We met with Artem Plakhotnyi and Inna Berlizyeva in the lobby of the BIC. They won the Professional Rising Star Ballroom at the UK Open 2012. They represent USA. See their profile page
We take responsibility of developing ourselves. Sometimes you are your own best coach.
Let me congratulate you on your victory. It was fantastic to watch you dance the finals!
[Artem]: Thank you!
Please tell us how you started dancing?
[Artem]: I was about four years old when my parents brought me to the dance school. But they also brought me to the swimming pool and boxing hall. It was in Ukraine, in Kharkov. Somehow I chose the dancing. I was six and I honestly cannot remember why, but I ended up just dancing. It was Latin and Ballroom, both styles in the beginning. I continued dancing in Ukraine for about twelve years and when I was nineteen I moved to the United States. It was about six years ago.
[Inna]: I also come from Ukraine and that's where I started dancing. We come from the same city: Kharkov. We know each other since we were kids. I started dancing when I was nine. My friend was in that little dance studio, I heard about it and also wanted to try. I knew straight away this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to wear all these beautiful dresses, I loved the music and all the dancers looked so beautiful to me.
How did you two meet each other?
[Artem]: We met in that dance school in Kharkov. There are lots of dance schools in there and when you change the club you meet other people. So when I changed the club, I met Inna. She was already dancing there. "Gorizont” is the best school in Kharkov and I came there to become a better dancer.
But it was not when you started dancing together...
[Inna]: No, we partnered up some two and a half years ago in USA. There is a little bit of a story. We knew each other for a very long time, came from the same dance school "Gorizont”, our coach was Alex Litvinov. I moved to Slovenia to dance there for couple of years with another partner. And then me and my Slovenian partner moved to the United States. And soon after that our studio asked for another male instructor. Artem did not have a partner in Ukraine then so he came to Phoenix, Arizona. He found a partner there. After couple of years we both found each other without partners and we decided to get together.
So whose idea was it?
[Artem]: It is a good story actually. When Inna found herself without a partner she did not want to continue to dance. At that time I split up with my partner who moved to New York. So I was looking for a partner. I did not want any try-outs because I actually wanted to convince Inna to return to dancing and be my partner. It was six months when there was no decision and at some point she said: do you want to go practise? I said: are you kidding me? She said: let's just go practise. And that's how we started. Within one month we decided to dance competitions. We had a bunch of good results in the US from the beginning.
[Inna]: We are really excited to dance because I feel like both of us had a break and were really hungry to dance again. We had that passion to go back to the dance floor and compete. When you take a break, you can think of everything and you let all the other things, whatever you had in the past, go and you can move on to start something new.
Are you together in private life?
What came first?
[Inna]: First, we started dating and it took us couple of months to have the idea of starting dancing together. In our case, dancing came after we got together. But a lot of times it is opposite of course. I believe it is very important to have a harmony in a relationship. All the successes are coming with this.
How does it influence your dancing? Or perhaps how does dancing influence your private relationship?
[Artem]: We are really, really good about this. I am a person who likes to let things go. If something doesn't quite work at the practice, if we get angry with each other, we never fight. But we get angry with each other. But when we go home, anger disappears.
[Inna]: I can also add that, maybe because we were when young in the same studio and had the same coach, we have the same mentality about dancing and practice. In our dance studio nobody was allowed to talk during the practice. Our coach was pretty tough about it. If you were at the practice, you were to practice and that's all and it was not the time to talk or to argue who was right and who was wrong. The teacher told you that. So we take things really easy now. If you do something wrong, you are OK with it. You just accept it.
[Artem]: If anything, we blame ourselves for the problems.
So I guess, your private relationship helps as you can support each other.
[Inna]: Yes, of course. We have respect for each other and understanding. You really think first before you say something. This is really important I think because a lot of times you get frustrated when things do not go well, you get angry with yourself and you need to accept it.
[Artem]: When things are not happening in dancing, when things go wrong at the practise we just stop and go home to relax. Have a glass or two of beer, or something stronger (laughing) and let it go.
Do you have life outside of dancing?
[Inna]: Yes, we do a lot of things
[Artem]: Are you sure? (laughing)
[Inna]: We have lots of friends and actually, because we moved to US and did not have family there, we met people and they became our family! We have lots of friends outside of the dance world. They are supporting us as well. We like to spend time with friends, invite them over for birthdays, New Year and Christmas parties. We also like cinema.
