We had a pleasure to talk to Igor Mikushov and Ekaterina Romashkina who won the Professional Rising Star Ballroom at the UK Open 2014. Igor and Ekaterina represent USA.
To become a great dancer you need to develop a personality
Congratulations on winning the Rising Stars. Did you expect it to win?
[Ekaterina]: It is never obvious! It was a very happy moment, we wanted to win badly. We were prepared but you never know, somebody can be better than you even if it is your best night. Somebody can have even better night so you never know until the results are there. We are over the moon!
Do you know that according to your rating on dancesportinfo you were supposed to win so there should be no surprise! (laughing)
[Ekaterina]: Well, we did not look at that (laughing)
[Igor]: There was another American couple in the final, Denis and Lesya, and we often compete with each other.
I can see many Russian names amongst the American couples. Last year when I talked to Victor Fung after the Team Match in Blackpool, he told me he was the only one from the USA team actually born in America.
[Igor]: There are lots of young dancers already born there but their parents come from many other countries.
[Ekaterina]: There are a lot of young Amateur couples getting good results and they were born in USA. But most of the Professionals come from the other countries.
I guess people who come to USA from Russia or Ukraine are prepared to put up with a hard work. I can see the same here in England. They are hungry for success and ready to work for it.
[Ekaterina]: In Russia or Ukraine it is normal for the young kids, dancers, to practice for three hours a day or more. There is discipline.
[Igor]: Parents have different attitude as well. They tend to be stricter with their kids and don’t listen to any excuses.
[Ekaterina]: It is like: if you going to be dancing, you must do it 100%! If you don’t want to do it, we don’t want to waste money and time. In USA there are good schools where kids can do dancing and most of them, some 80%, have parents who came from Russia or Poland or Ukraine and these parents still have that attitude. I call it European mentality (laughing).
OK, so how did you start dancing?
[Ekaterina]: Oh, we know each other for a long time.
[Igor]: We dance together for over four years but in the meantime we split up and get back together.
But how did you get into dancing in the first place?
[Igor]: I started dancing when I was nine. I come from Tomsk in Siberia. I started there and I was dancing there till I was seventeen. I got very good results and I was top Junior and Youth competitor. When I was seventeen I moved to Moscow. At the time I was dancing both Latin and Ballroom, I was dancing 10 Dance till 2008.
[Ekaterina]: He is a Latin boy really
[Igor]: We danced Latin with Katya as well. We met there when she was fifteen. She was my first partner in Moscow.
[Ekaterina]: I am from Moscow and I came to dancing when I was nine as well. My older cousin used to dance and I used to go to see them compete. I loved all the feathers and glitter and I said to my parents: I have to be a dancer too. They brought me to the studio and that’s how I started. When I was fifteen I met Igor and it got more serious. It was a very successful partnership, we travelled a lot, went to England to Blackpool in 2004. It was a great experience. We were together for some four years and then Igor moved to America.
Any particular reason, Igor?
[Igor]: I wanted some change. I wanted to try something different...
But moving to America is never so straight forward, it must have been a big decision.
[Igor]: Well, at that time Anna Demidova, Katiusha’s sister, was looking for a partner. We met in the UK for try-out and decided to give it a go.
So, Katya, he simply left you…
[Ekaterina]: Yes, it was actually a pretty painful split for me at the time. But we were good friends for a long time, we also studied together in the same university (Russian Academy of Theatrical Arts) in the same faculty. When we started dancing together we decided to study in the same place to make it easier with the travelling and all the other commitments.
[Igor]: We had a lot of very good teachers at the university. There were only seventeen students doing Ballroom there and it was a very good group.
[Ekaterina]: It was a great experience. Studying there taught us a lot about history of dance, about other styles of dancing, methodology of teaching. It was really exciting.
[Igor]: We used to do classic dance, flamenco, character dancing, all sorts of styles.
[Ekaterina]: Before the split I did not have a clue that he had all these other plans. In my mind, we had competitions planned for the whole coming year. We grew really successful, had Blackpool finals and International finals behind us. We knew many people. When we split up I wanted to dance even more, to get better and beat him (laughing)! I went to UK for try-outs, I had a period of dancing with a partner but it did not really work out. Then I met Dusan and we moved to Italy to live in the house of Catherina Arzenton. I am really thankful to her for such a great experience. She gave me so much knowledge and passion for dancing. We danced with Dusan for nearly three years. We travelled a lot, moved a lot. We were in Serbia, in Italy. We competed a lot as well and we were really successful. But it was a difficult partnership and, at some point, it was right for me to end it.
