Hello, ballroom dancers!
It is actually just delightful to post an entry other than one on Dancing With the Stars.
As we all know, Dance Legends was in New York this weekend. I didn’t go to either of the shows so Riccardo Cocchi will probably never talk to me again (I’ll elaborate in a bit), but at least I got to hit the workshops! I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
Brace yourself – this is going to be a lengthy blog.
Before we get to it, I found this on Instagram – footage of Slavik and Karina’s curtain call after their] Friday night show at Dance Legends. Exquisite.
So this is how my Saturday morning went. Not much sleep, then when I left my apartment I had to go back because I’d left my phone (which had my key and MetroCard in it, so I couldn’t even leave without it). Then there was construction in front of my house – in the form of an absolutely massive crane – so I had to go two blocks around, totally out of my way. Then my express train ran local. So guess whose class I was five minutes late for.
I was actually RUNNING, petrified I would be the only one late and he would call me out. Especially because, sadly, Karina wasn’t able to teach the class with him. (I got an email about that and spent the rest of the day depressed. Second time I haven’t been able to do a class with her.) But he left me alone.
Slavik Kryklyvyy & Karina Smirnoff, Dance Legends 2016 (c) Ryan Kenner Photography
Isn’t that an amazing shot? It’s from Friday night’s show, by Ryan Kenner.
To my surprise, Slavik was actually really funny and pretty generous – he was very receptive to questions, saying that he wanted us to ask questions because this was our time, not his. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a ton of them. He barely got any at all, really.
He spent a lot of time talking about “tall” versus “tense”, and described to us how tension is created from overuse of muscle, that is, gripping too hard (that is definitely a problem I have, so it was good to know). That actually ended up being a running theme through all four workshops – the AMOUNT you do. Riccardo said in his, “quantity is very important”.
Slavic was a riot when he demonstrated how that happens. “See, if you stand and you use the right amount of muscle, you look tall and relaxed. But then if you use too much of it, you get like this” – he seized up – “and then you get the beautiful looks on your face” – expression of visible pain as he lumbered around – “I LOVE DANCING!” Of course, it looked like he was dancing at gunpoint.
Victor Fung and Anastasia Muravyeva quietly snuck in a few minutes before the end of class. Slavik wasn’t about to let that go unnoticed.
“Ballroom people, GET OUT! I’M THE STAR!” he hollered. The entire ballroom erupted in laughter, and Victor and Anastasia grinned and ran into the changing corner. Slavik was then given the five-minute signal and he had another fit.
“It’s time? NO! I like it! I wanna go longer!” everyone laughed and burst into applause. He talked a little longer, then bowed and thanked us for coming to his class. He was then swarmed with people wanting pictures.
Victor Fung and Anastasia Muravyeva’s class was next.
To be quite honest, I was crushing pretty hard on Victor by the end of it. I’ve read interviews with them and seen how he makes people laugh during awards at competitions, but he was even funnier than I thought. He started off the class saying “I think we’re the only ballroom couple teaching, so I have one hour to teach you everything I know about ballroom. So either I teach really fast…or I don’t know that much.”
Mr. Fung was the problem child, though. First of all, he, ever the LA boy, was freezing. (To be fair, the weather in New York has been brutal lately. It went up to 65 or 70 a week or so ago and now it’s back down to the 40s.) He had us all stand in a really big circle around the ballroom, realized he was still really cold, and said he had to warm up. So he grabbed Anastasia and they danced around.
They were already my favorite ballroom couple, and have been, but seeing them out of those insane costumes, dancing up close? No words. Magnificent. Anastasia is a dream.
So once they warmed up, Victor said the same thing Slavik did “This is about you, so if you have any questions-”
“YES!” Slavik yelled from the sidelines as he pulled his sneakers on. I didn’t even realize he was still there.
“Ask Slavik!” Victor said.
“Victor, do rumba walks! DO A MOONWALK!” Slavik exclaimed. There was laughter.
Until Anastasia grinned and did a perfect moonwalk across the room. Applause well earned.
Victor told us again to please ask questions, and he would be glad to answer, and then Anastasia would correct him because “she’s better than me.”
This is a smart man – he is going to be happily married to her forever. And her engagement ring was huge!
Also, as more and more people asked Victor and Anastasia questions, Slavik got more and more upset. “Oh, for THEM you have questions but nobody had any for me? So I was the warmup act?!” He was so pouty about it I couldn’t not laugh.
Adding to Mr. Fung’s troubles, he was terribly jet lagged. So he actually had to think out loud for a good minute, going back and forth, before he was able to remember which was his right leg and which was his left.
They talked about being aware of the different curves of the body, which ones you create by yourself and which ones you create together: the C curve, S curve, V curve, O curve. Then he added how the body, when standing, looks like an L (with the feet).
