Dancing her Truth - Oxana Kashkina

Samantha StoutApril 28, 2021Ballroom Chat: Episode #48
oxana kashkina ballroom chat

Oxana Kashkina discusses her journey, from amateur dancer to English Educator to professional ballroom instructor. Oxana and Samantha delve deep into topics surrounding body image, cross-training, teaching methodology, and telling your story on the dance floor.

Oxana Kashkina was an Amateur 10-dancer prior to moving to the United States. She is currently an Open Professional 9-dance finalist, Mambo National Finalist, and took 2nd in the World Salsa Championships.

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Episode Transcript

Samantha: Welcome back to another episode of Ballroom Chat, the podcast dedicated to sharing the dance journey. I'm your host, Samantha with Love Live Dance. Today, I'm joined by Oxana Kashkina. Uh, she was an amateur 10 dancer before moving to the United States where she is currently an open professional nine dance finalist, as well as a Mambo national finalist. And, uh, she and her partner, Tony recently took second at the world salsa championships. Um, today I got to talk to her about a bunch of serious topics, uh, including body image in female dancers, um, recharging, and how to utilize your energy and your power in both social dance and performance dance, and just generally her journey thus far, and how to navigate different relationships, uh, as a dancer.

So with that said, please enjoy my conversation with Oxana. Well, thank you Oxana so much for being a guest today.

Oxana: Well, thank you for having me.

Samantha: So, uh, I'd like to start off, uh, I feel like most of the listeners at this point, kind of know the first question that I always ask my guests, which is how did you get into ballroom dance and kind of, what is your journey thus far look like?

Oxana: Well, I started when I was six years old, I actually think that my mom is a very, very wise woman because she saw that I was a very active child. So something like sit and draw or maybe play instruments wasn't really my thing. So she, um, I started as, um, I did a little bit of gymnastics. I did different martial arts and then dancing.

And for a year I did all of these things and it was crazy. And then my mom said, what do you like the best? And I chose dancing myself. So that's how I started. And I danced from, from that age from six pretty competitively and very seriously, uh, up until I was 17. And then I stopped for five years, unfortunately, or fortunately who knows. Um, cause, um, my father was a military, um, Colonel and he didn't think that dancing was something serious to do or like a serious career. And so I stopped and I went to university and I graduated. I'm actually, uh, I am as an, um, I am an English teacher, so, um, I have a degree in English and after that, after I graduated, I got here to just practice my language and kind of like get to, uh, talk to people, to native speakers and then dancing sucked me back in. So here I am.

Samantha: Yeah. So, um, Prior to the break. I kind of mentioned in the introduction that you were in amateur 10 dance, was it always ballroom or were you also trained in other styles to kind of assist that ballroom progression?

Oxana: Yeah. Um, I'm from a very, very tiny, small city in Siberia, borderline Ural Mountains area. And, um, we have this power couple, um, uh, husband, uh, which has, who is my dance dad, I call him. So he was my ballroom coach and his wife was a ballet, a ballerina, ballet teacher. So she would take us for ballet lessons, but ballroom was always my, my first thing, my first love, and then ballet was a supporting thing, but would we did, uh, do ballet lessons every week and it was quite also serious, but not as often as ballroom dancing.

Samantha: Sure. So a question that I've gotten in the past from some of the listeners or viewers of the podcast is kind of the intersectionality between ballet training and ballroom dance and how the two are intermixed.

Um, so obviously growing up in both ballet and ballroom, I feel like as youth, you know, we can kind of feel the movement and feel the training across both, but as adults, what do you kind of see as the benefit to cross-training and either something like ballet or contemporary or modern?

Oxana: So as a, as a style ballet is just a lot older and mature, uh, rather than ballroom dancing. So when you start ballroom dancing without ballet. It's, uh, it's a little bit all over the place. There's too many, even let's say, if I'm talking about, just take American style, let's say rhythm, there's DVIDA syllabus, there's Fred Astaire syllabus. Arthur Murray syllabus. There's so much there.

It's, it's all over the place, as I said, but when you go to ballet, it's just very, very precise. So it gives you that structure, um, when the body is just, it's just one way, one position of the spine. And if you do something, uh, I mean, what I'm trying to say is just, it gives you a very, very, very, uh, good, uh, foundation. A very, very precise information about what you need to do to your body.

And then with that foundation is easier to kind of go different directions with whatever style you want to do after.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. Kind of that idea of like, you need to know the rules or you need to know the structure in order to then manipulate it or break it or set out for yourself.

Oxana: Yeah. Yeah. It's funny how that works. That the system and the structure eventually gives you freedom and that's what like ballet is. It also is, you know, uh, it builds so much, uh, like correct, if I want to put it that way, correct muscles for dancing. Uh, so then you just have those tools already and you just access them to use in whatever way you really want to do it.

Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. It gives you kind of a reference point and check marks to be able to go back to.

Oxana: Yes, absolutely.

Samantha: So you have your amateur career in, um, in your home country and then you go to college. And then at what point, uh, you mentioned that you came to the US kind of to learn from native speakers and then dance, uh, came back into your life. Was dance, when you came back, um, as an amateur, a pro am, did you go straight into the pro field? How did that transition back into ballroom dancing happen?

Oxana: Well, um, it was, it was very, very, uh, kind of very, very weird how all of that happened. I really didn't plan on coming back to dancing. It wasn't, um, that I got to this country to come back to dancing or dancing always was my love, but, um, I thought I was already, I was, what was I 22 at that point and not dancing for five years. I thought I was done. So, yeah. And then, um, I kind of, um, I was renting, um, a room with this woman and, um, bottom-line she kind of got me to see this studio and I didn't know whose this studio was. And I was, I did a little, um, group class there just kind of like, Oh, you know, I used to dance like kind of a reminiscing moment, or, and then one of the instructors he saw me and he said, do you want to go back to dancing?

