An Interview with Pavel Cherdantsau & Svetlana Rudkovskaya
I am sure many of you have seen the Beep…. Beep ShowDance routine at a competition. Pavel Cherdantsau & Svetlana Rudkovskaya, US National ShowDance Champions, have performed this, what is to me a masterpiece of a story put to dance. Since they gave us that routine, they have presented many more and represented the USA a number of times at the World Championships. I have followed their careers since they arrived here in the USA culminating with their win at a US Championship and they never cease to amaze me with their cleverness and understanding of ShowDance.
Pavel & Svetlana sat with me for an interview a few weeks past and this is what they had to say.
Pavel Cherdantsau started dancing at the young age of six in his birth country of Belarus. Svetlana Rudkovskaya also started in Belarus but she at the age of thirteen. They started dancing together in 1999, both in the Ballroom style, they called Standard, and in the Latin style. However, at that time they seemed to favor the Latin style more than the Ballroom, and it was not until they got to the USA that they really started working on their Ballroom (Standard).
I want to remind the readers, before we go any further that ShowDance is not the same as Cabaret, or Theater Arts. Although up until this year, a Cabaret competition was often called “ShowDance” although many of the couples did not actually do “show dance.” ShowDance is a 4-minute routine where the couples usually perform a mix of the dances from Latin or Ballroom. They are allowed three lifts and of course they select their own music. Pavel & Svetlanta were very successful in the Ballroom version of ShowDance that it is call the Classic ShowDance.
The Classic Showdance, like its counterpart, South American Showdance, is not as easy as it sounds. At one point, rules dominated this style and this courageous couple competed with great success even during that time when the rules, ruled the art form. I asked Pavel & Svetlanta when they made the conscious decision to pour their hearts and souls into this ShowDance extravaganza?
Svetlanta was the first to answer:
“Well, at the beginning we did not start with all these rules, it was the US Championship and you just did a routine, that is how we started like everyone else doing, “Cabaret.” So, we went, did our Latin, Standard and then Cabaret, and after a couple of years we decided that we should do the proper ShowDance competition at the US Championships. And that is when we really started to study”
“LOL” Pavel added and they both laughed out loud as if holding a little secret from me.
From the little laugh on, I became more intrigued with this young, almost shyly delightful couple. Although I have seen them plenty of times, I had never really had a full, direct conversation with them or got to know them. So I ventured on with my questioning, “did you do really well from the beginning with this style?
“We were third in our first one,” Svetlanta answered.
“That was a very good result for us but then came Beep….Beep” Pavel added, “then came Carmen”
Svetlanta thinking out loud. “but all this just happened because we found the right music” Pavel finished.
I was about to start another question when Svetlanta added:
“But it took a lot of time to do the research and to make sure we liked the music. We usually will have a few songs, and we can start our ideas with one song; then in the middle if it’s really not doing what we want it to do, so then we would use it with another song.”
And just like a partnership Pavel finished her sentence.
“I usually do all the cutting with my computer so that the song fits perfectly to what we want to do musically and choreographically. It all has to fit well together.”
“So you guys basically do your own choreography?” I had to ask this because usually there is someone behind working with a couple or doing the choreography.
“Our first dance, the tango, in the Nationals, that one we did all by ourselves. It was an Argentine Tango before, but because Showdance has lots of rules we had to extend it, make it longer. So we just put more Standard (Ballroom) choreography in, so that one we totally did on our own. After this, most of the time we are always looking for interesting songs, interesting music, and so that is how we started developing our Beep….Beep. We then started to work with David Hamilton.”
I was not surprised that they work with David, it was interesting to know that he worked with them an all the rules. We will get to that later but meanwhile Pavel went on.
“When we were working with David, he was very good. He worked with us, so it was more of a cooperation between us. David basically choreographed it, but we were there telling him what we wanted to do, what we wanted to say, what the storyline was.”
“So we would put stuff together with him, we would give him some stuff we wanted to do and he would choreograph with it. We would then take it home and work on it, add some more of our stuff take stuff out, try to really fit the music and the character and then we would comeback and see what he thought. So that is basically how we did our routines.”
Pavel & Svetlanta have been in this country since 2003. They arrived during the Emerald Ball and went to work for the Kaluby’s Dance Clubs in Jacksonville, Florida. I know that Sarwat the owner and director of the school was a well-rounded dancer with background in ballet, so I could not help but ask what inspired them to take on Classic Showdance?
“Good question!” Pavel stated. “We both finished the university of culture, so we both have a degree in choreography and ballroom dancing, and many other additional dances that we had to learn for the degree. We worked for a couple of years in South Korea, we were teaching there.”
“There, we were also doing a lot of shows with different choreographies, and Television,” Svetlanta added.
