The DanceCast Experiment: Max Sinitsa

Ballroom Chat: Episode #16August 03, 2020Samantha Stout
In episode #16 of Love.Live.Dance's podcast, Ballroom Chat, we talk with Max Sinitsa. Max is a former 3-time US Amateur Smooth Champion, US Professional American Smooth Vice-Champion, World Professional American Smooth Finalist, and the host of the DanceCast Experiment. Max discusses how he began dancing, why he believes that a strong foundation has contributed to his success, his thoughts on the advantages of recording your own dancing to review, the challenges that dancers face in pro-am events, and his upcoming project, the DanceCast Experiment. We also discuss his decision to retire from competitive dancesport earlier this year.
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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Our transcripts are automatically generated from our audio podcast with only small modifications for readability. Since the transcripts are automatically generated from our podcast conversation, they will contain errors.

SAMANTHA: Welcome back to another episode of Ballroom Chat. I'm your host, Samantha from Love Live Dance. Today I'm joined by three-time US Amateur Smooth Champion, US Professional American Smooth Vice Champion, World Professional American Smooth Finalist, and the host of "The DanceCast Experiment," Mr. Max Sinitsa.

MAX: All right. Thank you for having me.

SAMANTHA: Thank you so much for agreeing to be on the episode today.

MAX: Of course, of course. What else can I do at nine in the morning on a Monday? This was my reason to get up, you know?

SAMANTHA: Oh, there you go. Yeah. The time change always gets me. I forget whether I've got people that are calling in from East coast or West coast because I'm in that middle mountain time. So I'm never sure whether I'm waking people up bright and early or whether I'm interrupting their lunchtime. but thank you so much for agreeing to be on.

So, I wanted to dive in a little bit about your kind of background and your history in dance. A question that I like to start off with all of my guests is how did you kind of get into the dance industry? What brought you into the ballroom dance world?

MAX: Well, I'm one of those dancers that started dancing as a kid in Ukraine. that's where I was born and, we either ice skated, or figure skated. we played soccer, or we danced. So that was the three major things. And both my parents are dancers. I don't know if most people know that or not. They're not ballroom dancers, but mom was ballet, dad was more on the kind of a jazz type of stuff. So they did not inner cross. I wasn't pressured to dance, and they sent me to an afterschool program where I would go after school and spend three to four hours doing ballet, Latin and international standard. It was just a general thing that the city paid for.

Everything back in the day was paid by the government. So there were no private lessons. We only had group classes. I had a group class partner that I danced with. So for three hours that kept me busy, it was better than being outside and picking up, you know, cigarettes off the pavement, when you're 12.

So that was my beginning. And then, I think I got more and more hooked on it myself. My parents never, never felt they had the pressure be to dance.

SAMANTHA: Nice. So at some point, kind of growing up in that community program, you decide, Hey, I want to make this a competitive career, or did you just kind of fall into suddenly you woke up and you were, you know, an amateur champion?

MAX: No, you know what happened was we moved to the United States when I was 12. So until 12 I danced there and it was an afterschool program. It's not really a profession back there, you know. Now, maybe more, but then it was just something that people did as kids. And then they became something else. Very few continued ballroom.

Now ballet was different because if you were a very accomplished or talented individual doing ballet you were almost worshiped. You could make it to Moscow. You could make it to St. Petersburg ballet if you were very, very good, but you had to go through a lot of different ranks.

So that was very, very high end kind of stuff, ballroom. We moved and I had a five-year break. I played soccer quite strongly and quite, you know, almost, I would say professionally because I had scholarships to UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz, and they were willing to pay for my school just so I would play soccer for them.

So it was kind of a direction that I was taking and then dancing got back into my life. My niece moved to the United States, Lesya Sinitsa, she's also the host of Lead and Follow who's basically hosting The DanceCast Experiment that I do. She's four years younger than me. So we partnered up because I was gonna help her with it before she found a partner. And, as you know, this temporary thing became the last 20 something years of my life. Then we came here and I became the amateur smooth champion in 2000 and 2001 in 2002. And then we, stopped doing smooth and we continued on doing international ballroom.

SAMANTHA: I was going to say, you are known for kind of your Smooth dancing, but you also have a pretty strong career and a strong background in international standard. do you think that the two really feed off of each other, do you, or do you think it's more kind of a one way relationship where your standard really helps improve your smooth, but your smooth doesn't necessarily have the same, reciprocal nature with your standard dancing?

MAX: Yeah. So it's more of the latter that you mentioned. the relationship is a little bit, one way. I have never seen, who I considered to be a good smooth dancer. someone who was that, and didn't have international ballroom background. So I've never seen, you know, what I would say is worthy enough of calling a good or a great smooth dancer without the ballroom background.

So, people normally don't try to transition the other direction. Once they do smooth, they just kind of stick with it. Maybe they do rhythm if they want the Latin American flavor to add to their repertoire. But, But the standard really gives you this discipline and some rules because you have to have some rules in order to then maybe experiment a little bit more with the smooth and with the fact that there's not always body contact between the partners.

So I was very glad that my early beginning as a child, I had Latin and ballroom. I was essentially a 10-dancer. You really couldn't choose one or the other until you became an adult, and I became an adult in this country rather than there. So basically meaning I never had a choice while I was in Ukraine. I just did both. Ballroom really was my passion for a long time after I finished my amateur career in Smooth, I think most people don't know that I'm probably one of the few people that has done smooth as an amateur that later went on as a pro to continue doing smooth, which is, I think probably very unusual.

