Interview with Xingmin and Katerina Lu
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Interview with Xingmin and Katerina Lu

Posted on venerdì, 11 ago 2017, 16:56 by admin
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We talked to Xingmin and Katerina Lu last year (i.e. in 2016) when they won the Blackpool Over50 Ballroom event. This year they repeated that success. Well done! Xingmin and Katarina are married and live in New York. They and dance for USA.

Dancing is such a mental game. It is so much about your mind and then control of your body.

Congratulations! How do you feel as the first ever winners of the Over 50 in Blackpool?

[Xingmin]: I am beyond happy! Last year (in 2015) they published the fact that they going to have this event and that made us very happy about it. We knew we wanted to do it. And we worked very, very hard this year to win this championship. We thought we should be in the final and that we had a pretty good chance to win, however to win something is incredibly difficult. There is always somebody who is just as good or better so you have to really work very, very hard to deserve it.

You can have a bad day on the day...

[Xingmin]: We did not want to leave anything to chances, so we worked really hard. We did physical training, mental training. And I got the best girl anyway (laughing).

[Katerina]: I tell you how we feel! We haven't slept much, we stayed up till five in the morning answering emails or Facebook messages and congratulations. Nowadays, thanks to technology everybody in New York knew instantly that we won, so... It is fantastic!

[Xingmin]: When we went to bed it was a daylight outside already.

[Katerina]: OK, in Blackpool it got light at 4am but anyway!

Tell me how you started dancing?

[Katerina]: I danced pretty much all my life. My grandmother was a ballerina in a Czech National Ballet. She took me to ballet classes when I was no more than two years old. I was barely walking.

Where was it?

[Katerina]: In Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia. They took one look at me and said "this girl is not going to be good in ballet because she is lopsided (laughing). You can leave her in the class if you want but she is never going to make it". But next door, there were Ballroom dancing classes. They were a lot of boys there so three or four years later I convinced my grandma to switch me to the Ballroom classes. I was then about six years old. After a while I had to stop, but came back when I was a teenager. Those days in Czechoslovakia they had a lot of social dance classes for young people and that's where I came back to dancing. The teacher picked me for the more advanced class and I continued then. I got married and with my now ex-husband moved to USA to teach in the Fred Astaire Dance Studios. I was about twenty eight years old. And this is how we met, because Xingmin was my student at the time (laughing).

[Xingmin]: It was a little bit later!

[Katerina]: OK, yes, a bit later. The first marriage was over, Xingmin came along and that's how we started.

So did you start dancing when you were grown up, Xingmin?

[Xingmin]: Yes, I started very late. Well, I always did some social dancing here and there after I came to the United States. I came from China to USA as a student, I went to Columbia University for my PhD in Physics. I was lucky enough to get accepted into Columbia University. At some point I went to some social dance classes, learned some Latin. I never really took any Ballroom lessons. So after I graduated with my degree, I started working and I got a lot of time and a little money so I started taking lessons. My first lesson was with a different partner, with a teacher who was Katerina's ex.

[Katerina]: My ex did not want to teach couples, he was too busy with Pro-Am. So every time any couple came to him for lessons, he would say: "you know, my wife is so much better teaching couples".

[Xingmin]: So I got shifted (laughing). As I said, I started relatively late.

[Katerina]: You were pretty much a Senior when you started.

[Xingmin]: I was already thirty three years old when I started taking Ballroom lessons. I took a little time before I started competing. I liked it, I thought I was good but I wasn't sure I was going to compete... At some point I said to myself "I am good" and I started competing. But once you see a video of yourself, you realise you are not that good at all (laughing).

[Katerina]: It is humbling (laughing)

[Xingmin]: (laughing) yes. But on the other hand, I just got hooked.

[Katerina]: As far as us meeting each other, I have that wonderful story I keep telling to everybody. At the time when Xingmin and his partner were coming to the studio, our studio organised dance parties. Social dance parties. He was standing in a corner, and a foxtrot music started to play, so I walked over to him because I knew I probably end up teaching him and I wanted to be friendly. I said "may I have this Foxtrot with you?" and Xingmin looked at me with his furious eyes and said "No!". I asked him, "Why?", and he said: "I did not learn it yet". So that how much a baby dancer he was at the time (laughing).