He repeated them all. “C, S, V, O, L. What does that spell?”
I actually thought pretty hard about it until he exclaimed, “VICTOR IS COOL!”
I didn’t want to laugh because it was so cheesy, but I had to. It was too funny. He thought the same thing though – he turned around to someone who had been recording and was extremely relieved that no one got that quip on video.
Anastasia also talked to the ladies about head weight and that it is vital to have weight and the right amount of tension in your head and have it connected it to your man’s hand – otherwise, he is unable to lead you. I didn’t even know that was a thing.
They also mentioned that the connection in their frame actually changes from dance to dance. A more linear dance will have a higher point of contact, while a more turn-y dance has a very low one. I find that sort of thing fascinating.
All in all, a GREAT introduction to International Standard Ballroom for me. I got a picture with them and jotted down way less notes than I would have liked, then ran back for Riccardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoruychenko. (After all this time, I’m never sure I’m spelling her last name right.) And not that it matters, but there is no way around it – Yulia has the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. Just lights up the room and makes you feel happy. I noticed this a long time ago and think it’s a big part of the reason she is so loved.
She’s also just an exquisite dancer, as evidenced by watching her demonstrate figures in class, but that is not currently the point.
Riccardo was also really funny, in an Italian sort of way – he is big and loud and colorful and fun to be around.
They taught quite a bit of samba, as Riccardo said it is one of the more neglected dances. We went through bounce action, natural and reverse basics, whisks, stationary samba walks, voltas, bota fogos, and cruzado walks. I have no idea how they got through all of that in an hour, especially with Riccardo cracking a joke at every opportunity, but it happened! At one point he found a penny on the floor.
“Oh, nice penny!” he bent, picked it up and put it on the table nearby. “I’m taking that home after class today,” he told the girl at the front desk as he walked away.
Suddenly, he turned back around, pointed at it, and barked, “MINE!” which caused everyone to start laughing.
He told us how samba music is the now slowest it’s ever been, then asked who saw their show at Dance Legends last year. Just a couple people. He asked who was going to that night’s show. Just a couple people. He asked who got last year’s DVD. ONE person audibly said, “I did!” When she began to ask a question later in the class, Riccardo went, “You’re the one that went to all the shows and got the DVD??” “Yes-” “I LOVE YOU!” Riccardo exclaimed, then lunged at her and wrapped her up in his arms.
“YOU can stay, everybody else leave my class!!” So funny.
He was talking to us all and suddenly broke off – “Ciao, Maurizio.”
Maurizio Vescovo had entered, wearing bright blue pants.
“Ciao, Riccardo,” he answered, then looked at all of us. “By the way, I don’t believe anything that they say!”
Riccardo looked affronted. “That’s the problem!” he shot back as everyone laughed.
“Maybe that’s why I’m second,” Maurizio said, then shuffled off to the side and watched the rest of the class.
When everyone went for the pictures, Riccardo and Yulia got separated so I could only get a photo with Yulia. (We tilted our heads together like best friends!) I thanked her and she thanked me back – what a doll. But then at the end of the day, I went through my gallery and the evil person that took my picture with Yulia did it so horribly that she and I were two alien-like, unrecognizable blurs. I was not happy.
Maurizio’s class began. He got very serious when “on the clock”, so to speak, which surprised me, and explained that Andra couldn’t be with him because she was already prepping for their show that night.
Somehow, he already knew that Slavik had taught rumba walks (is Slava so predictable? Tee hee) and saw that Riccardo and Yulia covered samba, so he decided to do cha cha.
Maurizio talked about how so often, dancers stress the “straight knee” actions and how he puts his students into positions where they are physically unable to bend their legs. He also spoke a lot about balance and strength and “skills”. (I think he actually meant muscles, but that’s semantics, I guess.) He showed us some exercises we could use to develop ankle strength, speed, balance, and coordination.
Towards the end of class, he gave us a short cha cha amalgamation to dance and touched on some ideas, such as weight change. One that particularly stuck out to me was the “free foot”, that is, changing weight so that you can move the next foot – and just because the foot is “free” to move does not necessarily mean there is no weight on it. That’s actually something I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about – like, when I’m in a check position, should I have zero weight on the back foot? Now I know.
Also what he said – it’s not enough to understand things about dance in your head – you have to DO them. Grr.
All in all, it was a fantastic day for learning about International Style dance. The only thing was that obviously, everyone taking the classes would want to take pictures with the Legends and maybe jot down some notes, and there was no time designated for that in between the classes. That’s all.
Anyone go to any of the shows? I so wish I could have gone to more than just the workshops, even though they were wonderful. I found this video on Facebook that really shows what an epic event it was. I’ll try and figure out later how to link it up here!
See you all soon! It’s Disney night on Dancing With the Stars tomorrow so we’ll talk about that in a couple of days.