And I was like, well, I'm kind of supposed to leave this country in a month. And I don't know. He's like, well, just come back and come tomorrow. And let's practice and we practiced, and he was a pro. He danced only Latin. And, uh, he said, I want to dance with you. I really liked dancing with you. And this is when, uh, he introduced me to his coach and his coach was Nadia Eftedal.

And I was just like, Oh my God. You know, I grew up watching her dance and on the VHS and like stayed at, stayed up all night to just watch these people dance. And then here she was, and she liked the way we looked together and she offered me job, a job, front desk and a couple of group classes. And, um, and I was just like, um, okay, I'm staying.

So the decision came like this. And so we started practicing and I want to say in about seven months, we, uh, we did our first pro competition together.

Samantha: That's amazing. That's amazing. Um, so you mentioned that part of the reason why you did take that break was family pushback from your dad when, when you gave him the call and was like, okay, I'm now a professional teacher I've been hired on, I'm competing. How did that go over?

Oxana: Right. And so, um, well, I got to give you a note here. If I'm going to get emotional, I don't know, like I'm okay with this, but I just want to tell you that that's the emotional topic for me. Uh, and if that's okay, if I give personal information is for you,

Samantha: Absolutely. As long as you're comfortable with it, if you're not comfortable sharing, we don't have to go there, but if you're comfortable talking about

Oxana: it's really. Okay. So, um, Right as I was going to come here to this country to practice language, or he, my dad was really, really happy about that, that part. And, um, unfortunately, uh, unfortunately he, he killed himself right before me going. And so it was a long story. He wasn't well, and, um, um, yeah, so that's what happened.

And, um, when I got to this country, I have a feeling that. He was the one to kind of help me with that, knowing how much I loved it. And I think he is my guardian angel and he is in charge of me being here, me doing what I love and he's been helping me ever since. But unfortunately, like I didn't have a chance to actually talk to him and tell him all of what's been going on, but I'm sure he knows.

Samantha: Yeah. He's looking down and is proud of you and is helping kind of guide that path. So that's good.

Oxana: Yeah. I think that's exactly what's happening.

Samantha: Um, so you were competing, uh, as a professional in Latin, obviously at some point that switched to American nine dance. What was the transition like for you going from being a 10 dancer, competing in Latin, to then switching to the American style of dancing?

Oxana: Well, uh, being attendance there in Russia and I'm in throughout my whole life, I always felt, uh, that in the partnerships that I've been, I always was a little bit more of a Latin our guy, Latin guy, Latin person, and then my, uh, dance partners usually, uh, tend to be a little bit gravitated, more towards standard. So that's how we stayed in 10 dance.

Um, not that I didn't love, I love, standard is very special, but it's just the spirit. The way that my body moves, I feel like Latin kind of is mine. And so, uh, when I was dancing, when I broke up with my Latin dance partner, I danced Latin with two more partners. And then when, um, and the partnerships were, I don't want to say there were bad, but there were definitely challenging communication wise.

And there was some moments that were just really draining. And when I split with my last partner, what I said, uh, and what I put it, put it out there to all of my coaches that I just want the right partnership. If for this right partnership, I'm going to have to do, you know, just standard or just Latin or any style. And that if the partnership feels right. I just love dancing. If it's feels right then I'm willing to do any style. And then it happened to be rhythm. My friend actually, It was just like, why don't we do rhythm? And he's a little bit kind of body wise. He's not shorter than me, but he looked shorter. So I was just like, I don't know if that's the right thing to do, but let's, let's, let's give it a try.

So we started dancing and we actually, it felt great that the Mambo, all of that, it just, I felt it immediately. So I fell in love with it right away. Then I spend some time to actually really study. So I don't look like a Latin dancers switched over to a rhythm. That's like the last thing I want to respect the style. Every style has its own personality and character, and I really wanted to study it. And so I think I was, I spent some time doing that. And then when I split with that partner, then I started dancing with Tony. And I think in six months, uh, dancing as dancing together, we're kind of started just a little bit fooling around with just smooth.

And I'm like, I really, really like a smooth and I really like standard and Tony goes, well, I competed smooth with, uh, he had a pro partner that he did smooth with for a little bit. And I was like, I never competed smooth, but I did standard. And we just met for the next practice that we usually have. And we just spend a little bit of time dancing smooth, and we took it to Toni Redpath and she said, yeah, it could be really special. And boom, that's how we, you know, we're nine dancers.

Samantha: There you go. There you go. You get Toni Redpath's blessing, and it's like, all right, let's do this.

Oxana: Exactly.

Samantha: Yeah. Um, so something that, um, actually Tony, uh, and I had talked about when he was on the podcast was kind of this idea of finding your authentic self and, um, the fact that your relationship is slightly different than the traditional, um, you know, uh, straight gentlemen, straight female, romantic love relationship. Um, so we kind of talked about how he, and you choose to style your routines to kind of represent the fact that it is more like a brother, sister friendship. You know, you guys are just having fun out on the dance floor. So, um, how has that been either different or the same as previous partnerships and how do you kind of approach finding that narrative beat when you're looking at your choreography?

Oxana: Okay. Well, yes, it's just the difference is when with other partnerships and this partnership, is it's always been there because it's always been how I felt. Um, you know, a lot of coaches and teachers they've been telling me, Oh, you got to soften a little bit. You got to be a little bit more girly. What does that even mean? You know, so is it soft, equals girly right away? So strong is not, you know, so I've always been like that with all my partners. And it didn't matter of, you know, sexual preference or you know any of that as my, with my, I danced for three years with my fiancé and I was constantly being told you're overpowering him. So that is, it was never talked about.