Wonderful story! It shows how well you can learn, regardless of age.

[Katerina]: Age-wise he was classified as Senior when he just learned to dance foxtrot

So what kept you motivated, Katerina or love of dancing?

[Xingmin]: I am lucky enough to have her.

Katerina, so you started to teach him and his partner as a couple? But at some point, obviously, they split up and you got together...

[Katerina]: They never were a couple privately, only a dancing partnership.

[Xingmin]: I had a few partners, not many before Katerina.... We did Pro-Am for over a year. It was quite wonderful and gave us a chance to dance together, but it is not as satisfying... It is a different system. It wasn't as satisfying to us as competing as Senior Amateurs.

[Katerina]: Not many people realise but we started dating and got married long before we danced together. We did not really think we would compete. But then we had some, you know, personal issues, we tried for a baby, it did not work out. I had to take some time off, I was sick. I generally retired from being a Professional dancer.... But then we said "why don't I reinstate myself so I can dance in Amateurs again". At the time the system was changing and a lot of Amateurs started to teach. So after a year and a half of struggling and fighting with the system, proving that I am really not a Professional anymore, I finally got an approval from the US dance bodies to reinstate myself as an Amateur. That means I could not have any Professional activities... so I am probably the only Amateur in the world who doesn't teach (laughing)!

[Xingmin]: So we officially started to dance in the Amateur Senior category in 2005. We came to Blackpool to dance Senior for the first time in 2006. So it has been ten years...

Do you like the music in Blackpool?

[Xingmin]: For me, the live music in Blackpool is the best.

[Katerina]: And it doesn't matter what year it is from, now or twenty years ago. In a sense, it is a classical music as far as Ballroom music goes. And I love it. I love everything, the orchestra, the arrangement of the music...

Did you always like it?

[Katerina]: I think so. I am actually a fun of classical music, I really truly like Mozart or Beethoven or opera music so this kind of music is closer to my heart. I like instrumental music more than vocal.

[Xingmin]: I remember when I first started dancing in the studio, they played that kind of music. And I was told, this was Blackpool music. It was OK but I did not like it as much, it was a bit boring. That's what I felt at the time. I first came to Blackpool in 2002 to watch the competition actually. I did not dance. But then it hit me: wow! That was different to listen to it here, to feel that atmosphere. After that, I loved that music. When I hear that music, I see the hall, the ballroom, the competition, a different world.

[Katerina]: And this is the greatest festival

[Xingmin]: Yes. When we practice we have our own music, but there is always an excuse for me to put on the Blackpool music. So every year from the spring time I play that music (laughing)

[Katerina]: You start playing it before Christmas! (laughing)

[Xingmin]: I always find an excuse! I love it.

How did you manage to be brave enough to ask you teacher for a date?

[Katerina]: I asked him! (laughing). Friends of ours actually were getting married and we both were invited to the wedding. All the people from the studio were seated together at two tables, but I ended up at another table with complete strangers, bride's family I think. The only person I knew at that table was Xingmin. I think our friends were trying to get us together (laughing), because we both were single at the time. I think at that wedding we actually agreed to go for a date first time.

[Xingmin]: We decided to go for a movie, and I think it was "American Beauty" we ended up seeing. It was in 1999. We met in 1996 when I started to take Ballroom lessons, right?

You better remember the day you got married!

[Xingmin]: Yes, I actually remember all sorts of things. I remember the first time I saw Katerina. It was in the studio, and for some reason the teachers from the studio started introducing this new couple, I did not know them at all. They just came from Czech Republic, and they were being introduced as a new couple who came to America. I was on my way out, it was that social dance party on Sunday evening. They came out, Katerina was wearing a yellow blouse. She was so beautiful. And then I left.

[Katerina]: I don't even remember I had a yellow blouse.

[Xingmin]: And then I started seeing them at the competitions. And one day I decided to take a lesson with her partner.

[Katerina]: I don't remember any of that. Do you know how they say that elephant remembers everything years after it happened? Xingmin is a little like that!

