We talked to the Ukrainian winners of Amateur Rising Star Ballroom at the UK Open 2017, Artem Kuklin and Alika Dikaya. Artem and Alika ended up in the top 24 in Amateur Ballroom the day after we had this conversation.
Every good result helps us to believe in ourselves a little more.
What a night yesterday! Happy?
[Alika]: Very much so! Thank you.
Did you have time to celebrate?
[Artem]: No... No party, only sleep.
Tell me about yourselves, how did you start dancing?
[Alika]: OK, I will go first. I started when I was six years old. I am from a small town in Ukraine, from Lugansk. Later, due to political situation there, my family moved to the capital, to Kyiv. As a little girl, I tried all kinds of activities, gymnastics, dancing, I even went few times for taekwondo... But when I was twelve years old I realised that I needed to choose one kind of activity and dancing already was more than a hobby for me, it was more like an art. My Mum always wanted me to become a dancer, it was her dream. But unfortunately, as a child, she didn't have a chance as those days there was no dance schools in the little town she lived in. So she decided to realise her dream through me (laughing). And now, I want to thank her for this!
Did you get a partner then?
[Alika]: Artem is my fourth partner. I had a partner when I lived in Lugansk, then Donetsk. When I was about fifteen years old I started dancing with Artem. I moved to his place, and lived for a year with his family.
What about you Artem?
[Artem]: I started my dancing when I was about seven years old in Odessa. Initially we had dancing classes in my school. I have an older brother who was also doing some dancing and my mother decided it would be good if we both went to the same dance club together. After a while my brother stopped it, but I continued. When I was about thirteen, I moved to Kyiv and started dancing with a new partner. We had good results. Later I had two other partners there as well. Then, I moved to Kharkov to dance with a girl there but after a year or so, because of the war situation and also financial situation, decided to return back home to Odessa to my parents. All ended up very well for me, because my coach organised a try-out with Alika and that's how we got together.
OK, tell me how you met? Did you know each other before that try-out?
[Alika]: Three years ago we had a lesson together, we both had the same teachers: Katia and Maxim. My partner at the time wasn't comfortable dancing something and Katia, my coach, suggested I can try it with Artem. It felt very good for me and it felt very good for him as well. After six month we both ended up without a partner, so it made sense to do a try-out.
So how long you are dancing together?
[Artem]: Less than 2 years, from September 2015.
How did it feel when you first got together? Did it feel natural, did it feel "this is it!"?
[Artem]: It felt really good!
[Alika]: Maybe even better that it feels now (laughing)! Of course, it wasn't that easy. We both had just finished our partnerships, and Artem's partner was shorter. I am much taller.
[Artem]: But it felt good anyway.
How old are you?
[Alika]: I will be eighteen years old in April.
[Artem]: I am nineteen...
So you are very young, and winning the Rising Star competition at the UK Open is so much more impressive. It was a good day for Ukraine yesterday as the Amateur Rising Star Latin was won by your fellow Ukrainians.
[Alika]: Yes, Oleg and Viktoriya.
[Artem]: Yes, Ukraine rules (laughing), at least in dancing!
What don't you like about your partner?
[Alika]: You go first!
[Artem]: She is perfect (laughing).
[Alika]: You know, what I don't like is that we don't believe in ourselves. When we had our first training in January, after a break, we danced and danced and then said to each other: no, we are not ready for the UK Open. Everything is awful, we are awful... But we feel like this before every competition. Then we go to our teachers and they tell us we have to believe in ourselves!
[Artem]: We both see problems first and think of how serious they are, I think this is part of our character. We are working on it. Every good result helps us to believe in ourselves a little more.
I guess that winning the UK Open helps?
[Artem]: Absolutely! (laughing)
However, you haven't told me yet what you dislike in your partner?
[Alika]: Come one Artem, be honest, I won't kill you! ... I know I am too nervous sometimes...
[Artem]: I cannot say!
OK, let's make it easier. What do you like about your partner?
[Artem]: She is a beautiful girl.
[Alika]: I like that he is a very hardworking person. He spends a lot of hours in the studio. I like that.
What can your partner improve in themselves?
[Alika]: I think, as I said earlier, he needs to believe in himself much more. And I need to believe in myself too. It would help our partnership. This is the main thing we need to work on now.
Why did you choose Ballroom and not Latin?
[Alika]: I think it is because of our height. We are both tall, and it is difficult to dance Latin.
[Artem]: We both tall and thin and pretty (laughing), naturally suited to Ballroom.
[Alika]: Actually when we first started dancing together we decided we will do 10 Dances. We even completed our Latin routines. But, before the first competition, we decided to pay more attention to Ballroom. We realised that it would be too difficult to do 10 dances on the high level. Look at us, we are not typical Latin dancers. We would look ridiculous!
[Artem]: We like to dance Latin when there is nobody in the studio (laughing)
[Alika]: There are a lot of good Latin teachers in our studio.
Which Latin dances do you like?
[Artem]: Samba and Cha Cha.
[Alika]: Oh no, for me it is Rumba.
[Artem]: No, it is boring.
[Alika]: Only because it is not that quick. It is lovely.
[Artem]: It is only boring when I dance it (laughing).
Which of the Ballroom dances is your favourite?
[Artem]: Oh, it depends. It depends on the day, on the music, on how I feel...
[Alika]: It depends on the mood. It can be Tango, it can be Waltz, it can even be Quickstep sometimes.
