We had a long chat with Victor Fung and Anastasia Muravyova, the WDC World Professional Ballroom bronze-medalists the day after they danced the Professional Ballroom at the UK Open 2013 where they were 2nd. Victor and Anastasia dance for USA and are national silver medallists. See their profile page.
it's a journey of discovery, finding how many ways I can do my Waltz or my Tango. Experiencing all these things, every time, it is exciting
Let me congratulate you first for the second place at the UK Open 2013. It was a pleasure to see you dancing so beautifully.
[Both]: Thank you
Can you please tell us how you started dancing?
[Anastasia]: I started when I was three years old. It was a long time ago. I cannot say I remember everything but I know my parents brought me to the studio. The story is that both of my parents always loved dancing. They were not Professional dancers and it was their hobby. They both moved to St Petersburg in Russia, went to one of the dance clubs, met each other there and never went back. I was their first child so soon after I started walking they brought me to the dance club.
Was it the same dance club where they first met?
[Anastasia]: I am not sure about that! (laughing)
Was it some folk dances or ballet you started from?
[Anastasia]: I actually started with Ballroom dancing. In Russia it is very popular so we have group classes for very little kids so you can start like that. But I did all sorts of dances later. I did ballet for several years when I was at the University. I did Latin as well because in Russia you always start with 10 dances. So I danced Latin for quite a long time. I also did Hip Hop, Jazz, Modern and pretty much everything.
So when you were three years old you did not have a partner?
[Anastasia]: I have a dance video of me dancing when I was five years old. I was dancing with a boy probably older by a few years. We did the Rumba and Tango which is what I have on tape. It was not a competition but a solo demonstration. I started competing a bit later when I was about seven years old. I remember my very first competition. We did not get a very good result. I remember coming back home and my Dad was saying: "Don't worry, you can just look at it from a different perspective, you are the first one from the end". (laughing) So that was my first competition, not successful at all!
So what happened next?
[Anastasia]: I started practising more. I was dancing 10 dances and actually I danced 10 dances till becoming Professional. I had a few partners while dancing in Russia. Then I moved to Ukraine when I was dancing with Ukrainian partner and we also did both Latin and Ballroom as Professionals. So, he was my last Latin partner. Then I moved to America where I had a few partners there before meeting Victor.
Why did you move to America?
[Anastasia]: My Ukrainian partner had some health issues and had to stop dancing. After that I had a little break and I was thinking whether to continue dancing or to stop Latin or Ballroom. I think that six months helped me to decide where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. It was an easy choice with the Ballroom, because it always felt natural for me and was something I always loved. I felt the music the best. When I was little I finished music school so I have a classical background behind me and I think that helps a lot. That was my ultimate choice and the next thing was I had to find a partner for Ballroom. I was not looking particularly at America, or at Europe. I was looking for a good opportunity and a good partner because I knew what I wanted and knew my goals. At that point, I had an opportunity with a partner in America so that's why I decided to go to America.
[Victor]: For me, I started when I was nine years old. I started because my parents were dancing and they actually still dance to this day. They've been dancing longer than I have obviously! They decided to bring me and my other siblings, a brother and two sisters, to the kids' class. It was in California where I grew up. Right from the moment we started dancing we all loved it and we have been dancing ever since. My older brother and older sister are both married with kids now, so it is my younger sister and I who still actively compete. Actually, she is here at the UK Open championships competing as well. So, we just kept taking lessons, practising and dancing. I started dancing with my older sister and I remember she was quite tall and I was very short. So my arms were always very high. We were learning some kids dances and then some Ballroom dances such as Waltz and Quickstep and within few weeks we were doing competitions. That's how I started.
[Victor]: I kept dancing and never stopped.
So eventually you've met...
[Victor]: I had a couple of partners through Youth and Amateur and then turned Professional. I had just one partner as Professional before Anastasia. When that partnership ended II knew I did not want to stop my career so I contacted Anastasia...
[Anastasia]: Good question!
[Victor]: She was the only one I thought of at the time.
So how did you know of her?
[Victor]: We met earlier when she first moved to America. Of course we knew each other and competed against each other. We all know each other in America.
[Anastasia]: We first met when I came to America. Probably a few months after I arrived.
[Victor]: We met at one of the competitions. Her previous partner was a very high profile competitor. When they started competing everybody was aware of the new partnership that they had so this is how we sort of get to know each other.
[Anastasia]: I was always trying to beat him
[Victor]: And I was aware she was always trying to beat me! I was aware I was on my tail (laughing).
