they can move on

[Klemen]: For sure (laughing)! Turning Professional is in our plans, but not just yet. You never know what may happen. Of course, we hoped to win yesterday but you cannot plan that. When we started to dance together we quite quickly reached the semifinal level, but it was not happening that quickly for us to get to the finals. We stayed there for a good two, three years. So we were hoping somebody from the top will turn Professional and make the space (laughing)

[Alexandra]: But it was very stable at the time (laughing) and we were all thinking, oh, come on!

[Klemen]: I promise, we will not stay there longer than necessary (laughing)

There are very predictable finals in Professionals now...

[Alexandra]: Actually, we find it that lately it is more interesting as the results are not so set.

[Klemen]: There are some amazing couples in the finals and semi-finals now who compete for the top places and it is exciting to watch.

[Alexandra]: There are a lot of great couples in Amateurs as well. It would not be possible for us to dance on this level if it wasn't for all these other great dancers around us. Some of them are quite young but still very good and extremely talented and they bring so much passion to the floor. It makes us feel we have to work harder.

[Klemen]: It makes you feel you have to constantly improve as somebody can take your place. But there is really a great atmosphere between all of us. We are all competing against each other but we are good friends off the floor.

[Alexandra]: You see somebody else next to you improving, you feel you better pick up your game.

Do you compare yourself to other competitors?

[Alexandra]: You can compare by looking at the reaction of people around. You learn to feel the energy.

[Klemen]: Lately, during the competition, I get a lot of inspiration watching other couples. In the past, I was very focused on my own performance and tried to shut everything else out. But now, I try to watch and enjoy in the good dancing around me. Yesterday I was so impressed by some couples and that gave me a bit of an extra boost. We watched, not really trying to compare with them but to enjoy.

[Alexandra]: Our presentation dance was first so we could watch all the other couples do their solo dances, and we were so taken! It was wow! Everybody prepared something special.

[Klemen]: It makes you feel you have to up your game. But, at the end of the day, we are all artists, we enjoy great art when we see it. When your own dancing develops, it helps your confidence and lets you enjoy it fully.

[Alexandra]: It is important to realise that the quality of your dancing is not only connected with the body movement, physical or technical aspect but also with mental aspect. You cannot prepare the same thing for every competition. What works for one competition, doesn't work for another. You have to know the public, the hall, the music. It is all very specific.

Changing the subject completely, what do you use the Internet for?

[Alexandra]: For almost everything now. We are the generation that cannot survive without it (laughing).

[Klemen]: We probably could survive but we are reaping the benefit of it (laughing)

[Alexandra]: Just few days ago we were talking to our teacher and he was saying how hard it was in the past. You had to come to the practice well prepared with camera, tape your dancing, then send the record to your teacher if you wanted him to give you any advice. Now you just use your phone, record as many times as you want any day, any time, anywhere, then click the button and share it online.

[Klemen]: We use it for everything from booking tickets, renting cars, booking hotels to getting all the news or results.

[Alexandra]: My parents could watch us dancing live yesterday despite being in Russia. These things are really great. But sometimes I feel internet can become too addictive. People are checking their Instagram or Facebook all the time.

[Klemen]: I feel the social media became so influential, it is now a part of our life, it also helps our own marketing. Many couples can watch us dancing, our videos, they can get in touch with us... So you need to be active there.

Which dance websites you visit?

[Alexandra]: Dancesportinfo is the most complete one, and I am not trying to be polite! You can find everything there, from the results to searching for a partner adverts.

[Klemen]: I usually check the daily news websites and sports related pages. Especially football sites are regularly there (laughing).

[Alexandra]: I am also using Danceplaza for selling my dresses.

[Klemen]: Sometimes we visit competition related websites.

What could we improve in dancesportinfo?

[Alexandra]: I am surprised to learn that dancesportinfo runs the classified adverts section. Perhaps it would be good to make it more visible.

[Klemen]: I actually liked that in the past you used to run a short report from every day of the competition, like from the Blackpool Festival or the UK Open. You reported the first, the second and the third couple...

[Alexandra]: Yes, now when he came first he wants this feature back (laughing).

[Klemen]: Not really because of that (laughing)! I just liked to read a brief report at the end of the competition day.

Thank you very much for talking to us.

All photos taken on the day by Peter Suba