[Igor]: In Russia, our teachers were Stanislav Bekmametov and Natalia Urban to whom we are very thankful. They helped us a lot
[Ekaterina]: They brought us up really. I know them since I was twelve and they were my teachers till I was twenty. They really made it possible for me to move from the hobby level to the serious, international level. They brought us to England and to Italy. They opened our minds.
[Igor]: I danced with Anna Demidova for two years and we were quite successful but at some point I could see the partnership did not work out as planned. So we decided to split up. I then found another partner, Margaret, and we had good results. We were national US champions and got the finals of the Rising Stars in Blackpool. Everything was looking good but Margaret wanted to become a dentist and one day just decided to quit dancing for good. I was left with no partner and could not find a new one for almost a year…
[Ekaterina]: After Dusan I went back to Moscow. I had one or two partners for a short time but had to stop dancing for nearly a year because of problems with my foot. I had an operation and was not sure if I could come back to dancing at all. So there was a bit of drama in my life at the time. But when I was at home, not dancing, Igor kept on writing to me: let’s get together again, let’s start all over again. So I said, OK, let’s have a try-out
[Igor]: I came to Moscow to visit my parents and to have a try-out with Katya.
[Ekaterina]: I did not dance for a while so when I put my shoes on I was very nervous. And there was a lot of pain as well when we danced. My feet hurt but dancing together felt so good. To be honest we remained friendly, the relationship did not go bad when we split up before so dancing together felt natural. So I was like let’s do it, let’s give it a go! It meant moving to America but I was ready to go.
So you finally got together again
[Igor]: It took some three more months for Katya to get all the paperwork together.
[Ekaterina]: And I was recovering from my operation so could not really start competing right away. So by the time I got the passport and visa I recovered and in July 2012 we did our first competition together.
[Igor]: One month after she moved to America
[Ekaterina]: It was such a big challenge for me. And very exciting time. I was not sure will I be able to handle dancing a big competition in the regular shoes. We were practicing a lot as well. One week after I arrived, we were doing all the regular practice, all the dances.
[Igor]: Mentally I was prepared. I had a year off dancing but maybe it was a good thing. Sometimes you need a little break to work on different aspects, your body, your physical strength. And when the time comes you are ready.
[Ekaterina]: We were both waiting for that first competition for a long time. When it came it came out well. It was very exciting. It was a big competition in New York and was a success for us. We danced as Amateurs then, and got the second place.
[Igor]: For a full year we danced in Amateurs. First competition in Professional division was Embassy Ball in August last year.
[Ekaterina]: We danced a lot of competitions for this last half year. It feels so much better to be Professional for us. I suppose you have to be mentally ready for that transition. At some point I felt not only that I am ready but that I actually need it! I felt I really need to go to another level.
So what is the difference between dancing in Amateur and in Professional?
[Igor]: There is no difference in dancing but there is a difference in attitude. People understand that this is a final stage in their competitive career.
[Ekaterina]: When we danced in Amateur we were sometimes upset with our results. But now in Professionals, even though the results are not always as we want them, we are most of the time happy. We look up to couples who dance for many years in the finals and it is amazing to be on the same floor with them. It gives you this extra incentive to go further. You have all of them as examples to yourselves.
[Igor]: When you dance the competitions you get more and more experience and when you look at all these top Professionals you feel they went through this already.
[Ekaterina]: And you know you can learn a lot from them even when you compete against each other.
[Igor]: But dancing-wise there is no difference.
[Ekaterina]: We still follow the same principles.
I always ask this question when I talk to the young Professionals and I am getting various answers, but they all admit something is different.
[Igor]: For now, it is great for us, we don’t feel any pressure. There is definitely less pressure than in Amateurs where we were expected to win. In Professionals there is not so much expectation so I feel that it lets us relax. You have to push yourself, do as much as you can, but with less stress.
[Ekaterina]: We feel very positive really
[Igor]: When you are on the floor dancing alongside Victor or Arunas or Andrea there is this special emotion and different point of view.
[Ekaterina]: It feels very motivating when you know the judges have to compare you to these couples.
[Ekaterina]: No, very motivating. Because they are so good.
[Igor]: The field is much stronger and you feel you can do more than you ever thought you could.
[Ekaterina]: When you lose to some couples you might be upset. But then you look at them in the next round and you realise there are things you still need to learn.
If you watch video of Arunas and you dancing in the same round and you compare each other how does it feel?
