Talking docs and dance with Christian Holten Bonke and Andreas Koefoed


Directors Andreas (left) and Christian (right)

Hitting UK cinemas this week, the documentary Ballroom Dancer reveals the emotional strain hidden behind the make-up, smiles and sequinned outfits in the world of professional dancing. DG’s Joëlle Pouliot talked pirrouettes and docs with the film’s directors.

Filmmakers Christian Holten Bonke and Andreas Koefoed sat down with Joëlle Pouliot this week to discuss what they discovered in the process of filming  l’enfant terrible of the dance world – Slavik Kryklyvyy –  while he fought to be the dancing star once more. The strenght of this story? According to the directors many of us will relate to his ongoing struggle for success.


DG: How did you come across dancers Slavik Kryklyvyy and Anna Melnikova, and decide to make them the focus of your film?

CHB: Our producerJakob (Nordenhof Jonck) is married to a former dancer who used to compete in the high level of ballroom dancing. Hetold us about it and we thought that this was an environment that hadn’t really been portrayed yet. What caught our interest was that most of these couples are couples privately and professionally, which must be really hard, to intertwine those two spheres.

We started following the world champions, Joanna Leunis and Michael Malitowski and Anna Melnikova’s former partner who was dancing with another Ukrainian girl. After a while, we kept hearing about Slavik who was a bit of a legend in that environment. When we finally got a hold of him, we met him once, filmed him once and thought: okay, this guy is so dramatic and he’s got so much at stake! He was in the end of his career and it was a do or die for him. So we decided to stick to him and skip the other couples.


DG: Why did you choose not to include any of his former dance partners in the film, in particular Joanna Leunis who seemed to haunt Slavik as she became so successful after they stopped dancing together?

CHB: We liked her to be a distant symbol of a dream he once had. We thought about putting her in there but we really realised during the editing process that we needed to focus on him and see the world through his eyes.

We wanted to be very serious about it. We didn’t come from that environment and didn’t know much about it. Initially, we found it a little bit corny and were laughing when we first filmed the competitions. It’s a little absurd, that whole thing. After a while our laugh faded and we looked at it through Slavik’s point of view. He’s a very serious guy and had a lot at stake.


DG: Why do you think Slavik was so open to having you film his most difficult moments and to having his inner demons revealed on camera?

CHB: I think he is a performer and he likes to be portrayed, to stay in the limelight.  But I think often when you point a camera towards someone, something happens; it’s like self-therapy for the person being portrayed. I think at a subconscious level he wanted to see what this could bring him to be doing it.


DG: Where there times were you felt he was staging it or was this genuinely who he was?

CHB: Anna felt that Slavik actually behaved in the film (laughs), so I don’t think he put out any extra drama for the film. He doesn’t stand out as too sympathetic at times but I actually think he toned it down a little bit and didn’t give us any drama just for the sake of the film.

I think most people are a little scared of him. He seems a little brutal and aggressive in his fight for success and doesn’t always treat Anna very well. But the people who seem to sympathise with him when they see the film are people with big dreams themselves. On that note I think it’s a film that a lot of people can recognize themselves in. In modern day society, success is what we are all striving for, we work extremely hard and this is a film about the consequences about being too single minded on your career.


DG: Anna seems to grow an inch taller throughout the film as she builds more confidence. There’s a lot going on in her personal life there. Was she comfortable with you filming all of it?

CHB: She was completely open with the process. She really develops during the film; it really shows her liberation as a woman. She starts off as a little insecure Russian girl and she ends up as a beautiful self-assured woman. It’s quite amazing how much she changes throughout the story.


DG: Towards the end of the film, Slavik can’t seem to tell Anna how he really feels. The song “Always on my mind” by Michael Bubblé starts playing as they dance together. Did you add that music for the doc or is that what Slavik chose to play?

AK: They had actually been practicing the particular dance to this track. But of course the lyrics to the track are so precise to the description of their partnership. It’s almost too much. I don’t think we could have added that track to the scene ourselves because it would have been too obvious. It was very touching because what Slavik couldn’t express in words, he could express through that song and dance.”


DG: Was there anything that you didn’t include in the film that you wish you could have?