I always like to ask at the interview, what is bad and good about your partner. I realise it is a bit of a dangerous territory when people are married!

[Xingmin]: I know you do and I had some thought about it! Let's start with good things: there are so many. Katerina is incredibly organised. I really mean incredibly. Everything we do in life, in competitions, everything is organised. She takes care of me, of the house, of everything. In dancing she is also very organised and methodical. If you ask about her weak points, maybe I am biased, but I don't see any. I see differences between the two of us. We complement each other. She is outgoing, I am more inward sometimes, especially when under stress. In competitions, I keep the energy inside, I don't really talk to people so I focus. Katerina, on the other hand, is very outgoing, she can do the socialising, talk to people. Sometimes, people like to wish us good luck, you know, and I kind of stay away but Katerina is happy to do all that.

Come on, nobody's perfect!

[Katerina]: If you talked to people who know us well, they'd confirm that we just clicked right from the beginning. You know, between us, we just complement each other... I am sure other people will find faults in us, they may say "she is a bitch", sometimes I can make enemies because I am open and I tend to say what I think. But between us, for us, we fit perfectly together. You know, people have all sorts of irks, or habits and get annoyed with things like "the toothbrush must to be in that place" but we never had such issues. Never, we felt perfectly matched right from the beginning. Like two halves of a zip, from the day one, it zipped perfectly.

[Xingmin]: Many people, I talk to friends, they fight with their wife or husband constantly. Since we married, and we did not start to dance until four or five years later, we maybe had three or four big fights at most.

[Katerina]: Three

[Xingmin]: And we have been married for 15 years.

Was it about dancing?

[Xingmin]: The biggest fights were about dancing. Especially when we started. But outside of that we are so OK.

[Katerina]: We had quite a lot of fighting at the beginning of us dancing together. Maybe not a lot, but some at the very beginning when we decided to dance. I think there was a lot of power struggle because I am a very strong person and I came from the position of teacher. It took me a while to understand that I just cannot be a teacher, I cannot be a leader in this couple and I need to let him. I think this was mostly why we had arguments.

[Xingmin]: It took a while. When you are a couple, you feel what you feel, but you don't know how it looks for others. When you look at other couples you often see they have problems dance-wise, and it may be the guy's fault, but he blames the girl. And you know, if he just listened, if he let others give him feedback... So when Katerina pointed out something for me, we often discussed it with the teacher and you need to allow that... Otherwise the dynamics become incredibly constricting.

[Katerina]: Xingmin is an unbelievable guy both as a dancer and in life. Before I met him, I had men in my life obviously, I never met a guy who were able to discuss things in a middle of a tense situation, in the middle of argument (laughing). He can pull back and say "OK, let's talk about it". Of course, not all the time, but...

[Xingmin]: Nobody's perfect (laughing)

[Katerina]: ... but most of the time. And in life, we don't argue really.

[Xingmin]: You know, the wife is always right so (laughing)...

As they say, the husband always has the last word in an argument: "You are right, my dear" (laughing)

[Katerina]: No, the wife does: "I told you so!". Anyway, talking about his positives and negatives: there are very many positives. He is a loving, caring person. And it is not just me saying that, our friends say the same thing. He took me to where I am now, I don't think anybody was able to do that before him. He is incredibly intelligent. To have a PhD in Physics from Columbia University is something not many people can claim they have! He is wonderful, he brings me flowers, I love it! Negative things? Oh, I know one. He has a terrible sense of orientation. If you let him walk out of this room, he will not find the front door! He will stand right outside this room and look left, look right, and say: "where the hell did I came from!" (laughing). I practically have to take his hand and lead him around! Xingmin is very analytical, he takes notes from every lesson, he analyses them later and it helps. In my opinion, Ballroom dancing is of course about talent and hard work but it requires a certain type of intelligence. You have to be able to combine and use all the information you get from all the sources and apply to your dancing.

[Xingmin]: Dancing is such a mental game. It is so much about your mind and then control of your body. You don't just dance, you have a lot of thought.

Does it mean that you analyse the content of the lesson for hours afterwards?

[Xingmin]: Not sure I go that far, but... We are lucky enough to have wonderful teachers in the US and in the UK. We have a lot of information and we follow that, in our own way. We file them in our heads.