Now you see people that immigrate to this country and they were 10-dancers. They choose to do smooth here. Some people start smooth here when they walk in as a teacher to Arthur Murray or Fred Astaire. And then, you know, their career takes off with their professional partner, but I haven't met too many people that have had an amateur smooth career moving.

There are a few like Jamie and Travis Tuft. They come from the BYU program. So of course they were in smooth and then they continue on now as professionals, but that's the only other people I know. And I think Kyle and Allie Spinder. Is only another, another couple that I can think

SAMANTHA: Another Utah couple, if I remember correctly, either it's UVU or BYU.

MAX: It's the BYU program that puts that out. Other than that at East coast and West coast, people are either 10-dancers or they just walk into a franchise studio.

SAMANTHA: Yeah. I would definitely agree with that. I think, just coming from kind of that amateur background, I wonder if there is a notion, especially in the US and broadly internationally that 10-dance is more competitive from an amateur program, and then American is more competitive from a professional program because we have more Pro-Am students that tend to want to do those social dances in smooth, and then ultimately get convinced, Hey, you should, you should try competing in this. So I wonder if that's why you're seeing fewer amateur smooth champions that then say, okay. Yeah, I do actually want to continue doing this, on a professional basis.

MAX: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think the basis of smooth is mostly social anyway. So if you look at American smooth and you look at Fred Astaire, you look at Arthur Murray and you look at all these programs, they go way back, and they're based on social dancing. Now, of course we don't dance it socially. We dance it quite competitively, but it's taken quite a long time to get to that point.

SAMANTHA: Absolutely. So talking about how your foundation in standard has you feel has really set you up for success in smooth. When you're judging a really great smooth couple, you're looking for that strong standard closed frame, closed hold connection, foundation. One of the things that kind of struck me when I was going through your Dance Mastery Camp lectures this year was how focused you were on making sure that especially the leads knew where their body alignment was in their own body. How their posture and how their position over their foot and their position over their weight, if they were split weight or on the foot, how that would impact those open figures.

I just wanted to start off by saying, and I think I've mentioned it on the podcast before, I have really tried since watching that lecture to incorporate that more with my male students, taking the, develope out and trying to create a different figure with the same positioning so that my leads can understand this is how I need to lead you into the figure line or the picture line before we actually open up and break hold and create an open figure out of it.

So what is your process for conveying that to students? Or what was your own realization where you were like, I want to do these open figures in smooth, but I have to figure out how to do them in closed first, before I can sustainably do them in open.

MAX: Well, my realization, I don't know when it came. It probably came as a process, but I remember knowing that my margin of error in standard was tiny. Meaning you were this close. So if you were not on the foot, meaning the male dancer, let's say the female dancer was most likely not on the foot because there was such a you know, dependency in a good way, or in whatever way you want to look at it. But there's that limitation that you couldn't deny. And it was, you know, you had to accept it and deal with it.

So I spent a lot of years trying to get on my foot so I can get my partner on the foot so she can be balanced so she can produce the line that she needs to produce and make us ultimately look wonderful and not necessarily do the line at all costs, no matter what, as I usually see dancers trying to do, they just want the final product, but they're not willing to go through some of the process before getting the real deal, not instant coffee, but really the real product.

So. That's when it came. Meaning when I saw smooth or when I was doing smooth, I realized that there's no, that the form is so different and it lacks a lot of the discipline. it just doesn't put you in a situation where, if you make an error, you may feel like you're not affecting your partner. You know, whether you're female or male, you, you just feel like, well, we're far apart, we're just holding hands.

So as I started to go a little more deeper into it, and I said, you know, as you dance on a high level, you realize that, if I breathe in the wrong direction, you know, she's going to go off balance. It literally goes down to that a precision. So then you realize that a lot of the ballroom background that I have experienced physically experienced with a partner being close to me, I a hundred percent used when she was far apart from me or we were on just a one handed connection. So I just have a tremendous amount of respect for the precision that the ballroom requires. I mean, we're doing all this stuff and you know, we're only a couple of boards apart, meaning I'm standing on a board of floor on one foot, hopefully. And the other, the girl, is standing on her foot on the board, you know, next to my board. And that's the space that we deal with every single time that we should change weight. So if you think about it, what we're talking about, you know, maybe a two by two floor space that we can deal with and in the smooth, I think that's a little bit, what's the word? Not respected.

So that's kind of where my ballroom, cause when you mentioned, let's say, you said if I was judging, you may think that from my ballroom background, I'm looking for the ballroom form, meaning close position, body contact, male frame, but that's not true. I'm looking, that's just closed position. That's just part of smooth, you know, when they go to closed position, it's very obvious what things are good and what things are not. But even if they're dancing apart, I feel like I'm very much seeing whether, you know, things we just discussed are happening or not.

SAMANTHA: Yeah. And I think, if anyone has watched your routines with Tatiana, it would be very obvious to you exactly what you're talking about. I watch the two of you and I can see that even when you are completely broken away from hold that you are still moving your body and you're still moving your spine and your sternum in a way that is almost leading her through whatever shape she's creating, even though there's not a physical connection there. Even in an amateur setting, in a Pro-Am setting, what have you, creating that feeling of you're still on that two-by-two square, that you're still connected, even if you aren't physically connected, I think is a good takeaway and I think that's really evident in the way that you have styled your own dancing, even in your professional career.

