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FEATURE STORY

WDSF Open Senior I Latin World Championship

Rotterdam, Netherlands August 28, 2021

Ilya Ronin(CA) & Irina Balaban (CA)

[29 out of 61]

Denis Kojinov (TX) & Jeanette Chevalier(TX)

[59 out of 61]

Ilya Ronin and Irina Balaban

Photo by Rob Ronda

Tell us about your experience at your first World Championship. Did you have any expectations or goals?
ILYA & IRINA: It was inspiring, humbling and very, very exciting. Just to be participating in World Championships felt like an accomplishment on its own. Our goal was simply to dance well and to make sure that we “peaked” at just the right time, i.e. with our bodies warm and our minds focused just as we were walking out for our first dance. Our (stretch) goal was to make it to the final. Missing the quarter-final by two places hurt quite a bit on the spot. So close! But afterwards, we figured that making it into the top 50% of the couples, i.e. above average, was also an achievement, of sorts. One that will motivate us in our future training.

Anything about the competition that stood out or is a lingering impression?
ILYA & IRINA: Dancing on a big floor in a big arena felt GREAT! It left a very favorable and lasting impression on us. Local comps are usually held in hotel ballrooms that, while always very well decorated, do not have the same grandeur and scale of a sports arena. Having the competition in Europe allowed Irina’s family and friends from Romania to come watch and cheer for us in person. Seeing familiar faces in the stands and hearing their cheers was really great and helped us perform better. Also having the event live streamed was a welcome surprise. It allowed our coach, our family and our friends to watch us back home.

Ilya and Irina 2 - paso
Ilya and Irina
Photo by Rob Ronda

How did you prepare for this important event? Was it any different than how you normally prepare for a competition? Did you feel prepared (both mentally and physically)?
ILYA & IRINA: We were more focused and more methodical in our preparation. Two months prior to the event, we mapped out our coaching and training sessions with our coach. This helped us stay focused and organized in our preparation. Scoping the event space the day before helped focus our mental preparation by visualizing ourselves on the floor. The day of the event we both felt surprisingly calm, with less of the usual competition jitters. We danced with good energy and good connection with each other; the latter really helping us in a few tight spots we encountered on the floor, mixing it up with other couples. An amazing moment was dancing jive right in front of our fans (Irina’s family and friends). They were on their feet, cheering for us. It felt electrifying.

How did you come together as a partnership? How long have you been dancing together?
ILYA: We met at a studio where I was training with my previous partner and Irina was taking classes. She really stood out from everyone else in the class, so I noticed her immediately. And when my previous partnership ended, I pinged Irina for a tryout. We’ve been dancing and learning together ever since, for the past 4 years.
IRINA: I always enjoyed watching Ilya practicing with his previous dance partner at the dance studio where I was taking classes. I realized how much I was missing competitions. About one year later, while I was on a road trip in the middle of nowhere, barely having some signal on my phone, I got a message from Ilya for a tryout. Our partnership was meant to be.

What are the most important things you’ve learned from your partner?
ILYA: Irina taught me to be a better listener. Not just with my ears, when she tells me something, but with my hands, my body, my eyes and our breathing. To really “hear” what she’s saying through our physical and emotional connections.
IRINA: I have learned from Ilya to be mentally stronger, to power through challenges or disappointments and come back with even more determination and “we can do more” attitude. I am grateful for his understanding and love of what we do.

How did it feel being a part of the official USA World Team? What do you think needs to happen in order for USA World Teams to be more competitive at the World Championships?
ILYA & IRINA: With US being our adoptive country for both of us (we are both first-gen immigrants), it felt exhilarating to represent USA on the world stage. We think more adult dancers need to keep dancing and transitioning into Senior I Latin. Currently, in the US, it feels like Senior I are mostly late newcomers who took up Latin in their 30s or later. Other European countries fielded couples who, especially for men, looked like they started younger and have been dancing and learning ever since. We hope we can keep dancing and inspire others of all ages to compete in the Latin styles of dance. It’s never too late to take up this sport and achieve something in it.

Denis Kojinov and Jeanette Chevalier

Photo by Ryan Kenner Photography

Although this competition was held in Rotterdam, how important do you think it is for WDSF World Championships to be held in the USA?
DENIS & JEANETTE: It depends on whose point of view you are considering. Having just attended two World Championships, where many competitors from around the world participated, we believe it is important for WDSF to continue to consider options that are in the best interest of the “whole” membership. Senior I Latin had around 60 couples and Senior II Standard had about twice that many despite many restrictions and hardships. Many of these couples would not be able to attend if world championships were to be held in the United States. While it is a hardship for many US athletes to travel abroad, it is even more difficult or sometimes impossible for many European athletes to travel to the United States. Obviously as US competitors, we would prefer the World Championships to be in our country. However, we believe this option would not be fair for the entire membership as a whole. Therefore, we are willing to sacrifice personal hardships for the good of WDSF. 

Anything about the competition that stood out or is a lingering impression?
DENIS & JEANETTE: One of our most unforgettable moments was walking into the practice room and seeing some of our competitors from across the ocean once again, some of whom we have not seen for almost two years. Just seeing them again gave us an immense feeling of hope for the future of DanceSport. One couple even shared pictures of how much their children had grown.  In addition, it was great getting a chance to meet and make friends of new competitors whom we had not met before.

How did you prepare for this important event?
DENIS & JEANETTE:  We would like to express our gratitude to our hometown Houston dancers and competitors who supported us in preparing and training for these World Championships. This really helped us to feel more mentally and physically prepared than our previous Championships.

 Were there any particular challenges getting to or from this World Championship? 
DENIS & JEANETTE:  While getting to the Netherlands was fairly easy, returning to the United States presented challenges. After checking in to our flight to the US we were denied boarding due to the presidential travel ban from the Schengen area. Currently we are still facing challenges and are in quarantine outside of the United States. This continues to present some personal and work-related hardships. However, we do not regret the decision to attend these World Championships. 

What was your overall impression of the host city and venue?
DENIS & JEANETTE: As a host city we think Rotterdam is a great place to hold the World Championship. The hosts including organizer Jeffrey van Meerker, his brother, as well as his partner Peter, were very helpful and friendly. All volunteers worked well together to keep the event running smoothly and adhering to as many COVID-19 regulations as possible. We look forward to returning to Rotterdam soon for Senior II Latin world championships.

What are your strengths and challenges as a couple on and off the floor?
DENIS & JEANETTE:  We feel that we are capable of dancing at the level necessary to perform well at World Championships in our age category. Currently we have been facing some obstacles in terms of finding enough time and other resources to sufficiently train so that we can perform at the level we believe we are capable of. However, these World Championships have given us a renewed determination to achieve this goal.

We would like to thank USA Dance and WDSF, our coaches and local supporters for all their help and encouragement.

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