We talked to Michal Le and Sandra Jablonska, winners of the Amateur Rising Star Ballroom in Blackpool 2016. Michal and Sandra are young dancers from Poland.
Augusto Schiavo believes that the idea [during practice] is to focus on one thing at the time. Until you are able to do it 100% perfect.
Let me start with the congratulations! Fantastic result. You must be very happy with it.
[Michal]: Yes, very happy.
Would you consider it the best result for you?
[Sandra]: Yes, and the most important. This is Blackpool after all.
How did you start dancing?
[Sandra]: I've been dancing since I was a kid. I might have been eleven years old when I started. I started as Juvenile in the dance club "Feeling" in my native Warsaw in Poland. After a while I started looking for a partner, and found one in another club "Duet" and this is where we are now. My partner was actually Michal's cousin so everything stayed in the family (laughing). We have been dancing together for three years. Then I had to take a break from dancing as my knee injury required surgery. After six months I needed another surgery so I ended up needing quite a long break. When I returned, and my previous partner decided to stop dancing and start playing guitar (laughing), I started dancing with Michal.
What about you Michal?
[Michal]: I started dancing when I was about nine. The teacher from the dance club I am in now, came to the primary school one day and did a dance show for us. He then asked who wants to join classes and I joined. After six months of classes he approached me and said he had a partner for me and offered me an option to join the main club. So, when I was about ten years old, the serious dancing started for me, I got my first partner Ania. We competed through Juvenile and early Junior. When we split up I had another partner Iza, who is now dancing with Kyle Taylor actually. We had quite a successful career in Juniors, we were in the finals of Polish championships. My next partner was Kamila and we were Polish champions in Latin, Ballroom and 10 Dance in Youth. We were really successful together, she was great and super talented dancer but after a while, unfortunately, somehow we did not get along anymore and we split up.
[Michal]: Yes, something like that. It has just become too tough for us to manage it. Iza, my former partner, and I got together but somehow it did not work out as well as previously. I remember, we were preparing for the UK Open championships which was supposed to be our first, and Iza got an injury at practice. That day we both said, perhaps it was a good timing and there was no point continuing that partnership anyway. So I was without a partner.
[Sandra]: And I happen to be without a partner at the same time...
[Michal]: We both had the same teacher Marek Kosaty and we were both alone at the camp in Warsaw so it made sense us starting to practise together. It felt quite good.
[Sandra]: Quite! (laughing)
So quite good or really good?
[Michal]: Actually it felt really good (laughing). To be honest, it felt very, very good, surprisingly good. We used to partner together before at various camps, when we were younger, because we had the same teacher and because her partner was my cousin. We used to swap partners quite a lot actually. But then, when we were kids, it was awful. So when we got to dance together at that camp again it was a surprise that it felt that great.
[Sandra]: I was fresh from my break.
[Michal]: I remember, it was February, and later at the end of March I had a surgery myself, a nose job (laughing). OK, septoplasty. I was back after a week and four of us, Marek, Paulina, Sandra and I had a chat together and agreed to give our partnership a go, initially for two months. That would take us to May time and we could try Blackpool Under21 as this was my last year in that category. So we all thought, why not, we can try that. After two months of preparation we danced the Under 21 in Blackpool and got to the 7th place.
In a way, the worst place, the first one which did not get to the final....
[Michal]: Actually, for us, it was a great result but the 7th place is something we got used to by now. In October, we won the Under 21 at the International, but in Paris in December we were also 7th. Then we danced the Rising Stars at the UK Open, and we were 7th (laughing). In Blackpool, two years ago, also 7th.
It shows you like to be the top of the group, either the top in the finals or the top in the semifinals (laughing).
[Michal]: The best of the best, or the best of the second best (laughing). Doesn't matter. By the way, this year at the UK Open we were also 7th but it was in the final (laughing). And now, we won it!
So, I guess you are planning to be 7th tomorrow at the Amateur Ballroom competition?
[Sandra]: That would be great!
[Michal]: That 7th place would be really good, we would not complain about it.
What do you like to dance most?
[Sandra]: It depends on the mood...
[Sandra]: ... and on the day. But for him, it is always Foxtrot.
What do you like about Foxtrot?
[Michal]: I don't know what it is but I always liked it, always had a feeling for this dance. The music is great, the movement is great, all of it suits me.
If I remember correctly, you won all the dances but Waltz where you were second. Is Waltz your least favourite dance?