How would you describe the character of each Ballroom dance, in few words?
[Artem]: Tango is passion
[Alika]: Quickstep is fun, Viennese Waltz is happy. Waltz... maybe love?
You said you did not believe in yourselves when you came here, what results did you expect?
[Artem]: Our trainers help us to think positively. But we try not to think too much about it, and not to expect specific result. That's better. Because often when you expect something, you actually don't get it...
[Alika]: We try to show our best.
[Artem]: We wanted to win, sure. But we tried not to count on it and not to think about it too much.
What was the happiest moment on the day?
[Artem]: Definitely the presentation!
What was the best competition for you?
[Artem]: Finals in Blackpool, and yesterday, winning the UK Open.
[Alika]: Blackpool was our first final at the big competition. It was special. We really did not even hope for the final. It was like a shock for us. Yesterday, we kind of expected the final, not a specific place, but the final. Last Blackpool we hoped for the semifinal.
So, in May, will you be dancing the Rising Stars?
[Alika]: Yes, and also the Under21.
And do you expect to win...?
[Alika]: We will see (laughing).
Are you still in school?
[Alika]: No, I am in my first year of university. I do two courses: Physical Education and Law. Well, I try to study (laughing).
I am surprised with your choice of Law!
[Alika]: Yes, I know... I am not enjoying it that much, but it is difficult to predict what will happen to my dancing in the future, after 10 years or 20 years... I want to be prepared.
[Artem]: I am on my second year of Physical Education course.
What about friends? Do you have many?
[Alika]: Yes, mainly from dancing but we have some friends from school and uni.
[Artem]: We spend long hours in the dancing studio, so naturally we got to know the others who are also there for hours. So we are all good friends there, we count on each other and support each other. We spend more time with them than with our parents. Actually our team is quite big, and we get good results.
How do you finance your dancing?
[Alika]: As you know dancing is very expensive sport. We try to work, to teach if we can, and our parents help us as well.
What kind of students do you teach? Juniors, adults, little kids?
[Alika]: Kids mainly...
Do your parents come to the competitions?
[Artem]: In Ukraine, yes.
I guess they must have been happy when you told them you won the UK Open?
[Alika]: I called my parents straight after the final, so they knew we made it. My friend called my Mum via Skype during the presentation so we could see each other. She was crying, I was crying (laughing).
[Artem]: My parents called after the presentation, they were so happy. It was already 3am in Ukraine when the presentation finished but they did not go to bed, they waited for the news. Nobody slept, they celebrated (laughing).
[Alika]: They watched it all via the live streaming by DSI. My Mum called after each round to tell me which couples did not get a recall (laughing). And I was saying, I know Mum, I am here! And she even texted me to tell me I got to the final (laughing).
Who designs your clothes?
[Artem]: My tail suit is made by Roman Svetikov in Kharkov. He is very good, many dancers have their tails made there.
[Alika]: My dresses are made in Kyiv. I have one lady who makes the dresses for me. She is great. She makes the dress based on the designs coming from my teachers and from me. Sometimes, my Mum helps as well.
What do you like to do for fun?
[Artem]: I like spending time with friends, listen to the music. Sometimes we have a party, sometimes we meet at home.
[Alika]: I like cinema as well. But since we don't have that much free time, we try to spend time with our families.
How do you spend your holidays?
[Artem]: Odessa is beautiful, but we don't go there very often. Most of the holidays we spend in Kyiv, in the dancing hall.
That's not a proper holiday!
[Artem]: No, it is not. But that's what we do.
What movies do you like?
[Alika]: It depends on the mood. Sometimes it is a comedy, and another time it is some crime story. Artem likes the new "Sherlock".
What kind of music do you like?
[Alika]: I like some popular music, Russian music as well. I like to listen to dance music, especially before the competition, and imagine how I will dance.
[Artem]: Alternative rock for me.
Do you like Blackpool music?
[Artem]: Yes, it is most beautiful...
[Alika]: Yes, now I think it is amazing. But I remember when I was a child and I first heard it, I thought it was awful. I couldn't imagine how you can dance to the music like this. I can understand why people don't like it, but when you hear it live in the dance hall in Blackpool it is simply amazing.
[Artem]: It is the special atmosphere there.
[Alika]: I think the atmosphere in Blackpool is the most amazing... The lights, the orchestra, the hall... There is no other competition like that, maybe with the exception of the Albert Hall... Unfortunately we missed it last year.
What other countries do you compete in?
[Alika]: We also danced in Paris, in Holland, in Germany...
Do you have many teachers?
[Alika]: We have our main teachers: Maksym Bulanyy and Kateryna Spasitel, Stas Portanenko and Nataliya Kolyada. And we have some lessons with visiting teachers.
[Artem]: We like to have a team and work with them.
What would you do if you couldn't dance?
[Alika]: I would like to play tennis. It was my dream.
[Artem]: I would do teaching. Or play football.
[Alika]: He would be a great football player. He is good. But I don't know much about football (laughing).
What websites are you visiting?
[Alika]: Dancesportinfo! Also, scrutelle and easycomp for results. Sometimes we look up results on the Ukrainian websites we well.
What about the social media?
[Artem]: We use the social media site VKontakte and also Facebook and Instagram.
Thank you for taking time to chat! See you in Blackpool.
All the images taken on the day by Peter Suba