It was a real pleasure to interview Sam Shamseili and Arina Grishanina two days after their winning of Amateur Rising Star Latin at the UK Open 2013. It is an interesting story how Sam got into dancing. It shows that you don't have to start dancing very early in life to succeed but it is all about commitment, passion and right training. And talent! Sam and Arina represent Denmark. See their profile page.
The understanding of dancing will make you a champion
Congratulations on winning the Amateur Rising Star Latin this year. It usually proves to be an important step towards the career. Did you expect to win?
[Sam]: No at all! It was a real surprise for us
According to our rating system you were a clear winner as you had the highest rating of all the finalists. It is a nice change from last year when you were in the semi-finals?
[Arina]: Yes, of course our goal was to be in the final but to win was really something!
[Sam]: It was not expected as Arina said but it was an amazing experience for us.
OK, how did you start dancing and where?
[Arina]: I started dancing when I was five years old. At first it was some gymnastic for kids and then my Mum brought me to some dance club. It was in Krasnoyarsk, which is in Siberia, Russia. My first dance teacher who put me on my feet was Valentina Pak. The director and main teacher there was Leonid Lebedev and his wife Elena. So they were my teachers for the whole of my dancing life in Russia. I am really thankful to them. They are the people who made me the person I am now.
The person or dancer?
[Arina]: Both. They influenced me and I grew up to be who I am now. Of course I am not forgetting about my parents, my Mum... I was dancing in Russia for fourteen years and then I found a partner in Sweden and moved there. We were also practising in Denmark a lot as it is quite close. We went to Copenhagen, to KAF dance club, where Klaus Kongsdal was a teacher. We were practising there for several months and then I met Sam.
[Sam]: I started dancing in 2007, six years ago.
That's very late
[Sam]: Yes. Before that I had nothing to do with dancing. I was playing badminton on a very high level actually. It is a funny story. I was watching "Dancing with the Stars" on TV and I saw Viktoria Franova with her partner Klaus Kongsdal. I was looking at her in the final of this show and I thought it was absolutely amazing. I though it looked great and fun and I decided to give it a try. There was a dancing school very close to where I lived and I went there. I started with once w week classes for married couples. I was surrounded by older people and I was the only young one there and alone. I was fifteen. It was in January when I started. My birthday is in April and my parents got me six lessons with Viktoria Franova as a birthday present. After three months of dancing I already got lessons with her (laughing). I liked it very much and continued with Viki. Klaus Kongsdal come into the picture pretty soon as well. I had a Danish partner for a while who was a very good friend. I took it very seriously and started practising every day during the summer. We split up and I soon found another partner who was Tara James. I worked with her mother Lene and her father Colin James. I moved out of Copenhagen for that. It was a very big step in my dancing career obviously. We danced together for over a year and then I moved back to Copenhagen when I saw Arina.
How did it happen?
[Sam]: I remember that well. It was in our club in Copenhagen. Klaus was not present at this practice so they asked me to play the music so the dancers could dance. I was sitting there and watching them and I saw Arina on the floor, alone. She was moving herself to the music of Samba as far as I can remember. I still had a partner, Tara, at that time but I remember looking at Arina and thinking: that girl is really talented, why is she all alone. I heard a little bit of her previously, I knew she was Russian and came over here. So after Tara and I split up I remembered that practice and Arina. I contacted her on Facebook...
[Arina]: We talked a bit before, we kept in contact a little, asked about each other partnerships. At some point Sam said his partner had an injury and they haven't been practising. Two years earlier during the Copenhagen Open we spoke. I was dancing with my Swedish partner and Sam wasn't because of Tara's injury.
[Sam]: That injury was actually my fault. I accidentally hit her eye with my elbow. Poor girl had a brain concussion for a long time. It was really serious. I felt so bad and I couldn't do anything, you know... we could not dance any competitions obviously and did not practise for the last half year.
[Arina]: Few months after Copenhagen Open he wrote to me on Facebook with a direct question: Hi Arina, what is your height?! (laughing)
[Sam]: I just want to say it was after Tara and I split up. Tara split with me on my birthday and the next day I wrote to Arina because I was thinking about her as a potential partner. So that's what I asked her: what is your height (laughing). She was a little confused.
