First A Love Story… Then A Partnership

Andrei Gavriline & Elena Kryuchkova

This charming couple moved to the United States from Moscow on August 19, 1999. Since then, they have been achieving great results in the competitive arena, winning the Rising Star Open to the World Latin Championship, and also being finalists in the Closed United States Latin Championship, in Miami last September. Perhaps the fact that they seem to have put their dancing in perspective compared to the rest of their lives has helped them to achieve these results in a short amount of time.

Part of the charm of this couple is listening to them talk. Though constantly improving, at present their speech patterns remain those of people for whom English is a second language. Dance Notes has tried to convey some of that charm by retaining those patterns in this article.

Why did you decide to move to America?

Elena: I was always driven by America. There’s only one country in the world where the people are like one nationality. And the people are free. We wanted to go, and so we went.

Andrei: It’s very, very good for the future, there’s much more stabilization here.

What did you have to go through to get to this country?

Elena: We were lucky. We got visa very easy. We got the O1 visa, which is for extraordinarily talented people. Taliat Tarsinov helped us a lot too.

When you came here, could you speak English?

Andrei: Elena spoke a little.

Elena: Just a little bit.

Andrei: She’s shy. She speaks very well because she took lessons in England and she traveled around the world.

Elena: To teach was okay, but to socialize… that was terrible. And especially phone. When the phone rings in our flat, it’s like, “You!” “No, you!”

Andrei: For me, it was much more difficult story, because I learned in a German school. They don’t speak English as here. When my teacher here asked, “Can you read A, B, C?” I said, “Okay, we start from A, B, C!” But I pronounced it like a German language. She say, “Okay, we start with alphabet!”

Elena: English and Russian are different. English is more like a complete language; you have a form of how you can say it. Russian language has 33 letters, and you can say, how you want. It’s just different.

When you teach, do you feel there’s a language problem?

Elena: For teaching, I don’t feel any language problem.

Andrei: Now we feel much, much better, but at first a lot of my students helped me.

Elena: Like “Pull up your foot,” and students will say, “You mean, hand!”

Andrei: They like me and they helped me a lot. Of course I know that language should be improving more and more. If you’re living here, you should know your language perfectly. But, it’s for the future. Now it’s much, much better.

What was the hardest thing to get used to?

Elena: A lot of our friends are still in Moscow and our parents are in Moscow. It was difficult because you need to start everything from zero. Like white paper. You do everything from the beginning. We didn’t know anything. We opened a bank account, and had to get a social security number.

Andrei: In Russia, it’s a different system. But we like learning, and now we feel a little better.

Do you feel at home here now?

Andrei: Mostly, yes.

Elena: I don’t miss country, I miss friends a lot, and parents.

When you came here did you know anybody?

Elena: Yes, dance world, we knew. Even American people we knew, because we went to competitions in other countries and met each other.

Andrei: A lot of Russians dance here now.

You live right outside of New York City. Was Moscow like New York?

Elena: We live in Melbourne, New Jersey, and its like 35 minutes from New York. It’s a very nice, very quiet town. Like at 8 o’clock in the evening, there’s nobody on the street. It’s like the town is dead. After Moscow, that was very different and at first it was difficult.

Andrei: You feel very uncomfortable, because in Moscow there is city life 24 hours a day.

Elena: Like in New York. But now, when we go into New York, I get tired. I like our place more.

How many hours do you teach a day?

Andrei: Everytime it depends. We work a lot from Monday through Thursday, sometimes Friday. On the weekends we go to competitions.

Elena: Sometimes we do like 25 - 30 in a week. I do 15 - 20.

How much do you practice?

Andrei: Every day.

Elena: Two hours.

You spend a lot of time in the studio.

Andrei: Yes, all day, from the morning until night. Day by day, it’s same. But we travel a lot; every weekend we are in a different place. At first it was very interesting, because every weekend it’s a new place. Now, it’s second year, and it’s much more interesting when we return to the same place.

