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 Viktorija. She is a four time us national professional smooth champion, four time world professional smooth champion. and a three time Blackpool smooth champion. They were actually the first Blackpool champion, um, for the smooth division. Sat down to talk with her today about her early career, about finding her own, uh, expression and defining, um, how she and her partner Nick want themselves to be seen on the dance floor as far as their style and choreography choices go.
And then we also talked a lot about, um, navigating the different relationships and expectations in the dance world, along with some really important tips for young professionals that are thinking about becoming dance instructors, uh, some things that are helpful to know before getting into the business itself, along with some helpful tips or students, uh, trying to navigate their goals and expectations. So please enjoy my conversation with Viktorija.
Thank you Viktorija so much for being a guest on the podcast today.
Viktorija: Well, thank you for having me.
Samantha: I think most people that listen to this podcast know of you and your championship titles with your partner, Nick, but if you would, can you kind of take us through the early career, how you got to the point where you are now a multi time undefeated, smooth champion.
Viktorija: Oh, okay. Well, I started dancing when I was seven and was not by my own choice. My parents thought that I needed to do something to keep me out of trouble. Cause I was a very active child. And prior to that, I did a little gymnastics, which I loved. I absolutely loved, but it also develops your body in a slightly different way. So I started building up my arms and shoulders and um dancing. I think is really, um, overall developing your body. So not specifically the one area and also my oldest sister was dancing at a time when she was already dancing for a couple of years and she was doing fantastic. So that was, um, at the age of seven that I came to my first dance class. And by the age of eight, I actually announced my official retirement. I locked myself in the bathroom for, I think it was eight hours. It's like actually a little family comedy, um, story now. And I said, there's no way I'm going to another dance class. And I stayed there for eight hours solid until my parents actually said, it's okay, you don't have to go to dance class.
And the whole thing was that was, is that at that age, um, I wanted to be active and I wanted to be star. I was very independent and the fact that I had another person in front of me and who was also a boy, and then also he wasn't as quick on picking up the steps or keeping the timing. It was frustrating for me. So I just didn't want to have anything to do with that. Now, um, I, in process, I did like, you know, I went to tennis, I did a little soccer, so I was very active as a child, but then. I think at around age 12, my sister was heading out to the dance competition in Italy and I said, well, wait a minute. I want to go to Italy to what's going on here.
And my mom said, well, you're not dancing. So if you were dancing, you would be going through the same competition. And I said, okay, find me a partner. I'm ready. So it was literally over a period of four weeks. Um, there was a boy that was available. We got into dancing together. We trained for four weeks. We went to that competition actually amazingly made the final in Latin dancing, not in ballroom. Um, and that's kind of how I got back into dancing. So a couple of years, um, into that, I had a change of partner, danced with a really great boy. Um, we were placing well in ballroom. And, uh, by the time, so that was at 12, so I danced for about four or five years. So I think around the age 16, 17, right about time when I graduated, I had to make a career choice and I went to study at the university. So yet again, I had to say goodbye, to the dancing. So I took, I think about an eight year break. So between my dancing as a youth, and then I came back, um, I moved to the United States.
I studied here and then sort of made my way back into dancing. So I came back already at the age of 20 some and the right into the professional division. And I mean, at the time everybody was telling my partner, well where did you find this girl? What is going on? I mean, she's no good, right. And he said, you have to give her a chance. So he stuck with me and we sort of developed. And then that was my partner, right before I got into the dancing with Nick. So, um, he's given me a chance I've proven that I can do better. And then, you know, kind of on we went. And so, uh, seven years ago I started dancing with Nick. And, um, the rest is history kind of like that.
So I can't say that my dance career was cloudless and I just, you know, it was a child and like a superstar since I was a little kid, I actually had quite a lot of, uh, and frustration and, um, Kind of, uh, not so successful maybe in relating to my partners, you know, so we had a little tension here and there.
So it's the result of the changing partners. And, um, eventually though, if you stick with it, it leads you to the right direction. So one thing that I realized when I came back into dancing when I was 20, is that I can't live without dancing. I have no idea what I was doing because for that, and they was just like, everything else went into the background.
I literally spent my weekends at the dance centers because my partner wouldn't want to practice on the weekends. And so what I went to, I went to Alvin Ailey in New York. And I did all that ballet and jazz and modern classes. All I could get my hands on. I literally danced until my legs fall off and I'd go home back happy and satisfied. And so, yeah.
Samantha: Nice, nice. Uh, yeah, a lot in there that I I'd love to kind of dig deeper into, but we'll start with kind of that idea of cross-training and, um, the fact that you started off with gymnastics, and then, uh, as you just said, you were training on the weekends in any style that you could kind of get your hands on. Where do you see that connecting with ballroom dancing and where do you see that being an advantage, especially for, um, adults, you know, 20, 30, 40, 50 plus year olds, uh, that are thinking about dancing. What do you see as the benefit of cross training and not just focusing on one particular style in ballroom dance?
Viktorija: Right. Well, that's kind of like, um, the first thing that we always have to remember, the dancing is physical, right? So we are kind of, uh, using our bodies. You know, we get our heart rate up. So overall, uh, we need to be fit right to physically fit. So that goes for anything. So you can be training yourself, um, preparing physically for, by walking, running, doing aerobics, uh, ellipticals, you know, Zumba classes are from fast if we're getting your stamina up and stuff like that. But they also say that is as a coordination. So we have to be coordinated. We using different kinds of actions and a different timing. So we have to be, um, knowing how to connect, let's say our big toe of the left foot to our, uh, pinky on the right hand, right. Or the other way around. So those newer connections that we're establishing from the brain to the muscle to give us some signals or speak, we have to be able to efficiently find, locate them.
So, um, Anything that you do that is involving like coordination. I mean, the horseback riding is fantastic because you have to engage your core and you have to sort of move as one with the horse, right? So that you're not like bumping in opposite directions. Um, weightlifting is great too, because you have to, um, keep your attention on a specific group of muscles that you're involving.