AK: We felt that we could have included more of Slavik’s past and maybe his childhood. We actually tried a few times to film him with his father who used to be a body builder in Ukraine. We knew that Slavik wanted to impress his father and live up to him. He told us he was striving for that. That part of his life would have been nice to include but it wasn’t possible because Slavik kept us out of that and we didn’t get the chance to meet his father. It might have been a key to Slavik’s personality, to his ambition and longing for perfection.

I think he had some limits on how much he wanted to include us in his family and private life. He liked us to be in his space between him and Anna but not further than that. When you make documentaries you have to respect people’s limitations and when they say no you can’t force it too much. Slavik and Anna were already very generous for letting us into their lives.


DG: Any plans for future collaborations as directors? What are your solo projects?

AK: We are working on different projects separately now. But it’s been a great collaboration so we are definitely open to doing it again at some point, with the right story.


Ballroom Dancer was released in UK cinemas 18 January. It won Best Documentary at the Raindance Film Festival in London and an award for Best New Documentary Filmmaker at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.


Music for West Coast Swing


Hazel and Tybaldt Ulrich

World champion ballroom dancer Tybaldt Ulrich logs a lot of hours teaching amateurs: priests, lawyers and dog walkers, between 30 and 70 years old. “Ballroom is good for your soul and breaks you out of your everyday life,” he says. “Plus, you learn more about yourself and how you work. It’s like doing a crossword with your body.”

West Coast swing evolved from the lindy hop. It differs from other forms because it is stylistically tighter in the body and is danced to a slower tempo. It’s also slotted, meaning partners usually keep to a long, narrow space, traveling back and forth within it. These qualities make the style good for beginners and those who want to try improvisation within ballroom dance.

Ulrich, who teaches open classes at several studios in New York City and New Jersey, knows that though West Coast is easily graspable, new students will still feel intimidated by the form. He breaks down hesitation by using popular music. “People come in scared and inhibited. If I play a song they like and can get them to sing along, they unknowingly begin to understand the underlying rhythms of dance while having fun with it,” he says. “They don’t realize that in my classroom, they’re experts the minute they walk in—with American popular music.” DT

Artist: Carly Rae Jepsen
Song: “Call Me Maybe”

“West Coast swing is a social dance, which means it started with people swaying around at a party. Taking something off the Top 40 list is really just continuing that tradition. Sometimes you need a huge pulse like this to get a class going. My students always get a kick out of this song.”

Artist: Brother Yusef
Song: “I Got the Blues”

“I’ll usually keep a playlist of songs looping during class, instead of assigning each exercise a song. This solo acoustic guitarist has an incredible presence—a great big sound and a sharp beat, so it’s great for beginner students who really need to listen for rhythms.”

Artist: R. Kelly
Album: Write Me Back

“I like to use songs from a newer recording artist who has an older soulful voice or sound. This album feels cool, not hot. It has a lot of mellow love in it and really takes care of you as you dance.”

Artist: Maroon 5 (feat. Wiz Khalifa)
Song: “Payphone”

“In swing, you’ll try to do moves that aren’t counted in eights over an eight-count song. The accents in this are so clearly on one and five that everyone can hear them and count along. Then you can layer steps that ride through the phrasing.”

Artist: James Brown
Album: Sex Machine

“Most of James Brown’s songs are great because he’ll sing a short phrase over and over. I’ll have people sing those underlying rhythms while dancing so they start to understand the structure.”

Artist: The Insomniacs
Song: “At Least I’m Not With You”

“This has a really relaxed swing—it’s a wonderful tempo. When beginners and intermediates are thinking, it can get in the way of moving. This also has a solid triplet feel, which is hard to find in popular music within the past few decades.”

13 Ways to Make 2013 Your Best Year Yet


What’s your dance goal for 2013? Whether it’s finally nailing a quadruple pirouette, making your studio’s senior competition team or booking your dream job, DS is determined to help you get there. So we asked a few of our favorite industry insiders, “What can dancers do to have the best year ever?” Here’s what they had to say.