When we started dancing with Tony, it was just very clear, clear the decision that we're not going to pretend on the dance floor, that we, somebody that we're not. And then some moments he is very strong and I'm softer some moments as the opposite way we go in and out. And we're definitely not pretend not trying to pretend that we're going to seduce each other in Bolero. We love each other. We truly, really do. And we show the love that we have for each other on the dance floor, but it's not that sexualized relationship that a lot of people like to see or used to see, I should say, or programmed to see.

So we're definitely not that couple. And. Um, and we like that because it's different.

Samantha: Yeah. Well, and I, I personally, I love your routines and I love watching you on the floor because you do have, you both have such big personalities that you're cheering for the two of you. Like, I like the fact that you can just kind of flip and say, okay, in this Foxtrot, you're going to be super sassy and he's going to be there to support you.

And then suddenly in the waltz, like he's got this debonair, like soft, but, but like, how, I don't even know how to say it. Like he just, he's got you and, and you can kind of feel a little bit more swept up in it. Um, so I love seeing that dynamic and I think it, it reflects relationships more authentically because it's not masculine-feminine, someone's strong, someone's fragile. It's like you both have to step up and be a partnership through-out.

Oxana: You're right. You're absolutely right. And also who's to say that you cannot be both, right. Is, is, uh, I have both sides to my personality. I can, you know, be strong and, you know, move to a different country all by myself. And then I can, you know, be soft and melt and cry. And it's, it's just, there's so many, so many traits of the character that within you.

And then we also started looking, um, like I love, um, I do pole dancing. As well as, uh, I do a little bit of, uh, like voguing in all of this, uh, modern, uh, uh, styles of dance. I don't know if I said it correctly, but I love voguing. Right. And so I just put a piece of a voguing, choreography in cha cha cha. You know, it is not that I don't respect the Cha-cha or Latin or ballroom industry. That's not, that.

Its just part of me that I put a little bit something. I didn't like all of a sudden drop it. It's like you put my leg up on the floor. Right. I still it's within Cha-cha, but I found a way to show that side. To me, to my dancing. Right. And then there's, um, this moment in Rumba where I just changed the lead and I lead Tony for a split second. Why not? You know, so when you're, I feel like the more honest you are on the floor, uh, the, you know, the more readable it is, the more enjoyable it is for yourself to dance.

So that's what we're kind of doing.

Samantha: Yeah.

Oxana: These days. Trying to find the ways out to be really, truly who we are and authentic within ourselves and to each other.

Samantha: Well, and it kind of goes back to what we were talking about in the very beginning, right? Uh, with ballet is if you find that structure, within that structure, you can find freedom. So you can honor the history of Cha-cha and you can honor the style of Rumba, but you can find freedom to express yourself and to express your authentic story. Um, which I think is awesome. Yeah. And I want to see more of that. I'm excited by that. Um,

So the other thing that I kind of want to tie back to, um, we, we were kind of talking, uh, beforehand, that you had made an amazing post on international women's day, this year. Um, so I am just going to quickly read it off without trying to get overly emotional, but it, but it is something that I want to talk about.

Um, so, uh, you had posted, "I can't even tell you how many times I broke down in tears because I saw the number on the scale go up or looking at myself in the mirror not looking right in a competition dress. Or how many times I thought to myself, I'd rather die than go out on the floor, looking like this. Well, if I kept doing what I was doing in 2015, I would think I would have actually died. I was exhausted, dehydrated, deprived, starving, lost, insecure. And for the sake of what? I know that this is a deeper, cultural issue of fatphobia, the irrational, fear of fear or hatred of bigger bodies and it only exists because some big companies realize that if we idolized an unrealistic body, women will spend billions trying to look like it. And if I'm talking about our ballroom industry, everybody knows you're not going to get marked high if you don't look a certain way. So we put tanner and bright makeup on, colorful costumes and jewelry to imitate authentic Latina girls, yet we can't celebrate our curves. Knowing that I practice my body acceptance and self-acceptance is not just for myself, but for every woman who gets targeted by diet culture. I embrace my body at any size, shape, and weight so that you have permission to do the same. It's not about me, it's about all of us. Happy international women's day."

I girl, I saw that and I cried.

Oxana: Oh,

Samantha: yeah, it's, it's something. Yeah, we don't say it's something that we don't talk about and it's something that we desperately, desperately, desperately need to. So before I put my own thoughts out there, tell me about what brought you to the point of needing to get that out there and share that with the world?

Oxana: You know, um, well, uh, it took me couple of months to actually write that and I felt like it's international women's day was a perfect day to do it. But the idea of it, obviously I've been struggling for a while with, uh, you know, body dysmorphia, self image, and all of, all of, all of that, I went from being, I mean, in 2015 that I said I was like 98 pounds.

Okay. So I was, yeah, it is. It's, it's, I've been through a lot. And then I w and when I was thinking about how can I talk about this, first of all, It has it, can, it, it needs to be authentic. It needs to be about me. So, uh, girls like me have a chance and then they have a chance to dance and be loved and appreciated.

And that we're not only like hip to waist ratio, we're so much more than that. And then this business needs to see that too. And then it's just, sorry, I'm just getting emotional. My, my thoughts are going crazy, but, um, yeah, I just wanted to, for everybody, for all the girls there to love themselves and to love their bodies and to truly be able to go out there on the floor, if we're talking about ballroom aren't industry, and just be themselves without trying to fit in into this programming that has been out there for such a long time and thinking, uh, that they cannot be judged or advance or get placements or anything, or express themselves without looking skinny and thin.