And for me, it was always go through the dancing because there is a big factor of the music and expression. So like in a lyrical or contemporary or something like this, you can really tell your own story without using any words. Because as I mentioned before, especially as a child, I wasn't very effective communicating my thoughts and feelings. So, um, I was a little bit introvert, so I couldn't relate to other people in a way. And so when I couldn't be heard or understood, I'd get really frustrated, which resulted of course, in a big burst of energy and everything else involved with that. So dancing was an outlet as well for me. So when it came to the training, I think I was more sort of prone or chose the dancing as, without the partner, as well as, as a form of expression.
But, uh, gymnastics is flexibility. You know, talking about like tennis, tennis again is cordination timing yourself to hit the ball. Um, anything that you do physical. I mean, I teach my students sometimes I say, when you're reaching for a cup of coffee in the morning, right. And you're like reaching for your favorite mug on the shelf, we'll keep tried to extend like your whole right side.
So it becomes really your obsession, your thoughts, you do everything as a dancer, right? To you. I had the student one time who would be driving with his left elbow out the window, like almost as if he holding the frame, he was trying not to touch the opening of the window in the car. Cause he was trying to perfection that hold. So, um, I think there is a lot of, um, that going on.
Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. When you, when you want to make something a priority, you start to see how everything else in your life can kind of fit in and tie into and kind of reinforce that. Um, the other thing that I kind of wanted to talk about a little bit is this idea that, um, How should I, how should I put it? That strong, independent women come into ballroom dancing and suddenly feel horribly out of place and uncomfortable.
And, uh, we have to kind of figure out how to reframe and re narrate this idea of lead and follow and gentlemen and, and lady. So obviously you kind of took that to task at, at seven, eight years old. Um, but, but over the years, how have you kind of redefined the partnership element, um, for your dancing and how do you frame that for your students so that when someone walks into your studio, they don't feel like they have to give up their independence. They don't have to give up their sense of self in order to conform into this ballroom dancing world.
Viktorija: Well, I try not to, um, get stuck on the words or hung up on the words lead and follow. Because actually, when we dig deeper into that, there's, um, there is some element of the gentlemen initiating the action and then the lady sort of fulfills that or continues. But then what happens, gentlemen actually follows his own lead. So it's not pure lead and follow it's actually a conversation. So it's a ball that is rolling. And as a lady, I always tell my students, well, you have a lot of responsibilities. It's not like you will put yourself into the position and then you just hold your nose to the left and that's it.
You pretty much do nothing. Just move your feet every so often. There is a lot of stuff that going on in our own body, how we can, um, interact with a gentleman. And like I mentioned before, the biggest subject here is that it is a conversation. So when the gentleman says hello, and I say, well, hello, I'd say hello back. Right. I can say it was flirtation. I can say direct. If I'm on a business meeting, then he says, well, how are you? So this is my opportunity now to say how I am. So in dancing, we, I think of it as the conversation. So it's, we exchanging this phrases we're exchanging the body actions. If you look at the fundamentals of, um, drive, reach, swing.
Any of that, my body doesn't do anything different than the gentlemen. So it's not fair to really separate myself and say, well, I'm just leading a dancing. Well, I do exactly the same thing only I do it in the high heel. Right. And then, um, of course we have different styles. So for somebody who is maybe not so outgoing, Or so independent, they can fit well into the category of ballroom dancing where it's a little bit more about the gentlemen, lady has a lot to say in there as well.
I don't want to be, uh, kind of, um, um, what do we call that, rude, let's say to the ladies at saying, oh, they're not doing anything. They're doing a lot. It's amazing how much their back muscles and their legs and their, you know, the shape and the curve that they create. But for somebody who may be a little more outgoing, outspoken, more looking for more individualities and they can choose between Rhythm,, Latin dancing or Smooth, because there is a lot more opportunity to express yourself because you are celebrating and opening and then you have your solo pieces and the choreography can be tailored.
And then also the fact that, um, there are so many different personalities in a, um, dance industry, right? It's like, what, for me, I found through all of my quitting and coming back and sort of retiring and locking myself in the bathroom is that, um, it's not anything wrong with you. It's just, you have to find the right person who hears you right.
So you've found a great instructor and you understand exactly what he wants of you. And that's great. And maybe sometimes you're going into the lesson there is a little bit of tension. Well, it's an open box box of chocolate. So perhaps there's somebody out there who will be a better fit for you, who'll help you find and develop those, um, better qualities.
So for me, Nick was like, um, a great find because, um, it helped me grow. It helped me mature and help me understand that delicate relationship in dancing where you have to be, um, in a way polite, maybe, you know, and like flirty and you still get what you want. And it doesn't take away my strengths. It doesn't take away who I am. I am still a strong, independent woman, but I can also now discover like more of the feminine side of it and maybe find them more, um, less of a bully way to ask for something. Right. The more of a delicate approach. So it is a relationship. It is a business relationship. It is, um, uh, communication and there's a lot, um, out there that there's a lot of different people that you can, um, connect to and learn from, so go for it, you know, look for that right person.
Samantha: Yeah. I like that analogy of a conversation. I use the same in my teaching, um, because I do think it gives you permission to critically look at what kind of conversation you are having with your partner, whether it's a student teacher relationship or whether it's, you know, amateur or professional, um, you can kind of go to this with a sense of, okay, what is the tone that I'm getting from my partner when we're dancing?
What is the tone that I'm giving my partner when we're dancing? Is this something that I'm happy with? Is it something that I'm not happy with? Is it something that we can change and improve or is it something that I need to walk away from? Um, and even with social dancing, I think that's kind of a great mentality to go into is like, I'm going to have a minute and a half conversation with this person on the dance floor.
It can either be really fun and flirty and we can have, you know, the one minute relationship or I can walk away from it going, okay, I've learned something. Maybe I'm not going to dance with that person again, and that's completely okay. That's kind of one of the benefits of there being so much variety in the dance world, like you said, that you can kind of find those, those people, those, um, those clubs, those communities that you feel at home with, and that you feel comfortable and supported by. Um, something that I feel like that kind of leads really well into is a conversation that you had on a previous, um, interview. Which was, uh, kind of revolving around the fact that you and Nick, um, were stepping into a new age in your kind of partnership and your relationship, and you wanted to define who you were in your own terms and what your style was and how it fit with you. So could you talk a little bit about, um, kind of the development of that process and where you guys are today?
