Interview with Austin Joson and Nino Dzneladze

Interview with Austin Joson and Nino Dzneladze

Geplaats op maandag, 03 aug 2015, 21:20 door admin
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We interviewed Austin Joson and Nino Dzneladze the winners of Amateur Rising Star Latin competition at Blackpool Festival 2015. Austin and Nino represent USA and dance together since August last year. Two months before Blackpool they became US Under21 Latin champions.

I think we need to have that in the partnership in order to create a true and beautiful performance. To have something special between you that has to be fire

Let me start with congratulations. Winning Blackpool is such a success!

[Austin] Yes

I always begin with asking how you started dancing

[Austin] I come from New Jersey in America. I started dancing when I was nice. The reason I started dancing is because my parents were social dancing before me. They would go to all these social parties and they would see performances and one time they saw a boy about ten or eleven years old dancing with his mother who was a dance teacher. They did a jive show. There was a video recording and they brought it home with them to show it to me. Few years before that they were trying to convince me to start dancing but I always said no. I wanted to play sport, I wanted to play basketball, tennis, the usual things boys want to do. When I saw this video I thought wow! I couldn't believe the kid could do that. So when I saw the kid can do that I said, OK, I want to do that, I want to try. My parents brought me to that dance teacher who was in the show. Her son was there. That guy and I are the best friends since, we actually stay in the same hotel room together. That's basically how I started. And since I started I fell in love with it and I've never looked back.

Did you start with Latin only?

[Austin] No, both. I just stopped Ballroom about a year and a half ago. When I started back then, I started with the Syllabus programme, then did all the Closed stuff when dancing Juvenile. My first partner was from Utah. First official partner. So she was from the other side of the country. They actually kind of recruited me. They saw me at some competition, saw that I had a lot of talent even if I was young and inexperienced. So they flew me out to Utah, they were very wealthy family. They had me dancing in the house and were bringing all these coaches from all around the world, top coaches at the time like Jonathan Wilkins, Karina Smirnoff, Dmitri Timokhin, Paul Green, all these coaches to teach their kids. They had four daughters and I danced with the third youngest daughter. That's how I got exposed to the real deal competitive dancing scene. I did my first travelling competitions with them. It didn't last very long but, starting from then, this is how I started to become serious and actually, because they flew so many coaches, they introduced me to who is my teacher today still, Vibeke Toft and Allan Tornsberg. They have been my teachers, in Latin, since I was nine. So we have been together for about ten years. So then I started to do much more. I got a partner with whom I competed in Blackpool for the first time in Juvenile. Then I had another partner with who I competed in Junior, then another. With Gabriella we danced Blackpool and did very well in Junior. So I had a lot of partners before this (laughing). Then there was some time I did not dance, I think about a year. I was searching for a partner, already struggling, try various partners. Nino and I finally connected last July.

[Nino] I started dancing age four. I come from Kyiv, Ukraine. My sister was dancing and I saw her. I was very active kid and wanted to do the same thing. I wanted to dance Latin, I did not do Ballroom at all. Four years ago after we won a green card I came to USA.

Did you move to America because of dancing?

[Nino] My parents moved to USA because they wanted a new life. At first I was very sad to leave my dance club in Kyiv, we were all very tight. I was fourteen years old when we moved. But now I am very happy to be in USA because of all the situation in Ukraine. I am grateful I can be here.

I hope all your Ukrainian friends are safe

[Nino] Yes, they are.

So how did you meet?

[Austin] This is very interesting story. Nino moved to America four years ago. I was about fifteen years old. We started competing with each other. She was living in California, I was in New Jersey, the opposite sides of the country. At the first competition when we were competing together when I met Nino, she beat us. It wasn't expected.

[Nino] Yes (laughing)

[Austin] There were two categories: Youth and Under 21 and she beat us in both categories, in two different days. So we were very upset. We had no idea who Nino was, where she came from. It was just this girl, beautiful ...

She still is!

[Nino] Yes (laughing)

[Austin] ... but she's got this kind of face you cannot tell where she comes from (laughing). You cannot guess her ethnicity. When we split with my partner at the time and I was going through that time looking for partners I was always asking Nino to dance with me. I did not get the best response because she was in a bit of a tough situation.

[Nino] Yes, it was tough for me at the time Jason: According to her! So anyway, she couldn't get out of that situation at the time. I tried to understand that.