Samantha: yeah. Uh, yeah, it, it,

Oxana: yeah, it's a lot and it's deep. It's extremely deep. It's um, You get looked at in a different way. You even, for some people, you know, any comments about women's bodies, any comment is, um, you can't really say. You don't know what this person's, especially women go through. We have all the facts, factors like hormones.

Uh, I don't know, you name it. Uh, what, are you on your period or not. Like, you don't know what this woman is going through this specific point in time. How can you come up to somebody and say, Oh, you look so amazing. You've lost weight. Maybe I didn't try. Maybe me losing weight means that I, I don't know. That I'm not well, well maybe I was trying to get, I was trying to get a little bit bigger or whatever that was my goal, or it's like, Oh, you're too skinny.

Maybe that's the look that I'm going for. Like, how were you, how can you give comments out like this, without just thinking of where we're not, as I said earlier, we're not just hip to waist ratio. There is a lot to what, and I don't like when women are sexualized like that and objectified like that. It's um, yeah.

Samantha: Yeah.

Oxana: And that's what my post, it was just not enough, you know, just the post is not enough to just express the depth of the question.

Samantha: Absolutely. Well, and it it's. It's frustrating and it's heartbreaking and it's, it's irritating and it's, it's every emotion in the book when you're an adult. But I think especially having grown up in dance, like how. I, I've mentioned on the podcast before I'm 5'10", I'm much taller than the average girl.

So growing up in ballet, it was never expressly said like, Oh, you need to lose weight or, Oh, you need to be a certain, you know, dress size or pound size. But you know, at 12, 13, 14 years old, if you're buying a size six or size eight and your friends are buying double zero or size two. Like that number does something to you psychologically. Um, and, and the older you get, the more you start to become aware of it. And the more you start to fight against it, but how can you fight against it when you're still, you know, opening up Instagram and everybody's doing Photoshop, or you're looking at the podium of the top six at the latest competition.

And you're like, well, I am three sizes bigger than the girl that's up there. Like it it's just we're so, like you said, programmed or trained to be aware of it that then how do you find your voice and how do you find your strength to be like, enough is enough for me. And I'm going to try and fight against it with everything in my body. So that the girl behind me doesn't have to fight nearly as hard

Oxana: Exactly, goose bumps now. And that's exactly what I'm doing out there. Um, I'm realistic body size. Like I'm not small, I'm working on myself. That doesn't mean that, you know, I'm for, okay, just let yourself go. Right. That's not about that. I'm still working on myself.

I'm, you know, I'm trying to dress up my body in the best way possible. That's still there. I mean, everybody everybody's doing that. I feel you want to represent yourself in the best way possible. Right. Um, but then there will be moments. I just, it just came to my mind that there was a moment where one of the judges, she came up to me and she said, you know, Oxana, um, kind of got distracted. Your boobs are kind of like out there. And I was just like, Oh, okay, well, they're kind of attached. So I don't know what to tell you. They're just there. So, but it's just because everybody else has very different way. And so, and then what can I do about it? I only can embrace it and, and make it, show it off.

And, uh, in a way that I liked the best in a way that I think is going to be effective the best. I just use the tools that I have. Right. I mean, if I do a hip action, um, it's hip action a little bit more than it's going to look a lot more than somebody else who is two sizes smaller than me. So, you know, you got to use your assets and, uh, show it off in the best way possible. And I think that's the key and thinking like, this is what I have, you know, you. This is it,

What helped me actually. What helped me to accept my body the most is very, very interesting. So you know how let's say, we're talking you and I, right. And if somebody would be talking right next to me right now, I can, uh, absolutely acknowledge that conversation, but I'm still engaged with you, right. So I'm listening to you, I'm listening to myself talk. Right. And then, but I still hear that conversation. If I let's say, decide or choose, I can hear that conversation, right. I would say, okay, let me listen. And I can hear that. So when I come to the mirror and I look at myself in the mirror, the thoughts are going like this.

And there's all types of thoughts, positive as well as negative. And so it's your choice, what you concentrate on. The negative thoughts that are going, going to come up there, you know, if they're going to be there, but it's your choice to kind of grab onto that or just like, Oh, okay. You're there. Good. You hang out there, but I'm going to decide to concentrate on positive thoughts. And this is, it can be practiced. That's what I'm doing constantly under daily basis, because the brain is their thoughts. They're going to be there and you're never going to get rid of them is just how you deal with this is the question. And that's what helped me.

Samantha: Yeah. That's, uh, we are not by any means if you're listening to this and saying like, well, that's all great in, in theory and practice, but you know, how am I going to do that? We are not saying that this is an easy road because, Oh my goodness, is it going to be a lifelong battle. It is something that you have to reinforce every single day.

The other thing that I have done and it's along the same lines is, um, Whenever I have those negative thoughts or I'm, or I'm hearing the negative voice in the back of my head. I try to put it in the, in the context of what I say this to somebody else. Would I ever say this to a student? And if I wouldn't say it to a student and I wouldn't say it to my mother or my sister or my best friend, then why am I putting up with it being said to me?

Oxana: Right.

Samantha: You know, and that's, that's, that's, what's worked for, at least me is like, okay, acknowledge it. And then say, would I ever say that out loud to somebody? No. Okay. Then I'm not going to take it for myself

Oxana: That's right. That's right. It's definitely, as you said, it's definitely not an easy road. It's definitely not an easy road, but it can be it's it can be done. And I think, and I think what I see, uh, it's changing the world is changing. The ballroom world is changing. It's a slow process, but it's, it's there. And, um, I'm hoping it's going to go that way. And I hope that I can be of some sort help to improve improving. Should I say improving? Uh, to change. Yeah. So to help that world and that, especially that part of it change

Samantha: I think you definitely are. I think you definitely are. And by being honest and having these conversations, I think we, we all move forward. Um, the other side of that though, right? So there's two, there's two sides of the coin when it comes to talking about the ballroom dance industry. The first is finding self-acceptance and self-love for you and being comfortable at whatever size, whatever shape, whatever, whatever health level you are at, and that you want to get to, to set your goals for yourself.

