We talked to Marat Gimaev and Alina Basyuk in the lobby of our hotel two days after their victory in the Professional Rising Star Ballroom event during the recent Blackpool Festival. It was a pleasure to interview them. Marat and Alina returned as Professionals to competitions after a year of break and Blackpool was their second appearance in that category on the dance floor. They represent USA now. See their profile page.
You have to be able to convince any judge, to take any audience at any venue and perform your best at any circumstances
Let me congratulate you. Fantastic results! It was such a good start for you in the Professional ranks.
[Alina] Thank you very much
When did you start dancing?
[Alina] I was nine when I started. It was in St Petersburg in Russia. I danced there for all my young years and then I moved to Moscow. I have met Marat there and since then, we dance together.
[Marat] I started from the age of seven in Moscow. Since 1999 we dance together with Alina.
Did you have other partners, how come you started dancing together?
[Alina] For couple of years we were at the same dance club, dancing with different partners. Our coaches, Alexander Melnikov and Irina Solomatina, knew us both very well. They knew how we danced, what kind of people we were. And they said that it could work out well. Because of their advice we started together...
So how was it, did it all happen quickly or was it a process?
[Marat] It took some time. We had a try out in the summer. It is funny now but I took it so seriously that I had a video camera with me to record it. At the time, nobody really used camera for such thing, at least in Russia. There was no one to shoot us so I placed the camera on a chair to record our practice. And I remember how I analysed that try-out later. Latin was perfect, but Ballroom was a complete disaster! We have an obvious height difference and, at that time, I did not have the knowledge of how to deal with it. So let's say, Ballroom was a problem during the try-out. We had to do more sessions together and after that we decided to dance together.
So you started with 10 Dances? When did you stop Latin?
[Marat] Last time that we danced Latin was Blackpool Festival 2005. Up till then we did both styles, approaching them with the same priority. We really enjoyed both Ballroom and Latin and we wanted to develop them both to the top level. At some point, our results were much better in Latin. For three consecutive years we were Amateur Latin semi-finalists at the UK Open and the International, and also once at Blackpool. At the same time we were only in the top 48 in Amateur Ballroom.
Why did you choose Ballroom then?
[Alina] At certain moment we felt that we needed to choose one program. I personally counld't see myself dancing only Latin, in short skirt and tanning the legs all the time (laughing). Speaking seriously I’m much more Ballroom character. For Marat it was more even, so I'm very thankful that he respected my feelings and we decided to do only Ballroom.
[Marat] We spoke about it with Alina many times. I think it was simply that we had Alexander and Irina as our main coaches, and they specialised in Ballroom. We felt really at home mentally with them, and though they really supported us in Latin and we had fantastic Latin lessons with them, it felt natural for us to switch to Ballroom.
Why did you turn Professional now?
[Marat] Several reasons... Before last Blackpool I had a knee injury and it took me nearly a year to recover from it. During this time... it was quite natural to stop and to think what is happening with our dancing, what do we want from it and our life in general. Somehow this break made us answer these questions. We arrived to the conclusion that we want to be Professionals. I don't know... simply the time has come.
[Marat] Well... it is complicated, many factors influenced our decision. But we are very much looking forward to the new stage in our life.
What do you find the most important in dancing? You said you had to decide your priorities at some point...
[Alina] For me the most important thing in dancing, just as in life, is that you have to be truly in love with what you are doing. If you really love dancing, you will be able to take all difficulties on the way and even enjoy the hardwork and you will get where you want to. So I think that passion is most important.... You have to be very honest with yourself if this is what you really want to do and for what reason. If this is just for getting some... benefits of some sort... it will not work. You have to love every single minute of that!
[Marat] For me it is about enjoying the entire experience of a Ballroom dancer - from hard and sometimes unpleasant trainings to the enjoyment of that moment when you hear the music ... and that feeling of togetherness with your partner. At the same time, I must say that for me the issue of winning is the main motivation that drives me forward.
What do you think is more important in dance: art, competitions, physical excercise...?
