Interview with Slawomir Lukawczyk and Janine Desai

Interview with Slawomir Lukawczyk and Janine Desai

Posted on Friday, 28 Sep 2018, 21:15 by admin
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We met and talked to the Senior Ballroom winners of the Blackpool 2018 Slawomir Lukawczyk and Janine Desai few of months later when they came to Bournemouth to dance the UK Closed.

Ballroom is a performance art

Congratulations on winning the British Open! Hopefully you will also win the UK Closed tomorrow.

[Janine]: Yes, we will certainly give it everything as always

And, no doubt, you hope to win the British Closed in November?

[Slawek]: We won this title last year in 2017. So, of course, we will train hard to win it again.

We always start with asking about your history of dancing. We talked to Slawek a few years ago, when he and his wife Edna won the Senior Ballroom event in Blackpool in 2010. So what happened afterwards?

[Slawek]: Edna stopped dancing when our son was born. After a bit of a break I had a different partner for a year. After that, I started dancing with Janine. We have now been dancing together for eighteen months.

[Janine]: We started in November 2016

[Slawek]: And our first competition was in February 2017.

And what about you Janine?

[Janine]: How can I tell a long story in a short period of time... Dancing is the only form of exercise I have always enjoyed. I did about three years of Latin in my early twenties. I never danced any Ballroom or Latin as a child but I experimented with other forms of dancing.

So you started dancing in your twenties?

[Janine]: Yes, I was studying in Germany at the time. Then I got a place in the university in the UK. So I stopped.

So where are you from?

[Janine]: Duisburg in Germany - I call it the Sheffield of Germany.

What did you study here?

[Janine]: I studied Business Administration, first in Germany and then moved to Manchester Business School. I did my MBA and my doctorate there. I met my husband there. We moved down to London. I concentrated on my career for a while. I was already in my late thirties when I thought I would love to dance again - but maybe now in longer skirts rather than shorter skirts (laughing). I looked around and Moonglow Studio led by the late Ernie Chatt was not far from me. I initially did a bit of social dancing, but it took me a while to find a competitive partner. The funny thing is, that I had to go through quite a few try-outs with my first partner Dan Baxter who really was not sure at the time whether he should give me a chance!

Then, the very week we agreed to give it a go, I found out I was pregnant. Dan's reaction was amazing!! We still laugh about it. So for the first year I wobbled around the dance floor but we were highly motivated and I really enjoyed it. Dan and I continued dancing together for five years, and won our first national title a few months after I gave birth and twice afterwards. My second partner was Chindu, who actually is from Bournemouth. We also managed to win the national Senior Ballroom title. Then I danced with Phil and, for the first time, we made the British Open final. We danced together for three years. Then Phil wanted to change direction so I started looking for a new partner again. I came across Slawek who I knew obviously knew from the dance scene and we agreed to try and make it work whilst living in different countries. It continues to be a challenge.

What gives you more satisfaction, dancing or your business career?

[Janine]: It is very difficult to say because I look at my life and I see three very important elements. First my family of course, I have two young children. My daughter is three years old and my son is ten. Every time I look at him I know exactly how long I have been dancing (laughing). Naturally, they are very important for me. My family gives me a lot of happiness and is my anchor.However, my professional activity and dancing are central parts of my life too and all three together make me who I am.

So what is your profession?

[Janine]: I used to work for a number of large corporations and now I run my own consultancy business in human resources and organisational development with a personal passion for executive coaching. The flexibility helps with family and dance commitments. I do find myself drawing on experiences from the dance floor when I work with people on business and personal performance enhancement. I am often surprised how many then mentioned that they danced as a child or just how much they love Strictly.

How do you manage to have your separate private lives and still be able to put so much time into dancing?

[Janine]: You can only do it when you have a very supportive family. We are both very lucky.

[Slawek]: Yes, both our families stand behind us.

[Janine]: Even the fact that I am here today means my husband is looking after two kids in the hotel next door (laughing). He has been coming with me to the big competitions, to many, many Blackpools (laughing). He is a bit tired of going up to Blackpool all the time but, luckily, Bournemouth is a closer.

Where do you live?

[Janine]: I live in Hertfordshire, Northwest of London, near Watford.

For Slawek it is a bit of a longer trip.

[Slawek]: Yes, but then again the journey is longer for Janine when we compete in Europe. However, I think we do more competitions in England.

[Janine]: We had to make a decision which country we will represent. We decided on England and that means we want to support the national league. That's why we are here today.

Why is dancing so important to you?

[Slawek]: Keeps me fit and it is a constant challenge for me. Of course, it is close to my heart. Once you get into dancing, and you love it, you may as well keep doing it for as long as you can. You need to keep fit so why get into another sport if you can continue dancing.