[Artem]: For Christmas we have twenty people over at our house who came from different places in the US. We wanted to spend Christmas together because all of them moved to USA from different countries and they do not have any family there either. Usually we got together to celebrate holidays. I have lots of holidays actually. I do almost everything. I play golf. Sometimes the coaches who come to our town like to play golf, so I take them there. When I have free time, I play golf. I like to play video games. This is one of my hobbies too. I play on Wii, Sony Playstation, computers... I like to be sometimes on my own and concentrate on something else than dancing.
Any favourite game?
[Artem]: Right now it is StarCraft. I also play tennis with friends
And what about you, Inna, when he is doing all these things?
[Inna]: I am actually making dresses. This is my hobby. I make dresses for friends, other people and sometimes for myself. I enjoy design and the creative side of it. Unfortunately I do not have much time because of our crazy travel schedule. I like to cook, I like to decorate our dance studio. Every holiday is my big project to decorate the dance studio.
[Artem]: She is spending most of her time talking to her friends on the phone!
[Inna]: I like to communicate with my friends! Just to catch up with things. Lately, I started with real estate. I got interested in that.
It is rather different from dancing!
[Inna]: Yes, very different but so far, it is a little hobby which can develop into business. I quite enjoy that as well.
What can you tell me is your partner's best side?
[Artem]: Business. She has a very good sense in business.
[Inna]: I am good in everything!
[Artem]: She is good in making stuff happen. In dancing, she is a very strong dancer. She is beautiful, she is strong and she is good in following. She is really good in everything!
This is a problem when we interview couples who are also together in private life!
[Inna]: (laughing) Definitely he has several good qualities. I think Artem is a very smart dancer, he will not do anything without thinking about it first, without planning how to do it. I guess he doesn't like to make mistakes and that's why he is really thinking how to do things. He needs to find a reason why to do it. It can be related to competitions, to practise, to private lessons, to teaching... this is his strongest point.
What is the weakest point, his or hers biggest fault?
[Inna]: Well, I am not sure if this is bad because this is who he really is but sometimes Artem appears to be living for the moment. If there is something he wants, he wants to do it now. He might not think of consequences. I know I said before that he plans everything and likes to think of everything but it could be just for this moment. He doesn't think of if he does it now it may cause some problems in 10 minutes. I would probably want Artem to think a little bit further ahead.
[Artem]: I think that while I am thinking and planning my movements in dancing, Inna is actually not thinking ahead there. She is doing it right away without thinking. I think changing that will help her improve herself a bit.
[Inna]: But we can have one brain there! You can think it all and I can just follow
[Artem]: Actually, maybe it is good combination! (laughing). In private life, she needs to separate business from private life. As I said, she really is business oriented which is great but sometimes she gets into it too much and she forgets of what is happening around.
[Inna]: I can see that. A lot of times I think about our dance studio. We have our dance career, we do Pro/Am. We are responsible for a lot of things. When you have some much responsibility and you are a responsible person you want to make sure you fulfil that. So a lot of times when I come home, instead of relaxing and taking time off, I keep on thinking of how many thing I need to do or what is happening...
[Artem]: So she cannot go with me to play tennis or watch a movie. I like watching movies so a lot of times I go by myself.
Is this because she likes different movies or she doesn't have time?
[Inna]: That's interesting too! Artem, right now, may say she doesn't go because she is busy making dresses or doing something but there may be another reason. When we first got together he liked the same movies as I liked. But at this moment he only likes action movies!
You mentioned your crazy travel schedule. Do you travel a lot?
[Inna]: So far UK Open is our second travel to England. Previously we were not able to travel internationally because we were waiting for the green card. Now we are free to go. However, even when we were not able to go abroad we travelled a lot in United Stated. We attended lots of competitions, we travelled every week. We take our prime students with us and that makes weekends really long as we then dance every day in Pro/Am and then Professional. We do not have teachers in Scottsdale where we live so we also have to travel for our lessons.
What was the most exotic place you travelled to?
[Artem]: It is my second time in England. I've just been to England once previously, and it was last year for the International. For me England is very unusual, you can say exotic. The competitions and the atmosphere is so great I am just so in love with this place at the moment. I want to come back here and dance here more and more.
So you have not been to Blackpool yet?
