Entertaining and Connecting - Igor Litvinov

Samantha StoutMay 05, 2021Ballroom Chat: Episode #49
igor litvinov ballroom chat

Igor Litvinov discusses his amateur career and his journey becoming a dancer. Samantha and Igor also breakdown his professional show dances for Ohio Star Ball and why choosing music and something that suits your personality is so important to connecting to the audience. The pair also talk a little bit about his decision to switch from competitor to competition organizer, and why he decided to launch the Boxstep app.

Igor Litvinov is a highly decorated amateur and professional standard dancer and a three time Ohio Star Ball Showdance Champion. He is also a co-owner of the Ballroom Hub dance studio in New York and the co-owner of the Boxstep app, online festival and online camp. Igor is the co-organizer of the Philadelphia Dancesport Championships, The City's Dancesport Challenge, and the Poseidon Ball.

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Episode Transcript

Samantha: Welcome back to another episode of the podcast dedicated to sharing the dance journey. I'm your host, Samantha, with Love Live Dance. Today I'm joined by Igor Litvinov. He is a highly decorated amateur and professional standard dancer. He was a three time Ohio star ball show dance champion. He is also a co-owner of the ballroom hub dance studio in New York, the co owner of the box step app, online festival and online camp, and he is the co-organizer of the Philadelphia dance sport championships, the city's dance sport challenge and the Poseidon ball.

I talked with him today about his amateur career and his journey becoming a dancer, also his professional show dances, the ones that stuck out in his memory and why choosing music and, uh, choosing something that suits your personality is so important to connecting to the audience. And we also talked a little bit about his decision to switch from competitor to competition organizer, and why he decided to launch the box step app,

So please enjoy my conversation with Igor Litvinov. Well, thank you Igor so much for being a guest on today's podcast.

Igor: Thank you, Samantha for inviting me.

Samantha: Um, so I mentioned in your introduction that you are a highly decorated, amateur and professional standard dancer, but I want to kind of hear from you how you got into dance. what is your dance journey been thus far as both a competitor. And how has that kind of led you to today as an entrepreneur, an edge, a adjudicator and an organizer?

Igor: thank you for the compliment. Um, yes. Uh, let me start from the very beginning. Uh, so I start dancing around five, six years old and, it was in the beginning, um, A little bit of a ballet dancing in Moscow, in Russia. A little bit folk, Russian style dancing. And, uh, then, I was still in kindergarten and, one mom was looking for a boy partner for her daughter.

So that's when, someone approached my mom. Okay, let's go try ballroom dancing. And, uh, so I ended up in the group, with the ballroom people and, so that was around maybe seven years old. And, so I was dancing for three more years ballet and ballroom dancing in same time. And then I had to choose, not really me, my parents had to choose because it was already a difficult schedule every day, to uh, drive to different places. So, and then they decided ballroom dancing is better for me because it's, you have to dance with a girl. And, I don't know, they like it better that, that format. but I felt always in a ballet, I had better chance, but had to drop it.

So, after that, I was competing pretty much immediately. And, it was quite a success because we had the many girls and maybe just the three boys, for thirty girls in the group. So that was normal for, for that time. and, I was really hiding that I'm a dancer because it was totally uncool. so. For sure, no one in school should know that, I'm doing ballroom dancing because yeah, that's not good.

I always wanted to be more athletic, maybe doing some sports, but, yeah, I even did some tryouts in boxing and, gymnastics and, actually couldn't pass. So they, I was not accepted, because competition was so big, at that time. and, so you have to be already prepared, and in the top physical condition, so they take you, so I was very weak probably for them, but I was perfect for dancing. So in dancing, I was a superstar in the way it was popular. and, so. It was not my favorite part. so I was, always thinking that I should quit dancing. So my parents, yeah, forced me basically the first three years, the stick to the classes and programs.

So I'm not, so I escaped a couple of times it happened, but then yeah. Then I had to pay the price for that. So, and, I think after winning, start winning competitions, then I maybe around nine, 10 years old, I start to enjoy that part, the competition part. And, so then I found is really interesting because, I find motivation to practice because I could win those medals, trophies, sometimes even real gifts. and, so that was a really proud moment to bring home some, some trophies, so the achievement, and then, usually next day in the group class, a teacher would congratulate you in front of everyone. So it was a really proud moment. So I felt good. So I felt okay, there's I'm in the right direction. So I should not feel bad about dancing anymore. And, so that's how it started then.

so it was in the same club maybe till, maybe 18 years old. So I was, practicing and competing. I had, uh, how many, four partners, four different partners switch and, the biggest moment was, when I was, 16 years old. Um, my partner was 18 years old, and, we danced the youth, uh, category and, so that was a big, Russian championships. And, I think at that time it was a 100, uh, no, actually two, more than 200 couples. It was time and we won that championship. And, um, uh, so for me that was a really big deal. And, , our teacher give, give us, even some, tickets for a day session to invite some, my, friends from school.

And, so I. I gave them tickets, so like a group of people came to support me in the morning and uh, in the middle of the day, the session ends, so they, they left, so they didn't know what, what happened really in the end. So the next day I, I came to the school and they said, so how do you do that? I said, I won. They could not believe it. It was, it was funny because I was not a really good student at school. I was not really serious about that. So, so they didn't consider that, that I could be focused on something besides that. So my image was maybe not that strong. but yeah, after that, I think, in school, I gained some respect, from teachers too.

