Today we have the pleasure of talking with Ching and Andre. They are a professional dance couple who has dedicated their lives to dancing and they compete at the highest level of the International Latin style.
In this interview they share their story and also give us their perspective on how to improve your dancing. Okay let’s dive in…
How did you start dancing? And how old were you? Start from the beginning…
Ching: Dancing has always been a part of my life. As early as I can remember, I would be that crazy kid dancing in the middle of the street if there was music playing (okay, maybe even if there wasn’t music playing). My formal dance training started at 11, during which I started seriously studying ballet, jazz, & modern. My major influences were my ballet teacher, John Welch, from the Royal Ballet and Alvin Ailey.
During my 4 years of college, dancing took a backseat to my studies although I still took weekly dance classes. By the time I was in graduate school, I was craving to bring dance back into my life. As an adult, I found myself attracted to Latin Ballroom dance, which is the perfect blend of jazz, modern, latin, and pas de deux. I have been dancing Latin Ballroom intensively for over 10 years now, and I still love it as much today.
Andre: I started dancing at the age of 6 in Donetsk, Ukraine. My mom took me to a public club in our neighborhood but we were too late to the admission and I didn’t have a partner for the audition. As we left, there was a family coming down with a little girl who was crying because she, too, didn’t have a partner and couldn’t audition. So my parents offered the little girl to audition with me, and we got in!
I stopped dancing at the age of 10 because I was made fun of at school and gave in the bullying. I decided to pursue more “masculine” activities and took up boxing.
When I came to America at 15, I visited my cousin at her dance studio where the teacher right away recruited me, offering me a partner and free lessons. And back into dancing I went!
Ching, I know you used to do Pro/Am and then you switched to Pro level. Was it an easy transition or difficult transition? What do you find is different competing in the pro circuit versus pro/am?
Ching: My answer is complicated, so let me first try to map out the general differences between pro & pro/am and then talk about my personal journey.
I believe that if you are a high level pro-am students, the differences between Pro and Pro/Am is very little. A high level Pro/Am student is already doing much of what pros do: developing your solo-practice, taking coaching lessons, competing regularly, designing dresses. More importantly, you are already thinking deeply about what kind of image/product you want to show. A successful Pro/Am student already knows how many hours and dollars it goes into improving and competing at a high-level.
The Pro/Am paradigm is based on the student relying on the teacher’s expertise and instruction. The biggest difference between Pro/Am and Pro is the ability to take full-ownership of your own dancing, opinions, & creative image. As a Pro, you need to have clear ideas of your OWN dancing, what you want to express, and what your identity is. You need to trust and act on your instinct while learning to work with someone your equal. The other difference between Pro/Am and Pro is the pace of the actual competition. While in Pro/Am, you have many chances to dance your best, from single dances to Championship to Scholarship. In any given comp, you may have the opportunity to dance many many rounds. As a Pro, you will often find yourself only dancing a straight final. All that work for a 10-min performance!
My own transition was both easy and difficult. It was easy in the sense that I was always a very proactive student and full of ideas. I was very lucky in that Andre’ was receptive of them. So at some point in our Pro-Am career, it became more collaborative and resembled that of a Pro partnership.
One of the difficulties I found was the physicality of the dancing a straight final. If I were a racehorse, I would be one that ran top speed at the last lap. Similarly, my rounds wee my second or third. It was challenging to be push myself to dance my best round in a straight final, straight out of the gate. After 2 year, I think I finally got it.
But the most difficult transition was mental. For the first year, I had the limiting belief that the judges and dance community did not take me seriously and saw me only as a ProAm student. Whether they did or not, I should still believe in my worth as a dancer, no matter my beginnings. Once I did, I was surprised to realize that in reality, the community was rooting for me. Overcoming that mental block was my final challenge from Pro/Am to Pro.
How long have you been dancing together?
Ching: We danced together 8 years (6 as Pro/Am, and 2 as Professionals).
You both compete in the Open Pro Latin International style, why did you choose to focus on this specific style?
Ching: I love the music. The love the sensual and complex dialog between man and woman: the tenderness, the passion, the flirtation. I love how free I feel when I dance Latin. I guess you can say, it’s in my blood…
Andre: I was always drawn to the Latin music and the culture. Even though teacher thought I had more aptitude for Ballroom, I chose Latin because it resonated with me and because my heart told me what to do.
What is your favorite dance? And Why?
Andre: I like them all! But if I had to choose, my favorite dance is Cha Cha. It’s because I like the music the most.
Ching: I am very moody. It changes with the moment. I love whatever dance I am currently working on in that the more I delve in into the details and the intention of a dance, the more I enjoy it. However, overall I would say Samba. No, Rumba. Dang, this is hard. Those to dances make my heart sing. If I had to choose one, Rumba. Final answer.
Describe the “perfect practice” for you two? What goes into it?
The perfect practice involves having a clear & realistic plan of what needs to be achieved. The practice would last 2.5 hours. Here would be the breakdown:
(1) Warmup – 30mins total
a. 20 mins – Individual Warm Up
b. 10 mins – Round of drills (2 mins of basic for each dance. Cha Walks & locks/ Whisks / Rumba Walks / Jive Kicks
(2) Rounds – 25 mins total
a. 15 min – Slow Round w/o Music
b. 10 min – Normal Round w/ Music
a. Choose a Topic that we are working on. Split the Routine into 3 sections
b. Section 1
i. 10 mins to discuss details & changes
ii. 5 mins to practice section individually
iii. Consolidate changes through repetition and dancing together WITHOUT discussion
1. 15x to slow music
2. 15x to medium music
3. 15x to normal music
iv. Discuss what worked and what didn’t work
c. Repeat for Section 2 or 3
(4) Stretch – Cool Down
Can you both describe your dance partner’s strongest points?