So what was your answer Arina?
[Arina]: I said to him: Hello... it is 165cm... why? And he said he wanted to have a try-out with me. I did not plan to change my partner but I thought maybe it was a good opportunity for me. So I agreed to try and see how it goes.
So how was that first try-out?
[Sam]: Straight away we felt the connection. We had something going on there. Of course it is always slightly uncomfortable with a new partner but it went very well. Within two, three days we managed to dance three routines for Samba, Cha Cha and Rumba. And it did not look too bad!
[Arina]: For me, comparing to my previous choreography, it was very difficult! Our level of dancing was quite different at that time. We came from different countries and had different opportunities in dance development.
[Sam]: I am not really sure that, dancing-wise, we were so far away in capabilities. But, knowledge-wise, we were. I think this is because I was in such good hands from the beginning working with Lina, Colin, Klaus and Viki. So I had a lot of knowledge.
[Arina]: With my previous partner we did not really have lessons but group classes only.
[Sam]: So in that sense we were different. But it quickly changed.
So you had a knowledge and she had a beauty!
[Sam]: Yes, that is how it goes, right? (laughing)
[Arina]: In Russia, I danced all 10 dances all these years. My teachers were good in both styles. But due to some financial difficulties we could not have so many lessons. But still we managed somehow to get that knowledge and sometimes our teacher would give us lessons for free when preparing for competitions.
Are you a couple in private life as well?
[Arina]: No, we are just dancing together
[Sam]: We are more like brother and sister
[Arina]: Yes, protecting each other (laughing)
It is surprising that Denmark, such a small country, has so many good dancers. As far as I know, Michelle Abildtrup and Martino Zanibellato, the winners of this year Professional Rising Star Latin are your teachers now. There are also, as mentioned Klaus and Viktoria but also Stokkebroes as so long. Do you know why Denmark is producing so many good dancers?
[Sam]: Well, basically I think it goes way back. The Danish dancers were always very knowledgeable and clever in terms of dancing. The understanding of dancing will make you a champion. They all went to good teachers and that's how they were made. They learnt pure Latin American dancing and they brought it forward in time.
What is the most important thing for you in dancing?
[Sam]: I think it is passion.
[Arina]: Yes, love and passion for dancing.
[Sam]: If you do it with love and passion you will succeed. I am sure of that. In the beginning, for the first four months, we did not have any lessons because Klaus was traveling. So all we brought with us to the studio was our passion. I made some choreography and we practised with passion. We managed to improve a lot and during that time.
[Arina]: He did all the routines and we practised alone. It was not because we wanted to go and win with somebody or show ourselves out. We were in a studio every day because we could not be anywhere else!
How do you spend your time when not dancing? What do you like to do in your free time?
[Sam]: I like to go out with my friends, go to cafés and spend time with them. But actually I am quite a boring person! It is because I am so sucked into dancing, it is everything I am. Of course, I have few very good friends outside of dancing and they mean a lot to me but... otherwise is work, practice and watching YouTube videos!
What do your friends think about your dancing?
[Sam]: They think it is really cool! They have a lot of respect for it and they are all kind of jealous, I think, in a way. We have to travel a lot, we experience a lot of things. One of my very good friends said to me that she was envious for a fact that I found my call! She is there, she doesn't know what education she wants and I found what I love to do for the rest of my life! This is priceless in that age to know what you want to do.
[Arina]: It is hard to say because I moved abroad only because of dancing and did not have any friends. I don't study right now, I do a little bit of teaching and we have practice every day with one day off. We watch some YouTube dancing videos a lot. I do have some friends in Denmark but most of them are from dancing.
[Sam]: We have a lot of common friends.
Arina, you are away from your family and I guess you miss them. Do they ever get a chance to see you dancing?
[Arina]: Yes, I miss them a lot. Unfortunately they do not see me dancing, they cannot come to Denmark yet. I hope my Mum can come soon. I sent some DVDs of us dancing to them and posted some on YouTube so they can watch.
[Sam]: It would be lovely to have our families here. Especially on Tuesday when we were announced as winners but it is not possible. We both know that they are anyway here with us with their thoughts.
So I guess after you won you called them?
