Interview with Sergey Ryupin and Elena Khvorova
By Eva Allen for Dancesport UK
Sergey Ryupin and Elena Khvorova do not need introduction. However for the uninitiated they are:
  • UK Open Professional Rising Star Latin 2000,
  • World Professional Latin finalists
  • European Professional Latin finalists
  • Russian Professional Latin Champions 2001.
I met Sergey and Elena on 15 Jan 2002 in the hotel lobby at Piccadilly, the heart of London and they kindly agreed to reveal some secrets about themselves.
Eva: Let me start from the beginning. When did you start dancing and was Latin from the start or did you dance other styles as well?

Elena: I come from Omsk, a small town in Siberia. I started dancing at the age of 9, but prior to that I was training artistic gymnastics. I initially started Ballroom and Latin and I had a few different partners then.

Sergey: I come from Surgut, also a Siberian town. I was 13 when I started dancing, so as you see I was not that young. /laugh/ And I did not have that many partners as Elena, only two.

Eva: You call 13 "not that young". Do you think it really makes a difference whether you start at say 7 or 13?

Sergey: I think it does. The earlier the better. Dancing is such a competitive discipline these days that every year counts. I am not saying that it is impossible to catch up later if you are committed, but I do think that the later you start the harder it is.

Eva: I see, so how did it happen that you started dancing together?

Sergey: We actually met in Moscow, where we both moved with our previous partners. We first started going out together and after 1 year of the relationships we decided to dance together as well. Now we have been dancing together for 6 years.

Eva: Have you always been 100% focused on dancing or did you have moments that you wanted to give it up?

Sergey: Always 100% focused. This is what we do and what we are made of. Never had any doubts about it. I do not see anything else we would like to do instead.

Eva: So you live in Moscow now, and I gather this is where you train as well...

Elena: Yes, we are training at the Russian Dance Club in Moscow, although we also travel a lot and train in London too. When in London we especially enjoy going to Dance Options Cheam and Semley Dance studio.

Eva: Do you also have coaches in both these countries?

Sergey: Yes, we do. Our main coaches in Moscow are Victor Nikovsky and Larissa Davidova, in England - Tone Nyhagen and Donnie Burns. We also work with Alan and Hazel Fletcher, Michael Stylianos, Lorraine and Peter Maxwell.

Eva: How many competitions have you danced together?

Elena: Oh! We have lost count. Just in the last 3 months we danced 15. From September to June we typically dance 20-25 in an average season. There are some comps we feel we can not miss in any season. The list includes: UK Open in Bournemouth, International in London, British Open in Blackpool, World Championships (although this is only if we qualify as one of the top two couples from our country), German Open in Mannheim, US Open in Miami, World Masters in Innsbruck, Dutch Open in Holland, Italian Open in Cervia and Kremlin City Cup in Moscow. These competition count for the WD&DSC ranking and not going would mean missing out in the worldwide ranking.

Eva: It must physically demanding to perform all five Latin American dances one after the other at this level. How do you train for that?

Sergey: Yes, it is physically demanding. Our training is fairly flexible, we train on average for 3 hours a day. We try to practice every day, if possible but we do have days without training too. Our practice has to involve a mental element, running your routines around is not good enough no matter how much you do it. You always have to have a vision of what you are trying to achieve, otherwise you will not achieve anything.

Eva: Is dancing itself enough to prepare you for that or do you have to do any other form of training regime?

Elena: We also go to a gym together, approx 3-4 times per week. This is to tone up our bodies and build up strength and stamina.

Eva: So with all these training you have to do, is there any time left to go out and enjoy what the rest of us do?

Sergey: Yes, sometimes we do go and eat out. We are not on a permanent diet. /laugh/ We enjoy Italian and Chinese food and also Russian home cooking.

Eva: Is it important for a couple to have role models?

Sergey: Yes, it is important to have role models at some stage, but later on, I think, a couple can develop themselves. It then becomes more important to have your own personality and not to become a copy of anyone else.

Eva: So who are, or were, your role models?

Elena: Probably Donnie and Gaynor more than anyone else, but we are now concentrating on creating our own, unique personality.

Eva: What's your opinion on the issue whether dancing is more of a sport or an art?

Sergey: We think of ourselves as artists, but in order to have a chance to show off our artistry we have to be good sportsmen first!