[Anastasia]: So once he texted me I thought, well, since I can't beat him I might as well join him!
[Victor]: If you can't beat them, join them! So that's how we basically got together.
You said she was the only person you thought about when you were looking for a partner.
[Victor]: As a competitor you are always aware of other competitors around you, both individually and as a couple. And I always admired Anastasia's skills as a dancer. She is gorgeous as well! But the main thing about her was always her skills and her strengths as a dancer. She has a lot of inner strength and inner beauty besides the obvious external beauty. And I know it is very difficult to find in someone who is beautiful on the inside as well as outside. Also, I knew she was a good person because we had spoken casually a few times. I remember there was one occasion, before we started dancing together, we were both in Chicago. I went to this new building site and they were building these new high risers in downtown Chicago. I wanted to see some of the new model homes and I picked up some brochures. When I went back to hotel I bumped into her and she asked me what it was. So I showed her the brochures and she was so interested...
[Anastasia]: I remember he was sitting at the hotel and was on the phone with a real estate agent and I was sitting at the next table, right next to him, and I was all ears, I was trying to listen to what they were saying because I got so interested in this subject.
[Victor]: So there was always this common interest, connection between us.
So are you a couple in private as well?
[Victor]: What do you think? (laughing)
I guess, yes!
[Victor]: Actually for a long time when we started dancing together, we were just really focused on the dancing. Because when we started it was a difficult time for both of us. My previous partnership suddenly has ended, very quickly and...
[Anastasia]: I also had difficulties in my partnership.
[Victor]: So it was a difficult time for both of us. When we got together we really wanted to focus on the dancing. But lately lot of good things have happened in our lives so we are getting closer and closer. Let's put it that way (smiling).
What do you think is best for the dancing partnership: to be together or not to be together?
[Victor]: That's a good question
[Anastasia]: I think there are many different opinions and I think it really depends on personalities. My personal opinion is that once the people are together and there is chemistry between them it helps. It helps on the floor. Sometimes if there is a problem during practises and you bring it outside to your private life it is not good. But, once you are on the floor and you have something extra, something you cannot even explain, some extra energy it helps to create magic rather than just dancing. But, of course, it can also be difficult.
[Victor]: It is also about balance. You have to have personalities which complement each other. Not the same personalities but personalities which really complement each other. When you have that there is a balance and it can very much help the dancing. But if there is no such balance, and personalities don't complement each other or they are too similar, you either have a lot of fights or you have nothing happening. So it can be very good for the dancing but it really depends on each couple.
What way do you complement each other?
[Victor]: Beauty and the beast! (laughing)
We always ask the question: what's the best in your partner and what's the worst?
[Victor]: I definitely know what is the best in Anastasia, for me. It is her incredible intelligence. She is an extremely intelligent woman and she has a lot of ability to use her mind where she can think of things in a way I've never thought about. And that I really admire about her. Because in anything you do you need to have a strong mind. You need to have a good mind to understand where you are, where you want to go and how to get there. She is also very, very patient. I like that very much and it is very helpful. Besides that she is extremely beautiful, as I said earlier, both inside and outside.
[Anastasia]: First of all I always admired Victor on the floor. When I was watching the ballroom dancing competition I always saw him. It always looked to me that he had the darkest tail suit. All the other suit are black but somehow his always stood out. Second, I love his personality on the floor. For me it is very important that dancing should be about the man and the woman. It is not so much a sport and it is very difficult to create it when you don't have that inner feeling. And, he was always standing out for me as a very strong male dancer. I like that. He is my first partner, in my whole dancing life, who actually listens to me and it helps.
[Victor]: I've got big ears (laughing). No, I don't actually!
[Anastasia]: Going back to this statement that personalities must complement each other. Victor is actually very sensitive with his feelings. I didn't know that about him before we started dancing. I am a little bit on the opposite side. I am very logical and very systematic. So in that sense...
[Victor]: You would probably have never be able to guess that about us
[Anastasia]: So when we practise and we talk about something I always feel that he brings something else out of me which I would never shown otherwise... my emotional side. And for this I am very thankful to him.
OK, so let's talk about bad sides of both of you. You had some time to think about it!
[Victor]: You have to write in the interview: after a long pause... (laughing).
[Anastasia]: Let me start
[Victor]: OK. That may be a good stimulus for me (laughing)
[Anastasia]: The worst part, for me and I cannot say I completely don't like it, is that he makes me guess all the time. Whether it be on the floor, in the practice, and sometimes in private life as well. I never know what I to expect from him. We go to the floor and we go to one corner and suddenly he changes direction, right there, and goes in another direction. So I've no idea what to expect. Sometimes it can be worse because I don't feel I am prepared but sometimes it is good thing.