[Arina]: Well, my Mum was already asleep. There is a time difference. I talk to her a lot on Skype.
What are your plans for the near future?
[Sam]: Actually we want to continue what we are doing. It means work and practice. We have a bit of time before our next competition which will be probably in March, in France. The next one will be All England in April. So we have some time to develop our dancing. We will also attend Michelle and Martino camp in Copenhagen in February. We are looking very much forward to it.
[Arina]: This camp was great last year. Amazing.
As far as I know you are dancing exclusively for WDC. Many other Danish dancers get financial support from WDSF. How do you manage financially?
[Sam]: We work as hard as we can. I work in a department store, full time, to earn money. It is OK, at least it covers half of our expenses. When we need we get some help from our parents as well.
[Arina]: My Mum is helping me a lot actually because I cannot work in Denmark.
[Sam]: It is a problem for all of the Russian dancers in Scandinavia. They have to apply for a visa every time and it is valid for a certain period of time.
[Arina]: So my Mum helps me with money every month.
[Sam]: Recently we both started to teach a bit and it helps as well.
I guess you would prefer to earn your money from dancing?
[Sam]: Yes, sure. When I teach, especially Youth couples in Denmark, it is a lot of joy for me. It is not only about the money because we really love it. We love to teach. Of course, when you get paid it is even better. But there is nothing better than doing something you love.
You mentioned that some of your friends envy you traveling, so where do you travel?
[Sam]: OK, our first competition abroad was in Sweden so it was not that far (laughing). Then we went to England, Holland, Spain, France, Switzerland.
[Arina]: We just travel in Europe
Do you plan to go to Russia to compete, perhaps in your home town?
[Arina]: I am not sure as there is mainly WDSF there. There are some WDC competitions in St Petersburg and Moscow but did not go there yet.
[Sam]: We may go there at some point but because of the money we have to prioritise. I don't think it is so good to travel everywhere, dance a lot of competitions but not have any lessons because you don't have money anymore.
I guess it is much cheaper for you to go to Sweden than to Krasnoyarsk?
[Arina]: Yes, much cheaper.
What foods do you like?
[Arina]: He eats everything!
[Sam]: Yes, but not too often, maybe once every third month or so. It changes. I sometimes go there just to have hot chocolate, milkshake but I don't eat there. I tend to get hungry again one hour after eating there!
[Arina]: I know how my body reacts to different foods and products so I try to eat healthily. I try to eat a lot of porridge, fruit and vegetables and I don't eat chocolate. I used to eat chocolate but for the last few years I don't.
Some scientists proved that, for women, chocolate is better than sex! (laughing)
[Arina]: I can argue with that! (laughing).
[Sam]: Usually my Mum is cooking for us and my Mum is a health freak. She cooks everything and she wants us to have healthy meals.
So you both are staying with Sam's parents?
[Sam]: Yes, we do. We always come home to a cooked, ready meal. I am very grateful for that. I am from Iran originally and we eat a lot of dishes from there.
More exotic than a typical Danish meal, isn't it?
[Sam]: Exactly. It is a lot of various things with rice
[Arina]: Vegetables and meats with rice.
[Sam]: I think such food gives you a lot of energy to go through the day.
What are your favourite dances?
[Sam]: Well, my favourite was always Samba. Of course, I love them all but when I am on the floor I always shine in Samba. It is my dance
[Arina]: My start sign is Gemini and I like mixture of things. Perhaps that's why, before Sam, I always danced both styles and all ten dances. I could not choose. And now I still cannot choose. During the competition, after each dance I get into the character and love that one. I like them the same.
And from the Ballroom?
[Arina]: I loved Tango very much. But I again, I cannot choose the favourite one.
[Sam]: I hate Ballroom (laughing)! If I have to choose it also is Tango.
Argentine or Ballroom?
[Arina]: Both! Yesterday I was watching Professional Ballroom and I really enjoyed it. It was great, amazing.
[Sam]: When I started I was fifteen years old and I danced Ballroom for just one year. And then I quit. I did not like it and I was incapable of dancing it. So my understanding of Ballroom equals zero! So this is why I don't really enjoy watching Ballroom so much comparing to Arina who understands it a lot. And knows a lot about it so she can see stuff. There is one couple who I will always love: the Danish Emanuel Valeri and Tania Kehlet. I love to watch them in all five dances. I think they are absolutely amazing and performance they deliver is always spot on.