MAX: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you. And I think that once you experience being on a two-by-two for a minute and a half times five, you know where the fifth dance is quickstep and your legs are already like jello, there's nothing like it. You look at smooth and not to say at all that it's easier. It's not that it's, we're not saying one is easier one is harder. It's just, , you can separate whenever you want. You can get together whenever you want, you know? You have the freedom of being apart and then you just have to be on your foot, but you're not really affecting your partner in a physical way.

So, you know, once you've experienced that, I think, I think that's why I think ballroom is important for smooth people. Not just because they learn a closed hold, not, you know, don't get me wrong. Closed hold is just small part of it.

SAMANTHA: Well, and I think you said something interesting earlier, which is there's, there's very little margin for error when you're in that closed ballroom hold. Whereas I think, speaking, not on a professional level, but on a pro-am level, I feel like a lot of students use the fact that we have broken hold as kind of a get out of jail free card, in the earlier levels, we're talking, you know, newcomer, bronze, maybe as they're transitioning into silver, I'm not physically connected, so I don't have, I can, I can let my frame relax for a second or I don't have to constantly be thinking about where my weight is on my foot. Not realizing that as soon as you remove half of your connection, three quarters of your connection, then every single bit of where your weight is and where your frame is and where you're connection is, is so much more important to come to communicating with your partner.

I think in a lot of cases, we get into a mindset where smooth that, we can break hold so it's just fun and it's, and we can be more expressive, which we absolutely can, but if you're on a pro-, a mixed Pro-Am competition floor with 10 other couples, especially for me as a follow and I'm relying on my students as leads, it's on them to know floor craft and to communicate to me, if I'm about to back up into someone and they have to read my lead, if I'm going into a, you know, develope or something and I can feel someone behind me, so I'm going to shorten up my step. I feel like it's almost heightened if you're a student in a lead capacity in smooth, where you really have to get all of those foundational elements, in your skin and in your blood and in your muscle memory before you hit a competition floor in a lot of cases.

MAX: I think, I think you definitely hit the right point, a male pro-am dancers, I think to have a tougher, to be honest with you, because I dance pro-am with my students and, you know, they have a high level pro teacher that dances with them.

I mean, we do things as we dance, you know that dance, or as we do the choreography, we massage things as we go along, we adjust. Whether you see the adjustments or feel the adjustments, it doesn't matter. I can tell you for a fact they're happening, and they're happening in real time, you know? not, not the same adjustments every time, but the male dancers, like you said, they have to be responsible, literally responsible for floor craft and timing and direction where they're going to put you where they're not going to put you because of traffic and then they have to have good posture. So they have a bunch of things on their checklist that I think the female pro-am dancers don't have, they're dealing just simply with other things. So again, not to say that one is completely easy on the other one is not, it's not that it's just a little, a little different.

SAMANTHA: Certainly. Yeah, absolutely. I feel like on the flip side as, as an amateur follow, you have to A look the part, which is not the easiest thing in the world. you have to be for holding your own frame, you should know your routines inside, out and backwards and forwards before you hit the floor and again, if you're on a mixed floor and you're up against professional ladies, you have to have the same expressive quality, you have to have that same fluidity, that same storyline, that the professional females are having. So both have their own challenges, but I think the learning curve for amateur leads in a lot of cases is just a little bit steeper to begin with.

MAX: Yeah. And I think for you, it's also a little bit more difficult as a pro. Let's say you're the female or the follower part of that partnership. That's also a tough gig because, you know, I'm a male dancer and I'm the lead, and that makes sense since that's how it's always been set up. But if you're their professional, so to say, but you're also on the following part and on the receiver part, that's also a tough gig because you don't want to drag your student around as a female dancer, it doesn't look right. Doesn't fit what we're doing. You look a little bit maybe too harsh. So like, you know, you don't have time to do your part actually. You're kind of dragging the male dancer around. So it's a very different dynamic, I think, in that direction.

SAMANTHA: What is one thing that you wished more, let's say amateur leads, would take the time and focus on. If you could give them just one thing in this pandemic time where we're all trapped in our houses, what would you have them focusing on during this time?

MAX: Well, I think that the things that they cannot do, they have to realize, for example, they're really not going to be able to practice floor craft. Hence no competitions. Unless they put cones, but cones don't move, they stay in the same spot. So, the ability to do certain things now is not available. So that's out of the question.

So they need to look at the things that are available. Music is available. You can put on a waltz and count it out and count your bars. And then maybe you'll reach an eight bar phrase and at least you know what that is, and then you do another, and there's 16 and then 24 and 32. And you may hear the highlight. Let's say so you educate yourself musically. I think this is what I do a little bit with DanceCast Experiment last month was music and musicality. These are the things we can do now that we maybe didn't have time to do before because we're focused on some of the other things.

Posture wise, I think this is an individual thing that doesn't require a partner or a large space. Working on alignment, checking alignment, doing a couple of box steps in an office like this and making sure that you're lined up properly. I have some exercises that I do with students that involve TheraBands, you know, like yoga bands. They use them to kind of feel some sort of resistance through the spine. So there's stuff you could do on your own. I think people just need to write out or zoom in on what's available right now. And what's not, we're going to put that away, but, yeah, I think music, I think posture.

