We talked to Andrey and Yuliya Klinchik from USA who won the Professional Rising Star Ballroom at Blackpool 2013. Andrey and Yuliya are married and originally come from Ukraine. They live and dance in USA in Professional Ballroom division.
I think musicality and quality of movement of the couple is really more important than the looks
Congratulations, what a fantastic result.
[Both] Thank you
I would like to start with asking you how did you get into dancing?
[Yuliya] I started when I was nine years old. My parents owe a dance studio in Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine and I always wanted to dance but my father did not want to teach me! (laughing) He was saying it would be very hard to teach his own child but I kept asking and finally they agreed.
Did you start with Ballroom and Latin?
[Yuliya] I did both Ballroom and Latin and was competing in Juvenile and Junior. And, since, then my whole life is dancing. In 2005 there was a great opportunity to move to USA as it is a country with really great opportunities. I moved there and found a great partner. Actually I always had great partners, always appreciated their dancing.
What about you Andrey?
[Andrey] I started when I at the University, when I was almost eighteen years old. I actually seen Yuliya's parents students performing, dancing at the New Year celebration party at the University. I liked the show very much and started classes with them. They run a very big classes, something like 100 people dancing in a big hall. And from the very first day I really enjoyed it. Actually, when I was eight I had some dancing for a year but did not continue with it. My friends were laughing at me and I did not like it. When I started again, from scratch, when I was eighteen I never thought it will become my life and I will reach that high. I just wanted to be good and enjoy it.
My first partner was a girl named Tania. We danced for a bit less than two years. Then I had another partner Lena. And then I moved to USA as my Mum won the green card in the Green Card Lottery. I wanted to continue dancing but I was still a low level dancer, somewhere in the Novice. I went to the Polish studio in New Jersey because it was easier for me to learn Polish than English at the time (laughing). I slowly, gradually, was getting better but also working and studying in college. My parents wanted me to get serious, quit dancing and choose real profession. After a long deliberation, a year of serious thinking, I finally decided that dancing is what makes me happy and I decided to pursue it. I realised that I don't want to find myself in thirty years' time doing something I don't like. I knew it was going to be hard but I wanted to do it. I decided it was something I will be happy and proud of in the future.
In majority of dancers, it was the other way round, parents were pushing them
[Andrey] For me it was the opposite. Even when I was eight I went to the dance class with a friend, without parents since they worked full time. And then when I started again years later it was always my decision, based on my passion. I remember, once when I was in a hospital for a week, one night I run out of hospital for a couple of hours. I knew the doctors were gone for the night and nobody will look for me in the dance studio! I was there for two hours and then run back to hospital (laughing). I did not have anything serious really so it was OK! So I really, really wanted to dance. Every time when it gets tough, and it does get tough, I always think why I started it. And I always remember the pleasure I got from that first lesson in that big hall when I was a teenager. And that feeling makes me go forward.
How did you meet?
[Andrey] Yuliya's parents were my first coaches as well. We just knew each other. She is six years younger than me. When I left Ukraine I was twenty and she was fourteen. She was really a child and we did not hang together really. As I said I danced with many different partners who were very smart and involved in many different things: one of them Daga works for the United Nations after graduating from Columbia University, another one Sylwia, Miss New Jersey at the Miss USA beauty pageant, also danced with Luisa, very smart girl who after graduating from NYU works as speech pathologist. So all of them were very bright girls but not as involved in dancing as I wanted to be. I called Yuliya's father and asked him if he knew anybody from Ukraine who wants to come to USA to dance with me. And, after few days he called and said: what about my daughter. I thought it was great idea. We started the process, preparing visa papers, but it did not work out right away. It took more than a year.
How old was Yuliya then?
[Andrey] When we first applied, she was eighteen. It did not work out and we tried again a year later.
Why didn't it work?
[Yuliya] I was too young and they did not give me a visa to work. We did not want to do it on a tourist visa, like many people do.
[Andrey] She was still in Ukraine. I really wanted her as a partner and her parents gracefully agreed for her to go and dance with somebody my level. When she finally came it was great. And a year later we got engaged (laughing). Originally we did not really plan to get involved and I resisted it for some time. I knew people who got involved together and then that lead into trouble. I thought, oh my God, this is my opportunity to have a partner who is as much committed as I am and I don't want to screw it up! But, you know, three months later...
Yes, I can see you resisted for long! (laughing)
[Andrey] Thankfully, for us, it all worked out very well. It was also thanks to Yuliya's personality. She was calm and balanced in life but as crazy as I am in dancing! So, it was easy to separate our personal life and dancing. I never was able to separate private life and dancing before. But with Yuliya we could really fight with each other at the practice but after it, we would kiss and leave the business life and start the personal life.