[Victor]: I keep you on your toes. OK, I know, I figured it out but it is not a completely bad thing. It is the worst I can think about now. Anastasia is very, very ambitious. She is extremely ambitious. And sometimes her ambition is very strong and I cannot keep up.
[Victor]: I can use an analogy. When you have a train it moves at, say, 60 miles per hour. Anastasia, however, is like the Shinkansen moving like a bullet, very, very quickly! Sometimes it is tough for me to keep up.
[Anastasia]: I am not letting him rest (laughing).
[Victor]: She is not letting me rest at all! But on a flip side it is a very good thing. Here is an example: she has lived in America for six years. And within that short time she's gotten her green card, which is not an easy thing, and she's gotten a lot of other achievements and accomplishments in her own personal life. That's very admirable. She is just moving forward very quickly. I am trying to keep up.
[Anastasia]: I just like to accomplish things. Once I accomplish something I feel really good about myself.
[Victor]: She is a strong girl.
What drives you in dancing?
[Anastasia]: For me it is music. I cannot listen to Ballroom music when I am not dancing. I always feel it is not right and I have to dance. For me, it is very simple. A beautiful piece of music is enough for me to be inspired and to keep moving.
[Victor]: For me, it is a never-ending search. What drives me it is that never-ending search in my dancing, constantly trying to discover new feelings and new things in dancing. Even if one day my competitive career stops I will continue searching.
Searching for perfection?
[Victor]: I don't believe in perfection. I believe there is always a different way to do things. And not one way is right or wrong. I think that's the beauty of dancing that we can do, for instance, a natural turn in so many different ways. For me, it's a journey of discovery, finding how many ways I can do my Waltz or my Tango. Experiencing all these things, every time is exciting to me. This discovery is very exciting and inspiring for me.
OK, let me ask you more private questions now. Who is cooking?
[Victor]: She is
[Anastasia]: I always cook. I love cooking, it is one of my hobbies.
[Victor]: She is great
[Anastasia]: I love cooking different kinds of food. I like to cook Japanese food, Italian, Russian food...
[Victor]: We always have Russian on New Year's Day and it has become our tradition. No vodka! Maybe just some champagne.
Why no vodka?
[Anastasia]: I don't drink alcohol. Neither does Victor.
Really, are you Russian (laughing)?
[Victor]: That's what I asked her in the beginning! I used to drink, a little bit, maybe a glass of wine after the competition but since we started dancing together I really don't drink any alcohol.
So what is your favourite food?
[Victor]: I love pasta! I love Italian but I also like Chinese food. Really, any type of food.
[Anastasia]: I love fruits and vegetables
[Victor]: Yes. You asked before "who cooks?" The answer is Anastasia cooks. But if you asked "who eats?" The answer is I am always eating (laughing)!
Is there any strange food you have eaten?
[Victor]: We had turtle in Japan recently.
[Anastasia]: Yes, it was in Osaka last December.
[Victor]: One of the couples we know there, very nice couple who purchase Anastasia's dresses, took us out to a traditional Japanese dinner. There were these little dishes which we did not know what they were. One of them was like a pudding and inside there was some meat. We were tasting it and it was very good. So we asked "what is it?" And they said "it was turtle".
[Anastasia]: But we like trying different things. Exotic things.
So you are not afraid to taste new things?
[Victor]: She is not afraid. And I can eat anything really
[Anastasia]: I am not sure if I could make myself eat worms or something like that.
So how do you keep up in shape?
[Anastasia]: We also do some physical workout.
[Victor]: Yes, but mainly it is through dancing.
[Anastasia]: We also travel a lot so it is difficult to exercise but we like to run sometimes.
[Victor]: We also increase the training during the major competitions. We increase our practices.
Who is planning trips, hotels?
[Victor]: Most of the time we consult with each other to decide which competitions we do. When it comes to booking airfares, hotels, I do it. The administrative work I do it all.
I would think Anastasia, being logical and methodical, is doing this...
[Anastasia]: When it goes wrong, I do it, I step in and try to help (laughing)
[Anastasia]: Victor is a Virgo and he is very specific about how he likes things. I am Gemini.
Me too, Gemini is the best!
[Victor]: The most complementary sign to Gemini is Virgo! At least that's what I think (laughing)
OK, now tell me who of you is driving?
[Victor]: It is me, always.
You split the task in a really traditional way!