Elena: That’s nice, you know. America has a lot of places to see.

Are there any places you like best?

Elena: We’ve seen a lot of things, like Universal Studio, and all the waterfalls in Virginia. When we went to Heritage, we went up to the mountains. First time we saw Las Vegas… that was great, too. We like to see all the downtowns. It’s very nice because each town in America has it’s own place, that’s very interesting. Like, there is this cherry on a big spoon in the town park in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Andrei: We try to go somewhere every time we go to the competitions, if we have time. But it’s very, very difficult finding time sometimes. A lot of our students have told us, “Oh, you know already much more. We living here all of our lives, but you know much more and you already see much more!”

Is it hard financially, traveling and competing so much?

Andrei: It’s our life!

Do you have any other kind of hobbies?

Elena: We have a cat, Mateeta

Andrei: We bring from Russia our cat. When we going out Elena said, “I’m not going out without my cat!” So they make for her a passport, we bought for her tickets.

Elena: I like to read a lot. And maybe eight months ago we bought a computer. That’s Andrei’s baby. It has all the buttons, that’s what he likes.

Andrei: I think she loves reading. She starts and she can’t stop.

Elena: And I can read anything, you know. I start with newspaper and finish history book. I just like it.

Do you read English things or do you try to get books in Russian?

Elena: I do read English, but I don’t enjoy it so much yet. I understand words, but I don’t understand, like, nuance and details. It’s difficult, but I try.

What do you do with the computer? Do you play games?

Andrei: No, I have no time for that. Usually just for the traveling, just for tickets and to make reservations.

Elena: He doesn’t play any games at all. I was surprised. I thought that he would play.

Andrei: Maybe if I have time, maybe I will play. Who knows!

What about the food here? Is it different?

Elena: Andrei’s completely changed his taste here. In Russia, it was very difficult to push him some salad, like greens. That was impossible. He didn’t like it. Now he eats a lot of greens, and the chicken, that’s his favorite. You can find a lot of chicken here. You have lot of places here to eat and you just choose what you like at the moment. Do you want Japanese, like sushi, or do you want Chinese, or do you want to have American food or do you want to have Russian food. There are more choices. You can eat what you like without any problem.

Andrei: In Russia, we cooked more. We had more time. If we have time, we like doing that. Usually there’s no time.

Elena: Usually, we buy something already prepared.

How long have you known each other?

Andrei: Seven or eight years.

How long have you been dancing together?

Elena: Three years. We started to dance after the last Blackpool, in May ’99. And in August already we go to America.

Why did you decide to start dancing together?

Elena: It first was a love story! After it became a partnership.

Did you have other dance partners?

Elena: Yes, I was third in the Russian professionals with my partner for maybe six years. Andrei was in the final in the amateur in Russia.

Was it a good thing when you started dancing together?

Elena: Some people were afraid that it would be hard with our height difference.

Andrei: Everybody discuss about it when we started. It’s really very, very difficult, because of our height difference; it’s difficult about connections, difficult about looking good. But it’s okay! We like it!

Elena: Everybody told us, “If you want it, you can do it.” We say, ”Yes, we want it! We will do it!”

And you still get along personally, even though you’re dancing together?

Elena: Yes! Last April we married.

Did you have a big wedding?

Elena: No, it wasn’t so big. It was just one year we were in America. All our students came, all our friends, Russian and American. We had maybe around 100 people, but in America, it’s not big. In Russia, it’s big! We try to do American wedding. Our manager, in the studio, she helped us with everything, like the cake. We need to give some pieces to each other. That was funny, because we didn’t know what to do! We say to her, “What is next? What is now? What is supposed to be?” And we did the wedding dance too.

Andrei: It’s like some dream!

Who are your dance coaches?

Elena: Here in America, Taliat Tarsinov has helped us a lot. We’ve also worked with Ruud Vermeij, Colin James and Espen Salberg. In the past we had lessons with Alan Fletcher, Lorna Lee and Michael Stylianos.