Amanda Lea LaVergne as Sandy with Derek Keeling as Danny Zuko in the Broadway revival of Grease

1. “Be fearless. I spent years terrified I’d make a mistake. But I didn’t realize I was boxing myself in. You will mess up—that’s life. Take a chance. Be ‘strong and wrong’ instead of sticking to what’s safe.” —Amanda Lea LaVergne, dancer in Annie the Musical

2. “See everything you can. Art exhibits, concerts, movies—they give you food for your mind. Then, share what inspires you. That’s how art evolves.” —Caroline Fermin, Gallim Dance

3. “Be versatile now to work more later. Dancers do steps; true artists rock people’s souls. You can make a beautiful black and white painting, but adding color makes it a masterpiece. Add new colors to your palette by learning every style you can. Eventually you’ll have a rainbow of choices to pull from.” —William Wingfield, “So You Think You Can Dance”

4. “Nourish your body with good foods, quench it with water, test it to its limits and rest it when it asks for it. Your body is your greatest asset, but it can be your biggest weakness if you don’t treat it kindly. Take care of it.” —AL

5. “Make a plan of action. Carve out a road map with your agent to achieve your goals in 2013. If you’re not represented, ask an established dancer to share his or her path with you. That will give you insight into what steps to take.” —JC Gutierrez, dance and on-camera director at McDonald Selznick Associates

Keenan Kampa (Gene Schiavone)

6. “Present yourself well in class and rehearsal. Be clean, smell nice and be comfortable in what you’re wearing. It makes such a difference.” —Keenan Kampa, Maryinsky Ballet

7. “Incorporate a yoga class into your schedule. You’ll feel balanced and connected to your breath.” —Tyce Diorio, choreographer

8. “Read the news. Keep your mind sharp and stimulated. Knowing what’s happening all over the world puts everything in perspective.” —KK

Zoey Anderson (Vanessa Millecam Photography)

9. “Don’t worry about other dancers. If you keep working on yourself and stop comparing yourself to others, you’ll progress faster. Plus, you’ll have more fun!” —Zoey Anderson, dance major at Marymount Manhattan College

10. “Research dance history. Look up dancers from film, Broadway, etc., and study what made them great. That was helpful for me as a teenager, and I still do it today.” —TD

11. “Find something besides dance that brings you joy. Every experience you have furthers who you are as an artist.” —Ryan Steele, Specs in Newsies on Broadway

12. “Try new, crazy things. Go to that audition, learn that difficult move or take that Bollywood class. Sitting back, waiting and wishing will get you nowhere.” —ZA

13. “It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, but it’s important to take some time to have fun.” —JG

Interview with Ballroom Dance Coach and Film Dance Choreographer Tim Gregory


Tim Gregory

I met up with a good friend recently. A friend who generates a cortege of excited dance partners when he enters any room as if his talents radiate a clearly identifiable aroma of awesome. Mr. Tim Gregory.

Those of us who have had the experience of working or dancing with Tim will often describe their involvement as a blend of a challenge and fun. If you haven’t heard of or seen his work, here is a bit of behind the scenes of this Redding, California native.

It was 1998, a girl and a swing class.

In our conversation I asked Tim to tell me how he got into Ballroom Dancing. A smile began to crease the corner of his chin as he started to describe his first dance lesson at the important age of 15 as “involuntary fun”. The only reason for him even going was because it was an excuse to hang out with a girl he liked. So, at that point, he didn’t even have any interest in dancing nor did he even plan on taking the class.

“I was just there to watch. Turned out, the couples were uneven and she needed a partner, so I apprehensively agreed to do it with her. I justified it as an excuse to hold her hands,”

During the lesson, he surprised himself by picking up the steps fairly quick and at how much fun it was. In time his attraction of the girl passed but not that of dancing.

Tim Gregory Navy

After graduating High School, Tim joined the Navy and his first duty station was San Diego, CA. Being 18, and new to San Diego, he was left with the decision of what to do on his downtime. Having previously enjoyed martial arts and dancing he wanted an activity to remind him his now far away home. The closest place that taught Jeet Kune Do was in LA, so he looked up places to learn ballroom dancing.

“The military phone-book in my barracks room only had two dance studios listed. The first dance studio listed had two phone numbers. The other studio, somebody called Arthur Murray, only had one phone number listed, so I called that one.”