So they would support me when I was, traveling and missing many days, um, especially Fridays and Mondays, when you travel on a big competitions, you miss many school days. So I think they were much softer after that. So that's, that's my youth. Um, and then, uh, yeah,

Samantha: Just a couple of questions there before we kind of make the jump to professional and current. Um, so culturally speaking is it's, almost, I don't want to say expected, but, is there a little bit more leniency for youth athletes in Russia, in the school system? Whereas in the US like, if you're taking that many days off on a regular basis, teachers are going to start calling the house and be like, what in the world is going on with this kid. Okay, great. I don't care that they're in ice skating or gymnastics. They need to be in the classroom. Is it a little bit more, allowable or a little bit more supported to have those athletic pursuits as a youth in Russia?

Igor: I think it's a, it's a problem in any country. I don't think it's very different. so yeah. When you are missing many days in classes, um, yeah. It's not good for you, not good for the school for teachers, for the program, you are not, uh, catching up, so you behind. Of course your grades dropping and, again, I guess it's a priority, of course.

So that was my, my choice. And, uh, I always, was following my feeling that I would do a hundred percent something that I enjoy. So dancing and competing and practicing hard, everyday, I really enjoyed that part. So for me, that was most important job. So I did homework and I was following the school tests. and, um, at some point, So they wanted me to, you know, change the school because they didn't like that I was missing so much, but, that was another, yeah, good moment. Um, actually we have a special performance at the end of the, you know, after all the exams finished. And, so this is your last big, event in the school and then you out. so, some teachers ask me to perform at the school. So I had, I asked my partners, please come. It's important for me. And of course she knew because she was exactly the same situation. So she had a problem at school. So. We prepare 10 dance. I remember 10 dance, so I really w we're all dance, ballroom and Latin.

And, so I decided, okay, this is my last chance. I'm going to surprise you and I'm going to show you everything I have. So I get ballroom five dances and then the changed and, Latin ten dances. And, uh, yeah, I remember reaction. Some people, they didn't know, they need to even, clap. So some people started the clap and some people were just like with the faces though, my, Oh my God, what is that? because, ballroom dancing also is not popular at that time. You don't see it on TV. It's, it's really rare some activity. And then, um, I remember that. when I finished performance, one of my teacher's, she was crying. And she said, if you would tell me that you are dancer, I would, I would, I would really improve my grades for you because I was the one voting for you to kick out of our school. Okay, don't worry. We good now. She enjoyed the, uh, dance part. And, yeah, so I was not really disappointed with marks because, it was not important for me.

Samantha: Sure.

Igor: So it was easier. So there's this story about my school days.

Samantha: Yeah, it amazing. I feel like it really speaks to the, the importance of teachers understanding kind of that every student is an individual and that our passions may not be, you know, what's written on the page or it may not be what's being taught in the subject. We might have passions outside of it. And you know, how do you foster that? How do you support that? How do you make sure that, that your students feel like they can pursue, sports or athletics or arts outside of that? So that's awesome that your teacher was like, I get it now. I understand this now.

So you have an amazing, youth career and amateur career. At what point do you decide? Okay, let's go ahead and make this a professional. Let's go ahead and make this actually my job full-time and make a career out of it?

Igor: I think, there is no, um, like a difficult transition from being amateur to professional. I, uh, especially, in Russia, that's, I was teaching, I started teaching at 14 years old, so I had my students, I had my group classes I had to teach. And, so when I was amateur in my 18, 20 years old time, so at that time I had a lot of, kids and, I had the trips, because of the position in the Russia and, uh, Uh, the time, popularity and maybe so I had many invitations to go to different, cities to coach.

So I was busy. So I would say, I felt being professional for many years before turning officially professional. So this was the way we could, work a lot, make money and because, our education cost a lot. So we would, uh, take lessons with our Russian coaches. but, mostly we had, every few months trips to England and, we would book lessons with, all the top champions in England and, take lessons, practice there. Um, compete some other small competitions, some big competitions like Blackpool international and UK championships. and all those trips, takes one or two weeks. Sometimes. we had three weeks, so of course it costs a lot of money to be away from home, away from work and you spend so, so we had to work really hard to generate this amount of money because, we had no sponsor no support, no parent support.

So whatever we do, we do, by ourselves. So really a professional way, I would say. so when the situation happened that, We decided to try to move to the United States in 2000 year, 2000. so of course I was a amateur in Russia and moving to the US so we had to change status officially to be a professional. And, uh, at that time it's not only for work because you have to be officially professional instructor in any school to be able to teach students. But also, mentally we felt already enough of being amateur with, we wanted to go into professional division, anyway, even without moving to the US, we would still do it.

So we were ready. and, yeah, that's how it happened. So our first competition in 2000, in April, it was, um, Philadelphia DanceSport championships. It is very funny. Now I'm co-organizer of this event, but that was for me, yes, big test in America, a very interesting experience. and, I had to compete with the students, or I had my first competition as a Pro-Am teacher and also, we did a professional rising star and professional, open.

I don't remember all, completed those. Um, but I really remember, our result first day was a rising star, I finished third. So., I don't remember exactly who was first and second, but I remember the next day was open and we beat those people in front, because first we, again, we get third place, but first place was Alain Doucet and Anik from Canada and the second was a Gary and Diana McDonald. I remember that. That was my first competition in US. Uh, it's a nice history.