[Ekaterina]: We don’t feel competitive with Arunas and Katusha. They are our main teachers. We look at them as examples
[Igor]: And with respect.
[Ekaterina]: They have so many more years of experience behind them. So we look up to them and try to achieve the same level.
[Igor]: You have to learn to take criticism as well. It is difficult but necessary. It comes with age and experience as well. Even changing partners gives you that experience. It can hurt but you have to do it. Otherwise you stop improving.
Which one of you takes criticism better?
[Ekaterina]: Hmmm (laughing)
[Igor]: Our personalities are really strong. I think we take criticisms from teachers reasonably well (laughing). From each other… not that easy.
[Ekaterina]: But I think I am improving that as well. Sometimes when Igor says something to me and I think he is wrong, I talk to myself, take it positively and try to see his reason and try to improve that particular thing.
Are you together in private life as well?
[Ekaterina]: No, but we are good friends.
[Igor]: We have our girlfriend and boyfriend
[Ekaterina]: I think it helps us to get along better.
Describe what is worst in yourselves
[Ekaterina]: Self-criticism…. It is tough.
[Igor]: I can be really stubborn. It depends on my mood a lot. Sometimes if you did not sleep enough or you worked a lot it is much harder to be open minded and positive!
[Ekaterina]: Come on! You being stubborn is sometimes an advantage
[Igor]: Again, if I have time to think about it for a minute or two, think whether I was 100% correct, I may change my mind or I may not. It is good to be flexible. Sometimes it is impossible because of my personality and my emotions. I can be difficult. I’m a Zodiac Scorpio and was born in a year of Tiger, so no surprises here! (laughing)
[Ekaterina]: I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to give away my secrets! (laughing). OK, sometimes I can be overactive. I cannot calm down. I cannot take things easy and relax. I tend to worry too much and can be anxious. I try not to show it but it is going over and over in my head like competition results or some life situation. I should not worry so much, I know that. The definitely gives my problems sometimes (laughing).
What is the best quality in you?
[Ekaterina]: Well, I think I am an achiever. When I decide to do something I get into it 100%. I have clear goals and I focus on them. I know when I work on something I give it 100% and don’t have regrets that I could do more.
OK, Igor said his worst problem is that you are stubborn. So what annoys you in him?
[Ekaterina]: I agree, it is annoying (laughing). But his stubbornness has two sides. Sometimes it is actually the best in him. If he gets something in his head and doesn’t want to listen it irritates me. He wants to prove he is right and wants you to believe he is right. I am different. When people don’t think I am right I can just say, fine, that’s your problem. I am OK with it. But Igor keeps on and on, because he wants you to admit he is right. But sometimes it is great because it brings us results. His idea is right and he wants to prove it to me. I may not see it at first but he convinces me.
Igor, what irritates you in Katya?
[Ekaterina]: I am perfect (laughing)
[Igor]: Not always! I am looking for corrects words (laughing). Sometimes I think she is too emotional. Many women are. But sometimes she is just too emotional. It can lead to arguments and fighting. But then we calm down. The air clears out, and it is good.
What do you fight about?
[Igor]: Our dancing. Or how to make it better.
[Ekaterina]: I see it one way, and he sometimes sees it another way
[Igor]: It can be any aspect. It can be musicality we disagree about. It could be anything.
[Ekaterina]: But it doesn’t happen too often. We are really good together. I know, I had partners who could really fight! So I know we are good.
[Igor]: The best it is to have a teacher next to you. Two or three times a week. He or she can help you to deal with these problems. Your mood swings much less (laughing). If, say, we don’t have a teacher for two, three weeks or a month sometimes, our work suffers. When we have these breaks, without the teacher, then we start to fight.
[Ekaterina]: We fight trying to find the best result.
So you need a third person to arbitrate in a way?
[Ekaterina]: Yes, it is easier. Of course, we are grown up and can deal with things but if somebody is around they see it from outside and it is easier.
[Igor]: It is good to have a team around you to help you to grow, to improve, to help you to correct your problems.
[Ekaterina]: And to have people around who care about you.
[Igor]: … who believe in you. And people who you trust. It is very important.
[Ekaterina]: We have a very positive team.
What comes to mind when you think of each dance, can you describe in one or two words?
[Ekaterina]: Waltz – inspiration
[Igor]: Waltz – hmmm…. Loyalty, something like this. It is very warm dance.
[Ekaterina]: Tango – explosion
[Ekaterina]: Foxtrot – softness, musicality
[Igor]: Hmmm…. It is difficult. Foxtrot is my favourite dance. So it is hard to find one word really. I feel really good dancing Foxtrot. Perhaps… jazzy.