So when you argue as a married couple does it affect your practice?
[Andrey] We don't bring these two lives together. It was like this from the beginning. We were lucky in this sense.
Did you read any of our interviews?
[Andrey] Yes. I enjoy them very much because I like to read biographies. I read as many as I can, time permitting. For me it is very interesting to know the background of people, to see their personal side.
So, I am sure you remember, I always ask this question which is especially hard for couples who are together privately: what is worse in your partner? What don't you like in your partner?
[Yuliya] I think, because Andrey is a very passionate dancer, he has no patience.
[Andrey] I don't have patience. Period.
[Yuliya] So this is the thing: it would be better if he could be more patient (laughing) but because of that he is also very determined. During practice, he wants everything to work right away. But unfortunately it doesn't work that way!
[Andrey] I curse (laughing). I take everything emotionally
[Yuliya] He is very emotional person
[Andrey] I am working on it, but it is very hard to change (laughing)
I guess you curse in Russian?
[Andrey] In Ukrainian, in English, in Polish, in Russian, whatever language! Each language has words which help me express my frustration in that sense (laughing)
OK, tell me what you don't like in her
[Andrey] In dancing she is great, really great. I am not just saying it. She really is great, strong partner. Maybe the thing I complain the most is that she is too active for me. In our private life, I am a bit exaggerated and she is more balanced. In dancing both of us are the same so we have clashes. So sometimes it makes our dancing messy. We often get criticised for that.It is not easy when two energies collide with each other. But it is also her asset, you know, every stick has two ends. So I suppose this is her good side but also, for me, a disadvantage.
Who is taking care of tickets, organising travels?
[Yuliya] Andrey is. He is a very organised person generally.
[Andrey] I take care of hotels, flights. Sometimes I make very egoistic decisions but I think Yuliya likes me to do it. She enjoys less control. We had discussions several times about it and she was OK to give up some of the power (laughing).
[Yuliya] Every woman needs a strong man beside her (laughing)
So who designs your dresses?
[Yuliya] We have a great honour to work with Loraine Barry. She is always helping us with the dresses. And our sponsor Dancemo brings them to life with our help. We always discuss my style with Andrey.
[Andrey] Yuliya is great at it. She is running around Manhattan whenever she's got free time and goes to all these fashion district stores. We have that opportunity living in New York. She picks up these fabrics which are inspiration to her and Loraine and Dancemo in Germany to make those dresses happen.
Where are your teacher, where do you go for lessons?
[Andrey] We have lessons in the UK, Italy and USA.
Do you have your own studio?
[Andrey] No, we work in different studios. It is a crazy reality of New York unfortunately. To make living we have to be running around a lot, but this also brings opportunities for us to work with many people.
Do you plan to open your opwn studio?
[Andrey] Yes, eventually. We are looking into it but we never wanted to do it during our competitive career because we don't want to be distracted from the main goal of ours. I would be tough to do both. But eventually we would like to open our own studio, probably New York is too competitive but we don't know yet.
Generally you work, you dance, you compete but do you have any plans in private life, maybe have children?
[Andrey] Yes, we would like to eventually have children. But not yet, maybe not until our retirement because we have so many things to concentrate now on. We both love kids, and if we had a child now, I am sure we would stop dancing because it would become the most important thing for us. Parenting is demanding and huge responsibility. We would not want to be parents who are too busy to see their children. I don't want that, ever. So we want to wait till retirement and then hopefully be good parents as well.
Very responsible of you
[Andrey] The reality for us in US is that there are no extended families who can help us and babysit the child while we get on with dancing.
What do your parents think about your dancing now?
[Andrey] Well... (laughing)
[Yuliya] My parents, being dance coaches, of course are extremely proud and supportive.
[Andrey] Yuliya's parents, they support us. My parents are OK now with it, you know. But if I was, like my brother a software developer, it would be much better. My brother works in Wall Street , he is a software developer, pretty good so I think they are more proud of him (laughing).
So it doesn't matter that you won one of the most prestigious competitions in the world?
[Andrey] I called my Mum yesterday and said: Mum, we won Blackpool! And, of course she knows how tough it is, but she asked: oh, yes, how much did you make? It was a wrong question to ask (laughing). They are not really into it. In all the sixteen years of my dancing they were at my competitions only few times but they will always help me in life whenever they can. We now rent an apartment from them and my Mum always helps with food, with everything she can. She knows how tough it is for us. But in dancing.... Well, of course she is proud of me, as a mother. But if we were lawyers or doctors she would be much prouder (laughing) and happier about our retirement plans.