Samantha: Yeah.

Igor: So, um, yes. Yeah.

Samantha: That's amazing. That's amazing. Yeah. Those are good. Those are good people to lose too. It's like, okay. I, I, I understand

Igor: Oh yes, They're both world champions. Yes. Yes. I knew. I knew that. Yeah, they were really famous.

Samantha: So, I, I like the fact that it's kind of a full circle for you that, that Philadelphia was kind of the first competition here in the US when you switched to professional. And now, as you mentioned, you are now a co-organizer of that same event. Um, before we get to organizing and kind of the career post-competition. I do want to talk about your three-time Ohio Star Ball showcase, champion titles. we were talking a little bit before we started, the episode that I very much appreciate looking back at those showcases, especially your Nirvana "Smells like teen spirit", performance, and "With or without you" by U2.

Um, I. I personally like to mix in a whole wide variety of music when I'm dancing with students, because I feel like if you can find a way to connect to the music that you are listening to on the radio, it makes the dance so much more a part of somebody's life. So, talk to me about your own music tastes. Talk to me about why you chose to use those two songs and kind of what is the connection for you between dance and music?

Igor: Okay. Yeah, this is a very important, uh, part, uh, for me. The music, um, uh, I'm really big fan of music in general, so it's, uh, nothing to do with even dancing. Uh, so I've been listening to music from my, uh, early, uh, Years so that I could remember maybe from, nine years old, I started to understand that, I enjoy listen to this one song and it was a Russian, uh, band at that time, uh, uh, Viktor Tsoi and, uh, uh, the band called Kino is like "movie". So that's Russian speaking people would understand. So that's the first time I realized, wow, I really like it. Then I start to follow many directions. And, uh, in my teenage years, uh, someone recommended me a CD with, uh, music of a Jimmy Hendrix and told me, okay, you should listen. And it was really cool.

And I was like, oh my God, I like this too. So that was a really good direction from, from the beginning I had and then Queen and, uh, you know, Metallica. And, uh, so I like, uh, strong, heavy, like hard rock music too. So, and, uh, normally I would go to life performance to listen to music every month, sometimes a few times a month, but I also enjoy going to see the classical music. So, I like to see ballet performances. And, uh, jazz. So, I really liked to go to jazz clubs with uh, live, uh, music. So pretty much open in all directions, I did like, uh, live performances and, um, so I really like music, uh, and, going to those shows, in the beginning I had a really big problem because, um, I liked dramatic music, the serious stuff, and, uh, so, all the shows and I, if I need to do a demonstration, so all the music was, uh, really heavy emotions and, uh, type of you listen to music and you want to cry.

And, um, so, and, uh, I remember there was a conversation with a Gary McDonald because, um, I was at that time, uh, we worked in New Jersey and we lived in New Jersey. And, uh, so we, we often practice and the teach at, uh, Rogers Dance Center where, uh, Gary and Diana own it. And, um, I asked him, and he is, uh, already famous with helping people with doing shows.

So, I said, okay, I need help. I need help. I need some directions. Uh, and he said, okay, bring me some songs. Let's listen together. So, I brought him songs, of course they are serious. They're not, uh, he said, oh no, this is not good. This is, this is really, uh, not what we need for the show. You need something more positive, something more exciting. This is really just sad music, so it's not going to work. And then, uh, and he said, take this, uh, CDs. They're all not good. And, um, just show me something you're that you really want, uh, you really like to listen. Not, not dancing. Just, just what kind of style you like. At that time, I prepared, you know, there's maybe 20 different CDs I choose with, songs that make me excited.

Uh, and most of them are rock music because rock, I like the most, that's what I'm listening in the car all the time. And, uh, when we started to listen, uh, and the first one was on the top, it was Nirvana. And he'll look at me like Nirvana. Yeah. Which song, first? First. He knew without listening what song we're going to try. Cause this is good because I like it too. That's how we started. So, we, uh, we play the song, he got excited. He said, look imagining that you will we'll dance, and this music will play. This is crazy because we don't hear that very often. People don't use it. So, this is already situation for the show, um, unusual. So, we should go with that. And we ended up not even listening the rest of the CD. So, it was a choice made immediately. And, um, it was fun. It was fun to practice, uh, with that music in the studio because everyone would stop and look at this. and I don't remember if, uh, other couples, used to dance to, this type of a hard rock songs before, but definitely there was a like immediate evolution at the time at the Ohio Star Ball.

Um, because this music, it doesn't feel ballroom, uh, music style. And also, it is, is breaking all the rules and, that's why it was, uh, interesting. And, um, I remember that someone said we were leaving, uh, the ballroom because every time when the show starts is very late, and people dance at seven in the morning next day. So, Ohio is really intense schedule and the, they said music starts to play people stop at that door and turn around and go back to watch because, you know, To listen that music in, uh, that environment was crazy. So, they were interested to see who is that. Um, and, uh, the only thing that regret that when we prepared the number, I had the situation I jumped on the chair, I have to take off my jacket, wave my jacket and throw it at the audience.

And by the rules, you cannot take anything from yourself or move or place on the floor. So, you just have to dance and keep everything as a part of the costume. So, you just cannot separate jacket or anything. So that's the only part I felt uncomfortable. I remember, I jumped on the chair, start to wave and I was like, okay. I feel strange because in the other rehearsals, I used to throw the jacket. So it didn't happen, but still. It was, um, shocking enough for those people because they, we told them keep this chair, right? No clear. Yes, don't sit here. So it was, uh, you know, fun to see those faces the reaction.