Soon learning that this somebody was actually one of the top studios in the U.S. Tim recalls his first few weeks at Arthur Murray’s as being a lot of fun and always having something to participate in.

“I was there all the time. The instructors didn’t over-teach, and they listened to what I wanted out of my dancing while still allowing me to experience other dances and expand my horizons.”

Tim Gregory Navy DeploymentOn October 7, 2001, US Armed Forces invade Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks and begin combat action in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban supporters. As a member of the U.S. Navy this Intelligence Specialist was deployed.

The War on Terrorism begins with Operation Enduring Freedom.  Stress was at an all-time high and while underway in between his 12 hour shifts Tim found himself stirring and homesick. After only dancing at the studio for about 8 months and typically not taking any notes this Petty Officer 3rd Class decided to write everything down that he knew about dancing in his downtime.

“I came home late Jan of 2002. My teacher instructed me to call her as soon as my feet touched American soil and I was happy to hear that when I did my next lesson, she said I didn’t forget anything”

Tim Gregory Navy Deployment 2The feeling of happiness to be home was short lived. March 20, 2003 the United States leads a coalition that includes Britain, Australia and Spain to invade Iraq with the stated goal being “to disarm Iraq in pursuit of peace, stability, and security both in the Gulf region and in the United States” known as Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Back at sea moving between the USS Boxer and USS Cleveland, through the Mediterranean, this soldier was away from home and back practicing alone using his safely guarded notes.

“Dancing was the one constant in my life, kept me focused and happy. When I got back from my last tour I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do. I worked part time as an instructor and my training at Arthur Murray San Diego was wonderful. I was lucky. “

Experiencing training every week at his studio and staff training twice a year in Los Angeles with other studios in Southern California, Tim would have whole weekends on: sales training, teacher training and personal dance training given by the best in the industry. The running theme quickly became always do what is best for the student and that there are great dancers and there are great teachers and you are lucky if you are both.Tim Gregory Teacher

“That was always my priority and I worked at wanting to be both. In this profession, the dancing is the easy part. Having to adapt your instruction to each individuals learning style/personality type so they will understand it can be very challenging and you have to realize that it’s not about you.”

“It’s about the students.” I have always favored statements like these. When teaching a group class or private lesson or even when at a party dancing with students, it’s not about you being the teacher. So many in our industry seem to think it is more important to show students how “amazing” they are personally which ultimately highlights how much what the student doesn’t know in a way that is insulting. Dance instructors are there to help students improve and feel like they are worth our time and that we have plans for them.

When asked about what can dancers do to optimize their learning efforts he stated the importance for a full education and began to illuminate that when potential students hear the prices for dance lessons they often mentally eliminate the value and thus the need of group lessons and studio socials. He speaks about dance with such conviction that you really start to feel that dance is not just an interpretive art but more of a philosophy or exact science. I learned a lot of statistics like the fact that private lessons are where you obtain 80% of you skills while group classes and parties make up the other 20%.

Tim Gregory Is Dance

“Dancers who only take group/social/DVD lessons or those who never experience private lessons are immensely damaging their learning curve. Private lessons are for learning, groups are for introduction of new concepts and patterns, and socials or going out dancing is for implementation and practice.”

Often Tim is asked to coach dance instructors and students alike to realize the importance of all three learning facets. He describes how social dancing helps you develop the ability to make a mistake, recover and continue among floor craft, musical identification and dance to dance continuity. His principles on group classes help a dancer realize that they build your awareness of all the lead and follow types outside your regular partner and give you a chance to sample patterns/techniques to come later.

“Don’t care what the dance is being taught at the group, dancing is dancing. It is all just moving to music with basic patterns and turns. I teach people how to dance not a dance.

Tim Gregory Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Dance ChoreographerDancers that achieve a high level of dancing and stop going to groups and parties because they want to compete become bad lead/followers and can only dance comfortably with their teacher, and often only when doing a routine.”

Tim spends his days serving our country using his master’s degree in computer networking at Ft. Huachuca and his nights social dancing, coaching and choreographing for a NY and AZ based film and photography production company. It has truly been an honor to have him a part of The Ballroom Dance School Community and personally in my life.

You can find Tim Gregory on Social Media like Facebook @