[Michal]: When we were called to the final I was so happy ...
[Sandra]: ... so excited ...
[Michal]: ... that I put too much power into it. I remember the moment we moved over to the long side and did some rotating figure, I lost my orientation and my balance a little bit. I was so over excited (laughing) that my coordination was lost for a moment. I know my faults!
[Sandra]: Yes, when he cooled down, it was better.
Did you ever danced Latin together?
[Sandra]: No, not together.
[Michal]: Sometimes we have a bit of fun at our club and do some Latin. The club we practise in Warsaw, "Duet", is mostly Latin and the main teacher and owners are also Latin dancers. So there are lot of Latin couples there and we do it for fun as well.
[Sandra]: I stopped dancing Latin when I was thirteen years old so I wouldn't be any good (laughing). My previous partner hated Latin so I had to stop.
Well, now tell me what it is you don't like in your partner.
[Sandra]: There is nothing (laughing).
Come on, I don't accept these kind of answers! (laughing)
[Michal]: I know what she is going to say ...
[Sandra]: You know? I don't! (laughing) OK, I don't like that he is like a child sometimes. It is really annoying. He can be like a little baby.
[Michal]: I thought you were going to say that I am getting angry too fast.
[Sandra]: No, that's not that bad.
[Michal]: I am really a patient person but when there comes a point when I get angry, I totally flip out!
[Sandra]: I am used to it! (laughing)
What about her?
[Michal]: She tends to exaggerate and overreact, a lot! Sometimes it is really good, but sometimes it is really bad. When it is bad, she winds herself up so much, she starts panicking... Last year after being 2nd at the UK Open, we did not make the final in Blackpool, we stayed in semi, and Sandra was totally down, crying and saying we'd never get there again, we're getting worse and maybe we should stop dancing. Or another situation, we were preparing for the competition, there were still two weeks left, and something really insignificant happened at the practice, she was in panic. She kept saying, no point, we would never get better for that competition, it's getting worse, there is no time left to correct it, we'd never be able to get prepared and so on (Sandra laughing).
So you are saying she is emotional to the point of hysteria?
[Michal]: Oh yes.
Where are your teachers? Do you travel to lessons?
[Michal]: We practice in Warsaw, but we travel a lot. Our main teacher, Augusto Schiavo, is in Italy. We also travel to Stalowa Wola to Wiktor Kiszka and Malgosia, his former partner. Sometimes we have group lessons with Lyn Marriner organised by Lukasz Tomczak...
So your main teacher is Augusto?
[Michal]: Yes, but we work with a team of four. And also, with Jarek Marzec from "Duet" who is a Latin teacher, but we do Ballroom with him as well. I am sure you are surprised but it actually is very helpful. Absolutely, one of the best things that happened to us. We started working with him some six months ago and we are super happy with it.
[Sandra]: He has such a good eye for detail.
[Michal]: And the way the Latin people teach and practise and make you practise is totally different to Ballroom. Latin teaching is more into detail and repetition of the same step until you're done it exactly right.
[Michal]: It is different, or perhaps with Augusto it is different. He likes to set a topic for the lesson. If the topic of the day is lowering through your heel, then he doesn't correct your elbow position. He concentrates on perfecting that one thing.
[Sandra]: He believes that the idea is to focus on one thing at the time. Until you are able to do it 100% perfect.
Do you follow a special diet?
[Sandra]: We eat everything
But you are so slim
[Sandra]: Not really. We eat everything, especially Michal. I like sweets.
[Michal]: We don't have any diet but we try to eat healthy. When we are in Warsaw, Sandra is cooking for us.
[Sandra]: I really like cooking.
[Michal]: We go shopping together, and then she can do a nice meal just using a microwave in our dance club.
What do you cook, Sandra?
[Sandra]: Pasta, rice, meat. All sorts of things.
[Michal]: She cooks variety of things, she is a really good cook.
[Sandra]: I cook Polish foods, Italian, Asian sometimes. Depends on my mood.
Michal, if she cooks, what are your duties?
[Michal]: I do the driving, I do the dishes as well.
[Sandra]: Wow! (laughing)
[Michal]: Sometimes I do the breakfast. I am really good with scrambled eggs and omelettes. Of course, I can also cut the bread and make a toast (laughing).
What do you use to plan your trips?