Andrei: Everybody helps because every coach can give you something special. They never repeat. They try to find some special language for you. We just need every time...

Elena: To listen, to be better.

And do you listen to everything everyone says, or do you find sometimes it’s not right for you?

Andrei: We every time listen. You should listen to what everybody thinks, what everybody sees.

Elena: We try to really think about what they want from us. We try to use all the information that we get, because we still think that we are like a new partnership. We think that we have a lot more possibilities to do better, to dance better.

When you first came here, how did you place?

Elena: We got in the final of the rising star our first competition. It took us three months to win the rising star in Boston. That was really a surprise for us. We didn’t expect it so fast.

Andrei: We had good results very, very fast.

Elena: Miami was very good for us. Miami we were second in the rising star, in both United States Championships and the Open Latin Championships. And at the Ohio Star Ball, we get third place in the International Latin last year.

Andrei: That was very, very big surprise for us.

Elena: And this year our results are still going up. We’re very happy with this, because this Miami, we get in the national final.

Andrei: We were very, very excited about it.

Elena: And we won the Open to the World Rising Star. Of course, we hope it’s going to be growing more and more!

How did you start dancing?

Andrei: I started from six years old.

Elena: I was nine. I did gymnastics before. I was invited to an Olympic resort, but my mom decided that was too much for nine years old. When she saw some of our practice in gymnastics, she said, “No, I don’t want you to be like, that’s too serious.” I was crying a lot and she pushed me to the dancing. First time it was like so-so, but I still had gymnastics too. After one year, I prefer the dancing, and I started to dance, and I still dance!

Andrei: In Moscow we have a lot of different styles, like jazz, ballet, classical ballet.

Elena: We took lessons in jazz and ballet. I had eight years of classical ballet.

Did you have to do that to go along with the ballroom?

Elena: No, that’s your own decision.

Andrei: Everything helps, because basically, all dances come from classical ballet.

Do you do anything else besides ballroom dancing now?

Elena: We still want to continue the lessons because that’s helpful to develop your body. We don’t have time yet, but I hope that later on we definitely will be able....

Andrei: To find some time. It’s very important.

Elena: We want to do Argentine tango too, and we want to dance mambo. We’re interested in all type of dancing.

Did you ever dance standard?

Elena: Yes, in Russia it’s impossible to dance just one program, until you become high class. You need to do both of them.

Andrei: You dance standard and Latin. And when the couple is growing up, 15, 16, 17, or so, they try to find what is better for the couple.

Elena: Like here, you have, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Open Gold. In Russia, we just have letters for the same levels. Until you’re at the open gold level you’re supposed to keep two styles.

Andrei: Now in Russia, you can study only from the one program. It’s faster than doing both. But I think it’s helpful to do standard and Latin.

What’s the main thing that you try to think about when you compete?

Elena: We try to connect with each other. We try to dance together. We try to feel each other. That’s the only thing that’s stable… the floors change, judges change, public changes. If you feel everything from your partner, that really helps. To think about technique stuff, it’s too late. You need to practice it...

Andrei: When you’re practicing, not at the competition.

Elena: Now you just need to dance it together.

Andrei: Every time when we go out on the floor, it’s like everything is new. It’s never repeat. We dance every week, but every time it’s like something new. Every time you should be working so the dance can improve. It’s never done. You never are perfect. You should understand what is most important for you and what you want to show to the audience. If you have this connection with the people watching you then it is working. But if you just finish your dance tired because you’ve worked hard on the floor, and you don’t understand what happened. Of course, this is not good.

Do you feel that the audience is not with you very often?

Elena: No, that’s not often. But if it happens, I think it’s not about the public, it’s about us. Maybe we didn’t show what we can, maybe we were too busy with ourselves. Nobody can be perfect all the time. Sometimes after the competition you feel that you can do better. Sometimes you try to do everything and it happens you didn’t do anything, because you pushed yourself too much.