Is it a secret?

[Nino] No, basically my parents did not want me to move. They wanted me to stay with them.

[Austin] We wanted to dance together for so long but it could never happen. It was never the right time.

[Nino] Because of my parents but I did not tell him straight.

[Austin] She would say: I wish.... I wish it could happen but it is not really possible for me.

[Nino] But then, at the Millennium competition ....

[Austin] This is when it became clear that we would like to dance together. Anyway, at the Millennium competition last year we finally reconciled the partnership issue. Neither of us expected it, we did not plan it. I certainly did not plan to ask Nino to dance together again. And I am sure she did not either. Anyway, we were at the Millennium Dancesport competition together in Florida. And at this party, after the comp, when all the dancers and judges are there, I find myself there sitting next to Nino ....

[Nino] It was very magical. I never go to the after parties. But this time I decided to go. I went there and I sat next to him.

[Austin] I believe it was destiny because the reason I was at that after party, is because my friends were going to a club which was few blocks from the hotel they were staying at. We all went there, including my partner at the time, and they all got there but I was the only one who got denied. So I said, you guys go ahead and I will go back to the hotel. There is also a party there which I can be at so you go ahead, have fun and I'll see you later.

I walked back to the hotel by myself and ended up at the party. So I am sitting there and Nino sits in front of me, so we started talking. It was just a normal conversation, how was your dancing, how was my dancing. I was expressing my feelings and doubts towards my dancing at that time. I was expressing it to Nino and she was expressing her situation to me.

[Nino] I was upset because I felt there was something missing, there was no shared passion between me and my partner at the time. It is very important for me to have that. I was struggling. We were quite successful too but I felt that if there is nothing in your heart there is no point of doing it. I really wanted to dance with Austin and when I came home I said to my parents that I really, really have to move for my dancing. And that I really want it. But my parents said no, they did not even listened to me. It went on, I was crying of course and my Mum gave up. She was the first to say, OK, if you really think this is good idea you can try that, but I will go with you (laughing). But she didn't. But my Dad was really very angry. He said, no way this is happening, if Austin wants to dance with you, he can move. I don't know how it happened but finally they said yes to me. I think it was by magic to be honest (laughing).

[Austin] After that talk in Florida it was really a hint that we still want to dance together. It was not official like, you go home and ask your parents, and I am going home to split from my partner. It was not like that at all. It was just an intention hinted at that conversation. When we went home from Florida there was nothing official. After that there was a competition in New York and we talked again. I won the competition, and again the same thing, success but I wasn't happy. So we talked again at the competition and we both said, let's just make it clear, if we want to make it happen we have to really want to do it from the heart. Because it is a big step, it is going to look like a big mistake to everybody, everybody is going to doubt us. Everybody is going to call us stupid maybe because we both had a history of successes and also because of my history with partners.

[Nino] Austin switched partners so many times that people started saying be serious or maybe just quit dancing.

[Austin] A lot of people doubted me and I knew how it looked like to other people. I knew that many people thought of me as not serious, as someone who couldn't commit. Or someone who could not go through good and bad times. But I did not care because I knew that this is it!

[Nino] And I knew that in my heart as well

[Austin] I knew I have something special with this girl. Forget about romantically... nothing like that. I am talking about something special for dance. When people are meant to be together, in each other's lives, I believe that they should be. It doesn't have to be that they are together romantically. Like my teachers Allan and Vibeke. I believe that they are soul mates, and they are still together today, but they have their own private life. What they have is the inseparable bond and they are meant for each other. When I made this decision and Nino made her decision, we knew what kind of reception we would get. The second people heard that I split up from my partner, and Nino split from hers, phone calls were made, various coaches from around the country ... (laughing). People were asking what was going on, that we will never going to make it, that I am too small for her. I don't know if you ever seen Nino dance, but she is a power house (laughing). She is fantastic.

I've seen you yesterday!

[Austin] I am very skinny so everybody said we won't look good together, that she will overpower me, that she is too big for me. But we made it work.

[Nino] At first practise we were already working together, we were passionate, we were fighting, but it was a perfect match.

[Austin] And there was no honeymoon stage.

[Nino] None whatsoever. From the day one.

[Austin] She spoke her mind. I spoke my mind. We were fighting at first, yes, but it did not mean we were not getting along.

[Nino] It was all because of the passion we had.