[Sandra]: We usually book on the internet via booking.com which is my favourite. We also use Skyscanner and Airbnb for accommodation. It is so much cheaper and helpful, especially when you go to the places like London. It is so much cheaper to get a flat. And it is nice to have a kitchen and cook for yourself as for us English breakfast is not really a breakfast favourite.
[Sandra]: Not what we would normally have for breakfast... And not the best when you are competing on that day.
What else do you use the internet for?
[Michal]: And YouTube for the dance videos.
[Sandra]: We watch a lot of videos. Especially old masters. We love that.
Considering your age, what does 'old" mean for you?
[Michal]: I mean dance videos from the 90's. I was born in 1993 and there is a video from Blackpool from 1993, and Augusto doing the best natural turn I've ever seen! Oh my God, it is just amazing, breath-taking.
[Sandra]: We've seen it like million times.
[Michal]: I remember we were at Augusto's in Italy and were watching it with Jack Beals. We were both like, wow! Fantastic. And I love all the masters from that generation: Augusto, Luca Baricchi, Andrew Sinkinson... All the best what happened to the dancing was in the 90's.
[Sandra]: It is a bit old fashioned now
Not to me (laughing). You just made me feel so old!
[Michal]: For me, it is old fashioned because you can see how it changed, when you compare the style of dancing then and now. It is totally different. Sometimes you feel it is like a different discipline.
And even more so when you compare Latin from the 70's and 80's to now
[Michal]: Yes, I remember watching Alan Fletcher who explained that there was no such things as body separation and counter rotation in Latin those days. He said that now, even for him who was a World champion then, it is strange.
What do you like about your partner?
[Michal]: I like that she is really, really hardworking. It is difficult to keep up with her. When we practise she doesn't stop. She is tough as well, and when I am not in the mood she can motivate me, and remind me to focus. I am more chilled out, sometimes I just want to do one hour and then relax and talk to others and then maybe practise again. But she is like, focus, do it, repeat and again, and next one! She is tough!
[Sandra]: For me, he is the most optimistic person I've ever met. Hard times, good times, he is positive every day, regardless.
What do you think is your strongest point in dancing?
[Michal]: I think it is, generally, the body mechanics. We were trained, for years, how to use our legs, muscles, we were taught the mechanics of the body movement. There was a time that we worked on that bit but we did not improve visually. The amount of hard work we put into it, did not translate into results. But now, we have changed a lot, and all that hard work from the past paid off, it helped us to develop visually as well.
What is your weakest point?
[Michal]: As a couple?
[Sandra]: I think each of us has different weaknesses. I don't think we have common weak points as a couple.
[Michal]: It depends on the day, sometimes on a bad day, you can see a lot of weaknesses in our couple (laughing)! On a good day, we manage to compensate each other's weak points, and stamina helps as well. When I danced Latin, my teacher always complained about my lack of coordination and precision. In Latin you have to be precise with hitting the beat, and exact action, and I was often a bit all over the place. It did not matter so much to me. Sometimes, I look at myself now, and I can see the same thing. I need to work on that. And on stamina.
[Sandra]: I think I have the same problem, coordination of the arms and the rest of the body movement. My teacher in Poland, Malgosia Garlicka, helped me a lot with this. It is so much better now.
What do you do outside of dancing?
[Michal]: I study Economics and Management at Warsaw University. I am now in my third year and working on my final exams. Both Blackpool and UK Open happen at that wrong time, just before the half year and end of year exams. Every year I have to go and talk to my teachers at the university and ask them to move the dates for me. I used my natural charms (laughing) to make them sympathise and it mostly worked, but this year I had problems getting it sorted out. But let's not get into details (laughing)!
One of your professors doesn't like dancing?
[Michal]: He actually does. But I guess at some point he felt I should get my priorities right (laughing).
[Sandra]: I finished my high school last year and did my final exams.
[Michal]: She is young.
[Sandra]: And I started the Psychology course at the university but it was too hard to manage dancing, working and studying that subject. We teach kids, I have to work. So I had to choose to drop something.
It gets me to the next question, how do you finance your dancing?
[Michal]: Our parents help a lot. We also work, but to be honest, when we compare the amount of money we spend on dancing, to the amount of money we can earn it is a big difference. It doesn't cover it.
Do you have a sponsor?
[Sandra]: Supadance sponsor our shoes.
Who designs your dresses?