[Anastasia]: We both like these roles of a man and a woman very much. We don't step into each other's territories too much.
[Victor]: I never really cook, she never really drives. OK, I can make a salad. I can cut the tomatoes and cucumbers and make a salad.
OK, I can do scrambled eggs!
[Victor]: You are a step ahead of me (laughing)! And tea and coffee
[Anastasia]: Yes, you can pick up Starbucks!
Who is choosing Anastasia dresses?
[Anastasia]: We, of course, talk to each other of what kind of message we want to project at the big competitions like the UK Open. We talk about what image we want to have. So the dress has to complement that idea. So once we decide what idea we want for that specific competition then I am taking it into my hands. Of course I have a very good dress maker. We see each other face to face, we talk and she understands right away so it is great.
[Victor]: Their styles are very similar. They understand each other very well. She is in Beverly Hills and we live south of Los Angeles, in Orange County, which is only an hour drive to get to her. So it is very convenient for us.
How often do you change your dresses?
[Anastasia]: Very often actually. I have new dresses every major competition.
[Victor]: Shows as well
[Anastasia]: I am very luck I should say. I feel that my style is very popular with other people so my dresses get sold very quickly. So lots of people buy my dresses.
You don't keep them at all?
[Anastasia]: No. Sometimes I feel very bad giving them up...
[Victor]: Last year at the UK Open she had that pink and white dress which she said was her favourite dress. She loved it
[Anastasia]: And we sold it before the competition. These dresses I danced in this year we also sold already.
[Victor]: She does not have any dresses now. Most of the time it happens like that.
[Anastasia]: My dress maker is really good. I can just call her and tell her I need a dress urgently and she can make me a dress in two days! So that's very helpful.
Do you like shopping?
[Victor]: It is funny you should ask!
[Anastasia]: I love beautiful clothes. I do. But I don't like shopping, I don't like the process
[Victor]: Neither of us likes to shop.
[Anastasia]: So we are not very good at that.
[Victor]: We like shopping for one thing. Real estate. We love shopping for properties.
[Anastasia]: We like going to properties looking at them and checking them out.
You just said you love shopping for real estate like real estate was something like grocery! And buying a house is like buying some bread and milk.
[Anastasia]: We wish! (laughing)
[Victor]: What we do is spend a lot of our free time, which is not much, but we do like to go and look at properties. We like looking at the model homes or houses on sale and we also browse the websites when we are travelling.
Do you just look?
[Victor]: Sometimes we buy. You can call it shopping but actually it is an investment. We like investing because we investments while we are young are very important for our future. Both of us were taught that when we were very young by our parents. So we make sure we do that. It has become a part of us.
Are you also teaching? I guess that with your position now you don't have any problems with financing your dancing but when you were younger how did you manage financially?
[Anastasia]: It was difficult. You always need support from your parents if they can help. They were helping me for a long time. But once you get experience and start teaching, first group classes then private lessons, it slowly gets better. And you manage.
[Victor]: When I was younger I had a lot of help from my parents. I am talking about the time I was ten, eleven, twelve... As I grew up, became a teenager I started to teach and pay for it myself. I know a lot of couples who watch Blackpool videos or YouTube and it is a great way to educate yourself when you are young especially if you don't have access to great coaches. So this is a great way to learn and educate yourself and this is what I did when I was younger. I watched Blackpool videos with great champions like Markus and Karen, John and Anne, Andrew and Lorraine, Augusto and Caterina, and I would do my best to emulate them. I really learned what Ballroom dancing was all about and it created an image in my mind. So I think it is very important to watch the couples at the top to give younger couples the correct image.
[Anastasia]: Also, I think if there is a will there is way. And it does not matter how difficult it is. If you really want it you can get it. We know that a lot of coaches when they see you are really talented and determined they want to help. They can help to guide you in your career.
[Victor]: I know my coach that I've been with since I was fifteen when he won the World Youth championships he never had a private lesson. He only took group classes in his home country. And he was very successful, so it can be done.
Do you think it is still possible today?
[Anastasia]: It is more competitive now
[Victor]: I think, as Anastasia said, when there is a will, there is a way. My first time I went to Blackpool was 1996. I was dancing with my sister at the time. And I have never been to England before for lessons. Anyway, I made the final. We were 4th. So that was great. So is it possible? Yes, I think so.
[Anastasia]: Of course it helps to take lessons because you get the knowledge, understanding and you get more experience as well.
OK, you were talking about lessons in England but not to take any lessons at all anywhere?