Honestly, I think watching your own videos. It's a great time right now to do that. Your past videos looking and seeing maybe two, three years down. If you have videos recorded, look at the progress or maybe lack of progress, or look at, look at, look at how you went from one event and it was a whole competitive year, and then you ended up at that event again, if you have that video look and see what happened. You know, through the year, what improved. So I think these things are available right now.

SAMANTHA: Well, definitely. I think, Watching videos. I certainly believe is the best way to chart your progress in dance. but I definitely know, other instructors and also a lot of students that shy away from watching their own videos because we are hyper-critical as professionals, as athletes, as artists, whatever you want to call us. We nitpick every single detail when we're watching. So something that I try to recommend and I'd love to hear how you kind of coach your students into watching their own videos. I recommend watching it as if you aren't watching yourself.

Like this is just a couple on a dance floor. Tell me what jumps out at you, because if you can separate the personal aspect of the critique. And I think it's easier to say, okay, I'm watching this couple and you know what, he's missing all of his heel leads. So we need to focus on the heel leads or you know what her head wasn't in the right position.

So let's talk about how we can stretch so we don't look like that couple. so what, what recommendations would you have for folks?

MAX: I think that being a hundred percent objective is difficult, but I think it should be the goal. You're absolutely right. When, when I watch a video with a student, I've done it a couple of times now where we've watched on zoom, we've shared some video on a screen, from the competitions and we did, we really do try to be objective about it, of this is a female dancing with a male, their number is, , 143, and , there's a waltz. It has to be that dry for you to be able to objectively see what is good and what is not so good. I think, honestly, I'm a little parted on the video thing, even though I suggest it, but I have this other part of me.

So I hate watching my own videos. I don't watch my own videos. I have a reason for that. I was, I'm a little, little bit brought up by the generation before me obviously, and that generation is brought up without videos. So I'm not, I don't mean to sound, you know, old or anything. It's not that at all.

It's just that let's say my coaches who are in their late forties, early fifties, when they dance, they, well, they mentioned to me is that they said that they had no video. So what they did is they were taught on lessons in England. You know, these are my ballroom coaches. They were taught, they had lessons in England, and then they practiced what they were taught. They had no feedback aside from another lesson the following week, or, you know, they would fly home, whatever. So what I'm saying is they were heightening their senses and how things feel and whether the feel was right or whether they feel was not right based again on on getting feedback from the coach and you heighten your own feedback or your own sense is much higher when, , when you have that kind of work. It's easy to look at the video and, you know, say, okay, this, this and that, but I understand that. And honestly, for pro-am dancers or for amateurs, I think that's difficult, they do need to, you know, maybe get some objective feedback. They do. Or at least their coach needs to look at the video without them being there. Maybe if they really can't sit down and watch through the video, but the coach coach needs to be aware of what it physically looks like if they didn't see it live. but as a professional, you know, I have this they're part of me that doesn't participate in video watching.

In fact, when we practiced with Tatiana, she was the opposite. So she would want to tape a piece of choreography to see how it looks, you know, we would just put the phone on a tripod and tape it, but I would never watch that. I would say you watch it, tell me what you, what you like or what you, you don't like and what you'd like to change, and let's do it again. But I would never watch that video. I mean, you can ask her that, but I would never watch that video just recorded at practice because at this point I have a heightened sense of what it felt like, you know, I don't look at mirrors, at least I try not to because I'm too busy, actually dancing at the moment.

And, that's a whole other discussion, you know, mirrors and all that stuff, but, but I'm, ah, I'm, I'm heightening my sense of feel for that figure for that choreography and for my timing with my partner and I trust that. I trust that more than I trust the video, because the video is a little two dimensional and you have biases against yourself.

You think you're doing better than, you know, then than you really are. So that's kinda my take on it.

SAMANTHA: Well, I'm so glad that you brought that up too, because one of the things that kind of struck me as interesting, and that I wanted to kind of pick apart a little bit more, you were doing a video conversation with Slawek and Marzena for their Dance Vision camp, and you actually brought up the fact that you don't consider yourself a visual learner. I think Tatiana was talking about how she wanted to figure out how to create a look and she was very, her process was, I want to create these picture lines in these stories and have these movement pieces from a visual perspective.

You mentioned that that was 100% not your process that you learned more from listening to instructors or from reading, notes from instructors or from just feeling it internally. So would you say that your approach to how you learn has influenced at all how you coach your students? Do you feel like you're coaching your students more in that, kinesthetic body awareness frame of mind, rather than this is the shape that I want you to hit, this is the line that I want you to hit?

MAX: Probably more so, but not even a hundred percent. I think that the way I coach a student, I have to be also very careful that I'm not combining necessarily that that is what I had to do. Not that I'm holding back information, but, you know, as a professional for a while, or maybe as, as, having the ballroom background that I had, I developed some sensitivities that a lot of students really just simply don't have because they haven't spent enough time doing the ballroom or haven't started dancing early enough. So there's things that I can't expect, you know, for them to do. So it wouldn't be even fair to apply my approach directly onto them. But to be general, I would say that I would say that I'm very much less asking my students to check visually with themselves.

And much more based on whether they are physically have a kinesthetic awareness, as you said that let's say their arm is slightly up and behind them on a particular figure that I don't have to ask them to look in the mirror or I don't have to give them feedback. You know, that my students hopefully should know that his arm is either horizontally out. or it's slightly up or it's vertically up. That should become a sense at some point, instead of me telling them that they should put it there. But for me, I, I have this strange, thing where I don't really, I don't really no what I create when I dance. I don't really have a, I don't really know what I did.