[Michal]: We design them ourselves. Sandra is getting her dresses made in Atelier Ella in Radom, in Poland.
Aren't they moving to USA?
[Sandra]: They are not actually all moving there. All the seamstresses will remain in Radom. So we can still work with them.
How does your typical day look like?
[Sandra]: I wake up around 9am. Then I have breakfast and prepare food for dinner. I live only 10 minutes by bus from the studio, so I get there for 12pm. I meet Michal there. I do some stretching exercises for 30 minutes or so and we start our practice session together. It usually takes 3 hours and them we break to have some food. After this break we work with the kids.
Where do you fit your studies then?
[Michal]: I study in the morning most of the time. But it depends, sometimes my lectures are in the morning and sometimes in the late afternoon or evening. If so, I go there after practice. I must say, at that point my motivation to go to the university lectures is very low (laughing).
Why did you decide to dance in WDC and not in WDSF?
[Michal]: For us, the main reason was that our teacher was from WDC so automatically we were competing in the same federation. Also, we believe in the principles they support and we respect their judges. But we have competed in some WDSF competitions in Poland, and some abroad. Surprisingly, we got good results in both federations. Unfortunately, it won't be possible anymore, as Polish federation joined the WDSF and they banned it. You have to choose now. So we chose WDC for their principles, but also for all the big English competitions which we like. Our teachers also come from that background.
Don't you miss German Open, for example?
[Michal]: We really miss it. Sandra wanted to dance it very much this year. We were thinking about it as we had one teacher from WDSF and we discussed it with him. He felt that dancing changed there so maybe we could get good results there, but probably it wouldn't happen.
What is the difference?
[Michal]: The difference is the level of energy which is put there, the attitude is more towards sport, athletics and the way we dance is unlikely to be marked well. The difference is in all the dances. Adding the new steps to Viennese Waltz is probably the most visible thing, but for me the huge difference is in the way the dancers move, the way they present themselves on the floor.
It is hard to compare these two styles of dancing...
[Michal]: The lower the level, the bigger difference it is. On the top, it is not so much. I think you can still compare the top couples from both federations. But lower levels differ, also the ways they teach them is different. When you come to England for lessons, they teach you to use your legs, to close your feet, to use your frame and you practice that for hours. I know that many couples in WDSF work on this for 30 minutes and the rest of the training is in the gym. They work on their stamina because they need it. They have 2.5 minutes of every dance in every round and you have to be prepared for it. You can see that on the video, from the first second to the last, every couple looks the same, well prepared and fit.
What kind of music do you like?
[Sandra]: I actually like WDSF music to dance to.
[Michal]: It depends what dance, I like a lot of violin for my swing dances.
[Sandra]: I like strong beats. Especially in Tango.
Do you like to read, watch films, TV?
[Michal]: I like to read a good criminal book.
[Sandra]: We both like that. I both like action movies, or science-fiction.
Did you see the latest Star Wars movie?
[Sandra]: Of course (laughing)! But we don't watch TV at all. I don't even have a set at home.
[Michal]: The only thing I watch on TV is football.
What dancing websites do you visit?
[Sandra]: Dancesportinfo.net, of course! But also wherever we can find the calendar of competitions.
What can we improve on our website?
[Michal]: I would like to see more articles and interviews with people with big authority in the dance world like John Wood, Christopher Hawkins, other top professionals, old masters, people like that. I would like the reviews from the competitions, like the Dance News. It would be great.
Yes, we have done a little bit of that, last year we published Carolyn Smith's reviews.
[Michal]: Yes, we have seen them. We liked them.
Do you use your phone or tablet or laptop to access our website?
[Sandra]: My IPhone mostly. It is easy to use.
Isn't the font too small to read?
[Sandra]: Not a problem for me.
[Michal]: I like the website. I like to follow the rating. Not exact points but the trends. If you improve the points are going up. We look at the charts.
[Sandra]: We also like the photos.
[Michal]: Ratings are really valid tool. Before we changed the group of teachers our rating stayed flat. When we changed them the rating points went down, really down, but then started to raise. You can see how the change in style or something like this affects your results, and the trends in the longer term.
So what are your aspirations?
[Michal]: How old is Arunas now? Mid-thirties? So we have a bit of time to get there but we surely want to achieve that level of dancing. You may like or not like his style, but the level of dancing is amazing. We hope to get there at some point.
Good luck and thank you for talking to us.
All images taken on the day by Tony Eng