[Austin] Yes, we were fighting because of all the passion and fire. I think we need to have that in the partnership in order to create a true and beautiful performance. To have something special between you that has to be fire. You don't have that special passion that you want to have, especially in this art. So, that's exactly why I knew straight ahead that dancing with Nino is for me. Of course, it was tough at first because I wasn't used to it (laughing). I wasn't used to fighting so much (laughing). But we learned more and more about each other and we developed so fast with each other and got used to each other so quickly that there wasn't really time to stand still.

Did you have any doubts? Perhaps thought it was better to stay with a calmer partner?

[Nino] No

[Austin] No, to be honest, no.

[Nino] We had really different styles and different information about dancing

[Austin] We came from completely different worlds.

[Nino] From different sides. It was very strange at first.

[Austin] It was very, very, very unusual and awkward at first. But the passion was there. The passion and the chemistry was there. So what wasn't seen was there, what was felt was there. But what wasn't there was the physical part. That what was the confusing thing because we loved to dance together but physically we didn't love to dance together (laughing). Yet. So things weren't so comfortable between us yet.

What was it? Was she too strong, too tall?

[Austin] A little bit, yes. We had to develop a certain formula to be able to fully perform as an individual and an individual. Because she would take over (laughing). She would completely take over and I was at the receiving end. My goal as a man, as a dancer, I believe is to showcase a lady. That doesn't mean that I just should sit down and not do anything, I should still be in charge and that's the most beautiful thing if I can be in charge of her stardom.

What is your first competition?

[Austin] The International in October last year. We did Under 21 and we were third.

What a good start.

[Austin] Yes. We won two dances I think.

[Nino] We made it to the Royal Albert Hall in Amateur Latin as well.

[Austin] We were in the top 48. For us, it was a very, very great start.

Was it first time for you?

[Austin] Yes. I went there to watch but first time dancing.

[Nino] It was weird, for me, because the hall is so small. It is very important for me that I can see people's eyes, when I can connect to them. But in the Royal Albert Hall the audience sits is far away and above you. So it was a big issue for me.

[Austin] It is a very different environment especially the floor is a circle and not rectangle. So there is no structured line of dancing, something that we work on. We create choreography to work in a rectangle so when you have to do it in a circle and it is very crowded, especially in a 48, it is very challenging for us. So it was tricky at first.

[Nino] I hope that this year we will be more used to it.

[Austin] To watch it is fantastic. The big band is playing and all these great dancers on this elliptical floor is great to watch, it feels huge. But when I was on the floor it felt so different.

Blackpool is the opposite. Huge floor, bigger than usual.

[Austin] Yes

What do you do outside of dancing?

[Austin] We work. To make money we teach.

Still in dancing?

[Nino] Yes, we teach dancing. We hardly have time for anything outside dancing. We dance all the time.

[Austin] We are both students so we also study. It is very difficult to manage both.

[Nino] I am still in high school. Will be finishing now.

[Austin] I am in a university, reading Communication Studies. It is difficult because we work to pay for dancing. So effectively we lead three lives. We have our dancing which we take care of and that's our career, we teach dancing which is a paying job and we have our schools. I am not putting in in any specific order but dancing comes first (laughing). It is so difficult that it almost leaves no time for anything else. When we have time maybe we see a movie. We like to go to the cinema a lot.

[Nino] Yes, this is one of our favourite things to do.

Do you get any financial help from parents?

[Austin] We finance ourselves.

It is impressive and commendable at this age! What are your parents thinking now about you dancing together?

[Nino] My parents are very happy now. My Mum is so happy, yesterday when we won she was crying.

Was she here?

[Nino] No, she is in Los Angeles. And my Dad is very proud of me. Now he accepts us.

[Austin] My parents haven't come with me to the competition for a very long time. They were always quite involved with my dancing when I was growing up. They came with me this time, at the last moment they decided to come and watch because they thought it was a special year. And the reaction I got from them yesterday after we won was just once in a lifetime kind of thing. To see my Father crying it is very special to me because my Father never cries. To have them there was very special because I know I could have never done it without them. They introduced me to dancing, when I was a kid they were driving me to dancing, paying for it. Knowing the amount of dedication they put into it and to be able to reward them in a sense by winning, as I can imagine the feeling that they have, it brings tears to my eyes. I don't know if anybody could see it yesterday but I burst into tears, first the adrenaline was up and we were screaming and everybody was so happy but because of all the emotions I just ended up crying. It was so many different emotions happening at once.

