Interview with Francesco Garofalo and Magda Strzesnicka
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Interview with Francesco Garofalo and Magda Strzesnicka

Posted on martedì, 20 nov 2018, 15:18 by admin
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We talked to the winners of Amateur Rising Star Latin at Blackpool 2018, Francesco Garofalo and Magda Strzesnicka who dance together for Italy. Last year they became the Italian Champions in WDC federation.

Dancing it is an art too. The emphasis should not be on precision only but on emotion as well.

Congratulations! Was this the best result for you?

[Francesco]: Yes, for now (laughing). We came second at the Rising Stars at the UK Open and last year we danced in the Royal Albert Hall at the International.

[Magda]: Few years ago we were in the final of the Under 21. But this one is definitely the best, the first place and this is Blackpool!

[Francesco]: We were dreaming about this for a long time! We watched a lot of videos, we spent a lot of time training for it, we cried, we sweated, we worked hard.

[Magda]: Winning Blackpool is something quite special…

We always start our interviews with asking questions about the beginnings. How did you start to dance and when?

[Magda]: I was six years old when I started. I come from Poland, from Bydgoszcz. There was a boy, a neighbour, we lived practically next door to each other, and we went to school together. So either my Mum or his Mum, depending on the day, picked us from school. One day, his Mum picked us both from school but instead of home, she had to take me to the dance studio as her son already started dance classes. I was happy to go rather than stay in the school till my Mum could collect me. So I went with them and really liked it. The teacher asked my friend’s mother to speak to my parents whether they would be happy to sign me in as well. The following week, I was already in!

I guess you two started to dance together?

[Magda]: No, we never danced together because he already had a partner. We were just in the same dance classes. Then we both changed the club. When I was about nine years old I started competitive dancing. My partner was a year older and we competed in both Latin and Ballroom.

When was your first competition?

[Magda]: The first one in my life? I probably was about seven years old, something really small, something local at the dance school. I think the first serious competition for me was the Pomeranian Regional Cup when we were in Juvenile. Then we had competitions pretty much every weekend to be able to progress through the class system. We became the Regional champions and so on. I actually danced both styles and 10 Dance all my life up until I moved to Italy. When I was sixteen, our teachers decided to split us because my partner was much taller. He grew up very quickly. Our last competition was the Polish Championships in Youth category and we split up. After two or three months I found a new partner. He was from another town, from Gdansk and I moved there. We were quite successful. We were finalists of the Youth 10 Dance Polish Championships. Unfortunately, after two years he decided to split from me.

But why?

[Magda]: These things happen. But I think it was for the best as it pushed me forward (laughing)

Did you meet Francesco straight away?

[Magda]: No, I was without partner for a year. I had some try-outs and even started dancing with somebody I grew up with, from the same town. He was very good, top Latin partner. He had a break from dancing because of injury, and we started practising together but it did not work out. He was not able to fully commit because of his work, and the health problems, so he decided to retire few months later. It was the end of December, and I started looking for a new partner again. I was looking through adverts, on Facebook, on dancesportinfo, scrolling page after page and I remember finding two potentially suitable partners, both from the same location, but one was taller than the other. I always had a problem with tall partners so I picked the shorter one (laughing). So, through our coach, I wrote to him and we decided to try-out.

And now Francesco’s turn

[Francesco]: I was also about six years old when I first started to dance. I come from the south of Italy, the town of Ruvo di Puglia which is close to Bari. My uncle and aunt had a dance school there. I started dancing because I saw my brother dancing. I don’t remember my first competition was but I must have been about seven years old. I was quite naughty at school, always thought about making jokes and fooling around. I remember my uncle and aunt screaming at me because I was lazy and never on time, did I not want to practice. But at competition I kept winning all my categories. When I was about ten years old I really did not want to dance and I stopped. I wanted to do other things

What other things? Other sports?

[Francesco]: Not really, just playing with friends, doing nothing (laughing). I totally forgot about the world of dancing. About two years later, one friend asked me to go with him to his first dance competition and I agreed. When we got there, I listened to the music, seen all the dancing, the memories came back and I realised I missed it, and really regretted that I stopped it all. I asked my Mum to let me dance again and she was initially against it because she knew how I was (laughing). Finally she agreed I can go to breakdance classes, but not Ballroom or Latin competitive dancing. OK, I was twelve and I started breakdance classes but quickly realised it was not my style.