Um, yeah, so I really enjoyed that number and I will say, um, the best part of it because, uh, the outfit is, not perfect. Uh, the routine and, um, execution doesn't have to be perfect. Uh, so mentally I felt very free, even if I need to make any mistake or forget, it still will look good for this type of, uh, performance. And, uh, that, yeah, that gives me just, you know, open mind. So. Uh, I really had no stress, uh, or preparation. So that was probably the best, uh, show for me to dance and practice, uh, no fear. And as a result, uh, people feel that the energy and, uh, also the audience always feels when you're not sure about yourself, then you're a little bit, um, afraid or uncomfortable in a situation when you not totally open, uh, they all notice it.

So for that show, definitely I was a hundred percent open, energy, emotions. So I, I didn't have to hold back anything. So that was a real fun.

Samantha: Yeah.

Igor: Thank you for asking about that.

Samantha: Of course. Well, and, and I feel like I've had several guests now that, that have come back to this concept of like the freedom of Ohio Star Ball's showcase. Um, Maria Hansen talked about the fact that they, they felt like they could get away with a comedic piece for their routine, because it was something that they wanted to show about their personality when it came to standard. Like we can have fun too. We can be a little bit cheeky with our routine. Um, Think, uh, it was Sveta and Jason, when they, you know, talked about this very robotic piece that they remember their coaches doing, like the fact that it was just this amazing piece to watch at Ohio, because it was so unique and it's kind of alien formation.

Um, so I love going back to those Ohio pieces and just watching professionals have fun and be like, this is a part of my personality that I don't get to express on a competition floor. So like, let's go with it. Let's make bold choices. Um, and then, you know, the rocker in me is like, yes, let's do a punk piece. Why not, you know, show that we can do Foxtrot to some, you know, nineties grunge rock and it still works. You know, it it's, it's embracing the, um, tone and the musicality, and then finding, you know, the patterns in our dance syllabus that, that make it still tell the story and feel like it was always meant to be that way.

Um, so I really appreciate kind of looking back at, at some of your showcases and being like, I like where he's going with that. I like the fact that they made that choice.

Igor: Thank you. Sorry to interrupt. Uh, I would just recommend, uh, if you didn't see there is another piece on YouTube, we can find the show that when I dance as a student,

Samantha: I was just about to transition to that.

Igor: Crazy.

Samantha: Yes. if you are watching this, I'll try and insert a clip here, so that you can watch along with us. if you're listening, you should go and look up, Ohio star ball. I want to say it was 09 or was it 2011 that you did that piece?

Igor: Probably 09.

Samantha: 09. so, the routine, you come out in like a disheveled tail suit with the collar popped up and it is like, I feel like it rode the line perfectly between making fun of like the overly stiff bronze Pro-Am student, but also being very respectful to like, this is part of everyone's journey. We all have this awkward moment, so let's celebrate it. So, so talk, the listeners through kind of what the inspiration was behind that and how you prepared to dance badly well, for that piece.

Igor: Okay. That was a special moment and special preparation. Um, just to say. Um, professionals always busy with work and traveling. And, uh, I would say not just me, uh, many professional couples, uh, always do everything in the last moment. So for example, all the shows, uh, we did in last, uh, two weeks or one week right before Ohio. So that's the really busy, crazy period for everyone to finish the show piece. And, uh, and I remember, uh, we used to dance every year at, um, in Puerto Rico, Caribbean competition, two weeks before, uh, the Ohio, uh, so you it's extra practice.

And at that time, usually we talk with Gary and Diana and, uh, decide the next show. So all my shows I did with them. So because there was a one show success, uh, and I forgot to say about that show. The very first we won, um, for me that was, um, the most uncomfortable. So it was a music. Uh, they choose music from, the musical, uh, the name is Sweet Charity. So this, uh, it was not my cup of tea at all because, uh, yeah, that's, that's the music I could not connect at all. And, uh, and we had no choice and we did the number and they just said, No matter how bad you feel, you just do it. Yeah. And, and the music and, uh, the routine and the choice of songs was lined up. So good and colorful dress and energy. So when we won that one, I was really shocked that time because, um, I could not believe, people will like that because I thought, okay, no, I feel totally fake right now. I, it was not, not totally me. Um, uh, doing strange, uh, no combinations with, uh, music, uh, that, uh, I didn't enjoy, but it was so positive shows.

So it received very well. And that, that time that's my first, uh, Moment when I start to change my thinking, okay, maybe I'm wrong. So I have to look at those, uh, positive songs and, uh, musicals and different directions that I never been, uh, searching before. So anyway, at that, uh, competition in Puerto Rico, usually we decide and, uh, right. Uh, during my, uh, pro competition, I remember I asked Gary, I have an idea. So what is that? So I want to do the show and I'm a student, and I'm doing everything wrong. Really? That sounds good. So we start to talk about this because again, uh, you want something unusual situation that, um, So many couples every year, everyone has to prepare the show.

So people repeating the ideas all the time, and it's really hard to find something new. And, uh, so I thought, okay, uh, let's, let's try that because, um, I don't see anyone doing so and should be fun. And at that time I was always, uh, it was already a hundred percent transition from being serious to our comedy.