[Janine]: It is difficult to describe what it is, but you know when you have got the bug. When I am on the dance floor, I don't think of anything else. It is the only activity which takes my mind away from absolutely everything. It is good to have something which makes you forget the world and what is going on from time to time.

What aspect of dancing is the most important for you?

[Janine]: For me, it is the full package. I enjoy the fact that there are sportive, artistic and musical aspects to it.

[Slawek]: Every competition is a challenge. You cannot stay on the same level, you have to keep developing and show something new to the judges. Because staying on the same level means you are really going backwards.

[Janine]: There is a lot about building the partnership, tuning into the other person's style. And about finding your joint strengths as a couple.

[Slawek]: We are still in the process of it.

[Janine]: It is motivating to know there are still things you can grow and expand on. Language barriers must be a challenge for many dance partnerships. In our case, we have to deal with four different language patterns in our communication. Although my English is fluent it is built on Germanic thought processes. Same for Slawek with Polish and French. Somehow our minds must meet in the middle. Sometimes I say something in English which can be subjective, expressing a feeling and how I perceive a certain move and Slawek doesn't get it (laughing). So we can have a dialogue similar to: "My favourite colour is blue". "No, it's not".

Can you describe each dance in one, two words?

[Slawek]: I would say Waltz is romance, Tango is passion.

[Janine]: Yes, definitely a passion. And a bad neck (laughing).

Foxtrot?

[Janine]: Gliding...

[Slawek]: "Fly me to the moon" (laughing)

Viennese Waltz

[Janine]: Carousel

[Slawek]: Rotation.

[Janine]: And quickstep is fun

Your favourite dance?

[Janine]: Waltz. And that's why I was not able to describe it in one word. It has so many aspects to it. I love the music most.

Tell me what don't you like about your partner?

[Janine]: Nothing, absolutely nothing. I never approach anybody trying to find things which are wrong about them.

Come on, nobody is perfect. We are not talking about your work, the coaching you do...

[Janine]: I coach because I adopted that as my personal attitude to life and to people. There are things we are working on but going out and talking about things we do not like about our partners does not seem to be a wise approach to enhancing a partnership.

OK, is there something Slawek could work on to become even better (laughing)?

[Janine]: Currently we work on movement, which is one of our big themes. It is not about Slawek or me, it is about enhancing our dancing. I am not trying to change him as a person but trying to improve our performance.

You are avoiding an answer in every possible way (laughing)

[Janine]: It is my approach! We have themes we concentrate on. We are not trying to change each other but build on what we have got. When you work as a couple it is important you listen to each other. In the heat of the moment whilst you are working, you can get very passionate about something... but then you need to pause and listen again.

What is the best in Slawek?

[Janine]: It is hard to package people into one word... Of course, we met because he is a great dancer. I love the commitment, the passion, the ability to keep going. Slawek is incredibly positive about absolutely everything. He is always looking for the next thing to improve. These are the first things which come to mind... His commitment to the partnership is very important.

And what are your answers, Slawek?

[Slawek]: Janine is perfect (laughing)

Come on guys, give me a break!

[Slawek]: She is very strong. When she sets a target, she goes for it. Sometimes we have different opinions about something in our dancing, about technique or interpretation but this is understandable. She is very organised. She is German so she is organised (laughing). It is really important because she lives in England and I live in Belgium, so logistically it must work.

So how do you make decisions about what competitions to go to?

[Slawek]: We talk about it

[Janine]: It works because we both engage in the conversation. We communicate.

So who books the tickets?

[Slawek]: I usually do when we dance on the continent, and Janine does the English ones.

Who drives a car?

[Janine]: Slawek drives on the continent, and I drive here (laughing). It is just practical, because I have my car here and he has one over there.

[Slawek]: I usually organise rentals.

What do you do for fun?

[Janine]: We dance for fun, seriously (laughing). My life is 100% packed, I do not have time for anything else.

What do you like to do with your husband?

[Janine]: Very ordinary things. When you have young children free time evolves around the kids. When we do something together as a couple, we like to see our friends, go out for dinner.  On occasions we go away for the weekend just to relax.

What kind of movies do you like?

[Janine]: We have not been to the cinema for ages, but we like political thrillers. We are watching lots of Netflix series like Homeland or films like Bridge of Spies.

What kind of food do you like?

[Janine]: We love going to restaurants. Any type of food. I don't eat fish or seafood but other than that... My husband Coolin is of Indian origin, but we do not often go to the Indian restaurants. I like steaks - probably one of my favourite. Sometimes we go away to the countryside places. We are quite foodie...