It reminds me of a movie called "Billy Elliot" about a young boy from a miner's family who wants to be a ballet dancer. It happens in the times of troubles when the coal miners lost their jobs and his family has lots of problems of that sort, they are tough working class people and Billy wants to be a dancer. Initially his father forbids him but Billy is so passionate about dancing he secretly continues it. Eventually they support him as much as they can but it is very hard for them to accept it and a struggle financially. But in the end, when he becomes a star, it shows how really proud they are of him. It is very touching.
[Andrey] Oh, I see, I know there is a musical but did not know what it was. I have not seen it yet.
OK, now tell me who is cooking in your house?
[Yuliya] Both of us. I love cooking very much when get a chance.
[Andrey] We both enjoy inviting friends or family or students after class, for dinner. We cook simple things. Yuliya is great with it.
[Yuliya] Andrey is great too, he always has good ideas.
So what kind of food do you like?
[Andrey] Very mixed. We like Mexican, Thai, Italian and of course Ukrainian cusine. Dancing gives up opportunity to travel and try new things and we enjoy that very much.
What was the strangest or most exotic food you have tried?
[Yuliya] Frog legs! It is like chicken but knowing it is a frog doesn't help (laughing)
So you did not try any insects or something like that?
[Andrey] No, stayed away from that sort of thing!
So you are not so open to try new things after all!
[Andrey] No, actually I would be if I walked on the street and seen it being sold. We went to the Asian Tour to Japan but did not have time to do that. But next year we are planning to go again to more countries and we will definitely try something like that.
Well, you know what they say in China, everything what swims is edible except for the submarines!
[Andrey] Swims and flies (laughing). We actually eat a lot of Chinese food because we work in Chinatown in Queens so we go and try some of their foods as well. But nothing extreme.
Coming back to dancing, what do you consider most important in dancing?
[Yuliya] Finding a perfect balance.
[Yuliya] That too is important.
[Andrey] By balance we mean balance between many things: physical, mental and spiritual side. Balance between two of us. Balance between music and body motion.
[Yuliya] So it is about balance in many, many ways.
So how much is the competitive side of dancing important to you?
[Andrey] It is very important. It is very tough but it gives me thrill. Shows never really gave me much of a thrill but I love that feeling when you are thrilled and scared at the competition. I go to the bathroom every ten minutes (laughing) and sometimes have to run there in the last minute!
[Yuliya] It gives me such a stress when we are about to walk on the floor and he is not there yet. I am thinking, please, please don't finish the music yet and hope he will make it on time (laughing)!
[Andrey] That thrill is more important to me than I care to admit.
What about you Yuliya?
[Yuliya] I get very tense before the competition so for me it is important to find a way to relax before we walk to the floor.
Each of the dances have distinct characters. How do you understand them, can you describe how you interpret them?
[Andrey] Waltz is always a sad romance for me.
[Yuliya] For me the same
[Andrey] Tango is raw emotions
[Yuliya] For me, it is about a relationship between a man and a woman. A love and hate relationship
[Andrey] Very much so. I like extremes. If there is too much good, it is boring (laughing). But too much bad – you cannot go too far. So we try to have both in balance. It keeps you going and your life interesting.
[Andrey] Foxtrot is very sensual for me. Even sexual
[Yuliya] For me, I love that smoothness. It is my favourite dance.
[Andrey] Quickstep is just a happy go lucky dance
[Yuliya] Yes, happy people dancing
You danced Latin before, which Latin dance was your favourite?
[Andrey] Samba, Rumba
[Yuliya] I also like Rumba and I like watching Samba but never liked to dance Samba.
[Andrey] I loved that Brazilian feel
So Yuliya, you like Foxtrot and Rumba, both sensual, sexual dances
[Yuliya] I like to dance them with my husband (laughing)!
How do you find the current situation in dancesport? If you could, what would you change?
[Andrey] Judging system. I think the best thing the dancing world could do for itself would be to make judges accountable somehow for what they judge. We work with kids and sometimes parents approach us and ask how it is possible that the same couple gets marked from first to sixth place. I think there should be some clear criteria. If a couple is out of rhythm than no matter how great they look they should be out of it. I know it is almost impossible to do it but if the judges were hold accountable for what they judge and why. Because if majority of judges marking some couple first and one is marking sixth they should be given warning and should need to explain why. When we eventually retire and start judging I want to be able to say to a couple I teach that I appreciate your hard work but cannot mark you because you were off time or did not hold your frame or whatever.