There's also the side of, how do we treat other people in our industry, right? How, how are we having those conversations? What are we saying? What are the micro little things that could not be helping someone along with their journey or could be a hindrance to moving us forward, um, as, as an industry. So. What are, you kind of mentioned that you've had some comments from judges in the past. What are some of those experiences that you've had and how have you, how are you starting to react or how have you reacted in the past to make sure that we're saying like, this is not okay, we need to change how we're, how we're interacting?

Oxana: Right. Uh, so, you know, uh, at first, when I didn't know how to deal with it, it would really affect me. Let's say a coach or a judge would come up to our couple and say, you know, you would've, you would've gotten a better placement if you lost 10 pounds, you know? Oh my God, I would just shatter me. And then I would, it took me, it would take me like, uh, I don't know, a week at least to put myself back together.

And then I started thinking like, what is it exactly? How do I deal with this? And so, um, Uh, with Tony and I, we have a personal trainer of that we do, we have three, which three times a week. Right? And so she's kind of in charge of our body image and how it progresses and all of that. And so whenever, if a person is a person, if a judge starts talking about something related to my body, I usually say that I have a person that I'm working with on my body.

I have a person that is looking after, and he's happy with the progress, but I trust him with that. Would it, you, if you, if you came as a judge, to me, what do you have to say about my dancing? Because if you, you know, uh, so I'm happy with the progress with my personal coach, personal trainer. Thank you for your comment, but this is I leave it up to them because, you know, even if whatever they saw, they also don't know what, what is the process that I'm going through, even if they didn't see what they want to see, uh, in their mind, first of all.

Maybe I'm happy with the way that I look, but that's, but they also don't know that maybe what I, who I, what I, how I look right now, I already let's say, uh, got, I mean, made some changes to it recently that I'm really happy with where I am in my journey. They don't know that. And so that's what, how, I'm just kind of gently cutting them off saying that's not really your business.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. And it's not, it's, it's no one's business except for the person that's going through that journey and the people that they choose to bring into their life to coach them in that direction.

Oxana: It is absolutely different case. If I come up to somebody and I ask for an opinion, you know, if I come up to, let's say I have my dance mom, who's Nadia Eftadel, if I come to her and I really ask for her opinion, regardless of anything. And I can ask about my body, I can ask about my density. I can ask about my, you know, if, then I need to be ready for any type of opinion, that's a different conversation. But when somebody comes up to you and just all of a sudden offers that opinion. Um, well thank you. I have somebody who is, who is working with me on that. Thank you. But, so it's, it's a clear boundary is what needs to happen. So I mean, soft delivery, but very clear boundaries.

Samantha: Absolutely. And I, I would say that that extends past just body image. Right? That's also like hair and makeup and dress. Like, it's not about the technique don't, don't tell me, unless I ask for your opinion, unless

Oxana: I'm sorry, I'm interrupting you, but it really is about technique though as well. Let's say, uh, the person who is not working with me on a regular basis, right? Like, let's say we have our coaches and we, well, let's imagine we work on specific topics. Let's say foot work, right. That I point my foot on, I don’t know, count two or three or something, something. So I go with a specific mindset for this specific competition to accomplish that goal. And somebody from the judging panel, or even somebody who is just watching, right. Just come up to me and say, oh, I didn't really like your arms or whatever. That wasn't my goal.

You don't know where I am in my journey. I feel accomplished because I pointed every single time that I set out to point. Well, and of course, I'm not going to be rude to say, you know, like, what are you telling me? Maybe that wasn't, maybe I didn't really do whatever, you know, it was pretty or whatever they were looking for, but I know that I've accomplished my goal.

And so up and up, um, my coaches are the only people who can give you, who can give me, uh, an opinion about my dancing. Anybody else I can, I can ask for an opinion. It's like, how did you like us tonight? But then I'm, I need to be ready for, for something that, for any type of opinion, but if a person is offering, I don't think it's necessarily a rude, I just don't think it's really appropriate. Like how do you know what the person is doing at this point in time?

Samantha: Yeah, no, I, I would agree with that. And I would say that's both in the competition, uh, in the competition room, but then also at the studio. Right. Um, I don't know if you've experienced this, but I've, I've certainly had other instructors or, uh, other individuals in the studio come over after I've finished a lesson with a student and go, you know, I noticed that he's not doing X, Y, or Z, or maybe you should talk about X, Y, or Z. I'm like, thank you. I got it. That's not what we're working on right now, though.

Oxana: Exactly, exactly. But there's been a couple of, uh, you know, there was a situation in my, uh, in my practice. We were dancing. And I saw like one of my, one of my team, I forgot the word, forgot their English word. One of my coworkers, one of my coworkers, I saw one of my coworkers.

She was creating a wedding dance and there was a specific lift that, uh, in my mind, I knew how it would be easier to teach. And what I did, you know, I, I came up to her and I asked her to come to the room with me and I said, I don't want to interfere. But, um, I think I've learned this trick like this. I don't know if that is information would be helpful to you, but this is how I learned it.

So it wasn't in front of the students. It wasn't, I wasn't trying to say that, you know, she was teaching it in the wrong way because maybe she's been doing all her life, this trick this way. And I just saw that the people were struggling and I thought that was, that was the other way of doing it. Maybe she choose.