[Ekaterina]: Quickstep – playful, sparkle…
It is surprising how different people associate different words with dances. For me, Foxtrot is perfection. I really cannot find another word for it. It is amazing how people describe different emotions when talking about dances. If you were to take Latin dances and pair them with Ballroom dances how would you do it?
[Ekaterina]: I would say Rumba and Foxtrot.
[Igor]: Jive and Quickstep
[Ekaterina]: Tango and Paso Doble of course.
[Igor]: Waltz is waltz. You cannot find anything like that in Latin. However, technically, maybe Samba
[Ekaterina]: Well, have some similarities in raise and fall (laughing). But it doesn’t come through my mind really. Technically yes, but if you associate based on emotions or character, than no.
Do you have a favourite dance?
[Igor]: As I said, my favourite dance is definitely the Foxtrot.
[Ekaterina]: I don’t. It is changing all the time for me. Depending on my mood, or what period of development we are. It changes from Quickstep to Waltz to Tango…
What about Latin?
[Ekaterina]: I have been always struggling with Samba. I don’t like Samba (laughing)
[Igor]: I think that my favourite dance, when I danced it, was Paso Doble.
[Ekaterina]: Because we are standard dancers, we did Paso well (laughing)
[Igor]: I also like Cha Cha.
[Ekaterina]: I was joking a bit earlier that I don’t like Samba, because of my personal experience. But I love watching the good dancers dancing Samba, it is lovely.
[Igor]: Actually, I enjoy all the dances. But if I have to choose a favourite, that’s my favourite. They are different, and all are nice.
[Ekaterina]: I think, as we have much better experience dancing Ballroom, we look at these dances differently. It is a different point of view if you are a dancer or spectator.
You travel a lot. Which foods do you like the most?
[Igor]: Russian is favourite
[Ekaterina]: Cooking from your home is what you miss most.
[Igor]: I like Italian food. I also like American food, like burgers.
[Ekaterina]: The good ones, not the MacDonald ones but from a good steak house.
[Igor]: We have so much choice in America. I also like sushi a lot, I like Mexican food. Most favourite is Russian but I also like others.
[Ekaterina]: I like Italian food, because when I used to live there I had a lot of really good pastas and pizzas. It stayed with me. Recently I started enjoying Spanish food. Spanish-American actually.
Do you keep any special diet?
[Ekaterina]: Well, we have preferences but don’t want to overdo eating. Of course, you should not overdo anything really. I don’t like fast food and don’t like to eat too much bread, carbs and potatoes. It is not my kind of thing. I like meat and vegetables. But I don’t do diets.
[Igor]: Because of practising and working every day we don’t have time to eat properly. When you spend over 10 hours a day on the floor you don’t really have time to think much about it.
[Ekaterina]: And you burn everything. So our work helps to keep us slim, we don’t have to diet.
[Igor]: When you stop practising you may gain couple of pounds (laughing).
Which one of you organises all the trips, hotels, flights?
[Ekaterina]: We help each other, discuss it first but it is so easy to book it all online.
Who decides on costumes, dresses?
[Ekaterina]: I have my beloved sponsors Atelier Aspesi from Italy. I have been with them for a long time, since I started dancing in Italy. They still continue sponsoring me when I am in America. We have very good relationship with them. I love designing dresses so I do that and send my designs out to Italy. Sometimes they correct something or offer they advise so it is a cooperation really. I love working with those people.
[Igor]: Sometimes she asks me what colour she should go for
[Ekaterina]: Yes, sometimes I do because, say, I want blue and he doesn’t. So I have to have a second choice. I show him the designs but he is, like, OK….
[Igor]: I made my last tail suit with Alexander Tailor from California. I am pretty happy with it. I tried many different designs with many different tailors in Russia, in Italy, Lithuania but this one is pretty good.
How do your girlfriend and boyfriend treat your dancing?
[Igor]: My girlfriend is also a dancer. She is dancing right now (laughing). We also most of the time are on the floor practising at the same time.
[Ekaterina]: We have like a little close team, two couples practising together.
Is her partner your boyfriend?
[Ekaterina]: No, no. It’s her brother.
[Igor]: My girlfriend dances with her brother, were born in America but have Russian roots.
[Ekaterina]: My boyfriend is at home, working right now. He is in the dance field as well. It makes it really easy. He can understand a lot.
I know some dancers who had their life partners from outside that field. Their boyfriends or girlfriends struggled to accept that they spend so much time, travel and stay in the hotels together with somebody else!