Viktorija: So with Nick and I, when we actually had our tryout, one of the, um, I think we were both ready for this partnership. It was almost like everything that we did in life before that was kind of preparing us for it in some weird way. It's kind of like the stars aligned. And then, um, when we came to the studio, one of this, um, amazing things and the qualities that we both experienced at this elastisty and almost the breath, it's almost, we understood each other from just, you know, a thought. So, um, I can't say that we worked on developing anything. I think we just allowed it to be, and then sort of have a life of its own. And, um, a lot of times when you, um, I mean, it's not like our road was bumpless, right? So we experiment and the we experience and most of the time it's really happening because, um, You trying to listen to the advice and you're trying to be a good student and you trying to sort of, um, go in that direction of the vision perhaps that somebody else might have for you.
But every time that, um, we took that, it wasn't ours, it wasn't our journey. And it would kind of like come back around and in some way to bite us back in our bottoms. So we had to back paddle and find our way into, okay, we hear the idea, how can we make it our own? Like, what is it that people want to see from us?
So it was quite a journey. I think we went up and down and, um, As a champions, um, we held onto it for, I think we always figured it like right before the nationals would always be, our like moments of eye opening and be like, okay, stop everything you're doing. What is this making me feel like, why is it making me unhappy?
What do I want to say? It's a, it's a delicate balance because as much as you want to learn and grow and fulfill everybody's vision of you, you still also have to be true to yourself. So that's, if I was to summarize basically what we've done over the last, you know, five, six, seven years is that we would constantly veer off our road, go and explore, but inevitably would still come back and try to be who we are.
And what we, I think are is that we, this, um, jellyfish in a way in the ocean that we liked, we liked the elasticity. That's what I like about Smooth is like a never ending movement that the evolves from one to another, in a conversation that is easy and flowing and it's rolling. It's not an argumentative.
It's not, um, like we'r playing tennis where we're trying to like, oh, I'll send you this ball and you're not going to be able to hit it. So we, we more, um, These casual conversation that has depth and the meaning maybe, but it's still an easy flow and it's pleasant rather than it's like, oh, I'm going to say something and I'm going to see how you react to that.
If we put it in the world of conversations, I w I'm always more, uh, less what I learned. I don't want, I don't like arguments, so I am less arguments if now than I have ever been mostly when I was seven. That was the age of arguments for me. Yeah.
Samantha: So how do you, you take that philosophy then into your tango routines? Because I can see that kind of like easy flowing, gentle conversation fitting really well in Waltz and Foxtrot and Viennese, but I kind of run up against this idea of what a traditional tango is meant to look like. Whether it's predator, prey, it's more intense. It's more, it can be either seductive or argumentative, but it's, it's more heightened compared to the others.
So how do you kind of navigate taking that personal philosophy into a dance style that is inherently, or at least traditionally looked at as the opposite of that?
Viktorija: Well, I think it wouldn't be a surprise for a lot of people the Tango wasn't really our let's say, strongest dance over the period of our career. Um, I mean, there's, um, uh, I think the words that people would use, the words sexy for me that was kind of a little confusing because I would always instantly go into like, okay, well, what's sexy mean? Right. So if you're thinking about it and what's the somebody sexy is a whip, you know, on for somebody's sexy is a cute polka dot dress, and then maybe it's a stiletto or for somebody its leather with studs, you know, so sexy is this kind of like very abstract version.
Um, again, uh, Nick is very tall. Uh, gentlemen, he's six one. So if you're thinking about in terms of like, okay, tango is a staccato legato, action, it's a kind of fast dance in a way, right? It's a sharp movements. Make a tall person do a lot of sharp movements. That's not gonna look very good. Right? Cause they just have a wingspan. They have a legspan. So that was part of our struggle a little bit is trying to find a balanced movement that suits him because he is tall and also suits me because I am not tall. I was almost going to use the word short, but I'm five, four. So I'm, we have a whole head difference between us so I can be fast and spontaneous and feisty. But at the same times we have to compliment them. They have to exchange this conversation going right. So we were looking in terms of, okay, also sticking to the roots, because what is a ballroom like, uh, look as a ballroom dance Tanog. What does it look like? Right. So it's a progressive movement around the floor.
It's not that it's not Cha Cha Cha, it's not Paso Doble, it's a Tango then also of course it has influences of Argentine tango. So there's this man-woman relationship, but it's not in the sense of like woman-ness being seduced or a woman as being this, um, uh, submissive type of deal. But it's, again, it's a conversation as this tricky, so. I don't know, I still ongoing. Is that kind of like fair to say? We're still looking for that. We're still changing it. Um, there's a lot of things where I throw myself on the floor is this kind of like a form of expression, but then gen, gentleman's part of it. Like he's bringing me back up. Right. And he brings me back to me like embrace. So we're looking at a little bit of a story. I'm trying to find the ways where I can sort of give him a little hope, but then sort of take it away. And then we're the other way around where he's being very physical and then yet he's gentle. Um, and also keeping it true to the style of ballroom dance that still have to demonstrate.
So it doesn't turn into the Paso Doble let's say, because that also, is one of the dangers. So as far as the Tango is concerned, I think it's, um, A nightclub conversation. Right? So if we're thinking about like waltz, it's more of like a picnic, a light, maybe walk in the park, then tango will take us into like this bar where, you know, you see somebody, maybe you like them, maybe you don't like them and there's the party going on around you.
So that is where we, um, trying to head with a tango is still ongoing process. I think I'll never be done with that dance because it's definitely, um, not anything that I feel naturally my dance is, um, about feelings of love and sorrow. And it's not very much about, um, intimacy. Let's put it that way, like of this sex relationship.
Samantha: Yeah. So. Uh, out of curiosity. I mean, I, I, I feel like most people would look at four time undefeated us national, four time undefeated world professional, um, as a resume and go, well, surely they've got it figured out by now. Surely they've got a formula they've kind of hit this point where, you know, they are a hundred percent happy every single time they go out on the dance floor and they perform a Waltz or a Foxtrot.
Obviously that's not the case you have to, we know that there's, you know, there's not a ceiling, there's not a ribbon that you get at the end where you're like, yep, I'm done. So how do you find, if you're willing to share, how do you find kind of that next thing that you want to work on or that next piece that feels incomplete? How do you kind of attack that between a very busy, competitive schedule now that we're kind of getting back into the regular, uh, competition event cycle?