And then it's up to her to use that information or not to use that information. So I wasn't forcing it on her. I just, just shared my knowledge at that point. And she was like, Oh my God, thank you so much. I couldn't understand what was going wrong. And then that six, that, but then I didn't. I didn't step on anybody's toes. Like I didn't try to offend anybody. And that was, that was great.

Samantha: Yeah. There is a fine line to walk there, right. About like seeing something and saying, okay, I, I think I've got the knowledge to help in this situation versus feeling like you're coming across as being like, well, I know better, right?

There's there is a way to couch the information. There's a way to share the information that gives them the opportunity to say, okay, yes, I, I will accept this information or no, I'm not interested that doesn't feel like you're butting in or you're. Uh, enforcing your opinion on them.

Oxana: Yeah. Yeah. And that goes to, um, you know, when couples are teaching, uh, a group class together, right. Let's say Tony and I are teaching, or like any type of workshops. It's also, it's very, of course we'll talk about what we're going to be teaching, but it's just the language. It's how we communicate with each other. Like how that, or if you want to add something to that, you, you, it's very, it's a very, uh, kind of sensitive topic, how you present the information, so on your students' minds, and even if in your partner's mind that you're not trying to overpower or say that, Oh, I know better. Or you forgot to say, you know, kind of, it's a very, very. It's doable, but it's very special specific, and you got to pay very, uh, you got to pay attention to how you present the information.

Samantha: Yeah. I like the fact that you brought up, uh co-teaching because I feel like that is definitely a skill that is worth learning as an instructor. Is like how to be in the same room with another instructor, teaching a unified piece of information to a group class or to an individual student in a way that you are assisting the other person, but you're not stepping on the other person's toes and you're not undermining the other person in the room.

Oxana: Right. Well, a key to that, I is obviously, well, first talking about what you like planning it out, right. So, okay. Like a warmup. 15 minutes. Do you want to take charge? Okay. If, while the warmup is happening, you feel like you want to add something and like you, you know, it should be, it shouldn't be with ego driven. Right? Um, that's actually very good how I just said that. So a lot of it, uh, a lot of teaching, I feel teaching and programming. A lot of it is very ego driven. And once you really take the ego out and you really care about students and you're there for students, it becomes very easy to present information because as I said for the warmup, let's say, you're not trying to show off that, Oh, I know this exercise, you know. You see the students that they probably need one more exercise and that's, if you presented that way, it comes across and it's absolutely nice and easy. And nobody's angry, and its just about dancing. When there is a slight hint of ego, that's when it becomes a problem.

Samantha: Yeah. Uh, I want to get your opinion on this. So you mentioned that when you went to university, it was for, uh, English education, so teaching English, I also have a bachelor's degree in education. I went to school as a teacher. Um, how much of your education for teaching in a classroom impacts how you teach at a studio?

Oxana: A lot, a lot. Uh, Well, yes. Oh, a lot. Uh, the very, the basic rule of teaching, how I was, I was taught the basic rule, how to teach in English, English class. You would tell your students what you're going to teach. You, teach it. And then in the end of the class, you say what you taught, right. And that's been helping. Then it's just kind of in general, the basic principles of teaching that's crossed over, um, a hundred percent, a hundred percent.

And I had an experience in Russia. I was teaching, I was teaching English for, uh, I had a second graders from second graders to like ninth or tenth graders. So it was, it was a vast, uh, different ages. And, um, yeah, I can say that it's, it's obviously it's different because it has, you know, body movement is different than just, you know, English language, but it's still, it's very, very similar. How you organize the group, how you, uh, get their attention and how in the group there's always going be who is somebody, uh, you know, behind somebody who is really, really ahead and in the middle, if we're talking about, you know, a group class and how you have to target the, somebody that in the middle, but still pay attention to those, to the they're not the one is not really bored and the other one is not really behind. So that definitely helped me a lot.

Samantha: And I think too what you mentioned a moment ago with. You want to try and avoid coming to education with an ego, you want to avoid teaching with an ego. I think that really shows in the dance instructors that have an education background that learns to be teachers either with the intention of going into a classroom or not. Um, because I think the heart of why we're teaching is ever so slightly different, which means that as we're teaching, that comes across slightly differently.

Oxana: Right. And, you know, just we just did Beach Bash, it was a great, wonderful competition. So nice that everything's coming back. And, uh, it was amazing. And I was doing Pro-Am and I was just looking at this, both pro guys and pro girls. And you can clearly see, uh, some guys and I mean, some pros that are there for their student, and then they're there to showcase their students and just be there for them. Cause that was the, the essence of Pro-Am is. And then I can see how the other side where pro people just there for themselves and try to show off their dancing and kind of whacking their students around. These poor people falling off of their feet and like, Oh my God, what I it's, it's it's a little about different thing, right?

When you're there for the person, for the student. I mean, I'm not saying don't do anything. Don't dance. It's just this caring. Caring on the floor for somebody else that's, uh, comes across. You can clearly see the difference.

Samantha: Definitely, absolutely. Um, I want to pivot ever so slightly because there is a big topic that we haven't gotten to yet, which is the fact that outside of the ballroom dance world, um, you and Tony are also competing in specifically Mambo and in Salsa. So tell me a little bit about that journey and tell me what it feels like to cross train as a ballroom dancer in Mambo and Salsa.

Oxana: Well, it's actually very interesting because I feel very strong connection to, to that world and to salsa dancing. And to, as I said, when I crossed over from Latin to rhythm, I clicked with Mambo immediately. And believe it or not, I even did ancestry to find out maybe I have some Latin blood or something because I really feel the music. And when we went to Puerto Rico, I really felt the culture and the there's just does, something to me and to my body. Right. So what was, but I ended up I'm a Bulgarian gypsy, so that's probably that fire in me, maybe. I don't know.