Do you think that the profession of judge and coach should be separated?
[Andrey] Yes, it would be ideal, but it is impossible in our business financially. So if we cannot separate it we should make clear criteria. So judges should be educated better. I am not talking about Blackpool judges but sometimes you see some judges in USA and they really don't know what they are doing. So it is sad. I know many of them would like to get educated better. I would love, before I start judging, to get really well educated and taught what to do and how to do it. Experience from the competitive dancing is a great but, let's face it, judging is a different thing.
I don't think this is an US problem only?
[Andrey] Yes, I am sure you are right. Really, since we are competing we should sort of treat it like a sport in this respect and make sure judging is fair and clear.
What criteria do you have in mind?
[Andrey] Not for me to decide that! I might have won Blackpool but it is Rising Stars so I am not good enough to decide that (laughing).
OK, you are not in the top five Professionals yet but still you are an authority to very many dancers
[Andrey] One of our great teacher Richard Gleave said you have to look good and move good to win. So I think musicality and quality of movement of the couple is really more important than the looks. Some couple can look very good but don't move well. It is one of our problems that we always concentrate on movement rather than the look. And I think, over the years, we lost many competitions because we refused to start looking better before we learned to move correctly.
Many dancers consider Fred Astair a fantastic dancer...
[Andrey] So do I
... but he was not sticking to any rules
[Yuliya] But he was not judged, he did not compete
[Andrey] If you look at the quality of his movement it was great, the smoothness and transitions between the styles of dancing were fenomenal. I've never knew much about Fred Astair exept that there is a chain of studios in the US. I never liked musicals when I was younger, did not see a point of people singing in films when they can just say the same line. But about four years ago we got into watching musicals and I was absolutely amazed by what Fred Astair was doing. How smooth, how natural he was. I don't know much about his life, or his personality, but he must have worked hard on it because otherwise it would not be possible to be so good, so natural without training hard. Top dancers look very natural but this is because they practised over the years very hard.
Yes, it takes a lot of work to look naturally. Yuliya, but you are very quiet today
[Yuliya] I am generally very quiet. I don't need to talk.
Come on, I would like to hear your opinion on how to improve our dance world.
[Yuliya] I think Andrey said enough. I agree with him.
So you are one of these girls who agree with their husbands in all they say (laughing)!
[Andrey] In life, yes, we are soul mates. Most of the time we like the same things.
[Yuliya] I would also encourage the competitors to break free in a way, loose the fear and go for it. You tend to perform the best if you are yourself, and do as you feel inside.
[Andrey] Last year, a week before Blackpool I had an injury, I tore my knee tendon. The doctor advised me to take it easy but let me tell you, for me, Blackpool was more important than my health. We danced it but I had to be careful so we did not move that well. Results started getting worse and worse, and for the next few months it got bad, we sort of hit the rock bottom. I felt that maybe we should retire. Overall we were quite successful through our career, we were runners up at the US Amateur nationals, we coached really great kids who reached very high but something was missing. So I was thinking, we have achieved what we originally wanted and beyond and maybe it is time to retire. And one day I was driving through Manhattan, on my way to work, and I suddenly remembered that wonderful feeling during that very first dance lesson in a big hall when I was eighteen. And I said to myself: hell no, I am not going to go away before I dance the way I want to dance! And it happened to us at the International. We have never made an Albert Hall rounds before, but last year it happened for us and we were in the quarterfinals for the first time ever. And that was an absolutely unbelievable feeling. After that decision to retire we decided to break free and dance how we want it.
Break free from?
[Andrey] This was more about a state of mind. It was to break free from being scared of making mistakes, or trying to be perfect. It is a problem for us, it limits us, it never allowed us to just letting go. Actually I started reading the biography of Bruce Lee...
Slightly different domain then (laughing)
[Andrey] Yes, but it is so similar to what we do. He said that people who stay true to only one style are limited in what they do because they only do that one style. Some people may disagree with me on that. Some couples will say stick to one style and only one teacher and you will get better but this is something I never truly felt. I could appreciate every single style that people did, I could truly appreciate the knowledge and the feel of it and could not see why this one is the winning style while there are so many champions and so many styles and different things. They are all so different but I always felt these is something common in it and we try to discover that thing.
So, are you saying that these last competitions gave you the confidence back?
[Andrey] Yes, in a way. I know we are not perfect and far from it. But it gave us this assurance that we could do it if we just let go sometimes. We still have to work hard and concentrate on practice but also try to let go at the competitions.
I hope we will see you soon at the next competition! Thank you very much.
All photos taken on the day by Moni Csepelyi