Viktorija: Okay. So first I want to say that. Yes, definitely. I actually had asked the question of like how happy you are after the event, or how many times do you think you were perfect for the competition? That's several of our coaches as well. And there is numerous, um, champions who, um, train us. And, um, they all pretty much said that during the course of their career, they can count on one hand all the times that they felt like they delivered and they was perfect. And then the very same time, if you would ask their partner, if that was also a true feeling for them, the 99.9% of the time, they would say no, that was not.
So when, um, we, Nick and I think about like, I come off the floor and I say, well, I couldn't have done any better. That was most perfect competition for me. I felt completely satisfied. It was everything that I did. Nick with find, like 20 out of the things that he would have done better. Right. So that process doesn't end. It's ongoing. And, uh, we both are extreme perfectionist. So I have to say that you can think or a say that what I set to do for this particular competition that I achieved. But when you look at the video and you're like, okay, well, there is another 10 things that I can put on the list right now. Um, we are never satisfied, so I don't know if there's going to be the end.
I haven't, people ask us all the time. And I say, actually the funniest thing is when we won the title for the first time, that same year people already with ask us also, now you're going to retire. And I was like, well, never said, really, I never really set for this journey to go and just win something.
It's more of like you looking into yourself. I love the process of learning. I love the process of exploration as your body's changing. As we grow, um, wiser is a word that I want to use. Uh, we become more efficient. Perhaps we understand the mechanics better. We understand the connection better. So there's always something new.
Just when you're saying that your basics are good, you look at your tape and you're like, okay, now we have to go back to basics. So we still practice our basics left and right turns. We practice, our basic connections. Um, we challenge ourselves in the department of like, okay, can we find this different story or different expression of Tango, or what else people want to see from us? But I don't know if there's really like the final destination in this, when people maybe just move on to different things. Um, but I haven't gotten there yet. I mean, I do a lot of things besides the dancing as well. So, um, psychology is one of the big interests for me. Like I really enjoy the subject of understanding how the brain body connection works, because there's a lot of, um, people who complain, let's say with some different types of things like TMS, back pain, right.
We just tension myositis syndrome. Its a body brain connection. So the brain is sending you basically these pain symptoms where it's nothing physically wrong, but the body reacts in the way of danger sort of speak. So I bring a lot of that into the dance practice as well. And we talk about, and we, uh, develop some better ideas, kind of like that. So how do we pick something that we work on next? Um, we discuss it and then we find the thing that bothers one of us the most. Like for Nick would be he's very mechanical. Um, he, his brain works in the sense of like, um, machine, right? So he needs to be precise on basic actions. So joint actions, your leg speed, um, the perfect amount of the turn.
Me, I'm more of the emotional type of first. And so I'd be looking at it from the different angle off, um, The story, like, is there a slight disconnect between, between our stories? Like, so we blend most of the time it's ended up being one in the same, just from a different angle. So he will bring the technicality of it. And then I'm going to try to bring more of the emotional aspect of it to develop the story. That's it.
Samantha: Yeah. So, um, for students or maybe, uh, other professionals or, or competitors that are listening to this that also find themselves, um, leaning towards either the mechanics or the emotional story of it, there's always this risk that we get fixated on one particular area that we want to keep going back to and keep, keep reworking and retooling.
Has there ever been a point where either of you have kind of just stepped away and said, okay, I'm not happy with where it's at right now. I know it can be better, but I can't keep focusing on this. I've got to step away and focus on something else so that I can come back to it at a later time with maybe more experience or more understanding, or just a fresh perspective.
How has that process been?
Viktorija: Wow that's like a loaded question. Actually there is not literally, there is no simple answer to that because if you look at it from a couple different angles, like number one, if I'm uncomfortable with something, right. If I'm stepping out of the box, I'm really uncomfortable. I really don't want to go there because it makes me feel uncomfortable. Right. But sometimes it's like the thing that you need to do. So you absolutely have to go there because that's a growth process. Like you're not comfortable with at the end of it, there is a big reward. And then other times when you feeling so uncomfortable, your instinct says.
That's a wrong direction. Like, um, you don't need to go there and just come back and like start over and find a different route. And then we ignoring it can take us into like a dark woods, so to speak. So, um, I think in those moments of time, when you can't quite decide, that's when you turn to the team you trust. So you have to have, um, um, a team of people who you work with and in a team, what we're looking at, right, so first off you have this person who understands who you are, like a friend type, right? Who understands both of you and who can see this, like into the relationship for it's more like a counselor, you can think of it like family counselor, who says, okay, you're not right right now.
And you need to. I step it up a notch and you need to sit back down and relax there. And then you have people who are incredibly artistic, so they develop, help you develop your choreography. They don't do it for you. You still have to be a big part of it. So that's very important to understand that you have to bring something to the table. What they can do is they can say, okay, this is great. And let's shove it over there and then move this piece over here. And then that's a creative department. And then you have people who are absolutely, um, great was basics and mechanics. And then you go through them and you don't bring them your choreography and say, Hey, can you look at that and tell me what's wrong with it?
You come to them saying, okay, how can I make this half natural turn better? You know, like can't work. Um, a lot of times, um, Like for the smooth couples, I think particularly it's important that we don't get fixated on the open choreography. You have to come back to basics. So there has to be a big chunk of practice and lessons that are dedicated to a half natural turn and then natural spin turn and you're pivoting action or chasses and the basic footwork, a feather step. Right? So you have the team who is technical. You have a team who's creative, and then you have those who can. Basically you respect them enough that they can go ahead and say, okay, you need to be quiet right now and listen. So surround yourself with the right people. I took notes after lessons, because of course, when you stepping into it for the first time and you need to give yourself an opportunity to work with many different people.
That's another thing that I always want to say where you have a team, but you also have, um, an opportunity to take the lesson was somebody maybe never worked before you feel intimidated by them. Nobody's there to judge you. So what you have to always understand that, oh my God, is there a celebrity in my studio or somebody who is like, you know, 12 times world champion, I'm so afraid to go into their lesson because I don't think I'm good enough.
