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The rhythm of relationships

What's On - Durban

BY LATOYA NEWMAN

THEIR story reads like something out of a fairytale.

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She came from the East (Ukraine), he came from the West (Denmark), they passed each other by at dance competitions around the world before one day joining forces as ballroom dance partners.

It’s now three years down the line and Nicolai Bouet (Denmark) and Anna Shagalina (Ukraine) are taking the dance floor by storm. This couple – one of the guest acts at this year’s Shall We Dance – have just competed in the Amateur Rising Star Blackpool Dance Festival, where they finished 16th.

“We’ve been dancing together for three years this October. We’d been meeting each other at comps around the world. I was without a partner and Anna was too, so we connected through web pages where you search for partners. Dancing is very international. You rarely find a partner who is from the same country,” explained Bouet.

“So we found each other and thought there’d be a chance that we’d be a good match. So I went to Ukraine first to see if we matched personality and dance-wise and then Anna came here as well, also to meet her teacher. We found it could work practically and a few weeks later, Anna moved to Copenhagen,” he said.

Shagalina added: “It was a pretty interesting trip. It was my first time dancing with a partner from abroad. It was an interesting experience and adapting to this culture went pretty well.”

Not only are the duo from different countries, but their backgrounds in dance differ immensely.

“My grandparents and my mom danced on a competitive level, mostly in junior categories. So I was dragged to the local dance school when I was smaller,” laughed Bouet.

“Then I started dancing, while I played football and other sports. But at a certain point I found out I had a talent for this and I could see myself building a future with it. I also had fun with it. So I started progressively spending more time and putting more effort into it and it seemed to pay off. So it became a part of my lifestyle,” he said.

For Shagalina, ballroom was an attraction for different reasons as first: “My journey started off very differently because my parents hadn’t done anything in dance. I started to do dancing just because at the end of school I had free time and thought it might be fun. I became more and more involved and so did my family. I began to travel and it became a big part of my life, a really important thing to continue. I could see a future and possibilities in it.”

Joining forces with a stranger has its risks, but in this couple’s case, it’s paying off: “It’s always a risk because there is a difference in culture and even now, in our third year, we are still learning,” said Bouet.

“But I must say, it reached a respectful point quite fast, where we started to understand each other’s values and adapt to life together. As a dance couple, whether you are partners in your private lives or not – for example Anna moved to Copenhagen so we’ve been together from day one – you get to know each other very well in a very short time. So you have to be very respectful and open your eyes and ears to each other. We are lucky that we are where we are now. You often see partners split up after a short time because there’s that limited time to get to know each other.”

Shagalina elaborates: “In a way, you have a very short time to decide if it can work out. You take a chance. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Luckily for us, it has worked very well, but we also had some bumps along the road. But we tried to adjust and be patient because it’s a big job to work together as one.”

Offering some advice, the duo believes communication and trust is the key to a winning relationship in dance: “What I’ve always been told by my teachers is that if you know how to communicate, if you can communicate as a dialogue and not a monologue, you can make it work. I think that’s key to how we’ve been from the start. This is what makes it work, as Anna says, like two human beings connecting as one,” he said.

While Shagalina added: “With regard to this, partners must trust each other. We need to be certain of what our partner is doing and to know and trust and each other above all. There’s also communication. Without this, it would be impossible to trust the other person.

”Expressing their excitement at being back at Shall We Dance after their debut performance last year, they said they look forward to giving their best: “It’s always an honour to be invited back because then it’s almost an approval that they liked us the first time,” said Bouet.

Shall We Dance, Playhouse Opera Theatre, September 9 to 17. Book at Computicket.

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