I wanted to do Latin, and I wanted to do it seriously. I found the nearest professional Latin coaches were in Bari. But Bari is 40 kilometres from my town and my mother did not want to commit to drive me there and I was too young to travel on my own. I cried and cried, and after one day my Mum gave up and agreed I can start dancing Latin again but I had to settle on a dance club near me. I was there for three years. By then I finished my secondary school and I was able to travel to Bari on my own. So I started working with Cosmo and Alessio Tattoli and finally, the results came as well. Before I met Magda, I had two other partners. There was a pressure of time for me, because I wanted to do the World and European championships in Youth age category and for that we had to win or be runners-up in the national championships. So, we started from the last place, and within two years we were the second! And that meant we could dance both European and World championships. We danced the European and two weeks before the Worlds I broke my wrist! I did not give up and that meant I had to dance with the cast (laughing).

Did you have a problem again yesterday?

[Magda]: Yes, after the final round. He had a problem with his leg… But Blackpool wouldn’t be a real Blackpool for us if it went smoothly (laughing). Something had to happen. Last year, he went back to Italy and broke his wrist again. On the last day of Amateur we had to change the lead because the previous round somebody bumped into him. He did not think twice about it at the time, but as there is a few days break between the first and the second round, it started to hurt worse and worse.

[Francesco]: Every day was emotional because I could not think about anything else.

[Magda]: Few years ago, after out last Under 21, he had a problem, strained his muscles.

[Francesco]: I spent a whole summer in physiotherapy.

[Magda]: We could not practice at all during summer. We started training at the end of August and we still managed to make a final of the International.

So effectively you have to have some injury to be able to dance your best?

[Francesco]: It seems so! (laughing)

It makes you ready for anything!

[Magda]: Yes, we always find a way to deal with something like this.

[Francesco]: Yesterday, I started the final round with the pain in my leg, some cramps. That was on top of the pain I felt in my neck! But the funny thing is, I don’t feel the pain during dancing, only after it. So, just before the finals, I tried to relax the sore parts of my body and compensate with the other parts. So that meant I had to change the way I turn in Paso Doble and that caused me not to see Magda’s position properly…

[Magda]: So he hit me in the head with his arm!

[Francesco]: I kept repeating to myself, it is the last one, you have to manage few more minutes…

You were a couple with a number 109 yesterday and I remember I was sitting by the entrance to the floor, taking results, and thought to myself, they look really sure to be in the final…

[Magda]: We were completely not sure! For the four years we are dancing together, year by year, we only managed to make top 48 in Blackpool.

I know that, but when they were calling into the final, you just had that look on your faces. You radiated positive energy.

[Magda]: We were so happy we got so far!

And then you were called to the final, danced it, and won! And I see you limping off the floor!

[Magda]: Yes (laughing)… that prize presentation

[Francesco]: We were always ending up in the top 48 in the Rising Stars. And in Amateur.

[Magda]: Last year we had better results in the Amateur Open than Rising Stars.

[Francesco]: So last year after Blackpool we started thinking of not dancing the Rising Stars any more. But, talking it over with our coaches, we decided we need to keep it on and on until we reach the finals. Maybe forever (laughing)! The first competition this year was in January, at the UK Open, and it went really well for us. We got to the second place in Rising Stars. And because of that result, we really, really wanted to do well in Blackpool! The final was OK, but to win was a dream, and that dream was suddenly achievable.

[Magda]: Fate! I said to my friends, just before our departure to Blackpool, that either we win it, or finish in the top 48!

[Francesco]: The last night before the competition I spent dreaming about this moment. The moment I am presented with the trophy…

And then, after all the photos taken, they took that trophy from you. It happened that it needs to be renovated this year (laughing)

[Francesco]: I really felt this year we must go further, that we cannot be kicked out in the top 48. Just before the final I went through all the dances in my head, one by one, and thought of nothing else. I did not let anything to distract me.

[Magda]: Sorry to all the fellow competitors, but we did not even check who danced with us in the final. We were totally in our own world.

[Francesco]: Between rounds I just walked outside, pacing back and forth, not letting anybody to distract me. Just concentrated on my own thoughts, my soul and my emotions. I prayed as well.

Did you pray to God?

[Francesco]: Yes, I pray to God. I feel He gives me calm and strength. Only He can do that… I told my girlfriend, my Mum, my family not to message me on the day of the finals as I did not want to be distracted and I needed to concentrate on my dance, music and my partner.

So you felt you were the best on the day?