Eva: Do you dance for the judges or for the audience? In other words if you had a choice of either winning without the audience applaud or Loosing while become the audience's favourite - what would you choose?

Sergey: That is a very difficult question indeed. I can not separate the two. Normally these things go together. It also matters very much how we feel about our own dancing ourselves.

Elena: I think I would go for the audience. At the end of the day the result is not everything...

Eva: Can you actually feel the audience reaction when you are dancing?

Elena: Oh, yes! Definitely. We always feel if they are looking at us or other couples. I can not describe how, maybe it's a sixth sense? The energy coming from the crowd is what keeps us going, after all this is what we are doing it for. And it feels better and better from round to round when the temperature rises and audience reaction becomes more and more. We love it!

Eva: And how about the judges? Do you also feel when they are watching you?

Sergey: Yeah.... but we try not to think about it.

Eva: What do you think about dancing as an Olympic discipline? Would it be right or wrong?

Sergey: I do not know if it would change anything...

Eva: It would certainly bring a bigger audience...

Sergey: Yes, but only once every 4 years. Besides all the mixed nationality couples, who make up more than half of the dance population at the top end would be excluded, so how representative would it be anyway?

Eva: I remember you dancing as amateurs. You were very good then, of course, but you did not figure that high in the rankings, I think you were in the best 24 or something like that. Then you turned Pro, danced your first Professional competition, UK Open Professional Rising Stars 2000 and won it! Did you expect anything like that?

Sergey: Never! Not in our wildest dreams! That was a shock of our lives.

Eva: But that was not the end of it. In the following 2 years you have become what I would describe as Mega - Rising Stars. You are now making finals in major Professional competitions. What has changed?

When we were amateurs we were told we looked more like pros. So we decided to turn. At first it was a very new feeling, no form at all. We enjoyed it. We certainly do not regret it now! /laugh/ But I have to say the higher you go, the harder it is to improve..

Eva: I watched you dancing many times and I would like to compliment Elena on your choice of outfits. Virtually all of them were nothing less than superb. Almost every time you seem to have one of the best dresses on the floor. Who designs/makes them?

Elena: Thank you! I have a girl in Moscow who helps me with the costumes. Her name is Tatiana Birioukova and she is a dancer herself too. She made almost all my dresses. We normally design them together and then she makes them. Sometimes in the process the ideas change and we end up with something completely different than originally designed, but that's the fun of it. But she knows very well what I like and she has never made me a bad dress.

Eva: Do you believe changing during the competition can help the result? Some girls seem to have endless supply of the dresses and change them almost every time they appear on the floor.

Elena: If it makes them feel good, why not? I usually keep 2-3 dresses at the time.

Eva: And how about you, Sergey? Are you also fashion conscious?

Sergey: Oh, I do not think I am so important here. /laugh/ I like simple things. But I also have my tailor in Moscow. His name is Dmitri Antoniuk.

Eva: As professionals I imagine you also spend a certain amount of your time teaching? What do you like more: watching your students dance or competing yourself?

Elena: We have to teach to be able to travel to attend competitions and keep our own development going.

Sergey: Fortunatelly we like that also. We teach hundreds of couples in various countries, we also do group lessons. But in the most busy part of the season from September to December we have to cut the teaching time down to concentrate on our dancing and competitions we do.

Eva: Is it really possible to meet all the travel, hotel and other expenses from your own pockets?

Sergey: Yes, we used to do that until only a year ago, but it is very hard. Now we have two sponsors: Supadance for shoes and Tumenaviatrans for travel expenses

Eva: How long, in your opinion, can a couple of your calibre can keep competing? Is there any age limit beyond which it can't get any better?

Sergey: Oh, it depends on so many things. But I think, if you are prepared to make sacrifices you can dance pretty long, do not forget Donnie and Gaynor were in their forties when they won the Professional Latin World Championship!

Eva: Let me ask you a more difficult question now: If one of you, theoretically speaking, suddenly decided to retire or could not keep it going for whatever reason, would the other one take it up again with another partner?

Sergey: Hmmm... I really do not know, depends on the circumstances....

Elena: Yes, this is a very difficult question, I think we would try to find other partners, but I also think that would be very hard, so I really do not know...

Eva: Thank you very much for talking to me. I wish you the best of luck in your future career.

Special thanks to Michael Smirnoff for helping me to arrange the interview.

This article is part of and should be seen in the frame context of Dancesport UK