[Katerina]: We think about it and talk about it. When you are a very young child taking lessons, you blindly follow. But when you are older, and especially in Xingmin case because he was pretty old to start dancing, in his mid-thirties, you are not afraid to ask questions. You are not afraid to ask for explanations: "why do you want me to do it". Sometimes you hear two things which, kind of, contradict each other, and you can ask your teacher to make you understand and follow that information more correctly. What you might be lacking in body ability, you compensate with brain! Little kids are able to absorb the information, I call it "sponging". Their body will do it, but they don't know why. They cannot explain it, they will just do it, their body is young. For us it is harder, it may take months to learn something. Not intellectually, but mechanically.

Xingmin, are you working as a physicist?

[Xingmin]: No! I no longer work in physics. I got my PhD, and then started to work for an investment bank. It is better money and it is very challenging. It is a very competitive field. I enjoy my work, it is long hours and after that we practise. That's why I don't teach, this is one of the reasons. All my teachers were surprised that I don't teach. But I work during the day, in the evening we take lessons and practise, at the weekends we compete.

Katerina, where do you work?

[Katerina]: Interestingly enough, I also studied Banking when I was in Czechoslovakia. When I came here I started teaching dancing. When I got reinstated as Amateur I could not teach anymore. So I took some courses on teaching Czech language to foreigners. So now, during the day, I teach people Czech language. Sometimes they come to my home, sometimes I go to their offices, but most of my work is done on Skype. And in the evening Xingmin and I meet in the studio to practise.

Oh, how interesting, I am Polish and our languages are similar

[Katerina]: Both Czech and Polish languages are Western-Slavic but, without any training, we probably would not understand each other when we speak, but can understand some of the written text. I guess similar for Chinese and Japanese. Xingmin can speak Chinese...

I would be surprised if he did not as he come to USA as an adult (laughing)

[Katerina]: Of course! But we when go to China to visit his family, they say he needs few hours of warm-up before he can speak properly (laughing).

[Xingmin]: Yes, because I almost never speak Chinese now. AT work I have Chinese colleagues but in the professional situation we speak English.

Here, in Blackpool, there are many couples from China

[Xingmin]: Yes. Interestingly enough, we witnessed one young Chinese couple taking lesson here without speaking any English. It was quite fascinating actually.

[Katerina]: Xingmin was helping a little bit...

[Xingmin]: The teacher was indicating what to do... I really don't know how they can do that.

What do you like to eat?

[Katerina]: I eat anything. I like eating. But, I cannot, because when you reach a certain age you have to be careful (laughing). What I truly like is meat and vegetables. I like vegetables and always like it, even when I was a kid. I remember we used to get candies from my grandma, and my sisters would eat them on the spot but I would save them for later. I don't have a sweet tooth...

[Xingmin]: But you eat some sweet now

[Katerina]: Yes, I eat now more than when I was a kid.

Who cooks at home?

[Katerina]: We both cook.

[Xingmin]: But she cooks more than I do.

[Katerina]: He cooks very well, he can do a great Chinese food. He can do a very good pasta.

[Xingmin]: I like to cook. I think the only thing I don't eat is lamb. Otherwise, I eat everything. We eat pretty healthy. We try to eat smaller portions for dinner... For me, the biggest problem is lunch because I eat out when I am at work. I go to cafeteria or the restaurant.

I understand you do not have any children?

[Katerina]: No, we don't but we have recently became grand-aunt and grand-uncle as my niece had a baby few days ago! Just before we were due to compete we got the news.

Does your family live in America as well?

[Katerina]: No, they are in Czech Republic

[Xingmin]: I am the only one from my family who came to USA.

Do you often go there to visit?

[Xingmin]: Once every few years. Not too often. It is very far, takes a lot of time. It is very expensive too. We don't have much time. If we go to China, we usually go for one week only.

What do you use Internet for?

[Katerina]: My favourite website is, hands down, the Our family credit card statements show that (laughing). I use Skype a lot because of my work and subsequently Paypal because people pay me through that. I am a PC person, not a Mac person. I remember when Mac first came out, it was a very controlled market and I did not like that, I did not like anybody telling me what I can do and what I cannot do. You know, coming from the former communist country I have this paranoia (laughing)

[Xingmin]: And me too! (laughing)

What about dancing websites?