Andrei: Too much, and yet nothing happens.

Do you eat any certain food the day you compete?

Elena: We don’t eat at all that day!

Andrei: It’s very interesting, because I know people that cannot go into the competition without food. We have different reactions. Before competition, and after competition maybe for a few hours, we cannot eat.

Elena: In the morning, we have a cup of coffee with something, like toast or egg, and that’s all.

Andrei: Maybe sometimes we have some very light soup.

How do you have enough energy to get through all the rounds?

Elena: I don’t know. For us, it works.

Do you drink anything?

Andrei: Just water, and it’s not too much.

Elena: I don’t drink it. I don’t drink during the competition, only after. Because I feel that it goes into the legs. I don’t know, maybe that’s all in my head. Everybody is different.

Andrei: No, no, it’s true. Because if you drink too much it goes into your legs and you look very tired. I just drink a little bit.

Do you have any superstitions when you’re getting ready to dance?

Elena: No, we just take time for each other and we do some basic things, just to feel each other. It’s too late to practice.

Andrei: Before we go onto the floor we try to understand each other, try feeling warm with each other. We try to understand our own stuff and how it’s connected to each other together.

What if one of you is not having a very good day?

Elena: The other one tries to help. The people who are watching you are not interested about how you feel today.

What do you like best about each other’s dancing?

Elena: He’s very flexible and very soft. He’s very emotional, and at the same time, he has a very male sexy style. I think he’s great at all of this. That’s why we start to dance together, because I think that he’s unusual and an unbelievably good dancer.

Andrei: I think that she is a very, very technique person and she puts natural feeling into her dancing. She’s very emotional.

Elena: I still cry for the cartoons!

Andrei: Or for some movie. I can turn my face away and I know that she is crying! She’s very, very, very emotional.

If you weren’t ballroom dancers, what would you be doing?

Andrei: In Russia, when I finished school, I went to a lawyer’s school. And all my teachers thought that I would continue that. When I continued dancing, it was very, very big surprise. Time shows what is right and what is not!

Elena: This is what I like. But, if not, I would go into something with animals. I love all types of animals, doesn’t matter. And I like toys. We always buy. If I like something, like some tiger or bear or something and they have a funny face....

Andrei: She says to me, “I don’t want to lose him. He looking at me and I cannot go out.” I say to her, “Okay, we take.” All our rooms have a lot of toys.

Elena: All my students and friends knew that I’m crazy about toys. They try to find me something unusual. All my toys are funny.

What are your goals for the future?

Elena: We just want to be very good dancers. And it’s great if we will be very good dancers and we will get the results. But we have a lot more important things, like our life. You never know… is it going to be long, or is it going to be short. It’s very important to do something to help people. Enjoy every day, and see everything.

Andrei: The results are just the opinion of the people who judge you, and it is just results for this moment at this competition.

Elena: It’s history. If you’re going to be upset, that means, for some days, you’re going to be destroyed. Because you think, “Why I did this, why I didn’t do that.” That’s not helpful. Of course, everybody wants to be first. But there’s only one first place on the floor. But you still can be a good dancer. You just need to think about what you can improve more, and of course, show the judges more. Then they can place you higher. When we were young, I used to cry and throw the shoes. Now that’s not. I really think it’s more important to be a very good dancer, than be first at all competitions. I think so.

Coach’s Corner

Elena: I think the partnership is very important in dancing. You’re supposed to be together and you’re supposed to have your own style. But the relationship, that’s very important. Technique is very important, but that’s for you to be a good dancer… to stay on your feet, to move your body in the right way, to connect with your partner in the right way. But when you go in public, the audience is not really interested in your technique and skills. They’re interested to see how the relationship develops on the floor. It’s very important to keep both things. Technique is very important, and the relationship too.

Andrei: Technique should be worked on when you practice, but when you go on the floor, you cannot think about that; it’s already done. On the floor you should be showing that you’re thinking about your partner, and how it’s working together.

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