Thursday, December 17, 2009
The thing they loved most was no longer fun.
“Sometimes you dance five, six hours a day to train yourself,” professional dancer Olga Agafonova says. “And then for a competition, eight to nine hours every day.”
Her training started at 5. Her partner, Leo Sidorenko, learned his first waltz at 6. From those tender ages they danced constantly. They remember no-nonsense instructors, grueling all-day practice sessions and the bruises and tears drawn by a deceptively demanding sport.
A life committed to the sport forced Leo and Olga to cast other passions aside. Leo excelled as a swimmer in school, but had to hang up his Speedo for a tux. Dance consumed Olga’s devotion to painting: She started teaching younger students when she was 13, and continued her own training, leaving little to no time for other diversions.
Each earned dance college scholarships, and they met at an inter-university competition, going on to capture myriad regional championships.
“In Russia, people dance for results,” says Olga, a soft-spoken brunette with a sculpted physique. “They like to achieve something.”
“It’s not fun any more, when you get to [a high] level,” adds Leo, who could easily moonlight as an Abercrombie and Fitch model. “To be good you should just train a lot. If you go to dancing, you have to be a professional. They create a professional atmosphere right from the beginning. In America it’s more fun, more social.”
Following the fun led them to leave the only country they had known.
~ ~ ~
When they strut from opposite ends of the lacquered floor, their feet move in lock step, their eyes absorbed in one another’s. Each move is purposeful and sure – so smooth and natural that each twirl, dip and lunge seems to emerge organically. But there’s no way the polished angles and parallel lines created by their bodies are happy accidents. The intense Russian training didn’t scar them, it galvanized their talents – and offered opportunities.
“Dancing has opened doors for us,” Leo says. “Internationally, you can go everywhere, because they speak one language: dancing. And you can always find a place where you can teach, meet people and keep your career going.”
In one of their rare dance missteps, their first move was Detroit. Ed Stone, owner of Monterey Peninsula Dance, discovered them there on YouTube about a year and a half ago, and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“We had them come out and perform in our showcase last year,” he says. “And they decided they liked California – they did not like cold Detroit, or summertime Detroit either.”
What really drew Stone to these Russian émigrés was Leo’s incorporation of hip-hop dancing with standard steps. Leo’s forte is “popping,” a variation of hip-hop that resembles a more stylized, fluid and rythmic robot.
Now they’re full-time instructors at the MPD in Monterey and have a home in Marina. They personalize lessons to each student’s aims, whether it is entering competitions or sweeping their wives off their feet.
“Our goals are to get dancing on high levels [in Monterey],” Leo says, “to help people learn more and to be more professional. Or for people to help with their own achievements and goals.”
The couple believes the benefits of dance defy limits.
“Dancing builds confidence,” Olga muses. “Sometimes you see people come in for the first time and they are so shy. But dancing helps you meet other people, to make friends, communicate with people.”
Like proud parents, Leo and Olga have seen many students blossom from dancing disasters to prodigies.
“When you make people happy, it’s the best. It’s better than sitting in an office,” he says. “You meet new people, you communicate [with people], you’re moving around the dance floor, you’re having fun. What could be better?”
MPD’s newest instructors haven’t slowed their own training much – old habits die hard – putting in eight hour work days, six days a week. They’re preparing for a competition in Georgia early next year, and want to win the California Open in February.
Meanwhile, their energy crackles in their new home.
“They bring excitement,” Stone says. “And good dancing. And all the students, they love them. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
“If I was going to ask for anything else, I’d ask for two more like them.”