Did you have any problems in school because you were a dancer?

[Austin] Of course, especially with attendance, because we go to competitions so often. Sometimes it is for a week at the time. Blackpool, for example, you cannot spend less than a week here, or Dutch Open when we first go to a camp which is four days and then the competition is three or four days. So you always spend at least a week at the time. Sometimes your school teachers are not OK with that.

[Nino] This was my last year of school and at times you cannot be absent at all. If you are absent more than ten times they will not accept it and you cannot graduate. So because of that I had to be home schooled. It helped. I can travel whenever I want, I can take my notebook with me and do my homework whenever I can. It is very convenient for me.

How did your classmates react when they learn of your dancing?

[Austin] When I was eleven or twelve there was this, oh you are a dancer, the real boys play football or basketball. It was nothing serious, nothing like bullying. When the kids are this age they don't understand. Being in this industry as a kid, you grow up really fast because you are surrounded constantly by older, more mature people. And also, there are so many things you have to deal with at the young age, you have to learn how to dance with a woman, you have to learn how to present a woman, be comfortable dancing with her. In normal life kids don't do that. You have to learn how to win and how to lose, how to accept loss. We have to learn that if we don't practise we won't do well. So there are so many things we learn from dancing which makes us more mature. So yes, maybe kids at school were giving me problems when I was young, but I ignored it because I knew what I had in dancing was special. I really loved that side of my life that the other side, the school, didn't matter.

Do you live together?

[Austin] No separate. We live in Nutley, New Jersey.

[Nino] Separate from parents and separate from each other.

[Austin] I live in Nutley and she lives about 2 minutes' drive from me.

[Nino] And our studio is 2 minutes away too.

[Austin] We can walk there and be there in 5 minutes. It is very convenient. This is what we like. I moved out of my parents' house when I was seventeen years old. I moved to Queens in New York. I was actually living in a very Polish area. You know Oskar and Karolina who won the Rising Star Ballroom few years ago, they are my best friends, and we lived in that apartment together. Because of work and because of school I was picking up a lot of work in New Jersey which is not that far. If you drive it is about an hour, but because of the New York traffic it could be three hours. Because of that I ended up making a choice to move to New Jersey as it did not make sense to travel all the time. So a year after living in Queens I moved to New Jersey, and it was right after I started dancing with Nino.

Any plans for the future?

[Austin] To keep developing and not to stop, not to be too comfortable, not allow this result to get to our heads.

[Nino] Work harder and push and push ....

[Austin] Yes, because there always is another chapter. We learned so much already about ourselves, we only have been dancing together for nine months.

[Nino] It feels like ten years

[Austin] In a good way. Even when we fight, I don't get sick of her.

[Nino] Me too!

[Austin] I really don't. Every day is exciting, every day brings something new. We've accomplished so much in this year already, we became World Champions in Paris, we won the national championships, we won the Dutch Open Under 21 and Rising Star, we were 2nd at the UK Open. And now we won Blackpool. We have accomplished so much together, apart from the results, it is the journey which matters most. It was a very jam packed nine months! Even in this week in Blackpool we experienced a whole new level that we did not know we are going to experience. After being second on Saturday, we were hoping to be first, absolutely, but we don't blame anybody but ourselves.

[Nino] Because we didn't dance the way we should have. The whole day was good but the final wasn't.

[Austin] All day was leading to it very well. But at the final it just went down the hill. It wasn't what we knew we were capable of. When we came back yesterday, it is not that we wanted to prove to other people that we can do it, we can come back ...

[Nino] That we can get the first place.

[Austin] That was not in our mind. What was in our mind is to prove to ourselves that we can completely change how we feel about our dancing from that final the night before to the final of the Rising Stars. We wanted to prove to ourselves that, with the heart in it, you can overcome a lot. That's what made this weekend so special. Yesterday was one of the best days in my life. Not because of the result only but because of what we achieved.

The result did not hurt (laughing)

[Austin] Of course!

Aren't you afraid that you have achieved so much in those nine months that you will get used to the successes? How will you deal with disappointments or losses in the Amateur Open if they happen, will you get discouraged?

[Austin] I don't think we are those kind of people. I think although we believe in ourselves we are also very humble.