What about you Slawek, what do you like to do with your wife?

[Slawek]: My wife Edna has become a judge after she stopped dancing. So she is still involved with the dance scene. We have less time for each other after our son was born, but we still find time to practise so she has contact with the actual dancing. So, after our practice with Janine, I do some practice with Edna. She cannot do quickstep because she has a problem with her foot but we practise the other dances. Of course, our son takes a lot of time and we have to find some activities for him as well. She is involved with his education as I am often away.

Do you want him to dance?

[Slawek]: I would love to see him dancing but he is only five years old. We are not pushing him. He is coming with us to the studio, we practise and he is there. Sometimes he is running with me when I am warming up to quickstep but at the moment he is not really interested in dancing. He likes swimming plays tennis a little.

And what about your kids, Janine?

[Janine]: My son does a bit of social dancing. There is no competitive dance studio for kids near us. He enjoys going but he is more of a football boy; he loves his football and cricket. He is also very musical and does a lot of music. We support him experimenting with various activities. Dancing happens to be my passion, I am not sure he has found his yet. With my daughter, I can already see, might want to dance. She is immediately excited when the music comes on. Her body starts moving instantly. I can see her dancing Latin. I was like that at her age. But she is only three years old - so you never know (laughing).

What would you change in dancing if you had such power?

[Janine]: Easy answer. I would want to be fifteen again (laughing). As a Senior dancer you have acquired all this knowledge but you realise your body just can’t do it anymore (laughing). Of course, you can maintain fitness and build stamina so you are fitter than many people your age but you can no longer move with the same strength, flexibility and speed. That’s just the way it is. In my head, when I see the young guys dancing, I look exactly the same (laughing). And then I watch myself back on video and, sadly, it is anything but...

OK, but what would you change in the dance world?

[Slawek]: I would like to have competitions like they were before. Everybody competing together. Every couple could dance any competition. I would like everybody to be able to make these decisions without having pressure from their federation or organisation. If I could just click my fingers and go back to the times when all couples could dance Blackpool...

[Janine]: I wish there was a system again where you had an opportunity to compete to be selected to represent your country at the World Championships and then be supported financially. I think this honour is one of the best incentives for top couples to turn out to ranking competitions. I regret this system doesn't exist anymore.

Do you believe dancing should be part of the Olympic Games?

[Janine]: I personally don't.

[Slawek]: I don't think so. It is not a discipline you can judge objectively. It is not just a sport. There is already a problem with disciplines like figure skating. You have some rules and could try it, but it is really difficult.

[Janine]: For me, dancing is beautiful and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It has a subjective element to it. I cannot see taking that away without losing the wonderful aspect of it.

What do you prefer, dance competition or shows?

[Janine]: The reality is that, regrettably, there are very few show or demonstration opportunities for Seniors. Those I have done I enjoyed because the audience generally creates a vibrant atmosphere. For competitions it can vary. Sometimes you have a competition without atmosphere and then there are others which are amazing because the audience carries you.

Is the competitive side important?

[Janine]: Yes, we enjoy the competitive side because we are both quite competitive. At the end, this is what pushes you.

So winning in the eyes of judges is more important than public vote?

[Janine]: I asked myself that on many occasions...

[Slawek]: Sometimes the public follows judges because they trust judges. At the competitions the audience is really well informed and knowledgeable.

[Janine]: It is a tough one to decide. As I said earlier beauty is subjective and even within the judging panel you have judges with very different views. I do value being judged well by an experienced panel for the quality of our dancing and I love it when you feel that the audience enjoys what you are putting in front of them, when they appreciate what it takes you to do that. It's a great feeling when people come to you after the competition and tell you how much they enjoyed your dancing.

In the shows like "Strictly Come Dancing" or "Dancing with the Stars" the public verdict is often very different to the judges' vote.

[Janine]: The difference is that those competitors have very different backgrounds and dance experience which would be spread across various categories in normal competitions. Very often the public votes for a competitor who is not the best dancer but the one who improved most or showed most effort and love for dance. This couple would not receive the highest scores from the judges. So the audience rewards a person’s journey but judges cannot mark that way. They are supposed to judge your performance with one significant difference to other types of sports: In dancing judging does not only consider performance on the day but the consistency which you have demonstrated over period of time.

Not a performance on the day?

[Janine]: When teachers and judges explain to us how they mark, they stress that consistency over an extended period of time is an important criterion. The top couples are there because they have and continue to show that.

[Slawek]: I think, overall, I value the judges' opinion most. That gives me most satisfaction when I can see I have been marked well. Of course it is nice to be loved by the audience but I really respect judges' experience. Ideally you want both sides to agree.