No, they're not there to judge you. They're there to share their experience and their knowledge and, and they're there to help you. So kind of, if you layer it as a pyramid, right? There's the top, you have your main team that you go to and then, um, it scatters sort of into like different routes. So, um, if you're a smooth cup or it doesn't mean that you can't take less than with Latin people because they can bring maybe at different dynamics or work on new connections or overall everybody's trained in dancing. And if you are smooth couple, it doesn't mean that you don't need to go to the ballroom lesson. You still need to bring your basics there. Right. And as well, goals with, you know, somebody like a, um, Rythm or theater arts specialist, you still can benefit a lot from it, you know? And even when we danced, um, Our ballroom, we would still show it to say say some of the Latin coaches because they have a different ideas on the musicality maybe, right.
Or just the artistry of it. So open yourself to the opportunities there. And then, um, also be smart to have a team of people you can trust. And how do you develop that? As you take notes, you bring notes, a note book, and then after the lesson, of course you take notes on what you learned, but also you put down, like if you think that this was more into the technical category of this, more of the artistry type of department. So for yourself, you, you have a go-to list.
Samantha: Well, and I like that too. That's a concept that's come up a couple of times, is this idea of like building a good team around you that you trust, and then knowing who to go to for specific things so that you're getting the most out of your lesson and you're getting the most out of, out of that person's time and expertise. Um, which I really like. The other thing that I kind of want to get your opinion on is this idea of, yes, I'm a ballroom dancer, but I want to bring in a Latin coach to take a look at what we're doing in our ballroom routines.
Um, I think the fear that some students or some instructors might have is Ballroom looks a certain way. Latin looks a certain way. Rhythm is developing it's certain thing. Smooth has, has developed a certain style. So, you're doing yourself a disservice by learning someone else's style or someone else's, um, thematic way of going about the music.
I think the pushback would be, well, we don't grow as a style if we don't learn from each other. And, and the only way to develop and adapt a style is to get as much information as possible and then kind of choose from the wealth of options in front of you. So where do you find yourself on, um, the idea of cross-training within different disciplines of partner dancing or ballroom dancing, and how, how has that impacted the way that you approach say a Waltz or a Foxtrot?
Viktorija: I'd like to draw a parallels in a way. So when you go for a lesson. I think one of the things that we also have to understand that when you go for a lesson, you are leaving information, that is not dictation. That is not mean that this is the only way you can do that. And that's how you have to do it.
You're receiving a piece of information that somebody's opinion may be somebody's experience. Right. But then it's up to you. How you going to apply that? So for somebody who is a beginner student, you don't really need that output or like this input, sorry, input of information, because you would learn specifically for the ballroom, right? Because there is a basic skills that you need to understand, how we build it from the ground up? So like you're footwork, your leg actions, your connection, what the frame look like, how we move together. So there's a very specific, um, information that goes, let's say to the ballroom of like communicating sort of the common center that i's actually located between us, where in Latin you'd be talking slightly differently.
Right? So beginning stage, I think that you would stick with them, uh, with, um, the person who is, um, more so, um, understanding, or has experienced in the developing of the style. But then as you grow, you develop, you need a little bit of this additional information. And again, coming back to it, it's not about, uh, how was the Latin coach going to help my ballroom?
He's a dance professional. Who has a dance experience, who has been around dancing. Yes. He focused his attention on Latin, but he also been around knows enough about music and how the body dances, right. Then, uh, different neuro connections and how to make that shoulder blade muscle sort of twitch, or is that lat, right? How do I find that connection between my calf and my hip? So that's when it starts developing that's when you open it up and I will repeat myself again. When you go for a lesson, you're receiving an information, all the dictation does not mean doing just like that. Again, you can't, sometimes information comes when we're not ready for it. And, um, if I didn't understand something on the lesson, I tried to write some of the phrases and I don't make them my own. I write if I don't understand it, I don't make it my own. What I do is I write the words that the coach said, right. And then they put them in, like, for example, years ago I had this lesson.
Hmm. It was Olga Foraponova, right? Oh my goodness. It must've been like 15 or 20 years ago. And she said, go back to go forward. And I was like, wha what? I don't understand what go back to go forward. And then I just put it in the book. Exactly in those words. Right. And it's like maybe two or three years later, it clicked to me like what she actually meant when I was flipping through my notes again.
Um, so that is the information that you're receiving. How you apply is going to be up to you at the end of the day. You're still an artist of your own. Right. And it gets a little bit tricky when you're talking about Pro-Am relationship again, because when you coming in, it was basically your students.
When you look at your teacher, he's somewhere over there. Right. But it doesn't mean that it releases all the, um, Sort of responsibility from you. You still have to have the information you, and if you didn't understand something, that's a great opportunity to ask the question. Well, this is how I understood it.
Right. Is that's how you heard it as well. Right? So this is a discussion. So at the end of the day, you're still a partnership. Yes. W one of you is more experienced, but it doesn't mean that one talks and the other one listens all the time.
Viktorija: Right. That's coming back again to that conversation. With the pro-am gentlemen, cause I teach, um, gentlemen as well. It gets even trickier because they look at you as the leader, you're the, the guru. Right. You know it all type of thing. And then when after dance, they also stay in that submissive state. So it's a tricky balance between, okay. I tried to remove myself from, I said, now, I'm not touching you.
Now, I'm talking to you as a teacher, and I want you to hear this information. As soon as I put my hands to you, I'm not the teacher, I'm your dance partner. You need to lead me. Right. So I tried to sort of teach this, um, a physical touch when I'm touching. That means I am a follower or I'm, I'm listening to what you got to say to me. And when I remove myself and I'm not touching, you know, you need to listen because I have something valuable to say, so there is, um, balance in that
Samantha: yeah, I like that, um, kind of separation or that physical cue of when you're switching the different hats on, because that's certainly something that I've run into as well as, as an instructor of mainly Pro-Am gentlemen, it's, it's a tough switch to make, um, as to like, okay, when are you in the driver's seat versus when I need to impart information to you so that you understand how to best navigate us, um, yeah,
Viktorija: there's a delicate balance in that too.
One thing that I was going to say, sort of, kind of adding to, um, that Pro-Am relationship, um, let's say with our gentlemen students is that, um, I am a physically strong lady, right? And I will say, of course I'm professional. So I move myself where I need to be. But every so often we played this game is called match my energy. So what I do is I completely turn off myself and I say, I'm going to match what you're doing. Right. Then there was one funny occasion that, um, the music playing right then we connect with a hand and then 30 seconds go by. We haven't moved anywhere. And then he looks at me, well, why aren't you going? And I said, well, aren't we like playing this game of match the energy.
