Unfortunately there was not time to interview Igor Kobiuk and Liliia Gladiuk in October 2013 when they won the Professional Rising Star Ballroom at the International Championships in London but we agreed to meet few months later during the UK Open. Igor and Liliia are from Ukraine and dance in the Professional.
Professional dancing is is about smoothness and quality not about force and quantity
Congratulations for winning Professional Rising Star Ballroom at the International! Tell us a little bit about how you started to dance?
[Igor] Let Liliia start because I think my history is a little bit longer. It will help me think
[Liliia] It is because you old! (laughing)
[Igor] Older! Not old (laughing)
[Liliia] I started when I was four years old. It is quite normal in Ukraine that children start dancing from a very young age. I started with Ballroom dancing but I also did Latin. I danced both till the age of thirteen when I chose to dance Ballroom only.
[Liliia] Yes. I had a lot of partners because I was growing up very quickly and my height was a problem. I was quite a tall girl and my partners were shorter than me.
Where did you start dancing?
[Liliia] In Kyiv. I was born in Kyiv. My Mum asked me: what do you want to do? Do I want to, as my cousin, do gymnastics or maybe try something else? I did not want to do gymnastics because I could see how hard it was and seen my cousin crying after training. So I said to my Mum: no, no, I want to do something else. So I started with dancing and fallen in love with it. Since then I did not stop (laughing). And last year I met Igor.
So your parents were not dancing?
[Liliia] No, not Ballroom, they were just bringing me to my classes. But my Dad used to dance Ukrainian folk dances and did classical ballet in his childhood.
How did you meet Igor?
[Liliia] We knew each other since we were kids.
[Igor] We practised in the same studio and we knew each other.
[Liliia] The dancing world, especially in Ukraine, is quite small and everybody knows each other. Igor called me right after the New Year during Orthodox Christmas...
[Igor] I even remember it was Friday (laughing). It was 9th of January 2013.
[Liliia] Yes. We decided to give it a try for two weeks before we make any further decisions about the partnership. We've just been practising and after two weeks we decided we liked it and to get together. So that's how we met. Now, Igor, you can talk now.
[Igor] I can talk now? She doesn't say that very often during the practice! (laughing)
I know this feeling!
[Igor] I started dancing when I was nine years old. It was in my school. They organised some starter classes.
Also in Kyiv?
[Igor] No, I was born in Uzhorod which is very near Slovakia and Hungary.
[Liliia] It is part of Ukraine known as Zakarpattia region
[Igor] It was my decision to start dancing. I took my Mum to the school and told her it was what I wanted to do. They did that open lesson when they showed everybody what Ballroom and Latin dancing is. And that's how it started for me.
How did you get interested in dancing? It is not a typical boys' pastime
[Igor] You know, I thought a lot about this because I know many boys don't want to dance and their mothers and fathers kind of force them to do it. It is often a dream of their parents but not theirs. In my case it was my decision as I said, but it wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for my mother's encouragement. When I was little she always praised me when I did a bit of dancing to the music, she were telling me how good I looked and how good I moved. So I started to think maybe I ...
[Liliia] ... was born to do this
[Igor] Yes, exactly (laughing). That's why I started to dance, I think. I had quite a successful career in Juvenile and Junior. I had good results until Junior II and then I changed partners. I had a lot of partners. Don't want to count them but perhaps there was ten or so. Some partnerships lasted longer than others. Some were very short, that's why I cannot remember them exactly (laughing). Then I went to Kyiv and studied Physical Education.
Actually it wasn't so simple, it is a funny story. At the time I thought I finished my career in Youth. I did not have a partner in Uzhorod anymore and already started the University to became a lawyer. One day, some girl came to the club and she wanted to go to Kyiv to enter the university there. So my trainer asked me if I can help her with the entrance exams. I started preparing her for that and got the idea to enter the Kyiv University myself. By the way, I already completed one year of Law in Uzhorod. When I came back after two weeks of exams - it was such a long session – I told my parents I want to go to Kyiv to study. My brother in particular was happy for me to go but my parents were supportive as well.