I just know that I was busy doing it. Do you know what I mean? But I don't really know. I don't really have an image of what I did. I have, I have a feeling I know that I could tell you what I feel like or what I felt like when I did this or that, you know, or what I, what I, what I felt like in a certain competition, but I don't really know. I don't even know if I look different from competition to competition from year to year because I don't watch videos. So I can't. You know what I mean? I don't know what, what I am, unless I'm physically doing it and then I can tell you how it feels, you know? And I think if it's right, if it's the right feeling, meaning it's backed up by technique and mechanics and it's just right.

Okay. It's usually, usually it looks good. So, , I, back to that level where I don't have to get a visual check feedback from either a coach or, or a video, so

SAMANTHA: well, and I think that goes to, kind of the, the difference in motivation that for many different people that perform or compete in the ballroom dance world and the dance industry, which is you have a group that is there for the athleticism. It's the competitive nature. It's I want to check all the boxes. I want to be the best. I want to reach this certain level of success because I'm driven by the competitive athletics nature of it.

You have individuals that are there for the artistry of it. I want to create a story. I want to create a picture. I want to make sure people feel something when they watch me dance. And then you have people that just intrinsically, I think this is what my body needs. This is what my mind needs. If I'm, if I'm, if I'm on the dance floor and I'm moving and I, hit a certain stretch in a certain way, it's just like all of the tension and the stress in the world releases and I have a moment where I'm like, yes, this is what I'm going for.

And you have folks that are maybe two of the three or one of the three or three of the three, but it's kind of a different different aspects of the sport, drive people to it. which I think is great. And I think it's kind of a unique aspect of our world that not a lot of other hobbies, although I hate calling it a hobby, a professional, it's a profession, kind of bring people to,

MAX: yeah. I mean, yeah, hobbies. From the students that I have and how competitive they are, are, and what they do with time and money, as far as input into this it's yeah, hardly hardly hobby, or this is one serious hobby. I mean, a lot of them put in what, the kind of time and, and finances and effort as any professional would.

It's just that they started later in their life. That's really the only difference. as far as, The different types of people. I mean, honestly for me, if I was, if I was a non dancer and you're talking to me now and I find out about this ballroom thing, honestly, I don't know if I would do it, which is very strange to say because it would be a little bit of everything for me. And I'm the kind of person that I would want to do something wholeheartedly 100% for one particular reason. For example, you said that for some people, dancing is it's a physical activity or whatever. Right. It's a physical thing. You know what, for me, if I wanted to do something physical, I would, I would go into CrossFit, I would go into a triathlon. You know what I mean?

I would do a hundred percent where, where it is about, , Competing. I don't have to wear a tuxedo and have a number on my back. So that mixes already with me a little bit. Right. And that's somebody might say, well, I liek to do it for the artistry. Well, if I want a hundred percent artistry, we, I think I would go, I would avoid competing. Right. I would go into performing. I, it would be, you know, ballet, jazz, painting. I don't know it would be that. So then you take competing out of it, right? Then it's a weird mix. How can you compete with art? How can you do that? and then, you know, people that just kind of like, it's a, , maybe the social aspect of it.

I would probably belong to some sort of a, I don't know, a dance club that gets together on the weekends. You know what I mean? And I wouldn't, you know what I mean? So for me it has, it has too much, it's too much of everything. and I get why people do it. I understand a lot of them try to attain the skills so they can become better performers. They're, they're not dancers by trade, but they, they wanna, they want, they want this, what we, as professionals have accomplished. I get it. I get the drive. But for me, I would have to, if it's competitive, let's talk about, I'll go into sports. If it's art, let's, let's talk about creating something.

So, you know, you understand it's a bit of a conflict for me.

SAMANTHA: Yeah.

MAX: Which is maybe strange for me to say, as, you know, as, as being a top competitor. So, but that is the irony of it

SAMANTHA: well, so. I want to ask this question delicately.

MAX: Oh, you can ask, just ask. Okay.

SAMANTHA: I would say that for a lot of us that don't know you or Tatiana personally, the announcement of your retirement was kind of shocking. You know, number two in the world, incredibly accomplished dancers, incredibly eye catching and moving and just you're really, really good. We'll just put it that way.

MAX: Thank you, I appreciate that.

SAMANTHA: So the decision to retire, I guess, if you're willing to share what led you to that decision. And then if it's not those three individual driving factors that I kind of mentioned, where does your drive to stay in ballroom dance come from?

MAX: Well, to just to mention about the decision, easy, I think. I think any right decision, right meaning for the individual who's making it, I think it's always a surprise or a shock to the rest of the world because ideally that person doesn't really talk about it. They don't really make it public. They don't really make a scene about, and they don't necessarily, you know, they don't marinade publicly over it, in my opinion, I think, it's a shock to the rest of the industry. Maybe I could see that because it was a private decision between Tatiana and I.

So I can only tell you that that's why it seems that way. What I don't like, honestly, is when people already are starting to say that you should retire or that you're getting, you know, it's like you're starting to get comments, have you thought about retiring or when do you think? Okay, so that's already too late, you know? That's it. The ship has sailed and you are still, you know, in the Marina. So I never wanted to be that person. I knew that for a fact. I wanted to go on my own time and slightly earlier is better in my opinion. Well, slightly earlier again compared to the viewers opinion for me. It was just right, you know, for me and Tatiana.