Maybe because you just had Latin teachers you never got into Ballroom?
[Sam]: Maybe. But Latin is me. I like to move all the time
[Arina]: In Russia I was studying Choreography in the University and I studied all kind of dance: folk dance, modern dance, Latin and Ballroom and ballet as well. And I loved every lecture! I love every kind of dancing really.
Any form of movement to the music?
[Arina]: Yes. I love ballet, modern dance, hip hop, as well as Ballroom and Latin dancers. I have a lot of respect for every kind of dance.
Imagine that you cannot dance so what will you do?
[Arina]: I think I would study languages and be interpreter.
[Sam]: I think I would dig a hole, hide and stay there! (laughing). I've always been quite creative so maybe I would do some form of design, maybe fashion or maybe architecture. I really enjoy architecture.
I thought you'd say you'd like to do something competitive as you mentioned you were playing badminton competitively before dancing.
[Sam]: I actually think that when drew me into dancing was that it was so creative compared to badminton. Dancing is with feelings and badminton is not. You can express yourself.
[Arina]: Sam designed all my dresses. We both look around and form some ideas.
[Sam]: Actually some of them we copied completely. I think it is OK, it shows respect for the lovely lady who was wearing it. So we had a lot of respect for her and they were a huge inspiration for us.
So who has more say in your dress designs?
[Arina]: Sam, for sure. I am trying not to go into this, I don't want to be blamed if it turns out bad. He is to blame then! (laughing)
It was great to talk to you. Good luck for the future and I hope that you will stay dancing together. Sadly some couple decide to split up when results are not as they expect. But every couple has low days. It happens.
[Sam]: We did not have these yet! I think we are a strong team together and we complement each other in a good way.
Complement in what?
[Sam]: In personality. I am very dramatic and direct. When I think something I say it straight away. Arina is much calmer and withheld. And it is very good, especially in practice. When I say: Your legs are shit, baby! She does not say anything and we don't get to argue. She is so easy going.
Do you speak English to each other?
[Sam]: Yes. Well, sometimes Danish as well. I try to talk to her in Danish outside of practice so she gets used to it.
[Arina]: Russian also!
[Sam]: Yes. We are multi-language!
What is best in your partner and what is the worst?
[Arina]: I think one of the worst things in him is also the good thing. It is that he is passionate. Sometimes the emotions build up and he cannot calm down. Sometimes these emotions are exploding! But also he can admit he was wrong...
[Sam]: At times!
[Arina]: He also says a lot of good things to people! But only when he really believes they deserve it. So I trust him because I know he is not lying. He is determined and he motivates me in dancing.
[Sam]: To be completely honest I have to say, and I don't want to say very cheesy, that Arina has any bad sides. Of course we argue, but it is about small stuff. But I don't see her having a bad side. What I like best in her is the she is always happy. 90% of time. And she is laughing which you can see now! (laughing). We spend so much time together and it is so much easier to go through it when you have fun. Sometimes she is a little bit too calm but it is OK because I am too dramatic!
[Arina]: it balances out...
Come on, everybody has a bad side!
[Sam]: You know I always thought that! But since I know which is 1.5 years I did not find any.
OK Sam, what is your bad side then?
[Sam]: It is that when I am angry I don't think anymore. (laughing). That is not good! I strongly believe that one should always be able to control oneself. But when I get really, really angry I cannot even remember what I said. It just happens. Thankfully it does not happen so often.
[Arina]: I agree!
[Sam]: She has seen me when I was so angry.
So what makes you angry?
[Sam]: Well... various things, but especially when somebody disrespects me in a bad way. I am not saying everybody should respect me but there should be a common politeness. If I think I am right, I think I am right. When somebody disagrees it is not that good (laughing).
[Arina]: I think sometimes I am more adult that him and a responsible person. Sometimes I am angry with myself when I am not focusing enough. Or not committing myself. So I am trying to change this in me. So I think my bad point is that I am not focusing enough.
Thank you very much. It was a pleasure. Good luck and see you again!
All photos taken by Peter Suba