So you haven't produced any energies then I can't really match anything. So there we are. We're still standing 30 seconds later, into that play. So we have to be careful to remove ourselves sometimes that we are so accustomed to do our job right that we don't notice. So again, journaling or writing these things and making this plan. Okay. What haven't we done recently? Okay. Let's play this game. Match the energy, or let's talk about mechanics today. Or today we're talking about lead and follow. So I'm doing only what you leading me. Right? So that results in some funny situations of like falling to the floor, you know, not in complete chaos, but still it gets a giggle.
Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. I want to pick your brain on something, because this is something that came up with a student, um, a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn't sure exactly how to navigate it. Which was this idea that switching to one of those games, switching, switching to, I want to do an exercise to reinforce lead and follow. I want to, I want to put the ball in your court. I want to see if we strip away the routine, what do you feel comfortable leading and where you were muscle memory is where your technique is if we get rid of all of the flashy choreography that we have for your routines. Um, and my student found it very frustrating.
They felt like they were suddenly dropped into the middle of the open ocean and they didn't have any sense of guidance or any sense of direction. So when you're working with a student and you start doing things like match your energy, or I'm going to, you know, put a blindfold on, and I just want you to lead me around the room, how do you introduce those concepts without letting them feeling, leaving them feeling overwhelmed or frustrated?
Viktorija: So, um, English is my third language, I think third year. I speak Russian and Latin before that. So English for me was, um, something that I was throw in into, as you would say into the ocean. Right. And I came to United States. I literally couldn't say my name is Viktorija. So I think, um, we first have to, um, develop sort of a basic sentences right before I can throw somebody into the ocean.
So I had to learn, you know, "hello" and "I want", and then "I need", those are like the basic go-to sentences. And if somebody at that point of time was throw me into the zoom interview and say, okay, now you need to communicate about your dance experience. I'd be so lost. I'd probably cry myself. Right? So, uh, it's very important that as a teachers, as the instructors, that people come to us, with sort of like the idea in mind that they want to floor sort of float their own floor. And, um, You know, just basically, and I'll think about it as it's not true. We have to establish a basic skills. So they're, my students sometimes get lost on a dance floor, literally. Like something just went blank. I said, what do you go? You got to the basic. You feel like the left box turn or like just a reverse turn is the go-to for you. That's what you do. And you do it until you can come back and remember what it is you're doing. And if it's not, then you just do it till the end of the melody. So we need to establish a very good understanding the basics, each dance. Uh, so this will go back to the bronze right. So there's no flourish in there.
It's a reverse figures, natural figures. It's your chasses, it's your basic understanding of the positions of closed, promenade, outside partner so that it's recognizable, you know how to get out of it, you know how to get into it. So, um, that is what we need to reinforce. So when we say to the student, okay, now go ahead and dance. And they don't know how to. We say, okay, let's go back to basic. That's how we learned, right? This is your ABCD. This is your basic sentences. Hello. My name is Viktorija. That's your natural turn and Waltz. That's your reverse turn in the Viennese waltz, let's say, um, and, uh, it's not about swinging your arms around, so we need that skill. I think if the student feels frustrated, that means that their basics are not, in tact, they need to go back to the ABC.
Samantha: Before we wrap up for today, there is something that I came across that I wanted to dive into with you. If you are willing, you can obviously, you know, say that you;d rather not, um. You'd mentioned previously again in a different interview, that there was a period of your life where you had not yet become an established name in the industry. And as a result of that, you had a lot of financial struggles that you were going through. Um, I have experienced with colleagues, um, a sense of getting recruited on the fantasy of ballroom dance and not understanding the logistics of making it a viable career and understanding how to look at it as both a sport and an art that we enjoy, but it is also at the end of the day, a business and a way of surviving.
Um, so would you be willing to, to talk about maybe some of those experiences and what you did to mentally, emotionally, physically get through them? And if your mindset changed afterwards or if you had to have a mindset change in the middle of it to get through it.
Viktorija: Ok. That was a loaded question. Yes. Um, so I came to United States when I was already in my twenties. Right. So, um, actually I was 19. I turned 20 in the United States, but I didn't come for dance. I came to study and, um, I had the two full time jobs and I paid my tuition and stuff. And then the dancing came into the picture and what I completely, my head just spun off my shoulders.
There was no logic whatsoever. It was just the all emotions. This is what I want to do. Quit ever sing. And, you know, just go um wide, open end of the industry. And what I didn't understand, like you mentioned, I didn't understand the structure of the business. I didn't understand what it takes. I didn't know how to communicate. I had no, um, skills of, um, really continuing to like, I was a great dancer, but I had no idea how to lead my students from point A to point B. Um, so I got myself, um, into the situation where I was working for a studio studio, but I wasn't very good in keeping students, right. It's interesting because I would just dance my heart out and I thoughts that that should be enough.
Cause they'll of course surely stick with me, but I didn't provide any information for them. So I struggled of, um, um, keeping the students engaged. That means that I didn't really pull enough lessons, which means of course I didn't have enough work, but I still was dancing. So long story short. I did get myself into this, um, big financial chaos that, um, I had to then again, sit down and think to myself.
Okay, well, what does it mean? So you separating, you separating your professional career. And you're a dance desires and whatnot until one aspect of it. And then on the other side of it, you put yourself, you're a teacher, so you're educator. So you start developing some skills on how to introduce the information to a student. What is encouragement? Um, yes. So we are, it's not just bump, bump, bump, bump information, but how do you break down the lessons? There's a lot of information on the internet, about that there's a lot of like lectures, there's peers in your studios. That of course you can ask the question. So I think the best advice would be here.
So first off, before you jump into something, you know, like you're going to talk to the people who are already there. So give yourself a good, um, you know, a couple of months to just, um, put one foot maybe in there, but not both. Right. Don't drop everything and run for it. If you're looking at it as a career, if you're really into dancing and you want to develop your own professional, um, dancing, right. Don't mix it together with teaching.