So this is how I ended in Kyiv. I was very lucky with the people I met there. They were very good dancers. They were my inspiration and motivation to do my best. I was looking at them and thinking if they can dance so well so can I! I started to practise a lot. I had few partners there before Liliia. With the last one of them, Alessia, we were preparing for the UK Open last year. All was going really well. But she went skiing and got injured.
Broke her leg?
[Liliia] No, she did not even know at first but she got problems with her joint. Actually Alessia was lucky, her injury got better after a month.
[Igor] It is normal now. In the meantime she had a baby, she is happy and we are good friends. I wanted to say a big “thank you” to Alessia because she was very understanding. When we started with Liliia it felt very good from the beginning. Our bodies moved together in harmony.
[Liliia] Igor is the first partner with whom I felt really comfortable. It is strange because I also had a lot of partners. When you meet a partner who suits you mentally and physically it is fantastic and it is key to the success. It is a big advantage and a pleasure to work with. If you and your partner are not thinking the same way and not going the same direction it is hard to work together. From the first time we practised together I thought we could work it out.
So what happened after you practised for two weeks?
[Liliia] In the middle of January we started to practise and in February one of our coaches said to us that we did a great job together and it is going to work out.
[Igor] So we decided then we will make this partnership work. After one month of dancing together we won the Ukrainian Professional Ballroom Championships.
[Liliia] There were only three couples dancing the Professional Ballroom in Ukraine at the time. One of them was my previous partner from Russia who is a very good dancer. So we were sure we won't win the championship because we were a new partnership. It was a great surprise for us!
[Igor] Actually, I think that's why we won. We did not expect any result, so we just went and perform with no pressure.
[Liliia] We just enjoyed it. And it was a great start of our partnership.
[Igor] When we won we were so surprised but in a good way
You are a young couple. Why dance Professional?
[Liliia] I am even younger than Igor (laughing).
[Igor] She is nineteen and I am twenty eight. But it was Liliia who brought me to Professionals.
[Liliia] My previous partner Denis was dancing in Professional and when we started dancing together in 2012 he brought me to Moscow to practise there. It was not a long partnership but quite successful. We were in the final of Rising Stars in Blackpool that year. When we split up I decided I did not want to go back to Amateur because I felt very comfortable dancing with all the great couples on the same floor. When we tried with Igor I thought that our style of dancing was more like what Professionals do nowadays.
[Igor] Also, before that, my teachers told me I should go to Professionals because my style of dancing is more like Professional than Amateur.
Can you describe what the difference is?
[Liliia] I felt the difference right from the first competition I did in Professional. I felt the maturity of dancers around me.
[Liliia] No, not in that sense. I mean everything about their attitude, the way they behave outside the floor....
[Igor] They are calm, they don't push. For instance if you want to go first, please go. When you are among the Amateur everybody is pushing, rushing.
[Liliia] This is really annoying. I am usually a calm person but any stress before the competition is not a good thing. If everyone outside the floor is calm, relaxed and confident about their dancing it suits me. It is a sign of maturity for me. You can see this on the floor as well, they are confident and I like that attitude very much. It creates class and style.
[Igor] I agree! Also, when you look at the way they move, the physical motion, it is much more refined and show deeper understanding. It is about smoothness and quality not about force and quantity!
[Liliia] It is not about age but your character and how you understand dancing.
Some Professional couples we asked that question said they did not see much difference. But I've seen them in Amateur and in Professional and I can see they dance differently.
[Igor] I think there is a big difference in mentality. When you go to Professional you start to believe in yourself and you start to be confident in what you already know and what you do. Because when you are an Amateur you are more like a student and when you are in Professional you move into the role of a teacher.
[Liliia] It doesn't mean you stop learning and develop
[Igor] Yes, of course. But you are already a formed dancer with your own style.
I was told by the photographer it is much easier to take a good photo of a Professional couple, especially the Latin one, because they hold the pose for the split second longer.
[Liliia] They don't rush into the next step. I think the right word is they are confident and calm and they don't feel they need to prove anything to anybody. In the ideal world (laughing). Therefore they have time to enjoy every pose and every step. DSI; Are you a couple in private life?