[Ekaterina]: I can see that. It could be tough and need a lot of love to make it all work
Do you have friends outside dancing?
[Ekaterina]: Yes, I have. Most of my friends are in Russia and my family is there. We have Skype so we can keep in touch easily.
Isn’t it difficult because of the time difference?
[Ekaterina]: Well, when I have morning in America they have an evening in Russia. It is nine hours difference. On my way to work, when I am driving, I put my headphones on and we can have a chat. That works.
[Igor]: Most of my friends outside of dancing are from Russia, from Tomsk in Siberia where I was in school as a kid. After I left I kept in touch but all the people I met since then were really from dancing. I studied dancing at the University as well, and all the students there were all dancers. So most of my friends are somehow connected to dancing.
[Ekaterina]: One of my good friends used to be a dancer, but now she is in New York and I am happy for that. She is not competing anymore but I can share everything with her I can talk to her when I need to talk.
What would you do if you could not dance?
[Ekaterina]: I would still like to be in the field. I love to do hair and make-up, I am very excited about that. I would love to design dresses as well.
[Igor]: I was pretty good in maths at school. I would probably go that way, some technology way.
[Ekaterina]: If it was not connected to dancing, I would probably study languages. I love learning new languages, it comes quite easily for me as well.
[Igor]: I used to play soccer at school, I probably spent half of my time on the football field and half dancing. I played for my school, I was pretty good. But it was impossible to keep both sports really. So it would be another option for me.
Some couples answer that they cannot imagine doing anything else but dancing
[Ekaterina]: I think we need to develop in all aspects, not just dancing. To become a great dancer you need to develop a personality. So you need to have interests outside of dancing. When you are too narrow minded you don’t see the whole picture of life.
[Igor]: But to become a good dancer you have to sacrifice many things. Sometimes you are tempted to go out, have fun with friends, but you have to understand you have to go to work and practise.
[Ekaterina]: It is obvious for us, we don’t have to think about it, it is in our subconscious. There comes a Saturday night and we don’t think let’s go out.
I know you are now very young Professionals. But do you have plans for the future when you retire from competitive dancing?
[Igor]: It would be nice to have a studio where you can grow a next generation of dancers, help them develop.
[Ekaterina]: You have to have plans. If you set a target you can achieve it.
[Igor]: I enjoy teaching a lot. It helps your dancing to develop, to understand what works and what doesn’t. Especially when you teach young kids you see dancing from the other side. In a way, you experiment with them to see what works and what doesn’t (laughing)
Which competition is your favourite?
[Igor]: Blackpool is the best. The atmosphere, the ball room, orchestra, all is a little like from a fairy tale! All the couples prepare specially for it and give their best.
What about the Blackpool music?
[Igor]: I love all of it. I am enjoying Blackpool completely and fully.
[Ekaterina]: I had once a conversation with one of the dancers, no names (laughing), and asked him about Blackpool music. And he said, I like it but of course I would not listen to it in a car. We all laughed because all four of us, Igor, his girlfriend, her brother and me, we do listen to it sometimes in a car!
[Igor]: When you call me, sometimes you can hear me listening to, say, Blackpool Cha Chas or Sambas. I love listening to the Latin music.
[Ekaterina]: By Empress Orchestra.
[Igor]: I enjoy it. It brings good memories from Blackpool.
Some couples said to me they didn’t like that music until they actually came to Blackpool.
[Igor]: That music, in that ball room, that mix is great.
[Ekaterina]: It is the atmosphere. It is the whole thing.
If you could, if you had such power, what would you change in dancing?
[Igor]: Judging system a little bit. There should be some rules and limitations around who is judging and who is teaching who. Some separation would be good.
[Ekaterina]: So it doesn’t get so personal...
[Igor]: It is very hard, but it would be good to bring more objectivity into it.
Is it possible to be objective in dancing? When there are two couples with the same technical perfection it comes down to personal opinion about their style.
[Igor]: Yes, in such case it depends on what you like. But in many cases there needs to be more objectivity. If you teach somebody and you really like them, can you really objectively judge that couples’ performance on that night?
[Ekaterina]: Even if you don’t want that personal element you are affected and possibly influenced by the fact that you know them personally. We are all human in the end of the day.
That’s true. Thank you for an interesting conversation and see you in Blackpool!
[Igor]: Yes, definitely.
[Ekaterina]: We are planning to do the Rising Stars for the whole year. So you will see us in Rising Stars as well.
All photos taken by Peter Suba