[Xingmin]: We visit dancesportinfo a lot. We also subscribe to dance-news. In the US we have dance-beat newspaper.

[Katerina]: We both like news. We like to follow the current news, not just in dancing but generally.

What competitions do you go to?

[Xingmin]: We come to England for the two big ones, Blackpool and the International. We always come for these two. In the US, there are few big ones.

[Katerina]: We do Embassy, we do Manhattan Dancesport, Ohio Star Ball.

[Xingmin]: In USA we have an Amateur organisation called USA Dance and they have some competitions as well. We are lucky to have freedom, we dance wherever we want. They don't restrict us.

Where do you live?

[Xingmin]: In New York City. We love it. I came to US in 1987 and I never left the Manhattan Island. I mean, I left it, but never lived anywhere else.

[Katerina]: I came to America in 1993 and, originally, lived in Connecticut. But two years later I moved to New York and never left it either (laughing).

Is there any other place in US which you would consider moving to at some point?

[Katerina]: You know, there is this thing about New Yorkers. We think that New York is the only place on the planet (laughing). When our friends from New Jersey invite us to a party, and it is only 30 minutes' drive, we think "oh, that far!"

[Xingmin]: Only we don't have a car...

[Katerina]: New Yorkers don't need a car. New York has a wonderful subway system and, if you really need a car, you hire a taxi!

[Xingmin]: It is very expensive to park a car in a garage. We don't need a car. If we go on a vacation, we like to lay on a beach and not do much. Or we go on a cruise.

[Katerina]: So, in that sense, the other favourite part of the USA would be Florida.

[Xingmin]: Yes, we like Florida. Blackpool festival is the only competition where we go and stay an extra week. This is our vacation. Otherwise, because of my work, we just travel to the competitions, dance and come back home. Working for an investment bank, I am required to take two consecutive weeks of vacation, so it is a perfect opportunity to come here and take lessons, compete, and take time off.

[Katerina]: And we can sleep, and relax.

How do your non-dancing friends react to your dancing?

[Xingmin]: I educated some of my work colleagues. They know what Blackpool means (laughing). Especially, my English colleagues. My bank has a big operation in London. When they asked what I was going to do with my two weeks' vacation, I said I will arrive to London and stay in Blackpool. And they said "why would you go to Blackpool?!". So I explained that there is this big dance competition as prestigious as Wimbledon for tennis. Now they now how prestigious this title is.

Would you say that the fact you are dancing is seen in a positive or negative light in your professional work? Do you think it interferes with your day work?

[Katerina]: For me, it is definitely a plus. All my language students are cheering for me. They all know. The last few Czech language lessons I gave before Blackpool were all themed around dancing.

[Xingmin]: We talk about it, but it is not a major topic. I think it is pretty neutral if not positive. My dance career has a minimal impact on my work. I don't take time off for dancing, most of the competitions are at weekends.

[Katerina]: In USA, a lot of corporate organisations support people having outside hobbies and interests as long as it doesn't interfere with their work. There is a general feeling that outside hobby makes you more productive.

[Xingmin]: It really does help. I come home from work, feeling really drained, and going to the studio in the evening and dancing helps me to switch off. Afterwards, I feel refreshed and actually, I can come up with a solution for my work problem. I know others who feel the same.

I would imagine that the most popular hobby for people on your position is golf!

[Xingmin]: A lot of people play golf, yes. One of the favourite topic our teachers like to talk about is golf, the body swing... And you watch on TV you realise they use the same muscle groups. Same body swing action. Especially Standard teachers like to talk about golf.

[Katerina]: If you want to create a swing with your body you do it the same way, yes.

[Xingmin]: It is very interesting.

Do you feel that teachers treat you differently because of your age?

[Xingmin]: No, they always say being a Senior is not an excuse (laughing).

[Katerina]: And just to clarify, some of our teachers are much younger than us (laughing). We treat them with respect, and they treat us with respect.

Thank you for talking to us!