OK, it will be easier to ask the next question as I would like you to say something critical about each other.
[Liliia] We are ready for it, we practised (laughing)!
[Igor] Liliia likes to worry about things like that.
[Liliia] Come on, you start!
[Igor] When it is complicated she wants me to start! Actually, I believe everybody is different and unique and some things might be good for some and bad for the others. Sometimes she is very emotional and gets upset about things. It makes it difficult during practice. Sometimes I don't even know what made her upset! One moment she is OK and next moment she is upset and needs to step away. I know this is because she has this passion. But when she gets so negative it is not good for our dancing. You need to have good emotions and feelings.
[Liliia] Be positive
[Igor] Yes. At moments like that you need to be able to communicate. I must say sometimes I really don't understand why she got upset. Just enjoy it please!
Does she get angry because she made a mistake or cannot get something right?
[Igor] I don't mean she gets angry, she is upset. Perhaps because she is a perfectionist.
[Liliia] Sorry! (laughing)
[Igor] She feels everything needs to be right. I am telling her it is OK but she doesn't want to listen. I think it is generally a problem with women. They don't like to listen! (laughing)
What is Liliia's weakest side in dancing?
[Liliia] Don't tell! We don't want judges to find out (laughing)
[Igor] This is very dangerous territory. There is something which can be seen as weak point but on the other hand can work to our advantage. She doesn't move very fast. But I think this is good for me, she makes me more stable. Now I am not sure if this is actually her weakness...
That's OK. I am asking for your impressions.
[Igor] I actually think she is perfect. Not just as a dancer but she is a perfect package. Some things may not be good for another partner but suit me. For me these things might be a big plus. We were very lucky to meet each other. We complement each other and balance each other weaknesses.
[Liliia] I agree!
[Igor] Even when I look at the other great, top partners dancing on the floor I feel lucky I have Liliia.
Did you realise that you said she is perfect and now this is on record (laughing)!
[Igor] No problem, it is not the first time I said that. I believe in it. I am a man and take responsibility for my words!
OK Liliia, now it is your turn.
[Liliia] As I said before Igor is the first partner I really felt comfortable with and at the same time comfortable with myself. I don't need to pretend to be someone else. It is a huge thing for me and I would like to say thank you to Igor for that. It means a lot. I was sitting here and thinking what I don't like in him and I really cannot say a bad thing about him.
[Igor] Am I a superman? (laughing) Come on, if you want to say something, you can say.
[Liliia] Sometimes when I am in this negative state, upset or down, he reacts emotionally as well. He starts to speak or to behave in such a way, gesticulates, which annoys me.
You would prefer him just to shut up and wait till you calmed down?
[Liliia] No, no. I would never say he needs to shut up.
[Igor] Now I understand how I need to behave!
[Liliia] No, but in the end of a day we always resolve our conflicts. We don't have that many anyway. There are some things I would like Igor to improve as a dancer. As a person, I am absolutely happy with him. Maybe as a dancer I don't sometimes feel the weight I would want to feel. But as Igor said we balance each other. I like to be more controlled, he likes the movement and performance. He is very light in his movement which brings out the lightness in my own body.
I wanted to ask you about all the good things you see in each other but you have already answered that question
[Igor] We tried to keep the positive feeling (laughing)
[Liliia] Maybe because we are a new partnership we don't see each other faults. But I think we know each other well and we accept who we are. OK, I just remember one thing my Mum criticises in Igor. She always says he needs to eat more, he is too thin! (laughing)
Wait till you stop dancing. Two, three years and you will be rounder (laughing)
[Igor] I know!
[Liliia] I can admit to my own weakness. Often I don't like to hear criticism. I don't like to hear Igor telling me about my mistakes.
[Igor] I wanted to say that! She is a bit egocentric in that respect. But to be a good Ballroom dancer you have to be. So sometimes I don't even try, I can see she is not ready to hear me. I better wait. It is very important for me not to push her. I know she needs to let the steam out. I think she is making a mistake but maybe I don't need to say it to her. Maybe this will help us with our results or in some other way. You learn to think in a more strategic way when you are in Professionals.