[Alina] I remember once somebody asked me: "Alina, do you know how lucky you are, your life is like fairytale. Most people go to work every single day and not always they like it. They have to stay for a certain number of hours whereas you can go to practise whenever you want. You come to the studio and you dance with a nice man, to a nice music, wearing nice cloths...". I looked with his eyes then at myself and understood how lucky I am to be involved in such a special thing as Ballroom dancing. And it is special exactly because it unites all the aspects that you've mentioned and they all are equally important. Exploring the possibilities of your body, finding an artistry in each movement, being mentally strong to show in the stressful competitive situation that you are the best... Ballroom dancing touches every part of human nature and that is why it is so unique.
[Marat] I feel that the whole process of dancing, competing and practising is some sort of a test for you. It is about challenging yourself, physically and mentally. It helps you to find yourself, with the help of teachers and coaches of course... Dancing is something that lets me prove things to myself. I am sure it is the same with tennis players, footballers and other athletes in their sports...
If you had to choose, what is dancing for you? An art or sport?
[Marat] For me, if I had to choose, dancing is definitely an art. But in reality, it is the competitive situation that makes it a unique genre.
[Alina] For me the same...There is this competitive side but still, the most important criteria which is vital at the top flight is the artistic one...
[Marat] You have to be able to affect people, to touch people...
[Alina] of course it's great to impress them by how fast you are, or how many spins you can do in one second, but the highest skill for me is to move them and touch their feelings and emotions by the beauty of your movement.
Are you a couple in private life as well?
[Marat and Alina] Yes, we are
So will it be difficult now to answer what do you like in your partner best?
[Alina] Why, it is not difficult!! It is actually very easy (laughing). Well, maybe it will sound stupid, but I think Marat is just the best!
[Marat] News for me!! (laughing)
[Alina] Marat is very caring, very attentive. He respects other people's emotions, goals and dreams... He is able to admit he may not be always right. I know many men who are not like that!! He can admit that he made the mistake. It is very important I think.
[Marat] I will try to be short here!! In Russia we have this certain term "zhena dekabrista" (rebel's wife) which describes a woman who will go and follow her man to the other side of the world. Alina, she is like that. I am so confident in Alina that she is with me whatever happens. Bad times, good times... she is with me. This is what I am so thankful to God for, that it happened to me, that I met such a woman in my life. In dancing, I really think and feel she is the best girl, the best Ballroom lady dancer.
Now there is time for me to ask about the negative sides of your partner...
[Alina] I think this applies to both of us: we sometimes have too many doubts. Marat is also a perfectionist just like me
[Marat] hmmm..... there is nothing (laughing). If you insist, I will say that Alina ...
[Alina] that I cannot cook!
[Marat] it does not matter to me, I told you that. Actually, let me think, I never thought about it really...
He really is in love with you, Alina!! Are you married or planning to marry?
[Marat] No (laughing). We just want to concentrate on dancing at the moment
[Alina] I can tell you what I do not like in myself!
[Marat] I would have to think hard about it
Come on, you must have read our interviews and you knew that we would ask this question!! (laughing)
[Alina] Actually, we have asked Kolya (Voronovich) and Maria (Nikolishina) about what questions you ask at the interview (laughing) so they told us.
What are your plans for the near future?
[Alina] When we come home we will have a week off. A bit of rest...
Is home in USA or in Moscow?
[Alina] Moscow! We are still in Moscow...
[Marat] In summer we will move to New York.
We've heard that you had problems last year with Blackpool... which resulted with the ban from the Russian Federation...
[Marat] Well, it is really simple. Unfortunately for us, the Russian Dance Federation did not allow couples to compete in the three big English competitions: UK Open, Blackpool and the International. We have made the decision that we want to dance them so we did it.
I think that this year IDSF allowed these competitions so, if there was a ban, it was imposed by the national federations only...
[Marat] Yes, unfortunately
Which competition would you recommend to your students?