[Artem]: No, never ever.
[Inna]: I have been to Blackpool with my previous partner. And I danced in England before. It is very nice to be back.
Will you be dancing Rising Stars in Blackpool as well?
[Inna]: Yes. We have long preparations ahead
[Artem]: We go home day after tomorrow and we have already started planning how to achieve the same results in Blackpool!
Some Professionals say that it is impossible to compete and teach at the same time. What do you think?
[Artem]: I would say it is very hard. Normally, we do not have days off as we have our Pro/Am students. Here in England we have one day off and can relax. Tomorrow we have a day off and I will play soccer, sorry, football match. Every day we have ten to twelve hours of teaching and then we practise. Sometimes it is one o'clock in the morning when we finish our practice.
So when do you have time for golf and video games?!
[Artem]: It is usually Monday morning when you fly back from competition and you have six hours free time. I usually take this time for myself and go fishing, golfing...
Fishing as well?
[Artem]: I like fishing as well, I like Nature, I like to be outside and breathe fresh air!
[Inna]: We like to ski as well, only once a year unfortunately. It would be nice to have more free time... We teach and dance and it is extremely difficult. But, in some ways, it helps you. When you teach somebody else you can see what mistakes they do. You have better understanding of how things work. A lot of times your own coach is telling you things and you just cannot get it. But then you teach your own students and you can see they are making the same mistakes. You fix these mistakes for them and you are really fixing them for yourself as well.
[Artem]: You definitely start to understand more by coaching somebody and seeing how they are changing. This understanding can help you change for the better as well.
When you teach others do you concentrate more on technical aspect or artistic aspect?
[Artem]: Inna is one of the most artistic people I know, while I am more technical. I try to make things work by concentrating on the technique.
[Inna]: I can say that Artem is very technical. When I look at my students I try to establish what they need. Some couples may need more technical base, some couples need more musical awareness, some people need to improve their artistic side. A lot of times I teach girls who compete in Pro/Am with Artem. They need styling, they need manners, they need to feel the real dancers. This is what I try to provide for them, while Artem is concentrating on technique with them. When we were young our coach taught us how to behave on the floor, how the boy needs to lead the girl to the floor, present her, how to behave like a lady and so on. I think some people really need to be shown that because they don't know any of that, especially the new students who come to the studio.
[Artem]: I can always see when my student had a lesson with Inna! I can see the head up, chin forward, arms to the side...
It looks like it is best for a couple to have both of you as teachers!
[Inna]: Absolutely! I think it is important that they do not have just one teacher but it is very good to have at least two, the male and the female teacher. They look at you from different perspective. As a dancer, you want to develop all aspects, all sides, not just one quality but all of them.
Do you go to different teachers, do you have many coaches?
[Inna]: We do not have many coaches but we have a few which we stick to. They help us learn different things and develop in full.
[Artem]: We also take responsibility of developing ourselves. Sometimes you are your best coach. We record almost every competition and as soon as we are back home we watch our performance. We watch many times and we try to see what needs to be changed in technique, what needs to be changed in our look, how we present ourselves on the floor and off the floor. We analyse how we do this and that line, we analyse our stamina from round to round. Then we go and practise and try to implement what we decided to change.
[Inna]: When you compete you have certain feelings. Sometimes the feelings are great but you don't know how it looks. You may not look as great as you think. Sometimes you feel bad but everybody complements you and they say: wow, you looked great tonight. So, we try to compare the feelings with how we looked by watching and analysing these videos.
[Artem]: What we want to achieve is to look good and feel good!
When you watch yourself on the video, do you mostly like what you see?
[Inna]: It depends from competition to competition. Generally I can say that when we felt we had a great performance it also looked good.
[Artem]: I never like myself on a video, I can always see what I could do better. I never allow myself to praise myself really. I always try to see what I can improve to be better and better.
[Inna]: He is a perfectionist!
Do you have a preferred dance?
[Artem]: Depends on the day
[Inna]: I like all of them, they are all beautiful and have their character.
Do you dance Latin sometimes?
[Inna]: We used to dance Latin. Not together, but with different partners. We still teach Latin and we dance Latin in Pro/Am. I like to watch Latin as well
[Artem]: I like Samba.
[Inna]: When you watch good couples dancing any dance looks really good.
What about other forms of dancing?