[Victor]: Well, that is probably not possible. It is too competitive nowadays. It is a bit difficult to learn anything just from a book. But you get an idea what Ballroom is like and what it should be by watching the quality videos.
When you were a teenager there was no YouTube so videos from competitions were not as easily available
[Anastasia]: Actually in China they don't have YouTube.
[Victor]: When we are in China doing shows or competitions we cannot believe how much talent there is out there. There is so much talent and ability in young dancers out there. I think they have a great future.
[Anastasia]: To answer your earlier question, I think you have to have some lessons to have some guidance. It is the same as in life. You need to have some guidance to understand what is right and wrong especially when you are younger. It is important, when you watch videos, to watch the right ones as well.
[Victor]: I remember when I was younger I only watched Blackpool and UK videos because these were the only videos available at the time. I could purchase them. And I was watching the finals and the semi-finals, all these champions. And when I had my lessons I would go back to watch again and I would check if what I learned would match what the top couples were doing. Of course they matched because I had a great coach. So I tried to put that into my body.
How do your own private lessons look now?
[Victor]: Anastasia is my teacher now (laughing).
[Anastasia]: And he is mine!
[Victor]: Of course we have coaches who we trust. Our coaches are always helping and supporting and guiding us. There are few people I have been taking lessons from when I was young. They still help me today and I am very grateful for that. When we started dancing together they were very supportive. When it comes to the dancing, at this time, we are very much aware of when things go wrong or aren't quite right so we make sure we practise a lot. We try to work it out and when we find we cannot resolve it then we have a third opinion.
In your own opinion, event being one of the top couples, are there any things you need to improve on?
[Anastasia]: It is never perfect
[Victor]: I think you can look at dancing at one angle but you can also look at it at a different angle. Sometimes everybody, including all the judges, all the audience and all the competitors are looking at the dancing at one angle. But if you are able to turn it and look at it differently you can create a change which can be successful. I believe the results are just a side effect of good dancing or an improvement in dancing. So we are always on this journey of discovery. You keep trying to find new ways of dancing, new feelings, new approaches to dancing. Because when we are able to find something we truly enjoy doing then when we enjoy it, chances are other people will see that and will enjoy it as well. Then we hopefully change something. So at any level it can happen.
How would you achieve that change in angle? Through choreography?
[Victor]: Well, it can be through anything really. It could be a lot of things.
[Anastasia]: This is the challenge to find the right door which opens it for you and gives you that big lift. We are always trying to find this.
[Victor]: I remember one year when I was younger I was watching the Professionals at Blackpool and there was this couple in the final not dancing so well. The next year they made an incredible leap, an incredible change, and totally different dancing. I remember that because I was very young and the impression they left on my mind was that everything is possible. At that point the previous year it was a bit rough for them, but it was admirable and they earned a lot of respect from the dance community because they were able to, at such a high level, make such a dramatic change in their dancing. And subsequently they were very well rewarded with the results. All the couple at the top are always searching for that. We have a lot of respect to all the couple we compete against. It's a great group of people.
If you were able to change something in dancing, what would you change?
[Victor]: I would put candles on the tables and dim the lights a little bit! It would make it very romantic. Not good for video and photography though!
[Anastasia]: I think a lot of attention now is on the sportive side and dancing as a sport. Which, on one hand, is great but on the other hand sometimes dancing is losing its meaning which is basically when a man comes to a woman and asks her: would you like to dance? And a woman saying yes or no. And if she says yes, he is leading her and she is following him. So right now, I think it has become a little bit too much sport. There is no room for the feelings anymore. No room for class and elegance...
[Victor]: No room for sophistication... But this is where Ballroom dancing started as. And I think, as we continue to progress in dancing, learning new skills, choreography, we should never forget that. It can very easily become just a sport, extremely physical. When I look at it sometimes I think, wow, that's very impressive speed or ability to do back bends, head on the floor and all that stuff. But I also wonder what your medical bill is afterwards because it must be painful! It is sometimes even difficult to watch.
I also would like to see more elegance, also off the floor
[Victor]: We have something called Cotillion in America. It's very good for kids because they can learn not just about etiquette but also how to behave and conduct themselves. And they also have dancing as well. I don't know if there is anything like that in Europe. Sometimes we forget but the gentleman is dancing in a tail suit with a beautiful lady in a beautiful gown to fabulous great music. We forget that sometimes and it becomes just good entertainment. We live in modern times but we need sometimes a touch class and elegance in a balanced way.
Thank you very much for coming here and talking to us.
All photos by Peter Suba