[Nino] The most important thing for us is to show, at every competition, the improvement. To have good results is great, of course it is, but the most important thing is to feel that we are developing. And this is what will bring us to the higher level.

[Austin] Dancing in Amateur Open competitions is a new game, we understand that. It is a new chapter. It took us a while to become at the top of this game, it is going to take some time to be on the top of the next game. This is just the way it works. It will take a lot of hard work as it is a much tougher field.

[Nino] And it is fine, that's why we love it.

[Austin] Because it is never ending. Even when you are a champion, you always wanted to be better.

Who designs your dresses?

[Nino] Vibeke...

[Austin] Our teachers have a very good say in what we do of course. We wouldn't do something completely against what they say. For the last competition Vibeke designed the whole dress. For Blackpool, Nino and I made our designs and we showed them to her and she approved. We work together as a team. We want to make sure everybody is happy. We don't want to end up with Nino hating her dress or she loves it but Vibeke hates it. We also want to respect her opinion, she is our coach and we respect her experience in this dancing world.

It is hard to make everybody happy

[Austin] True, but we have to compromise and arrive at the result which is accepted by everybody.

[Nino] Dress is very important to me. I have to feel comfortable with it.

[Austin] Even at practice when Nino is wearing nice practice clothes she dances ten times better! (laughing)

Where do you buy your shoes and clothes?

[Austin] Our shoes are sponsored. We have just started the sponsorship with the International Dance Shoes which we are very happy about. We started end of April. Nino absolutely loves IDS, but I've never tried before. But when I first tried I was in love with the shoes. With clothes, the lady who was making my shirts since I was nine, makes my shorts and Nino's dresses now as well. We buy the fabric and we bring the fabric to her. In New York there is a whole fashion district and there is many, many big warehouses and shops to get it from. So we bring the fabric to her, we show her the design and then she makes a dress. When it comes to stoning, we stone it ourselves because it is a very expensive part. Just to buy the stones alone is expensive. For the competition like Blackpool you want something very sparkly so we send a lot of money on stones.

[Nino] We buy Swarovski or Preciosa. Preciosa is cheaper but it doesn't look that different.

How do you organise your travels?

[Austin] We try to organise it at least two months before the competition, one month is pushing it. When it comes to logistics I am in charge (laughing).

Who is more organised?

[Austin] I carry more responsibility for certain things like logistics or planning. I plan the flights, the lessons, I know how much money I have.

[Nino] He takes good care of me

[Austin] I try my best to take good care for both of us. But I am very forgetful (laughing). I would come to my apartment, I would drop my keys and my phone, my wallet and two hours later when I have to leave I am like, where are my keys, where is my phone. I'd go to my friend because I have to give him a shirt of mine, and I get ready and I leave my house and I'd be walking to my car and I am like, I forgot the shirt! Or sometimes I drive, I am driving certain way, and I am like, where exactly am I going, shouldn't I be going the other way, why am I going this way. I am so forgetful.

And what do you do, Nino?

[Nino] I cook, I clean, I am like a real woman (laughing). But I am not a type of girl who takes care of her nails or hair ...

[Austin] You should take a picture of her nails today because it is the first time she had them manicured when dancing with me. Maybe the second time. She is not the kind of girl who goes out and has her nails done professionally. She does them herself for the competition.

[Nino] I am not that type of girl to get crazy about these things

[Austin] She is not showy.

[Nino] I like to cook, I like to clean. I like to be normal

[Austin] If you see us in our normal life we don't look anything like this. I am in sweatpants, my hair is tied up, I am wearing sweatshirt, backpack. You would never guess that I am a dancer. Some people say to me, you look homeless (laughing). We are not really about fashion, looking amazing or anything like that.

What is your dream holiday?

[Austin] Anywhere with water and a beach.

[Nino] Anywhere with good weather

[Austin] We just did a competition in Miami, a month before Blackpool. We went a day earlier to maybe lay on a beach. It was absolutely fantastic.

A nice five star hotel?

[Austin] It was actually a very nice hotel

[Nino] I don't care. It is the beach which matters to me. I will be on the beach 24 hours (laughing).

[Austin] It is a nice feeling to be taken care of in a luxury type of hotel. The room is beautiful and you have a good service. But there is also a beauty in being some place natural, camping and staying in a tent. Both are really good.

Thank you for a very interesting conversation! Best wishes for the next competition.