They're not they're same but different. Right. So being a teacher and being a dance instructor and understanding how to guide people from point A to point B and how does the system work and what does the competition do for your students, right. And what the team match to for your students. That is one side of it. And the other side of it is of course, what you are wanting yourself. What is your aspiring, what are your heart belongs to, um,
Take notes. I think the great thing is, um, literature on the subject of, um, psychology of like how to make friends and how to keep friends, then how to start your own business. How to run a successful, you know, partnership. So educate yourself. That's I think what I would, if I look back at it and I think, okay, if I would meet my own self 20 year old, this wild child sorta speak running around, I would sit myself down and I would say, here are the books. You don't have to read them all at once. Pick a chapter that you think is the most relevant to what you are experiencing and feeling right now, organize yourself. Right. Um, write a list of things that you lacking and also the strengths that you have, and then working off of those. Yeah. So dancing is not for everybody. There's a lot of people who saying that they like dance, but yes, they like dance for themselves.
They don't really enjoy the contact with people. And what you have to understand is that when people come to you, you're taking them out of their comfort zone. They, um, they feel like their arms and legs don't listen to them. There may be little too long for their body they feel awkward. You have to be able to comfort them. And you have to be able to guide them. So you need to understand the biomechanics. You need to understand the emotional content of this. You need to understand the business aspect of it. Right. Um, education is the key ingredient in here. So people thinking coming into the dancing, all they have to do is just dance is wrong.
There is a lot of planning. There's a lot of, um, you know, and financial planning and planning for the lessons. So I think, um, education would be the key word. And if you don't know where to start, ask advice of the people who've been in the industry, they're more than happy to share. If you come up to any of your dance teachers or coaches and say, Hey, this is a problem that I'm having.
I have a problem retaining my students' interest. Right. How should I approach it? Can you help me prepare the lesson plan, right. Start there and kind of keep going with that.
Samantha: Yeah, no, I appreciate that. My only question, and maybe this is just speaking from my own experience and projecting it outwards. Um, it was not until I started speaking out about some of the issues or the shortcomings that I was running into that I started hearing from others that that was also their own experience. So I wonder if there there's almost like a, uh, so you want to be a dance teacher, uh, lecture series that we need to put together, um, to encourage people to have more of those conversations earlier on in the process.
Um, because I always feel a little heartbroken when someone comes into the studio has so much talent, so much potential has a real hunger to be a professional dancer and a dance instructor. And they see those two things as being intertwined. And then they burn out in a year or two years because they don't know how to retain students and they are running up against, you know, maybe students that are just not taking them seriously and not respecting them as instructors or they're in a studio environment that is not being supportive or they genuinely don't have the financial means to support themselves on intro to teaching salary.
Um, and you find out about it later and you're like, ah, I wanted, I, I had information I could have given to you if only you had asked. So is there, is there a responsibility for the old guard to be like, Hey, okay, we're so glad to have you, but this is what you need to know. This is what you're signing on to.
Viktorija: Well, I feel like, um, if somebody comes in into the studio and says, "Hey, I want to be a dance teacher" and the person who hires them for that particular studio, that's sort of their responsibility to train them. The tools are there. And then, um, maybe assigning like a buddy teacher. That could help and guide, but it's definitely not for everyone.
I think a lot of people find themselves, you know, frustrated and quitting later on, burnout, as you mentioned, is because they came into it for their own gain. Like they wanted to dance. They think that dancing is fun, but really when you think about it, when you teaching you almost never, well, I mean, And you have fun when you see your students succeed.
But, uh, you know, dealing with the day to day frustrations, they come in, they're running late from like a business meeting. They hear they are in front of you, but they're completely unprepared to do that, the dance lesson, because they're still halfway in the meeting. Right? So again, I'll come back to myself. It's really coming down to you. You growing up, it's a process, not only becoming a dance teacher, but you growing up and developing as an adult into the personality. So understanding being, uh, and, um, empathetic, right? The empathy is a big key ingredient here, you know, and being, um, attentive, right? Where you, you see the person in front of you see their eyes are running around, like you're reading their body language.
They're not ready. Let's Hey, how are you? Hey, how about a glass of water? Right. Can I, can, can we, can we talk about what is bothering you today? Or would you like to talk about what's bothering you? So finding these like, uh, just basic human relationship, not just, okay, here you are. Let's go into the dance lesson.
So here's your waltz step, and then they're not doing very well because they're just not there mentally. So then you getting all upset and most of the time when people get frustrated, really they don't get frustrated with the student. They get frustrated with themselves because they think they're not good enough teacher to deliver it.
Well, maybe it's not about you as a teacher. Maybe it's just the fact that you didn't take time to say, "hey, how are you?" You know, "Are you okay?" You know, "I see you, you're a little stressed out", right? Let's have a glass of water. How about we'll take it easy today. Today we'll just review your pattern. We're not going to break anything. And take therir mind off things and that is with any job, you're a barista in a Starbucks. You're going to run into the same problems. You know, maybe you really like coffee, but do you really want to see yourself as a barista in a Starbucks or whatever other coffee shop? Right. And, um, with doctors, do I have a friend who went through medical school, studied for like eight years and decided it's not for him. Right. Because he just doesn't want, he really is into the science, but he doesn't really like hearing complaining people all day long. Right. So there you are. So it's not for everybody. Check, uh, your priorities, you like to dance, you know, by all means be a dancer. Maybe you don't have to work at a dance studio, maybe you can be a successful accountant, which is also kind of like a seasonal job where you do something like a lot of something in April of every year.
Um, and then you can spend your time, you know, coming to the classes and dancing. So check your priorities, check what is true inside of it? Like, is that really what you want, understand it, study it, you know, I think unfortunately we don't have a school that prepares and dance teachers, like pretty much anybody can just today decide I want to be a dance teacher and we're go for it. Right.
Viktorija: Um, and that is one of the things that is lacking currently. I think if we want to boost the industry, to the next level, there has to be a stricter certification. There has to be a school where teaching people how to communicate. There has to be ethics, um, that has to be discussed, you know, with, um, these people in front of you are well accomplished, successful people, and yes, they come to you as a student, but it does not mean that you can look at them sort of down on like, oh my God, you can't do the box step. What is wrong with you?