So I thought, okay, all my shows need to be crazy or comedy, funny. So we will entertain people, just like that. No crying, just, uh, uh, if, if it has to be a stupid shows, it will be a stupid show. Yeah. But super entertaining. Um, so that's when we went to the studio, uh, right after the comp and, uh, start to play. And music I choose from the, my old CD. It's a Victor Silvester orchestra. Uh, people know it's a very famous orchestra, used to play, uh, in Blackpool too and, uh, practice. So it's really old style it's yeah, it's antique. So, uh, I choose those three pieces and, uh, Diana helped to cut them together. And, uh, we, we danced the basic really, there are not so many difficult steps.

It's simple, only one combination. We did run through the Quickstep because I wanted to show also that, um, how impatient students are. Yeah, they don't want to stay in bronze and silver and closed gold too long. They want open step. They want to run. They want to jump. And, uh, if you are not ready yet. If you don't have enough discipline, you don't have body structure, a good frame center, feet, understanding of connection with the person. Of course, everything is all over the place. And, uh, looks funny. And, uh, but we had, uh, a serious, you know, concern about, not, you know, make it look funny, but not to offend people as well, the same time, because, uh, it could go wrong way too.

People would think like, okay, you're making fun of all of us here. And so I didn't want that part. Of course, I want people understand. Those basic, uh, mistakes with the footwork, for the frame, with the direction, with timing and just a reaction, even the bow, like rushing to do the bow. So all those mistakes, we all go through those stages. Uh, and, uh, it's impossible to avoid them. Yeah. So we learn through those mistakes. It's okay. It's normal. And so we all can find something connect to it. So we did it. So this type, uh, so we had to just stay in a good balance with that. And, uh, and I remember very well for me, it was funny to perform that. I took the tail suit from a student, and he is, he was much bigger than me, so of course, it didn't fit me well, but it looked already good. Yeah. Because of course not perfect costume. And, uh, you mentioned the collar popped up. Um, that was total accident, actually, it just happened. So I thought, okay, it's just the bonus because, uh, I D I didn't plan it. It just happened because I was twisting my neck and shoulder and it just naturally happened.

And, uh, but I remember doing on purpose, uh, my number, I was doing it with and angle. Not even, you can see a lot happening, like not perfect, not, not really professional approach. So, and of course my heel leads my foot work when it's supposed to be a toe. I did heel. So, uh, so that's, uh, that's the story about this show. And I have to say. At that time. Um, it was really late. I remember ballroom was half empty. Uh, and, uh, if you, if you look at the video, you can see many empty seats already. It was full ballroom before, but since the schedule stretches after midnight, sometimes after 1:00 AM, people cannot say long. So for that set of the shows already, it was not so enthusiastic atmosphere.

It was people tired, less people, quiet. And, um, so after our show, I remember it was the only show in the ballroom at that night, uh, that received a standing ovation. Not too many people in the ballroom, but uh, many of them stood up. It was, it was, it was a loud moment. And, uh, And the person who was making video, I heard on the video was laughing at the end.

So I said, okay, this is a big deal to everybody because uh, people experienced some real emotion there was funny for them. So that's, that's the point. Uh, I think we, we reached our goal. We entertained, so we shared something, uh, with everyone. So it was fun. Yeah. I really proud of that, uh, moment that happened

Samantha: well, and that's really a, I think for any dancer, that's kind of a moment that sticks with you is when you know that you connected with the audience in a, in a, in an authentic way. You have that shared moment where we're like, we all understand what's happening right now. We're all, we're all in this moment together. Um, some of the, the small moments, uh, that I think, uh, you both did fantastically was, um, anytime like your head went the wrong way, she'd like correct it, or like the elbow with the arm, she's like twist the elbow or like get the arm up.

And I feel like every teacher has been like, I've done that. I've been there. I've I know where you're at. So I think it was, it was so beautifully done and I don't think it came across as offensive or like, Oh gosh, these terrible students that we have to dance with. I think it really was just a celebration of like, We're we've all made these mistakes.

We all had to start somewhere and look at how far you can go with time and practice and support. So I really, I really love all of your showcase routines from Ohio, but I especially love, love, uh, that one, cause it's just it's so it's so true. It's just so true.

Um, so, so pivoting, because there are important things that I still need to get to, uh, or we still need to chat about, um, you have a fantastic, amazing professional, uh, career as a standard dancer. And then at some point the choice to retire happens. Um, you are now the core co-organizer of how many events?

Igor: Okay. Um, at this point,

Samantha: As of recording,

Igor: uh, co-organizer of a Philadelphia with Chuck Danza, that's just happened recently. Also, um, co-organizer for, uh, I seasonal events that we have, uh, uh, on the cruise competitions. Uh, so w we did just one, it was a nice success, but then a pandemic happened. We had to cancel everything well, like everyone else in the world. Uh, so that one, uh, I do with Renata Shvarts and, uh, Eva Stelzer, uh, from Canada. So this is, uh, yeah, this is fun trips, uh, vacation type of dancing that would happen in any place in the world. And we did it, uh, In Norway actually, uh, we had, uh, trip from England, uh, Norwegian fjords seven days trip. And, uh, by myself, I do, um, uh, recently I've become organizer of two, one day events, one in New York, uh, called , City's DanceSport challenge.