[Magda]: You never know, but sometimes you feel that power. It is a competition, but you cannot think about the other couples and keep asking yourself if you are better than them or not. Focus on your own dancing and concentrate on giving your best on the day. At the UK Open we did not really have any expectations because were in the quarter final previously. And suddenly, we jumped two rounds up, and ended up on the second place, even winning one dance. It is not our place to judge. There is a panel of judges to do that. Your work is to dance the best you can and like you were champions.

[Francesco]: In fact, our teacher told us to do that from the round one. Always. Do not pay any attention to the others around you. And I gave absolutely everything to it, even if my body ached. In the final round you have that extra help from the adrenaline rush, and from the change of dress, so when you are called to the floor you present yourself like a champion and that you absolutely deserve to be there! And you prey!

And you hope the judges see it that way (laughing)

[Francesco]: Yes! And there was the prize presentation, it was the best moment.

[Magda]: It was our moment.

Marcus did not say your name when he announced the winners. He just called the winners are from Italy… And there was another Italian couple in the final.

[Magda]: Yes, we forgot about it (laughing). We know them but I don’t think we ever danced against them in the competition. And yesterday was the first time.

[Francesco]: And at that moment we forgot about them (laughing). So when the Marcus called the winners from Italy, we assumed it was us.

[Magda]: All the friends, our coaches and people near me started screaming! I think everybody assumed that.

[Francesco]: I tried to control this moment and remain professional. But you want to explode. It was crazy!

[Magda]: You know, you want to look professional and calm but at the same time you are bursting with joy (laughing). There was so much happening. We still could not believe it. Only later when we sat down we could finally take it all in. I switched on my phone and it started going crazy with ding, ding, ding as people started sending messages and uploading photos (laughing).

[Francesco]: It was amazing, many people came to us to say they appreciated our performance. Many people, our parents, boyfriend and girlfriend, friends, other Italian teams sent us congratulations, their love messages and support messages…

[Magda]: We are so grateful for all this. You know, when we danced especially in the semi-final and the final, wherever we looked, wherever we stopped we had people cheering us. Not just our supporters, our coaches and friends, but everybody. It was amazing to feel that appreciation from people who you never met before. It super charged us! You know that you must be doing something more than just dancing nicely when you are making others so excited about it! And this is the best feeling.

If there was a competition where the audience vote matters as much as the professional judges which one will be more important for you?

[Magda]: Both (laughing).

[Francesco]: I think the judges’ verdict would mean more because you respect them, they know more.

[Magda]: For us it is really important to show quality. We still do not believe we have achieved the highest level. We are getting there, slowly.

[Francesco]: So when we get an appreciation from these judges it means a lot!

[Magda]: But at the same time you want to perform and be appreciated by the public. Dancing is a performing art, you perform for the people. And you also have to consider that judges are human (laughing)

Disputable! (laughing)

[Magda]: Yes, they are. They can appreciate both the quality and the art. They can also be touched by your dance, they can also feel what the audience feel. They are also the receivers of your message. You grab their attention and they can then judge the quality as well.

How did you celebrate your winning yesterday?

[Magda]: We didn’t. We are dancing the Amateur Open tomorrow (laughing). We stayed with our teammates and our teachers. We discussed the future, because there are always things you need to do better in the future (laughing).

[Francesco]: When we are back in Italy, we will have time to party (laughing).

Do you both live in Italy?

[Magda]: Yes, I moved from Poland.

Actually, you did not finish your story of how you started to dance together.

[Magda]: I found the advert and I wrote to his teacher Cosmo Tattoli, saying I could come for a try-out. I was nineteen years old but actually never went to another country by myself. And I did not know Francesco really. It was a beginning of January I think, and I could not go immediately because I had to find out the dates of my exams at the university. I study Cosmetology. I managed to find two or three days between my exams and I flew to Italy. I arrived on Monday evening and we had a session between 8pm and 11pm. And then the next day we did morning and afternoon training. Francesco was talking to Cosmo and I could not understand anything because I did not speak Italian (laughing).

[Francesco]: It was really funny because I could not speak English. We did not have a common language! We used English-Italian dictionary, we asked each other to speak slowly (laughing), it was really funny.

[Magda]: Within these two days we put together a choreography of all five dances and we danced two hours of normal practice, with all the other couples in the studio.

It was an unusually long try-out

[Magda]: Maybe, but I came from abroad, so it made sense to stay for few days. And you can get to know each other much better. I don’t know how you can make such a big decision based on half an hour of a try-out. Can you drop everything and move to another country based on a half an hour try-out? I guess you can decide that you do not want to dance together based on that (laughing).