[Artem]: We did a lot of them in Kharkov, in Ukraine. Our coach liked to experiment. He would bring jazz coach and then we all would do jazz classes for the rest of the month. Then the next month we would do the same with ballet. We also had ballet on regular basis. We attended Dance College in Kharkov and you had to take these classes anyway.
[Inna]: I think it helps a lot. It makes you more open-minded to see other dance styles. I found that the base in each style is really the same; in fact it applies to any physical activity. In the end, it is the same human body doing this activity. There are the same techniques to develop speed, rotation. The same muscles work.
Do you prefer to dance shows or competitions?
[Inna]: It is very different. In one you are by yourself and you are performing for the audience, you are an artist on the floor. In the other one you are with everybody else and you compete. But you are also an artist. Yes, there are more people there, your choreography is different but it is important to find the same thing that makes you perform. It should not be a race to the first place but you should be an artist who brings dancing to your audience.
[Artem]: I like competition. Yes, dancing is a performance and in the show you are on your own and you can demonstrate quality but I like the competition aspect of it. I always liked competitions in every game I took, in every activity or sport. Of course everybody likes winning and I am the same. I like to win. I am very driven to win.
If you could not dance what would be your career?
[Inna]: You know, five years ago I actually considered stopping dancing and taking on acting. I love singing but I am not that good. If not acting, I wanted to go for fashion. Now I would probably say fashion first. As I said before, I like to design and make dresses.
[Artem]: It is difficult question. I don't know what else I would want to do. I like many things, it would be hard to choose one. I don't know the reason but I somehow stayed with dancing. I like every sport activity, so it would definitely be some sport I would choose.
What would you change in dancing if you had power?
[Artem]: I do not want to go into politics of it but I would like for everybody to be able to compete wherever they want. I would create a big competition in every country where everybody is welcome to come and dance. I would like all the best couples to come there as well so people can see them and learn from them. This is what drives us forward: competitions, travelling, meeting each other and watching champions. I would like one big federation for all of us.
[Inna]: If I had all the power in the world, I would change the financial side of this business. All these dancers, they spend a lot of money. This is maybe the only sport when you as a Professional have to have another profession like teaching, or something else as well to support your living. In other sports like football, tennis or baseball Professionals get financial support from elsewhere. The prize money is really good. Even if you are in top 100 in tennis, you can live well from your prize money. So, if I had this power, I would make dancing so popular that it would be easier for everybody! (laughing)
But how would you feel if you had to wear Coca-Cola logo on your dress? (laughing) They would have to advertise somehow.
[Inna]: Ballroom dancing is so beautiful, as an art and as a sport. So many people just don't know about it. Wouldn't it be more attractive to see a Ballroom couple on the Coca-Cola bottle rather than something else?! (laughing)
Maybe 3D TV will make it happen? Dancing looks fantastic in 3D
[Inna]: Maybe one day it will become very popular!
Did "Dancing with the Stars” help?
[Inna]: Yes, definitely. Dancing became much more popular because of that show, especially in Pro/Am division. People come to the studio and they want to do what these celebrities did, they want to dance with a Professional.
[Artem]: Actually "Dancing with the Stars” provides a lot of business to the dance studios and to the teachers. People see this on TV and they want to do the same.
[Inna]: People recognise different styles, they want to do Tango, learn the Waltz. They come with these ideas. I remember when I first came to America six years ago, people knew Swing, Two Step but did not have any idea of Waltz. Now the knowledge is there.
Do they prefer American style (Smooth, Rhythm) or the International style?
[Inna]: Both are popular
[Artem]: They often start with American styles and then eventually they get introduced to the International style when they want to do more.
I thought that American style, as being less strict, is more attractive to people?
[Artem]: No, actually it is often the other way round. They think they have to do so many things in Smooth that International strict style seems easier.
[Inna]: Some people find it more comfortable to dance in the close frame and others enjoy spinning around as they have seen it in the "Dancing with the Stars”. So both styles can be popular.
[Artem]: Ballroom and Latin can also be attractive as there is this special relationship between partners there. You do not get that in many other forms of dance. In Salsa there is a lot of relaxed movement to music which is great. In Ballroom there are strict rules. But there are lots of ways to express yourself or understand better the relationship with your partner in Ballroom, more than in the other forms of dance.
Thank you very much. Good luck and see you in Blackpool.
All photos by Peter Suba