Tatiana wanted to dance another year. That's kind of what people know that or not, but when we were discussing it. Also, this decision is not made the day before we retired. You have to understand that. So a lot of people may say, well already COVID-19 started, you know, in late January and mid-February. And so we retired at NYDF late February. Well, obviously not. We made the decision to retire in, I believe at the end of the year, meaning after Ohio Star Ball during the whole December time, Christmas time. I'm older than Tatiana by 11 years. That is a pretty decent generation gap, to the point where she could easily continue or her career still has time, and I've danced for quite a long time, you know? So for me, the time was right that I wanted to focus on other things in my life. I enjoy my teaching. I love putting effort and energy into that.

And I always felt that dancing is a selfish process, it's in a good way it's or, or whichever way you want to look at it, but it basically something you do for yourself or for the partnership, but then each person is also doing it for their own reasons. So it's a self thing, and I basically got tired of doing it for that. Perfect, you know, I'm married. I would like to start a family, so to continue doing something more selfish, so to say, and try to also pair that up with the normality of life. I think of a conflict personally. So after Ohio Star Ball, I just got the feeling that, you know, Hmm. It's a feeling of being excited more to get onto the plane to fly home than to fly to the next event. And that's kind of obvious already. So I didn't want to drag the cat for too long.

So, Tatiana wanted do another year until USDC of this year. Now we laugh about it when we did it, of course. I said, look, I won't be able to do another year. I know that for sure. So we either planned on retiring at USDC, which is the customary thing to do. But again, who says that I have to retire at any competition. I'll retire when I retire.

So my whole thing would. I will go on my own time. And Eugene Katsevman is one of our main coaches and a good friend of mine.He was actually the reason we came together as a couple. He brought us together, had us try out together. So it was just a nice full circle to do it at his event and all my coaches that I've ever worked with were there. Some of them were judging. Some of them just came to privately be there, for that day, and I couldn't have not asked for a better time.

It's just that I know what you're saying, Samantha, in terms of, or what the industry you thought was an abrupt type of thing. It's because we're used to people announcing it for the whole year and when maybe we're used to people talking about couples needing to retire for too long. So maybe we're used to that, but I wasn't going to be one of them.

SAMANTHA: I think you bring up a good point that it is less shocking when a couple at the top of their game announces their retirement at the end of Blackpool or at the end of USDC kind of those mile markers or the end of Ohio, those large competitions that the industry kind of sees as like, this is either the beginning or the end of a season. So we know going into next season who the players are, but I also completely understand you wanting to make a decision in the right time, in the right way for the two of you, and to avoid that, Well, they've been in the industry for a while, so maybe it's time, right? You want to pull a Michael Jordan. You want to go out at the top of your game when no one can say maybe they stuck around for too long.

MAX: Right.

SAMANTHA: Which I think makes sense.

MAX: If we were to go back to the rule of retiring at a major event, I would have to wait until either Emerald ball, which is in the middle of the year or USDC, which would mean I would have to dance another whole year, which I was not. I would literally take a sharp stick in the eye, like easy. Okay. like two sticks. And, Or if not USDC then Ohio. So, you know, you had all these postpones and now we're sitting here in beginning of August, locked down and who knew that there will be no USDC, you know, and there will be no Emerald Ball. It is unfortunate of course, but I could not imagine not retiring and waiting until this year. There's no way that I would come back from this break. There's just no way. It will be a bit of a bitter end because of that desire to retire at a known event would totally backfire and not allow me to finish my career publicly where, you know, I thank all the individuals that contributed to everything that I've done.

SAMANTHA: Oh, definitely. Yeah. Hindsight 2020, you 100% made the right decision.

MAX: Yeah, no, honestly, not knowing anything because we, it was just, I get obviously stars aligned and things happen, but we made that decision at the end of 2019, not knowing anything for next year.

SAMANTHA: So now that you are retired from professional competition, obviously spending more time focusing on teaching and coaching and we mentioned at the top, and we kind of have teased it a little bit. you're also doing The DanceCast Experiment. So for folks that maybe missed the announcement in July and want to jump in, in August, what is The DanceCast Experiment? what was the thought process behind it?

MAX: The thought process was that it started with me getting a group together of pro-ams, in like May, you know, when we were getting locked down and then the second time, and we were, I started my own discussions about, different topics, like preparing for competitions. And it was a little bit of a guideline, , not being really that specific on topics, but just kind of helping pro-am students, you know, have a little bit more information. That, evolved into what I started in July, as a DanceCast Experiment, meaning like a podcast, but you know, kind of for dancers. And we obviously do it over zoom. What I do is, the reason it's called an experiment is that we have, every Tuesday and Thursday on the month we have a different professional come in and lecture on the same topic the entire month. So essentially you have one topic the whole month and you have eight people that are discussing it.

What's interesting is to see how different every single person is on the same topic and yet how helpful each different view is. So you would normally never be able to do this because you'd have a lesson with someone or a coaching and get their feed on it. And then you would eventually go to someone else. And maybe it will be mentioned, but you can't quite do this until we started doing it. Now, where in a month you, you know exactly you take notes and these things are recorded by the way. So if you guys physically can never make it to one, they are recorded and you could get the recording, right after. but it was, it's very interesting, even for me to listen to some of my fellow professionals, I chose very specific people in a sense of people that were either high on, on the subject or were very just, , kind of, I highly respect and I wanted their opinion.