It's on, uh, December 18th in TWA hotel. Uh, so it didn't happen last year, but, um, we would like it to make it happen, uh, in the virtual format. So we ha we, we did it, but, uh, yeah, so this year we really hope I will see real people coming and dancing in the ballroom. And, uh, lastly, uh, I also organize a one day event in North Carolina, called, uh, North Carolina Open, July 24. It's a small one day event and, uh, uh, that's it. Because I had another, uh, experiences in different partnerships before and worked with, uh, different, uh, competitions. But, um, I no longer participating in those projects. And, um, so for right now I stick to those.

Samantha: Sure, sure. So, um, you also, uh, should we talk about Box Step? Should we talk about the app and the online festival and the online camp associated with that?

Igor: Right, right, right. Yeah. I actually forgot. Um, since, um, you know, we all had to adapt to a new situation and, uh, uh, one year in lockdown or even more than a year, it's continuous in some places, still business is not open. So the new way of doing virtual online events, um, uh, become, uh, really, uh, important, uh, replacement, uh, of, for dancing person. And, uh, it's actually, uh, we had the one day, uh, of virtual event, even for Philadelphia that we had in person, we still had, uh, uh, quite a big, um, uh, participation from, uh, those, uh, cities and countries that could not travel.

So I think it's important and it will stay, um, uh, for longer even I think after all, uh, all regions and all countries will be open. Uh, so people will still compete and, uh, show the skills and dancing to the experts that dance and, uh, can judge that from different continents and countries.

So, um, the idea of a Box Step, um, came, um, came to me maybe two weeks after, two months, I'm sorry, after we all closed businesses. Uh, and, um, we lost studio in Manhattan, so we closed it. And then after a few months we tried to reopen and then we've be forced to close it again. So a lot of drama we experienced. Uh, so when we realize, okay, this situation is really against of what we're trying to do. So we kind of lost that fight at that time.

And, uh, we need to do something different. We have to move in some direction. So I was thinking that, uh, we still connect that, uh, virtually, and um, people work on zoom mostly, uh, and, uh, uh, we see each other on social media everywhere and communicate, uh, and I thought, uh, uh, maybe we should have, uh, our own platform for dancers and more, a place where we can, uh, chat with, communicate with each other, uh, read the news, uh, exchange information such as looking for partners, looking for studios, advertising, competitions, venders, uh, all those basic needs, uh, dancers and teachers, um, uh, usually look on internet. I thought, okay, when you have it in one place and, uh, I don't see any application on, on that, uh, you know, topic. So I thought I would like to have something that if I wake up in the morning and I go to see what's happening, what's fun on the Facebook because we have this habit and yeah.

Then you find, um, that most of my friends are ballroom dancers. So all my news from Facebook, I can see about dancing in this. What's happening in a studio or a competition and the results and, um, something exciting, pictures. So I thought I would like to have that just for ballroom dancers, similar to Facebook, but, uh, you don't, uh, need additional drama about politics, about, uh, uh, fights, uh, and just, uh, this stream, um, exchange of news information only dedicated for professional, uh, needs for ballroom dancers. So that was my really idea.

And, um, so, and another, my idea always been is, um, uh, we'll, uh, we have many, uh, situations in life and then dancing when, when people separated, divided in a groups in, uh, uh, organizations and, uh, uh, fighting for different principles and ideas. So, for example, in our dance world, we have now WDC, world organization we have, uh, WDSF organization, and we'll have a new organization WTO right now.

Yeah. So the three major, big structures. Um, so they're all separate, they all don't mix. Uh, they all compete with each other, they're all against each other. So, and, uh, so then there's the aspect, uh, difficulty of dance. In our application, there is no separation, is actually to connect people. And, uh, if people wants to make posts about, uh, any of those organizations of the events, Something good is happening. Uh, they all mix, they all share. Um, uh, so this has no limits, no politics, no separations. So it's, it's really open platform for everyone. Also in ballroom dancing, many businesses happening too. Yeah. So dancers need shoes, costumes, uh, all the, ammunition and um, so competition organizers need place to, uh, also promote to meet, uh, dancers.

Uh, so many workshops, many studios. Also studios need people to hire new instructors. So there are many, many things that, um, people need to work and mix with each other without any politics anyway.

Samantha: Well, and I like the fact that you're, you're looking at both the app and virtual events and the workshop series as kind of a way of connecting people, because I think, to your point, you know, on a, on a macro level, we have large governing bodies that maybe aren't communicating with each other. On a micro level, you'll have studios that aren't talking with each other or vendors that aren't talking with each other. And, especially if you are, you know, new to the industry and you have, you don't have 500 people on your friends list that are also all ballroom dancers.

it can be really difficult to try and track down information or learn about upcoming events or learn about upcoming workshop series. So the fact that you're trying to collate that information I think is awesome. I also appreciate the idea that we are seeing more and more workshops become available online for reasonable prices. You know, you have, in the last 18 months you have the Koros app that was launched. Dance Vision has launched a whole bunch of content, that is above and beyond just their syllabus. Dance and Co with the Chmerkovskiy brothers has launched. They have a bunch of content coming out. You know, there, there are a bunch of these online platforms that are trying to make it more accessible for you to learn dance at an affordable level so that you can bring it back to your instructor and say, okay, help me understand what this person is talking about.