But, um, so, and I w when we started dancing, uh, Mambo is a part of rhythm. And then Tony said, Oh, do you want to do Mambo competition? And I didn't, I didn't, uh, I wasn't even aware that that's what, that we can do that. And then we started choosing the music and that's it. Since then, I was like, what else, if we did that, routine, where else can we use that? And then it's like, Oh, that's Salsa competition. So we changed it a little bit, changed the timing. And since then, it's an, and it was very successful. Uh, well he taught me this, uh, Puerto Rican, uh, authentic Bomba and Plana dancing. I just, you know, it, it, it just did something to me. So I'm forever in love with this, and it's easy.

It comes easy. I really, we're getting ready for, uh, this nationals, uh, Mambo championship. And again, if everything hopefully happens, you know, do this Puerto Rico Salsa championship. So we it's, it's our thing. And then he, him obviously him giving me that Puerto Rican energy as very easy for me to respond to that. So that's how it's been ever since we were together.

Samantha: That's amazing. Um, So I I've had a couple of salsa community, uh, members on the podcast to kind of talk about the difference between salsa, the salsa community and, and the ballroom community. Stepping in as a ballroom dancer, did you have any pushback from the salsa community to be like you don't belong here or what's this ballroom thing you're doing? Or did you feel like welcomed and just kind of part of the family and it felt like any other competition?

Oxana: Yeah, I felt very, uh, very welcomed and, uh, I mean, I ha I got couple of comments like, Oh, that's ballroom or that's a little too, too wide. And then I made the adjustments and it's, it was very, it was easy. And, uh, it felt very organic to be in that world. And my enjoy it. And, uh, people, you know, when was social dance salsa, here or in Puerto Rico, it always feels very organic and natural and was, um, even, um, authentic, like native Puerto Rican's that I've danced with this gentlemen ice where he was like 90 years old, but he says it's, you know, it feels very, very organic for me.

So yeah, no, no looking down on me like, Oh, that's too ballroom. That's not in my case. Lucky that way.

Samantha: Awesome. Do you dance differently when you are social dancing versus competitive dancing? Do you relax your ball, your, your kind of form when you're doing more social dancing or for you is technique and it kind of, it lives across the board regardless?

Oxana: I do. That's a good actually, that's a very good question because I do feel like I'm more relaxed. Um, I do feel that I can, um, a little bit kind of let go and not think that I look, um, some type of way in some moments that I am. It's a little bit more, I feel about the upper body because, um, hips I'm, I'm moving pretty much the same way, but upper body. I don't look, I don't, uh, I don't think how it's going to project so people can see my emotion. I just feel the emotion. And as sometimes I go down, cause I really want to go within myself or our, so I don't feel that I need to see, I need to think of how it projects.

But when I'm dancing, when I'm competing, I definitely have that in the back of my mind. Oh, does that project? The emotion that I really want to everybody to feel, but at the same time, you know, do I have it all kind of aligned?

Samantha: So, yeah, so I wanted to, I want to dig a little bit deeper in that idea of like, when you're social dancing, it's more in, and you're connected with your partner and you're kind of in this bubble, whereas when we are competing or performing, it's more like out here and how has that project to the back room. So, the back of the room rather. So, um, is that a mindset, a mindset shift for you? Is that an emotional tap in that you use? How do you kind of make that switch?

Oxana: It's interesting. Um, yeah, so my mind there's couple of things that I want to say.

Samantha: Yeah.

Oxana: So you know how there's a, I'm not an actor, but I just know that there's when people act on stage rather than when they act for camera, right? The emotion can be the same. It's just how you show it is different. Because on camera, you, the, it can be a very subtle changes of the face and the camera's going to catch it. But when you're on stage and people are further, you can, you can experience that same emotion is just, has to be a little bit presented bigger. And that's what I feel, uh, when you are competing, when you're social dancing, you don't, you don't really kind of think about people watching you. You don't really think you are really very selfish at that point. You just dancing. Um, w when you are on the floor, and that's another question, uh, when you on the floor and the floor is very different, very specific, right?

Some, some floors are really big, some floors are smaller, so floors there's Blackpool. Um, so you kind of in the room, you got to understand where to project that energy. And, uh, for the most part it's, I'm talking about myself, right? I just, I never really think about the judges is I, uh, look at the room for me is very, very important what type of room I'm in.

So I walk in, Tony is very different actually, but I walk into the room at least 40 minutes before we dance. And I'm taking in the room and what kind of energy, how do I play with the room? How do I send, uh, whatever I feel out? Or is it more down here? How this space in this space, then I see obviously where people are sitting and how, how would I connect?

Is it's a little bit more closing and smaller room, more bigger and spread. So I would target people that are further and like on the risers. So I kind of it's, it's like a mental preparation for that before I go on the floor. That's, may I make a decision about how I use my energy.

Samantha: No, I like that analogy that you made about the stage because kind of hearing how you're talking about kind of getting ready in the space, it really does feel very similar to what I imagine an actor would go through, if they are in like a little box theater versus a theater in the round versus Broadway. Like you have to project differently, whether you're connecting to the front row or the back row. Is there, you know, if you're in Royal Albert Hall, I imagine that's like you have to project all the way to the back of the room.

Oxana: It's the, when I saw it, I was like, I was lost the first round we danced. I couldn't, I've never experienced it like this. And I was just like, what is go? Like anything I'm sending is not enough. It's a, it had to be a lot more than the next round was better, but it was just very different, very different way of how you use your energy.

