BY ERIN ACACIO AND KEEGAN PROSSER
Skirts swirling gracefully across hardwood floors. Red tulle flowing from sparkling chandeliers. A selection of posters promoting some of the most popular dance movies from the past 20 years. This is what you’ll see at first glance when walking into DanceSport International dance studios in Seattle. On any given Monday and Wednesday evening you’ll also spot Bellevue teens Sonya Tsekanovsky and Misha Voribiev.
From learning little steps in the dance studio to shining in the international spotlight, this pair of Bellevue teens has spent the past 11 years in each other’s arms – perfecting their ballroom style moves on the dance floor.
Sonya and Misha have been dancing with each other since they were 5 years old. Sonya started dancing when her dad asked if she was interested in the sport. She said yes. Misha’s mom is a former ballerina who urged her son to start dancing when he was young.
“We were in the same group of students when we were just starting and we were paired up by our coaches,” says Misha.
Eleven years later, it’s not just the bond between these friends that has stayed the same. The amount of time and dedication to practice has also been consistent.
“I practice six days a week, with at least an hour and a half of practice each day,” says Sonya.
Her mother, Marina Tsekhanovkaya, says on one particular Saturday in May, Sonya had three dance classes filling most of the day, with a limited amount of breaks in between.
In addition to performing at school assemblies and talent shows, the pair have competed in a variety of local, national and international competitions, including one in Moscow in 2010.
On April 1, Sonya and Misha won the title of USA Dance Champions in the Youth Division of ballroom dance – a feat that qualified them for the World Championship in the 10–Dance competition. Sonya and Misha will represent the U.S. at the competition in Vienna, Austria this month.
The “10” notes the 10 types of dances they are required to perform: Waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, tango and Viennese waltz are the five International ballroom (standard) dances – for which they will be judged. Also required are rumba, samba, paso doble (double–step), cha–cha and jive, types of Latin dances.
Misha and Sonya will each start their senior year in the fall, at International Community School in Kirkland and Bellevue High School, respectively.
And while both admit that balancing school and dance has been a challenge, summer vacation has given them the opportunity to carve out more practice time. They spend three hours a week in lessons with their standard ballroom teacher Alexandria Hawkins, and three days a week practicing Latin style with coach Nataliya Sergiyenko at another studio.
“I don’t hang out with my friends and don’t sleep,” Sonya says, in regard to the grueling schedule.
But despite the time crunch, they agree the thrill of competition makes sacrificing their social lives worth it.
“Feeling that you danced really well – going out and doing your best, and giving your all – and knowing you did that, is really rewarding,” Misha says.
As teenagers who have spent most of their life on the dance floor, you might think that these young people watch the TV show “Dancing With the Stars.” Surprisingly, they don’t.
“I don’t watch ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and the show has never really had an influence on me as a dancer,” Misha says. “Though I do admire some of the international titles and achievements of the professional cast.”
Sonya’s favorite dancers are Luca and Loraine Baricchi. The Baricchis are professional ballroom dancers and teachers from Britain. They are two–time champions of the Professional World Ballroom Dance Championship, receiving the title in 1999 and in 2001. They retired from competitive dancing after winning the title in 2001.
Before their lesson starts you’ll find the pair in the corner of the studio, texting their friends, laughing about an inside joke. Sonya’s teasing Misha about the sweat seeping through his gray button down after just 10 minutes of practicing; Misha returns the favor when she trips over her long, Leopard–print skirt mid–move.
The platonic playfulness continues throughout their lesson with Hawkins. As they glide across the floor, necks stiff, eyes straight ahead, it’s clear that it is time to be serious. But they’re still having fun.
Hawkins is hands–on in her teaching methods, stepping in for Misha or Sonya on several occasions. A dancer for more than 20 years, the teacher slips easily into Sonya and Misha’s steps, correcting their neck positions, adjusting their limbs.
“It’s their responsibility to create balanced, beautiful shapes with movement,” says Hawkins, who has been teaching the pair standard ballroom consistently since 2009. “The wrong curvature of the elbow, the wrong angle of the neck, a misplaced leg, disturbs that movement.”
Hawkins’ and Sergiyenko’s jobs are to see the potential in each dancer – the vision of what they can be, what they can look like – and they’re doing everything in their power to help Misha and Sonya reach that potential.
“It’s a big deal [world’s], but it is just one more journey for them as dancers,” Hawkins says.
She says that if the pair continues to learn, and develop their skills, they will put forth a quality product.
“Of course I want them to win,” Hawkins says. “But a lot of the time people focus too much on winning – and on the competitiveness.”
She says the real goal is to continue to improve and to forget about beating someone else.
At this point, neither Sonya nor Misha have plans to pursue professional dance careers. And while neither knows exactly what they want to do in the future, they’re excited for the journey yet to come.
Hopefully, they say it involves dancing.
Erin Acacio is a student in the University Of Washington Department Of Communication News Laboratory.