[Liliia] You learn to compromise. Neither of us wants to have more partners than we already had (laughing)!
Changing the subject completely: what do you eat?
[Liliia] Igor feeds me often (laughing)
Igor, do you cook or just buy Chinese takeway?
[Liliia] We don't have Chinese takeway in Ukraine
[Igor] I try to prepare healthy food. Actually Liliia cooks very well. Her father is fond of cooking. I am crazy about your Dad, Liliia, you know! I believe everybody has a right to express themselves and do what they love doing. So Liliia cooks, and she is happy and I am happy (laughing).
[Liliia] I cook and you wash the dishes
[Igor] No problem for me, I can do it, it is not a hard work. I even like doing it because I can think about lot of things when I am doing routine work.
[Liliia] But at the practise you feed me all the time. You bring chocolate.
[Igor] Yes, because I believe you need chocolate to lift the mood and for smiles.
[Liliia] And I usually have just cucumbers with me.
[Igor] Yes, she always brings something strange like that. I call it rabbit food!
I know you said you are not a couple but Igor behaves like a good trained husband (laughing)
[Liliia] He had a good practice.
You were married?
[Igor] No, no
[Liliia] But he was trained (laughing)
When you travel for competitions which one of you is driving?
[Liliia] I have a driving licence but I don't drive
[Igor] When we go to competitions we use trains or we stay in one place like in England. We don't go around a lot. When we go to Italy for lessons we stay close to the studio as well. In Kyiv I live very near the studio and it takes me ten minutes to walk there. We spend a lot of time in dancing halls from early morning to the late night. No time to go out much. We try to work and practise in one studio so we don't need to travel a lot.
Do you plan to open your own studio?
[Igor] For sure. But not now.
[Liliia] It would be impossible with the intensive dancing and travelling we do now.
[Igor] I cannot imagine how we could do it now. To make your studio successful you need to be there, you need to care about your students. That's why now we try to work with very few students because we need to concentrate on our own dancing as well. I also dance ProAm so it is possible to do both competitions at the same time.
[Liliia] Yes, but also abroad.
Which countries do you go to most?
[Igor] In Europe.
[Liliia] Usually we go to Italy and England. This year we went to Shanghai in China as well. We are looking forward to the Asian Tour.
[Igor] We will also be competing in Ukraine
[Liliia] We travel through Ukraine teaching in different towns and clubs.
[Igor] This year we did two Russian competitions.
[Liliia] Both in Siberia. It was good, nice prize and we made good results there. It was strange but they organised European Championships in Siberia. Organisers did a very good job.
[Igor] It was very cold there as it was winter, 21st December.
[Liliia] It was -23 degrees outside! The competition was great and Stanislav Popov who is the president of the Russian Federation did a really great job. And we made the final so we were very happy.
[Igor] Yes, and this was our last competition of the year. We were tired physically and mentally. We decided to just enjoy it and it worked. I think this is our way: don't think of results, just go, perform and enjoy.
I don't believe it is possible no to think of results.
[Liliia] I did not believe this either. But it is.
[Igor] It is not easy every time as you cannot control your own mind all the time. But if you try to change the focus, your mind will follow that direction.
[Liliia] It is like my jogging. I get tired and I think I cannot go any longer so have to stop but if I start thinking of booking hotels, or organising tickets or think about all sorts of other things I noticed I can jog for longer.
Do you like jogging or do it for keeping fit?
[Liliia] Both actually. I don't do it regularly. Sometime the weather is not good outside and it is easy to catch cold/ But when I can, I love to do it. Once in Italy we jogged together with Igor and it was so nice. It was warm and we've seen the sunset, we were jogging on the beach. I also do this to keep fit. Igor and I do a lot of pilates. Almost every day, before and after practice.
[Igor] Actually I believe the future of dancing is development of body and mind. Our body is an instrument of our soul. We need to be ready mentally and spiritually and develop in these areas. So as we understand our body is an instrument, you need to keep that instrument in the best possible condition.