You know, break down this lecture in a way that, that I can use it in my dancing. So, you know, the more that we can connect our ballroom world, I think the better that we can all grow together as a community, which is awesome. With regards to the virtual events that you are hosting the virtual festivals or the virtual competitions, are they being judged the way that, a normal competition is judged or are they being, graded on a scale with feedback given, which is, I feel like there are a couple of different events going on.

So how are you, organizing yours as far as, uh, the actual feedback or the judging process for the students?

Igor: Uh, yeah. Uh, something else I forgot to mention about, uh, the judges, uh, if you notice, uh, I, I, uh, I, I told about, um, different organization, which is, uh, they compete with each other. Yeah. So in, in real life, You cannot mix, uh, judges for two different organizations, which is, uh, actually happening successfully on virtual events.

Yeah, so we have Edita, uh, uh, and uh, Anna Bezikova, they represent WDSF organization and, uh, the rest of the judging panel from, uh, uh, WDC, WDO, that doesn't matter. Uh, so, uh, that's, my it's interesting and welcome and unique. So that is, uh, I think that's a good step. And, uh, I hope if something normal will happen in the future and people will, uh, dancers will be just dancing and, uh, everywhere they want and without those restrictions, I think that would be really, really, something good and positive. But, um, about, uh, the style of, uh, of marking. Uh, we prefer, uh, to keep it more to traditional, uh, uh, marking system. So one, two, three, uh, placements. And, uh, what happened, we learn a lot from a previous, uh, experiences that if, if you put too many categories, so people spread in many categories and, uh, sometimes you end up one or two, uh, competitors dance in one event and a lot of uncontested event.

So we are doing, uh, now less categories so that, um, we are shrinking it. So people will have more competitions. Yeah. So real uh, situation, of uh, dancing against each other. So this is our. Hmm. Uh, I think very good adjustment, uh, for the event because, uh, if situation happened that person dance, uh, alone, uncontested, in that situation, uh, we will ask our judges to write, um, uh, notes, like three points, uh, uh, critique or recommendation.

Uh, since you're not competing with anyone you would just alone dancing, performing. So then judges should be able to, uh, look at the skills. Make a few notes. So this way a competitor will receive actually, um, you know, uh, something valuable. Yeah. That will happen if, uh, if, uh, no competition with another people, because that will not be able to, uh, write too many details if you have to compare with other couples,

Samantha: Yeah, I think, I think that's a really good kind of midpoint to find, is, you know, we're, we're going to try and combine as many levels and as many heats or age categories to make as much competition as possible. So you are up against other dancers that maybe are a little bit younger than you. Or a little bit older, maybe a little bit more advanced or a little bit less advanced. So you can kind of get a sense of where you are, but in the case that someone is uncontested, we don't want you to feel like, congratulations, you got a participation award and that's it. You know, thank you for your entry money. We want to give you that same feedback. We want you to have a similar, competitive experience.

I really appreciate that, cause I know for me as a, as an instructor, it's heartbreaking and it's frustrating when I convince a student, okay, let's do this competition. We're going to put in all the hard work and then, Oh, you were uncontested in all of your heats. Woo. Yeah. So I, I appreciate that. I actually, I, I would love to see an in-person competition also take that approach. I don't know if that's in our future, but I think that would be amazing to, to give students feedback. Um, If they are uncontested in their heats.

The last thing that I really would love to touch on before we wrap up for today is, I kind of mentioned before we started recording that I was listening to an old interview you gave, about making the switch from being a competitive dancer to an organizer. And the fact that when you were a competitor, you did not see competition organization in your future. You were like that's for somebody else. And then, there was a moment where it switched and you were like, you know what, I can find a path in this. Was that business driven? Was that retirement plan driven? Or was that, just entrepreneur, like, I, I can see making a better competition experience for dancers and let me make a go of it?

Igor: Uh, okay. I will try to explain. Um, yeah, but when I was a competitor, so I was hundred percent into practicing, taking lessons, competing, trips and, uh, managing my students. I had a lot of, uh, pro-am students, they're all my partners, so I had a big team. So I was really, really busy. And, um, when this question, uh, happened, uh, if I will, will be able to do, uh, be a competition organizer and, uh, work on that direction. So my, my reaction was hundred percent no. So I, I didn't see myself in that direction.

And, um, I was even scared to do so, like I thought, this is not for me. I don't need that stress in my life. Uh, because, uh, every organizer say it is stressful even to prepare a small events. Uh, it is stressful because, uh, yeah, it is, uh, financial responsibility. Uh, so it is, uh, you have to prepare many things, pay for many things, um, and you hope people will come. Enough people will come and dance and the event will happen, nothing bad in the world will happen, uh, natural disaster or a snow storm or anything will can cancel the event. Uh, yeah, so it is a lot of, um, war is. And I've seen that a lot because I see competitions every week. So, so as a competitor that I was not ready for that.

And, um, later, uh, uh, when I start to, uh, get into interested. Uh, so I think it started in the beginning from judge judging the events. So I was, uh, uh, full-time judge at this point and I was traveling from one camp to another. So I started to see, the event from different sides from the official side. So I started to see, um, more different, uh, details and, uh, learn about, uh, events.