Samantha: Yeah. Um, when you're then thinking about how, how to use your energy and how to connect and how to perform in those larger spaces, um, do you look at like, okay, I've, we're doing a quarterfinal and a semifinal and a final tonight in rhythm. So I've got three sets of five dances. That's 15 rounds. I've got to pace myself and not just go all out in the quarter, because if we make it to the semi, I've got nothing left in the tank and I want to make it to the final. Or do you just kind of train yourself to go a hundred percent then 110% then 120%?

Oxana: Yeah. The last one that you said. Its always full on, always. Um, so I never really, I mean, do I know how to give less? I do, but I choose to give it all. Right away because you never know, see people, people are very different. And when, when they see you, some people are capable of looking at you and changing the opinion. Some people are not. If they saw you not dancing, let's say strong enough, uh, in the first round, and then that emotion and that opinion is created in their mind already. And then, especially for the judges who've never seen you before.

Um, so it's just very risky to do that. And for what reason though? Um, and there was enough time between the heats I feel to restore the energy. Uh, so. I would give it all right away and then, um, rest. And it's how you for, uh, for me personally is how you restore the energy because I'm, uh, in general, I'm a giver with my energy and everything is I give a lot.

And then I just have my little things that I do to preserve the energy in between. I barely ever really interact with people. And it doesn't matter if close friends, mother, and, you know, just acquaintance. I barely ever, I try not to talk to anybody because when I talk to somebody, I really engage and they give energy right away. So I choose not to. Some people when I first started doing that, it's all, wasn't like that all the time, when I first started doing that, people started kind of getting offended and there was like, I'm in the zone. I'm sorry, I just have to do it. And so that helps me restore the energy and I kind of shake it off a little bit and then I'm ready for the next round, but yeah, a hundred percent.

Samantha: Yeah.

Oxana: All the time.

Samantha: I feel like you're a little bit of a kindred spirit because the way that you're talking about that, I'm like, Oh, she's an extroverted introvert too. Like, I, I I'm the same way. I'm like I dump all of this energy out into the world and then I need like quiet space in a dark, in a dark room with no one around. To like recharge and find myself again. So that way I can go out and do it again.

Oxana: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I can go, like, I want to say I have good, uh, A good amount of energy within me. So I can go for quite a long time with giving it out. I can go, but then it would be like a day where you plan. I was like, Oh, it's my day off tomorrow. And I've been working for like, I don’t know, two months in a row. And you know, I'll do something fun tomorrow and you just wake up and you understand, boom, that's it. Your body's just like, Nope, not doing anything today. You just you're restoring, go take a bath. That's the maximum you're going to do. And, um, yeah. And that's, I, I have to listen to, I have to listen to it, to my body, to my mind, to what I feel, uh, I have to do it. I can't just neglect the needs of my body and my soul if I need to restore, I do that.

Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. And, and again, that goes back to what we've been talking about the entire time, which is like, being in tune with yourself and listening to what you need and be your, your biggest defender and your biggest cheerleader, because that's, that's the only way to progress. And that's the only way to have a positive and fulfilled life is to make sure that you take care of yourself first and

Oxana: exactly. Exactly. You have to take care of yourself first. Even I like to give that, um, analogy is, you know, where when you're flying and they give you all the instructions, they say, put your mask on to yourself first and then to somebody else, because that's how it should be because, um, I mean, and if you're not well, you can, if you're not, well, if you're not healthy, if you're not in balance with yourself, You can't have any healthy relationship. If you're not in healthy relationship with yourself, you can not be in any healthy relationship at all. If you are the only one who in charge of your own happiness, if you're not happy and healthy, you're going to create all this co-dependent relationships. You're not going to, it's just not going to be good for anybody for yourself and for all the people around you.

Samantha: Oh yeah, absolutely. You got to be on your own two feet before you can partner up and dance with somebody else.

Oxana: Exactly. That's a good,

Samantha: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. Uh, before we wrap up today, is there anything else that you want to talk about that you want to make sure that our listeners are thinking about as they go into the week ahead?

Oxana: Um, I don't know. Um, there's maybe one thing that, what happened to me recently. uh, I kind of started getting, um, I wasn't looking for it, but I started getting couple of, uh, music videos, and then, um, you know, so I, like, I had to dance in there and not that I was singing or anything, but I was dancing and there was a thought. And my thought process, there was this thing that I was like, Ooh, if I'm going to go do that, then I'll take away for this practice. And that was making sure that we, you know, rescheduled practices. And, but then the, the, the video was so much fun and I really felt like it was at the right time. And then everything kind of, I really felt great doing that, the videos and dancing.

And so when I got to the practice, I danced better. So to think that, to kind of that programming that you have to practice breakfast, breakfast, practice practice, of course you do. But if you not letting life happen to you at the same time, it has to be a balance is what I'm trying to say. You can't like completely shut everything out, shut down everything.

Then you just become attached to this one thing. And then you put all your eggs in one basket and you're so become co-dependent and you become miserable. I feel so this is it's important to have that balance.

Samantha: Yeah,

Oxana: that's it.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. I, I would absolutely agree with that. Like, look, look for opportunities. Say yes to life when the door opens, walk through it and you're going to have a richer and fuller experience for it. And it's going to make the things that you love even that much better because you have that new energy and new experiences to bring back to it.

Oxana: Right? Yep.

Samantha: Yeah. Love that. Thank you so much for being a guest today.

Oxana: Thank you so much for having me. So much fun.

Samantha: Thank you once again, to Oxana for being a guest on today's episode. If you want to follow along with her dance journey, you can do so using the links in the description box below as always.

I'm Samantha, I'm your host with Love Live Dance. You can follow the podcast versions of these episodes at ballroomchat.com and you can follow us across social media at Ballroom Chat. As well, stay safe, stay positive, and we hope to see you dancing very soon.