[Francesco]: Our coaches said to me that if we manage to do all five dances within these two days we can do Blackpool together.

[Magda]: And this I did not know. I did not understood because they spoke Italian (laughing). I did not know if he wanted to dance together or not. I remember I phoned my Mum from the airport in Rome where I had a change over and told her I may need to move to Italy. We did not make a decision yet but I felt in my heart it was it. I had that feeling it will work out and only some minor organisational things need to be sorted out like my university and so on. On the 27th Feb I sent a message to Francesco that I can move to Italy if he wanted to dance together. And on the 11th of March I sat on a plane heading to Bari!

[Francesco]: We had two weeks of training, and the next two weeks she went to Poland to study. And then we had four weeks. So six weeks in total and we danced our first Blackpool.

[Magda]: We were still in Under 21, and we missed one mark to get to the semi-final. I remember we were waiting for the semi-final call, and I asked him what we are going to do as we would have to dance the Jive and we did not finish our Jive choreography yet! But, luckily, we did not get there (laughing).

Luckily?

[Magda]: Well, you never know. We later found out it was just one mark we missed. We would have surely manage somehow. We always do, we never panic. I trust him, he trusts me, and we have a good connection and understanding. Whatever he does, he can be sure I will follow.

[Francesco]: But we are totally different characters.

[Magda]: We have the same objective, the same goal, but approach it differently.

How?

[Magda]: For instance, when dealing with stress he needs peace and quiet

[Francesco]: Yes, I need a total peace, to be left alone, speak with nobody.

[Magda]: I need to talk to everyone! When I am stressed out, I talk a lot. I always need to know everything about the competition, the couples, the judges, the programme, the venue.

[Francesco]: Not me. I just want to dance. I don’t care about the other things. They distract me. I can open up once I’ve done my dancing, I can talk to people, I can then have some social life (laughing).

Can you tell me what you really do not like about your partner?

[Francesco]: She is really a strong, confident person. She likes to boss around. It is not easy for her to let me play the leading role in our couple. We are working on it from the beginning.

[Magda]: I am not trying to be bossy, I just go and do things. It is not like I make a conscious decision to take a lead. If I know we need to do something, I don’t wait, I just do it. So it is almost like I anticipate what he would do, and I do it first.

[Francesco]: She just wants to help everybody. But if she wants to help me in a couple, it has both positive and negative sides to it. It can be too much.

[Magda]: You know how it is with unwanted help (laughing)

[Francesco]: We are working on it.

And the positive side?

[Francesco]: That she helps everybody (laughing). She doesn’t think about it, she just does it.

[Magda]: Sometimes it makes me angry that he keeps calm and takes his time to do things his way. I am quite emotional and it is annoying for me to have to wait for him to do something his way. But I usually appreciate his calmness later. He makes me slow down a little and calm down. So I help him, he helps me.

[Francesco]: We talk a lot about this during training. I don’t want to change her, and she doesn’t want to change me but we have to have some meeting point.

[Magda]: Once you find it, it is not disturbing you but helping you move forward.

You have learnt Italian, has he learnt Polish yet?

[Magda]: Let’s say he can pronounce my surname and it is quite an achievement (laughing)

I can imagine it is very hard to pronounce for anybody British?

[Magda]: Yes, it is. We always have some problems, something funny happens, during prize presentations. I am always waiting for my name, it is never said properly (laughing). Or something else happens, like he usually trips on the stairs or nearly falls over. This year at the UK Open I was begging him to be careful and not fall off the stairs! At one of the comps organised by Michael Stylianos, he always trips on a carpet! Or we stand incorrectly which you can see on the photo later (laughing).

You are very accident prone!

[Magda]: That’s why we are always ready for everything. Our coaches and our friends laugh that I always know everything and I am prepared for every emergency. I carry everything with me, I am certified in sport massage and basic physiotherapy. I have a first aid kit. Yesterday, when I noticed he had a neck pain, I needed to know all the details so I could work on him.

[Francesco]: And today I went to see a Chinese guy as my neck was all blocked.

How does your boyfriend and girlfriend accept the fact that you have such a close relationship with each other?

[Francesco]: Quite easily, but frankly the had to (laughing)

[Magda]: My boyfriend is dancing as well.

[Francesco]: My girlfriend was dancing as well, but not on that level. But she is very happy for me.

[Magda]: If someone really cares about you, they are able to support you. It is not like they have to accept it, they go with it because they know it is important for you. They both are aware of the circumstances, and how it all works. They know we travel together but they trust us, and we trust each other. All four of us are also good friends. We know each other. There is no jealousy I think.