Ching: Andre’ is my ideal dancer. I called him my Nureyev of Latin Ballroom. He has a regal yet charming carriage on the floor. Yet he also has such aptitude for full & rhythmical body actions. He also has such a natural command of space. When he is on the floor, you can’t miss him. Andre’ has such a masculine energy on the floor which is extra unique because it is paired with such sweetness and sensitivity. He is MY perfect partner.
Andre: She always dances from the heart and she inspires me to do the same. Ching is an amazing performer who is able to capture the hearts of the audience (and me!). Physically, she is my ideal beauty: long-limbed and elegant. As a collaborator, she has an amazing ability to diagnose problems and get straight to the solution. Ching also has a great sense of musicality, no doubt a result of both instinct and her formal music training.
I know you achieved some great results, what is the most memorable competition/result you had so far? And why is it so significant to you?
NVBall 2015 this August. We were runner-up and lost only by one dance. This result was especially meaningful because this was our breakthrough moment. When we started dancing together two years ago, we had to work our way up from the bottom (even though I was already previously a U.S. Open to the World Finalist). The struggle was tough and very real. We struggled to find our identity as a couple and to create a clear yet individual product. During the last year, we had some tough discussions about what we wanted to express as dancers, how we wanted to practice, and what we wanted to achieve. We overcame lots of limiting beliefs and pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone. The more we started to believe in our product and our voice, the more rewarding and positive the whole journey became. Our positivity and commitment started to win over judges who did not mark us only a year ago. At this competition, we can really feel the tides start to change.
Is there anything you would want to change in the Competitive Dancesport world? Something that you think needs improvement?
We would love to see FEWER competitions. The number of competitions has grown over the last 10 years. In any given weekend, there are often two to three competitions to choose from. This dilutes the competitions and there are fewer competitors at each event.
Also, unlike other sports, Dancesport does not have a clear on on/off season. Therefore, it is difficult to really improve because there is always another competition in the horizon. It would be wonderful to have a clear off-season so that we can workshop new choreography and also really focus on foundations and technique and less on competition preparation.
What do you prefer to work on mostly – Technique or Performance? Or do you give it equal weight? And why?
Technique and Performance goes hand in hand. Technique gives you the tools for a more convincing performance. However without performance, without having something to say, then the dance becomes soulless and devoid of intention. At the end of the day, to dance is to be able to AFFECT the audience with intention (performance) and to do so effectively (technique).
You have a studio in the Boston area where you both teach. What do you find is the most rewarding thing about teaching dance?
Ching: I love helping people push through their limiting beliefs and see their true potential. It is so rewarding watching students blossom and find genuine confidence in themselves. I love watching students perform and compete. It is such a culmination of their hard work. Their joy and exhilaration gives me chills every time. I am very proud of all they accomplish: big or small. Every step is worth celebrating.
Andre: I love the process of guiding people to their next level, to witness that transformation is the most rewarding thing as a teacher. It is an honor be a part of their journey.
What hobbies or activities do you do when not dancing?
Andre: I love to hike and swim.
Ching: I love to snowboard & read.
What profession would you have if you couldn’t dance?
Ching: Life Coach
Andre: I would love to be a movie director.
In your opinion what should beginner students focus on in the first years of learning how to dance?
We have the same philosophy on teaching and pedagogy. In the beginning, it is important for students to focus on the holy trinity: (1) Timing (2) Posture (3) Weight Transfer, which includes foot and legwork.
It is also important for us to help students develop their own practice. Learning how to learn and learning how to practice are CRUCIAL!
What other advice would you give to people who want to become better dancers faster? Anything specific they should do?
Ching: Dancing is both a sport and an art. Andre’ will address the sport aspect. I will address the art aspect. It is important to continue to educate yourself, stay inspired and motivated. Significant improvements can be made if you: (1) Learn how to efficiently practice by yourself. (2) Watch lots of dance videos: video study is an important part of both learning and fueling the soul. By watching lots of videos, you develop a mental library of the way a step should look. Your mirror neurons are activated when you watch someone else dance, and can really help you improve via observation (3) Find a study buddy: Find a dance friend with whom you can discuss ideas with, and schedule solo practices together. Stay positive. Stay motivated. (4) Most important, have clear goals and plans. The more you can visualize your goals, the more likely you will find the means to get there.
Andre: Yes! There is so much to do to speed up improvement. Our body is our instrument, and we should do everything we can to keep it running in tip-top shape. Therefore, cross-training is key. Get your body to be more explosive and fast by doing HIIT with weights. Get your body more supple and increase your range of motion through Gyrotonic & Pilates. Make sure you do daily exercises with resistance bands to strengthen your ankle & foot. Most importantly, stretch daily and learn injury preventive exercises. Also, fuel your body with high-energy, clean food!
Lastly, where can people find out more about you and your studio? Website/s?
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Alan Phillips says
Great interview. Very informative and inspirational.