So we did music and musicality in July, and we're doing partnering in August and that actually starts tomorrow, 5:00 PM West coast time and 8:00 PM East coast time and your time, I don't even know what your time would be on the mountain plan, but, most likely

SAMANTHA: We're one hour ahead of Pacific and two hours behind Eastern.

MAX: There you go. So it would be 6:00 PM your time. And I brought in, you know, some more female dancers, especially for partnering. We wanted to hear what they have to say. I asked him very kind of, easy question, you know, I have no buts about it. I asked them direct questions, not necessarily personal, but they're quite, you know, deep into the subject. And then they lecture for about half an hour. And the last 15 minutes of the lecture, the viewers get to ask these professionals anything, they want on the topic. So it's kind of a lecture slash discussion slash question and answer type of thing. It's a hybrid, but I just thought the experiment is interesting because as we get into partnering, we're going to get very different views also. On, from males to females, from we have it's all styles, which is also interesting. And a lot of people ask me, can you please put out the schedule of who's lecturing when, and I absolutely declined to do that. Meaning we don't know who's left. I know when someone's lecturing, but that's about it. So you have to literally show up to the class to find out who's lecturing.

The reason I did that is because I would like everyone to get to hear everyone because then you can compare or consolidate or, or, you know, bring some things to, to the middle. But if you only want to hear a Latin coach, because you do a lot, and then you're missing the point of the whole thing. Then I think you're wasting your time and money. So, I encourage people to be ready to attend the whole month. And then we do a free session at the end of the month where, where we talk about all of that lectures and I help people to put it all together in case people thought they were all off the wall because they're really not.

SAMANTHA: Well, and I think that's, it's definitely an interesting concept. but it's one that I really respect in that some of the most important information that I've taken for my teaching and for my career as a dancer, I've gotten by going to a large lecture series and listening to individuals that I never thought I would listen to, and not to say that they weren't great coaches because obviously they were, they had the best information that I took away. But, either from stigma about who they were in the industry, I kind of went into it thinking I'll, I'm not, I'm not going to really pay attention to them or different dance style.

If I was focusing on American, nine dance at the time, maybe they were a Latin instructor, but they said something about the way that they connected with their partner in a way that I was like, Oh, I never thought about that in my rhythm dancing, maybe I should incorporate it. Or if I was focusing on 10 dance, maybe it was a smooth instructor. Like, did you think about maybe doing this with your frame? Oh, well, it's interesting. Wouldn't have thought about that.

MAX: Yeah,

SAMANTHA: so I like the fact that you're kind of going into the lecture saying, I want to know this topic. But I don't know, who's telling me about it at this time, because I think as a, as a student then, and you're going in with a more open mind and hopefully a kind of a blank slate where you just absorb all of the information you can and then process and filter it later on.

So I think that's an interesting concept that I hope folks check out.

MAX: Yeah, and I, and I mean, it's, it's turned out, pretty obvious that, we still don't have, open minded enough people in our industry because you know, the amount of people that were attending these versus the amount of people that I know in the business, or that are my Facebook friends, or, you know, is a huge difference.

So, and again, a lot of the feedback that I've heard around is that they don't know who's lecturing and they, you know, would like to be able to choose. And I said, well, that's fine. I'm not going to change my approach because that's not what this entire thing is about. It's, you know, people were like you said, open minded enough to hear a rhythm, dancer, about talk about music versus a ballroom dancer talk about music and smooth dancer, and then combine them and actually see that they're probably talking about the same thing. We would have a lot of, a lot better dancers, I think, and a lot more educated dancers. And frankly, I also hope that some of the professionals come in on this and, , there is no, I mean, it's just the learning.

So you can be in the class with other amateurs and you may be a professional, but you know, a lot of professionals don't know certain information that they, I think need in order to, to be a good teacher, you know, in order to guide their students. Because if, if the students in that dancecast experiment, go back to their teachers and they talk about what was discussed musically, let's say, and the teacher has a hard time understanding what is being discussed.

That's a problem, you know,

SAMANTHA: For me personally, the coaches and the professionals that I respect the most are the industry in the industry are the ones that say I'm still a student. The professionals that I really look up to and I try to emulate in my own instruction are the ones that are telling me about this really cool lecture that they listened to online, or this really cool coach that they flew to, to get instruction, from the ones that are constantly in that student mindset. because as we know ballroom dance, Is constantly evolving, constantly changing, constantly adapting. What we were teaching and talking about 10 years ago is definitely not what we're going to be teaching talking about 10 years from now in a lot of cases. so as a professional, keeping that student, like quality of, I just want to absorb and I want to listen and, and I want to see how, you know, you're telling your students about this concept. And if I really like that, I'm going to incorporate in my own and we're, we're going to build a better industry together that way. So, yeah, I think for professionals, especially, it's really great opportunity to take part in these lecture series, because you can, you can't lock yourself into a position where you stop learning.

MAX: Well, yeah, exactly. And I have a few professionals attending it. And I just, I, at the last session, I thank them for being there, you know, and their camera's on. They're not hiding behind the camera, them in some of their own students, actually in the class as well. So I have my own students in the class.

They have their students in the class, they're in the class themselves. So it's fine, but we're having a discussion, you know, about, about music, the musicality or wherever partnering and someone is lecturing about it, or talking about it that has a very high angle onto that topic, you know? And that's great.

That's it. We're just talking, I'm asking questions. They're lecturing and then people ask some questions also. So it's that kind of a thing.