[Liliia] You need to eat healthy and take care of your body in various ways. Pilates helps a lot. Igor brought me into pilates and I was amazed how much it helped.
[Igor] I had an amazing teacher. She was a ballet dancer and she knew how to use her body to be a perfect dancer. She started to work with pilates.
[Liliia] We can use a lot of pilates in our dancing
[Igor] I teach at the University of Physical Education. I graduated from there and stayed there to work. We make use of a lot of the information from these studies.
[Liliia] I study there as well. Igor is my teacher there.
[Igor] Some of my previous partners were my students as well (laughing). But anyway, we use a lot of information from the study. We also participate in the research done there. For instance, we had to jog with oxygen masks or dance with the mask.
[Liliia] They do the calculations and analysis. They do psychology tests. All is very interesting
[Igor] They taught us how to jog and how to work out to improve our cardiovascular system, how to improve our stamina and so long. Obviously it is not that critical for us as for the Olympic sports athletes but we try to take in that knowledge.
[Liliia] We do a lot of physical preparation but there is a lot of art in dancing.
[Igor] Actually when you have a perfect technique you don't need that much of a physical preparation, especially in Ballroom.
[Liliia] Sometime we don't even work on our stamina...
[Igor] Yes, when we feel our technique is good. Then you don't have the pressure.
So are you hoping for the final tomorrow?
[Liliia] In the main competition? We will be happy to reach the quarter final first (laughing)
[Igor] OK, the main goal is to become a champion. But before that we have smaller goals. We are happy to reach them one by one.
What is the most important element in dancing for you?
[Igor] For me, it is to be able to express yourself for others to see and appreciate it. It is very important to be able to show the deep feelings through your body in connection with the music and people who are watching.
[Liliia] I cannot say that one thing is more important than the other. But surely the music and the dancer being creative and artistic with the music is very important.
[Igor] Sometimes we sit together and talk to each other why some couplers become champions and some don't.
[Liliia] Yes, some people dance for years and look like they covered all the elements. But the key word is: beautiful couple.
[Igor] Yes, beautiful couple sound simple but there is a lot to it. The visual impression is important. It is important how they look together. When you look at champions current and past, they all were beautiful. People who did not have much to do with dancing would look at them and say that as well.
[Liliia] There is an art in that. And beauty and art go together.
[Igor] Then there is a whole package. Musicality, feelings, technique, lines, shapes, everything must be there.
You mentioned deep feelings, is this different for Latin and Ballroom?
[Liliia] This is an interesting question to ask Igor because sometimes he dances Samba walks when we practise Ballroom! (laughing)
[Igor] People who dance Latin can express themselves easier. They have more freedom in movement and can dance together but separately. In Ballroom you need to be more aware of your partner. Anyway, that's what I think.
Do you think people who watch can feel these emotions?
[Igor] Yes, and that's why you need to be honest and commit 100% to what you are doing and not fake it. It shows.
[Liliia] If you believe in something, do it to the end!
[Igor] When you turn from Amateur to Professional you start to believe in yourself and be confident with what you do. And people can like it or hate it, it is their problem, not yours. When you start to truly express yourself you discover things you like and things you don't like so much
[Liliia] You need to experiment.
[Igor] We dance only one year but we tried a lot of techniques to experiment. We tried strong frame, soft frame, no frame (laughing). We tried a lot.
[Liliia] We tried to experiment with all sorts of things
Can you describe each dance with one word only?
[Liliia] Waltz is lightness for me
[Igor] I don't know, it depends on the mood of the day. Sometimes I do Tango with passion or love and sometimes with calmness. Depends on the mood. Waltz for me sometimes is depth and weight and sometimes lightness.
[Liliia] We compromise (laughing), I try to be lighter and he tries to add more weight.
[Igor] Yes, I always say she is not light enough and she says I need more weight (laughing)
[Liliia] Tango is passion for me but sometimes I think it is a fight. Viennese Waltz is like a wind on your face when you drive the car with the roof down! Foxtrot is intimacy but elegance and smoothness.
[Igor] Foxtrot is very sexy for me.