[Marat] We definitely recommend to go to the major competitions with the history such as the three English competitions or German Open. These competitions not only have the history behind them but also the atmosphere that is appropriate for Ballroom dancing.
Not a sports hall?
[Marat] Sometimes even in a sports hall it can be a great competition. It depends on the people who are involved. It is people who make the competition.
[Alina] Sometimes couples choose competitions based on whether the judging panel is good for them. I do not think it is a good criteria. You have to be able to convince any judge, to take any audience at any venue and perform your best at any circumstances. I would recommend to my students to go to the competitions that have built a good reputation by inviting truly knowledgable adjudicators and by taking care of the competitors.
What is your favourite dance?
[Alina] I do not have favourite one. Sometimes the Foxtrot goes easier for me, but I love them all.
What about the Latin?
[Alina] I certainly did not like Samba! (laughing) Perhaps Paso Doble was the easiest one.
[Marat] Strangely enough, Paso was my favourite too. But I also enjoyed Cha Cha
What is your favourite type of music?
[Alina] Jazz now...
[Marat] Anything around Jazz, could be R&B, soul... old time jazz. Anything like that but definitely something that has a syncopated, irregular rhythm.
What was your happiest day in life?
[Alina] I remember several happy moments... not only one specific day. One of them was when we, together with our friends Kolya and Masha, we went to Turkey for holiday. It was great! The happiest 14 days of my life. The other one was when we made our first Blackpool final in Amateur Ballroom and also when we won the World 10 Dance championships very unexpectedly.... Many such moments... Event, a sunny day in a park when we walk the dog together can be special. Lots of moments like that!
[Marat] I think for me, it was that very special moment, felt like electricity run through my body, when we heard our number called in Blackpool for the Amateur Ballroom final in 2005.
It is interesting that you did not say that winning on Monday was such a day!
[Marat] Winning Professional Rising Stars competition was our middle-way goal for this year. Of course this was something we felt we want to do, and we did enjoy doing it... maybe it will dawn on us later you know! (laughing)
Does it mean that winning is not the most important thing to you?
[Marat]Let's say not the only important thing.
When you go abroad to various competitions, and you must go a lot, do you try to see these places as well?
[Alina] Yes, we started to do that...
[Marat] It reminded me now! The happiest day was when, just after winning the World 10 Dance Championships in Portugal in 2002, we had a whole day to ourselves in Lisbon. It was summertime and we felt such a relief after the competition. We both remember Lisbon as the most beautiful place and these two days in Portugal as some of the best in our lives.
[Alina] Now we consciously plan a day or two to see the place where we go for competition. Before, we rushed back home straight away to work and to practise. Now we realise that it is very useful for our development to allow ourselves some time away from dancing, to switch to some other things. It definitely helps to refill emotions and get a new inspiration.
Do you do any special preparation before the competition, maybe special diet?
[Alina] Well, all the time we are quite conscious about the food the we eat. We do stretching excercises as part of our training. And we do a mental preparation before the competition.
[Marat] We realised that we need to separate various types of training. You may get stuck if you concentrate only on mechanical or technical aspect. They are absolutely necessary, of course but, through our experience, we found that practising only these ones is limiting you at some point. The further we go, the more we realise that switching the subjects helps. The time off is also the essential part of our preparation, perhaps because we are older (laughing). Before, we always thought that the rest is something you do after your training and now we consider it as a part of it... when your subconscious still works without you realising it. We are very thankful to our mental coach, who showed us this kind of approach to our training.
Do you believe it is better for the top couples to train with one teacher to concentrate on you, or have many teachers to have more points of view?
[Marat] Definitely there should be a main direction, one main view of dancing, but I think additional ideas are necessary otherwise you get stuck.
[Alina] Every teacher is especially strong at a certain subject. It can be technique, music, partnering or creating a special choreography. So when you know what it is, you can incorporate the best knowledge of different teachers in your own dancing. But Marat is completely right: you need to have mental home to digest and adapt all these ideas.
It was very interesting to talk to you! Thank you very much for the interview.
Photos taken be Jure Makovec.