You both are very fit, very slim. Do you follow any special diet or have you been born like that?

[Janine]: It is a bit of both (laughing).

[Slawek]: It is a little bit of genes. At certain age you have to look after yourself a little more carefully.

[Janine]: We obviously are very active, we do not have an opportunity to sit still a lot.

[Slawek]: We do not follow any special diet. We like to eat, we like cakes, we like ice-creams.

[Janine]: We are both a little hyperactive. My mother is like that so am I.

Any special preparations before the big competition?

[Slawek]: Pray (laughing)

[Janine]: I like to eat pasta and steak before. Make sense to me.

Do you have many teachers, coaches?

[Janine]: When you have been dancing for as long as we have, you would have had a number of teachers who made a significant contribution to your development at various stages. Winning the British Open is one of those moments when all those memories come flooding back and I am truly grateful to have had the chance to be taught and inspired by some of the greatest names in the business. When Slawek and I teamed up we decided to teacher share. Slawek had been taking lessons with Marcus and Karen Hilton for years and I was taking most lessons with Chris and Jo Bolton-Hawkins at the time. So we continue to see them as often as we can.

[Slawek]: We also attended one of Mirco Gozzoli’s training camps which allowed us to take lessons with a variety of teachers that otherwise we would not have had the chance to see.

[Janine]: It was great fun - also to train with and be pushed by top Amateurs and Professionals on the same floor. Unfortunately, most of these camps happen during the week which makes it difficult for Seniors to commit the time. This one was an exception running over a bank holiday weekend.

So you see many teachers?

[Janine]: Unfortunately, our time constraints and teachers' schedules don't allow us to. We mainly have the odd Saturday afternoon available for lessons when we happen to be in London together. Otherwise we would love to and we try to get new input whenever we have an opportunity

[Slawek]: There are no contradictions. You always get interesting information that makes you rethink the way you do things.

Do you use computers on every day basis?

[Janine]: I don't play computer games at all. I use them for my work, email and internet. Very little social media. I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and LinkedIn with professional contacts.

What about YouTube?

[Janine]: If I want to find out how to repair something I watch YouTube videos (laughing). OK, we watch dance videos sometimes.

What dancing websites are you visiting?

[Slawek]: Dancesportinfo!

[Janine]: When you want the international results and information you go to dancesportinfo, the WDSF website to check the calendar and also the DPA website to register for some competitions and check the national ranking.

What should we improve on dancesportinfo?

[Slawek]: Put up more videos. That would make it more interesting.

[Janine]: Chindu responded to my advert on Dancesportinfo at the time. So anything that encourages people to check in regularly to see those types of messages is helpful.

Do you have many friends outside dancing? I am not talking Facebook friends but real people

[Janine]: My Facebook friends are all real people I know. I have a smaller number of friends than most people (laughing).

[Slawek]: Most of my friends are dancers. I dance for a long time now, so most people I know I met through dancing and kept seeing for years. My life was dancing. We keep contact through Facebook as well.

[Janine]: One of my best friends is also a dancer but we did not meet through dancing. We met in a completely different context but both enjoyed dancing so our friendship became stronger. However, most of my friends are from outside the dance world. They know that I dance, they are supportive, but very few of them have been to any competitions. We don't talk about dancing much when I am with them. We have different touchpoints.

What do you think can be done to make dancing more popular?

[Janine]: I think the "Strictly Come Dancing" has reenergised the image of dancing, made it trendy and almost mainstream. Especially in England, it is such a popular programme.

[Slawek]: Yes, but it also makes the dancers who star there more famous than the actual champions... And that people who watch it have a false idea that you can become a great dancer after only couple of weeks.

[Janine]: Yes, there is that but on the other side lots of children are looking at dancing differently. I remember when I first arrived in this country, ballroom dancing had a terribly old-fashioned reputation. So at least it has revived the interest. I think a whole new generation has connected with dancing because of the TV programme. And that can only be applauded.

How can we make the dance competitions more interesting for people?

[Janine]: At local level I believe the structure and timing could be tightened and then advertised to the general public. In Germany the local community is more engaged because the format allows people to pop in for some coffee, cake and to watch some dancing. At the professional level, the problem is that a competition is only really exciting if anyone can win on the day... but there is less of an element of surprise about who is going to win in the professional field.

So the main problem is predictability?

[Janine]: I think predictability plays a part. It highlights the character of ballroom to be more that of an art than a sport.... You have to have a strong appreciation of dancing to watch it for its beauty, when there is little tension about the actual results in the professional field. For me it is a performance art.

That's an interesting observation. Thank you for your time.

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