Right. Um, so there is, um, not the simple answer to that kind of question, like see somebody who is really struggling, who really wants and takes a great care of their students. And I hear something on their lesson that perhaps, um, I don't necessarily agree with, or thought was harsh right there. Maybe not entirely correct information. I would come up and say, Hey, um, Do you mind? Well, you know, would you like to speak a few minutes? You know, uh, do you want a little help? You can input it like a grownup, um, in the, in that type of idea, but I really had the right training, but I didn't know how to apply it. Like there was a lot of information I couldn't comprehend because it was, um, I was too young, I think.
And that's part of the journey that, uh, I had to grow up and experienced that financial struggle in order for me to get things prioritized and understand that dancing is dancing, dancing for my own gain and for my own expression for my happiness. And then being a teacher is a different kind of responsibility, different kinds of, um, communication.
How you break information, you take notes down, you listen to all the lectures. If you can't explain to your students what them, um, the drive is. Yeah. Start asking that question to your teachers. Hmm, find the best way. Um, how's they use the words, right? So again, for me, I'm not the English speaking as a, from the birth, I was speaking Russian.
So for me it was just how you form the sentences. How do you deliver this information? Right. So I would ask this question, like, how would you describe drive? Right. Because I understand the word drive because I'm doing, I've done it since I was seven. But, um, how do you explain it then to the person who hasn't done anything as far as the body's concerned for a really long time? So.
Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. I like that. And it kind of circles back to. The information will only be useful to you if you were in a stage of your life where you can accept the information and understand the information, kind of what you were saying before with your, with your own coaching is you get these bits and pieces of information, but sometimes it doesn't fall into place until much later.
And then you have the aha, now I get it kind of moments. Um, I do want to kind of turn that on its head and say for students that are listening, um, that are maybe feeling like, okay, I've been taking lessons for a while. The expectation from my instructor is that I do X, Y, or Z. What should students be doing to analyze what their own priorities are, what they feel passionate about, what they don't feel passionate about and how to, um, make sure that at the end of the day, their dance instruction is moving in the direction that will make them the happiest, not live up to someone else's expectations for them?
Viktorija: Well, um, I think for many people, when they come into the dancing, they come for different reasons. Like, um, I always, as an instructor, I tried to ask questions of like, what is your final goal? Or what are you trying to achieve? Where, um, what is like the things that attracts you about dancing? So part of it, we have to educate people, but also the other part, we don't, we're not there to, um, break them or through make them believe what we believe.
So for the students, when you come into the lesson, um, be honest and clear. Uh, with your instructor of what you want to do. Like, so if you're there just for the social purposes, right? Say I just want to pick up a few patterns. I want to be a social, then don't blend it. Then I want to be floating across the floor. Cause those two things don't mix. So either you're there for like a social reasons, right? So you want to pick up a few patterns. You want to feel comfortable cruising around the floor. You're there to interact with other people, maybe making new friends. Um, and then you want to be a competitive dancer.
Now you are a competitive dancer. We have to, um, make sure that we are, um, Clear in the sense that that requires a lot more work. So that means you gonna have to, uh, study your basic. You have to practice by yourself. You would probably have to start going to the gym as well, just to supplement your dance classes and things like this. Don't wait until you become super frustrated. Ask your teacher questions. Don't be afraid to say, like I'm not getting that. I don't understand the difference between bounce fallaway and reverse turn. Um, keep a journal of like things. Maybe, maybe something that you thought of after you left the studio, but the next time you come back, you don't remember.
So, with anything that you're trying to do? I mean, you're, it's your investment at the end of the day, you're not just coming in, handing your money to somebody or trying to gain something out of that. So there is a structure in what we do. There is a basic, so you think about where your feet go at what point of time and a rise and fall, as far as the footwork is concerned, whether it's a basic action. Drive, swing, sway, then how do we use the isolation of the body? What is the CBM? Right. So you hear unfamiliar word on your lesson, uh, you say, Hey, what is that thing? CBM, what do you lead it with, right. Um, write these questions down, take it as a, um, as an education process, you know, you go to the gym, you just don't do what I.
First for myself. I noticed that when I started going back to the gym and I work with the instructor, he asked me to do a certain exercise. Uh, like for example, something that is lifting and I'd say, which muscle group should I be paying attention to? So in a way, you kind of look inside your own body and say, okay, he's working on those muscles between my shoulder blades.
That's what I tune into ask what is it's for, right. I, if I don't understand, so they get this an education process. Also, if you're not there for that, you know, I had a student who was 83 years old, I think, and she just was just needed the little socialization, a few steps here and there, but she came in and just said, straight forward, I just don't want to be at home.
It's boring there. So I want to come out here. So we would dance a few dances, learn a few steps and have a glass of water. And so, you have to be inquisitive, I guess, like ask what is the final goal. Check again, because some people come in as a social goal and then three months into it, they see somebody else dancing on the floor, competitive routine and say, Hey, that's what I want to do.
So every so often circle back around, ask them, Hey, is your goal still that, because I noticed you changed a little bit, you know, you maybe feel a little agitated on your lessons. What is going on? Is that because you're seeing something different and you want to change the goal? Yeah.
Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. Thank you Viktorija so much for being a guest. Um, is there anything that you would like to leave our listeners with? Any final words of wisdom or anything that you want to make sure that they are thinking of?
Viktorija: I don't really, I think I shared all of my wisdom. I love dance. Uh, I would love to see more people dancing. I want to see more people, um, expressing themselves and less struggle in the process involved. Um, so I think the effective communication is when we speak would be honest, we be respectful. And, um, yeah, it's a, it's a big community, but it's actually very small world of dancing.
So we have to, um, preserve it and develop it. Then we all have these students and teachers. We all have something to give and something to bring to it. So this is our home. We should take good care of it.
Samantha: I love that. I love that. Awesome. Well, thank you Viktorija so much for being a guest on today's podcast.
Viktorija: Thank you. Looking forward to see everyone on dance floor.
Samantha: Thank you once again to Viktorija for being a guest on today's podcast. 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 and your host with Love Live Dance. So you can find the podcast versions of these episodes at ballroomchat.com and you can follow us across social media at Ballroom Chat. If you have not already done so, please do make sure that you have hit the thumbs up button and that you are subscribed to this channel. Turn on the bell for notifications every single time we post.
And as always stay safe, stay positive, and we hope to see you dancing very soon.