[Liliia] Yes, it is the sexiest dance. Quickstep is a happy end.
[Igor] For me, quickstep is like sharing joy with everybody. But the important thing in each of them is the relationship between a man and a woman. Waltz is like a lover between both, Tango is perhaps a conversation, Viennese Waltz is like driving a car, Foxtrot is when man is a leader and takes a woman where he wants with him sometimes with some resistance from her, and Quickstep is like he is showing her beauty to everybody.
[Liliia] But every day is different.
How would you compare Latin dances to Ballroom dances?
[Igor] Jive is like Quickstep. Cha Cha is more like Foxtrot for me where man does what he wants. Almost like this is the last day before he goes away so he takes his woman to a bar and does what he wants (Liliia is laughing). It is sometimes like a Tango as well, some conversation. Samba for me is a little bit like Quickstep and Viennese Waltz. I love Samba and Jive because it to move your body and express your feelings best through that. Rumba and Waltz are similar but Waltz has an element of sadness and melancholy.
[Liliia] I would not compare Latin and Ballroom at all. I think they are really different.
[Igor] We once listen to Allan Tornsberg lecture about the origins and development of each dance. It was very interesting to learn how they developed depending where they originated from.
Some dances come from Africa and you can see that African people were hearing music in a different way. They used drums a lot. Music and dance were shaped by the sound of beat: bum, bum, bum. We can see that bounce in Samba and Jive.
In other parts of the world people listen to music and hear some other sounds and they feel and dance with another parts of their body. Cuban people hear other sounds like maracas: chica, tica, chica, taka, and they try to dance to imitate this.
Paso Doble is a European dance and in Europe when we listen to music we hear melody: la, di, dah, di, dah and that's why we dance lines and shapes. In Latin dance you need to very much to understand where each of the dances is coming from. In Ballroom as well. You need to know the history and use it in your dancing.
How do you work on developing your style?
[Liliia] I worked with an actress to learn about acting. My partner and I tried to apply this with the help of my teacher. It was one of my previous partner. It was a nice experience. We created a different story for every dance, it was like a developing a drama. We had lines written down and tried to act, first without dancing, to get into it. It helped us to discover which emotions we feel at which point and later to put it into dancing. It was very interesting.
I don't think many people can apply acting to dancing. When you see an actor in a movie you can tell if he is good or bad. You can see if he is true with his emotions and actions and so on. The same applies to dancing. I am not a professional actress and I know I cannot act well every day. So when I am on the floor I prefer my true emotions to come out when I dance. But sometimes, on some days, you feel down and cannot get any positive emotions to come out, acting can help, especially on the competition night.
For me it was a good experience to learn to apply acting to dancing because you can choose a story in your mind and play it when you need that extra help. When you don't feel ready, for example, for Tango, there are good and useful exercises you can do to make yourself feel strong and competitive on the floor. Start making some strong gestures with your hands, like you are hitting something or boxing, and with these movements you make your mind change as well. Another thing I learned in the acting classes is something perhaps less useful for dancing, but if you want to appear rushed you need to jog very quickly in place and that helps to develop some emotions required to show that. There is a connection between physical movement and your mind.
[Igor] For me it is easy. Yesterday we went to Bryan Watson lecture. He told us of three things people were saying about him through his career.
[Liliia] Selfish, natural and musical
[Igor] And he said, I was musical but never worked on it. I just liked music. Simple.
[Liliia] He was artistic and very emotional.
[Igor] And this is true about me as well. I am emotional. If I feel it, I do it, when I don't, I just do technique.
Nowadays many identical figures are danced across different Ballroom dances. Doesn't Ballroom choreography become boring?
[Liliia] No, because you can still aim for perfection.
[Igor] Didn't I say she is a perfectionist? (laughing)
[Liliia] In every figure you can find something different to concentrate on. Ballroom is not boring at all, I cannot imagine myself dancing Latin.
[Igor] For me dancing anything with Liliia is not boring. If you get bored with dancing nobody stops you, go and play golf!
Thank you very much for coming. Good luck tomorrow!
All photos by Peter Suba