And I see what other organizers doing. So, and, um, I started to feel a little bit more confident about it. And I thought okay. Uh, if from dancer I become just, uh, uh, adjudicator. So for me, this is different role. It's still, I'm serving my, uh, uh, industry people. So, uh, organizing competition, it is also part of it. Yeah. So if, if I need to be an organizer and also, uh, work with the same people, but just doing a different job. So I still feel, uh, Good. This is, uh, my same, same dance world. So nothing new. I just have to do different type of job. And so I thought, okay, this is not, not wrong. This, uh, I started to become interested and, um, uh, then I start to ask and, uh, see what was the opportunity, how people become organizer what's happening.

And, uh, yes. And in NDCA world, uh, that the amount of competitions are limited. You don't, uh, start the new competition. You can join the existed events to become co-organizer, join the team, or you can become the owner of competition by yourself. So those, uh, choices are available. And, uh, yeah, so I was just the partner in the beginning.

So. What my, my first experiences and, uh, I felt, uh, really important purpose actually. Uh, I felt, uh, uh, being competitor in a different way because, um, this, this also gives you the, those, uh, feelings. I don't know, butterflies. Yeah. You're, you're not, you're not really competing with the other dancers, but, but, uh, you are competing with the situation to make, event successful, uh, to hope it will grow.

I think, uh, in the end of a professional career, every dancer has the same question. What should I do next? This is a very, uh, big moments and, uh, uh, the dramatic moment, I would say, because. You, you always hope you're happy, competing, uh, days will never end. And, uh, you kind of not ready. Many dancers, delaying that's moments and, uh, become sometimes not prepared to make a transition.

Um, so few couples are very successfully still compete and run the event. Amazing. So I was not like that. So I must say those people are really tough, if they fit, if they can combine really being active professional and run the event, this is unbelievable strength they show this is, this is super competitive.

So yeah, everywhere, everyone has a different way, but, um, I think also being a studio owner and develop your own school. Or, uh, being able to work with your students, doesn't matter if it's a Pro-Am school or kids school going that direction and, uh, work on, uh, chain studios like, uh, Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire. So there's the different business direction. Um, I think all of those choices are very, very good. And, um, it's, it gives you motivation to grow. It's not easy. Yeah. A studio is not easy. Competition organizer, it's not easy at all, but, uh, without that you feel no, no purpose. That's that situation I didn't want.

So I was, I was looking for a challenge and I thought, okay, I was wrong. I actually really like it, uh, to be around people. And, uh, promote the event because it is good for everyone. Good for teachers. Good for students. Uh, good for the audience for competitors, also good for me. Uh, if everyone enjoy, I enjoy more than anybody. Yeah. So, uh, so it's really, really positive. Uh, I was just a little bit afraid in the beginning, so I thought, um, I will not be able to manage this amount of stress. But once I tried, okay. It's not bad.

Samantha: There you go, there you go. Yeah, the fear of the unknown and the fear of what comes next, I feel like is something that, competitive dancers, professional dancers we face like on a daily basis is like, okay, what, what is the exit strategy? What, what comes after I cannot dance on my feet or on my knees anymore? What, what comes next? If you know, the competitive career hits the end of the road. If, if you're a students, you know, what comes after open gold? Where do I go next? So, I appreciate the fact that you're like, I'm not ready for that just yet. And then when the opportunity came, we're like, all right, maybe, maybe I can do this. Maybe I can make this a thing.

Well, Igor, anything else that you want to make sure that we talk about today, touch on or that our listeners are thinking about as they go through the week ahead?

Igor: I would say, um, uh, I felt it's, it's, uh, really important to, uh, to support, uh, dancers and motivate in some way. So for, especially in difficult time like this, um, because, uh, many dancers and students still, uh, staying away from, uh, going to the schools and going to a social dance party or competitions.

Yeah. So competitions are really successful right now. Those are open start to happening, but, uh, a lot of people still, uh, waiting for the more safe time, uh, because of virus and, uh, staying home a lot. So for those people. I think that's the most difficult too, to be separated from the community. Uh, I just wanted to give extras support and, uh, recommend to be more physically active.

Uh, even if you are alone, do the classes, exercises, um, sports, dancing, whatever you can do at, uh, home online and also be as much as possible outside, run, uh, in the park, uh, you know, buy a bicycle, uh, to do something else outside, go fishing. Um, so don't stay alone in your heavy thoughts because it's too long. Yeah. It's, it's, it's difficult. So that's my message. Uh, uh, stay positive and, uh, be active as a dancer because dancing really helps. So if I would be, um, health minister or working for government, I would do different rules for sure. I would never close dance studios. I think it was a big mistake. You could definitely, uh, make, um, many of these three actions, how to approach dancing, but people need to go somewhere to move, to exercise, to do sports.

So this, this part is really important for people, uh, for people, uh, physical and mental health. So, but that's just my opinion. So keep dancing as much as you can. Yeah.

Samantha: Yes, yes. Keep dancing where you can when you can, how you can and stay positive. And there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully we are getting back to a normalcy very soon, so.

Awesome. Well, thank you Igor so much for being a guest on the podcast today.

Igor: Thank you so much. I enjoyed all your questions and I hope you get some answers. Thank you again for invitation.

Samantha: Thank you once again, to Igor for being a guest on today's podcast. If you want to follow his dance journey or find out more about any of the events or products that we talked about as part of today's podcast, 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 also follow us across social media at Ballroom Chat. If you've not already done so, please do make sure that you give us a thumbs up if you liked this episode and make sure that you are subscribed as well.

As always stay safe, stay positive, and we hope to see you dancing very soon.