Do you spend time together outside of dancing?

[Francesco]: Sometimes yes but usually each couple separately.

[Magda]: Sometimes we go as a group. For instance, it happened we had two exhibitions on Saturday and Sunday, so all four of us went together, stayed in the same hotel and then in the morning we all went to the seaside. In the evening we danced, but the rest of the day we spent together.

What do you do it your spare time?

[Magda]: We don’t have any spare time. We work

[Francesco]: I have two schools together with my brother and his wife. There are lots of things to take care of, to organise. We have to work a lot, we do not have much free time to do other things.

Do you use desktop computers or laptops?

[Francesco]: No, I just use my phone.

[Magda]: I use it for my studies and I am like a travel agency for the dance school so I am using it to book travelling for everybody (laughing).

Do you still travel to Poland every couple weeks because of the university?

[Magda]: No, no, it was just to finish off my first year. Now I have an individual schedule because of my circumstances. I am usually going once a month to complete some practical labs and exams.

Do you like playing games on your phones? Do you use social media?

[Magda]: Not really. I only have two games which I play while on the plane, just to pass the time. I watch some videos.

[Francesco]: I watch videos on YouTube sometimes, I send messages, but I am not into social media.

Do you visit many dance sites?

[Magda]: Mostly dancesportinfo for the results or photos.

But other than that?

[Magda]: Maybe if I want to sell my dresses, but nothing particular.

What would you suggest we improve on dancesportinfo?

[Magda]: I would like to see a list of future competitions so I could see what is interesting and it can help me organise our diary. Similarly, information about the coming camps or workshops. It would be nice to have a list of teachers, organisers and contacts.

Do you ever use DSI-TV?

[Magda]: My parents use it for Blackpool because they, unfortunately, cannot came here at that time. So they can at least watch us on live streaming. They would love to be here but it is not easy.

[Francesco]: My Mum and my girlfriend would like to come here but I don’t want them to. I need to concentrate on me, and I know that one kiss or one hug can make me emotional and it would not help. Maybe one day, when I am confident and sure of winning, they will be able to be here (laughing).

I know Supadance sponsor your shoes, and all your cosmetics are sponsored by DanceCos, but what about your costumes? Do you finance them yourselves?

[Magda]: My dresses and his shirts are sponsored by an Italian company Atelier Alfa Fashion by Fabio Montariello. Designing my dresses is a team effort. We design them together, my coach, them, and my ideas as well.

How do you find money for all the lessons, competitions and travelling?

[Magda]: We work and also our parents support us. We teach dancing a bit, and I work in a beauty centre.

[Francesco]: On Fridays and Saturdays I help my aunt in her hairdressing shop.

So you work outside of dancing?

[Magda]: Yes, for now. We take whatever comes available.

Where do you live?

[Francesco]: In Ruvo di Puglia, my town. We practice there every day in the morning. I live at my parents’ house as it is convenient.

[Magda]: I have an apartment there as well.

What would you change in dancing if you had such powers?

[Magda]: I would like one federation. And less politics. I envy all these former champions, these legends who judge now here in Blackpool, because in their days it was so much simpler, clearer.

[Francesco]: Now we have many federations. In Italy there are really very many.

[Magda]: I don’t even want to know. I am not interested. I just want to be able to dance. I trust my coaches to direct us in this world. Because it is a mess…

The two biggest federations WDC and WDSF started to diverge even more. It became hard to compare couples who dance in different federations.

[Magda]: WDSF even published their own book of technique.

Yes, the rules of judging are changing, different steps are allowed and not allowed…

[Magda]: It is sad. I worry they started treating dancing more like a sport, they focus on the physical aspect too much. But it is an art as well. The emphasis should not be only on precision but on emotion as well. They are equally important.

[Francesco]: You affect people through emotion

[Magda]: And precision, a technique, helps you to deliver it, to show it. It is an instrument to be able to convey that emotion.

[Francesco]: Technique helps you to show your soul through your body movement.

[Magda]: And the most beautiful thing about it is that everybody does it differently, because we are all different.

What do you prefer: shows or competitions?

[Francesco]: Competitions. It is not that we want to fight with others and win. It is a fight with yourself to prove to yourself you can be the best.

[Magda]: It is fantastic feeling to be appreciated by the audience who are knowledgeable.

[Francesco]: We will have time to do shows after we retire from our competitive career. But for now, we want to compete.

All the best for the future! Thank you for your time.

All photos taken by Peter Suba

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