SAMANTHA: Yeah, no, I think that's awesome. there will be a link in the description below, for anyone that is interested in signing up for the August, or I believe the September, classes. I think the registration is available for both right now.

MAX: Yes, correct. Correct. August. We'll start that tomorrow. And then, September will be also Tuesdays and Thursdays and we have a different topic for September.

SAMANTHA: That's awesome. so before we wrap up today, anything else that you wanted to, talk about? Anything that you would like our listeners to kind of keep in mind as they are pursuing their own dancing at any level?

MAX: Well, I think just a reminder that, the situation that we're in is clearly temporarily. I don't know how long, but I mean, things will level out. I don't know if the COVID thing will ever, ever, ever go away. They will work on a vaccine and, you know, we just have to be better about it, , about sanitizing things or just, , taking care of ourselves. I think that's a good takeaway from this entire situation . our, our business will, you know, we'll, we'll return. It might not return in full swing like it looked before, you know, we've had a lot of events before and in the U S meaning there were, there were, there was a competition probably every week in summer in the United States. So which, which is quite a lot. And that's awesome, but I don't, I don't know if. If, if the students felt like they were overwhelmed or the teachers felt overwhelmed going there.

So some events may be consolidated maybe. I don't know what will happen with the competitive field, but I think we will come back to, to going to competitions again, where you could try what you have learned or what you, what you have practiced. so I think, you know, in that sense it's going to happen.

I don't know how quickly, but it's definitely going to happen. And I think to stay sane, I think people need to improve their dancing and other ways, that is why I chose not to do another dance class on zoom and talk about technique. I mean, I can easily do a whole month on waist connection or footwork or whatever, but I just felt like there's a lot of that already out there, and I felt like I didn't want to be part of that. I think there's enough people doing that already, which is great. You can attend so many zoom classes by great professionals, but I wanted to do some other type of learning because there's a lot learning that's done in the classroom, so to say with your notebook, that's done by writing things down by not necessarily moving your arms around thinking that is you learning.

You'll have plenty of time when you go back to the studio to experiment with things, but you do, I think, would say musicality or partnering the ideas about that have to be, you know, they have to be learned, in a different environment. So all in all, I hope that everyone stays patient with the situation, we can't rush the process because you saw what happened when we did that.

And, in the meantime, I think we need to improve in other ways. And I think it's also great because we would never ever have these conversations or the topics. If it wasn't for this situation, we would be in the ballroom practicing our natural turns, you know, 900 times. But it doesn't necessarily mean that that's all the improvement that you need, meaning the technical,

SAMANTHA: I think, I think you brought up an incredible point, which is a lot of us are thinking of this current situation. I think a lot of us spent the first month or two thinking, alright, we'll what do we do now? And focusing on the negative aspects of it, rather than thinking exactly, as you said, these are the opportunities where we can have those those discussions that we never get the chance to in a traditional lesson setting. Let's talk about the importance of stretching, stretching, and flexibility, because we know that a lot of us don't warm up properly with our students or make our students warm up properly.

MAX: Absolutely

SAMANTHA: Let's talk about musicality because how many times have we had students that have said, Oh, I can't hear the beat. Or I'm having trouble figuring out where the emphasis is. And we're like, well, just. Let's listen to it and I'll count louder. right. That's that's not doing it justice to your students. So let's talk about musicality. Let's talk about what it means to listen to the music and then react to the music that, to not get locked in those routines to actually be free to experiment with how you want to react to, you know, a Fever versus C'est Toi, cause those are gonna have two different reactions to them.

MAX: Also, don't forget that, that, , if you're studying to be a doctor, let's say you wanted to be a surgeon and you're not going to operate for very long time. Right. They're not going to give you a scalpel and say, you know, go and have a good time. You're going to go through a lot of school and a lot of textbook stuff and a lot of tests, and hopefully you will pass them. And then they'll let you work on a dead body, most likely. Okay. And maybe then you become an intern. Okay. And then you watch someone make surgery, and then eventually when your hair is gray, you get to hold the scalpel and, and take the responsibility for that. So if you look at these kind of processes, you know, I understand how we can go. Well, as long as I'm in the studio, I'm improving. I think that's a terrible way to look at it.

SAMANTHA: It's equal parts, mind it's equal parts, body it's muscle memory. It's understanding it's. To be an incredible student. It's gotta be a full rounded picture. And that's not to say that you can't enjoy ballroom dancing if you're just wanting it to be, you know, a Friday night date night with the wife, it certainly is an aspect for a lot of students that I work with, but for competitive students in particular that really want to take this at whatever level they are. We need to shift the conversation to this is a full experience that you should probably be more committed to.

MAX: Absolutely. Absolutely take it seriously. It doesn't mean, you know, it doesn't mean we can't joke around. I'm just saying just, you know, just be serious about what you're doing. That's all.

SAMANTHA: Absolutely. Well, thank you MAX so much for being a guest today on the episode.

MAX: My pleasure. Thank you for having me

SAMANTHA: Thank you to Max Sinitsa for being a guest on today's episode. If you'd like to participate in The DanceCast Experiment, there is a link to register for the months of August and September in the description box below. I've been your host, Samantha with Love.Live.Dance. You can find this and every podcast episode at ballroomchat.com and you can find us across social media on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at ballroomchat. If you have not already, please do consider subscribing or giving a five star review on the platform of your choice.

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