Pavel continued, “but when we moved here everything stopped, we were just concentrating on dancing and teaching. So at some point we decided to start to do, what we were doing before.”
I have helped with the music at least one time for the actual ShowDance during one of the rehearsals for this category and so I have an idea how tough this Showdance category can be especially with all the rules. And I am not just talking about the limit to only three lifts per couple, when I went to that rehearsal to help at this World Championship, there was not one single couple that was not asked to change something to fit the rules. At that time I wondered how these couples could do this and make changes to their routine literally just before going on the floor. I know I could not have lasted more than one year at it, so I asked how they manage and their answers quite surprised me.
Pavel spoke first.
“We didn’t have too much problems with Beep…Beep (their routine), because we already knew about the rules and so we choreographed it with all these rules in mind. We would stop to time the seconds, the right body and hand positions, how much time this lift will take etc.”
Svetlanta had this to say about it.
“And to make sure all rules were being followed. It was a lot more difficult to work with these rules, but at the same time it was more challenging to make it a great routine and follow all those rules, it was a great, fun challenge.”
“Yes, we found it very challenging, it was actually quite fun,” Pavel said.
“Yes, your brain really has to work to make it all work and look smooth.” Svetlanta continued.
“But they now changed the rules again and it is not as restrictive as it used to be,” Pavel finished.
“What?” I exclaimed, a little surprised that they had changed all those rules from where the hand has to be placed on the man’s arm to how long a lift can be.
“It was about 3 years ago when they had all these rules, now they changed it so it’s not as restricted.” Pavel explained.
Did they think they loosened all those rules to encourage more people to do the ShowDance category?
“Yes, but when there were rules, you just have to be able to make sure you choreograph everything by the rules, make sure you also understand the rules correctly. In the Nationals they video tape you and they go back and check to make sure you are not breaking any of the rules, they check all the time. The same at the Worlds, they film your routine so that they can go over this and make sure you don’t have more than three lifts, to make sure the routine is perfectly fitting to the rules. They always do it the day before to give you time to change something if you have to, but if the next day after the warning you did not change anything they them can give you some disqualification or penalty. In Omsk there was one couple I believe they came from South Africa, they didn’t make the final.”
“Yes!” Pavel supported her.
“They did not make the final but it was a very nice couple. They had a lot of issues and problems with their routine. After they checked everyone’s routine, the invigilator stayed behind and helped them re-choreograph so that they would not be disqualified.”
“But now it’s not the same, the rules are more easy, you can do a lot of stuff,” Pavel concluded.
But Svetlana interceded a little bit to explain.
“They still have a little bit of the rules – like no more than 3 lifts, no more than 4 minutes from the moment you start.”
Pavel finished, “So now it is pretty much open to any ideas you might have.”
I asked, “do they still have a certain amount of time you have to stay together like in Ballroom or you can just do anything you like as in Smooth American Style?”
“No!” Pavel answered.
“Technically yes!” Svetlanta corrected.
So Pavel explained
“It has to be in the style of standard (ballroom), so you should have a percentage of it looking like Standard (Ballroom).”
But Svetlanta was still not sure.
“I thought they even took the percentage out?”
“Possibly,” Pavel agreed with a sigh.
As you can see this was not an easy task. From what I recall, the rules made it even impossible to breath, so it is amazing that this young couple could have done such lovely work with what seemed to me as so many obstacles.
That is why they changed the rules, to encourage many more people to do it.
And Svetlanta continued.
“The routines were also not very interesting, because you really have to be very passionate about it and you have to think very hard as to what you want to do with your routine and how you want to tell the story, but always to make sure it was within the rules.”
Did they ever got pulled out for a little something they might had an issue with?
Pavel answered with great confidence.
“No!…. Not ever.”
These guys are good and I could tell they knew all the rules and were not going to be pulled out to change any part of their routine. However, they did think they were always at a disadvantage when competing in the Showdance in USA because everyone but them would be doing Cabaret and they would be with the rules, as Svetlana explained.
“We did a lot of competitions in showdance and here we will sign up and couples would have these Cabaret routines with all kinds of lifts and everything and we would have to do our routine with at that time all the restrictions and we would be at a disadvantage because everyone else would be doing stuff to please while we would be following certain kind of rules, it was not equal.”
I wanted to know about when they came to the US, and I wanted to know if they knew anything about Pro/Am before they came to the USA.
Svetlana answered first.
“When we came here we wanted to continue our education, but back in Belarus we did not have all the pro/am, we did not know that existed, we did not know what that was.”
Pavel then added
“When we came, we expected to teach like we did back there – kids and classes, amateur couples etc. “But this is a great opportunity, the couples have a great opportunity here, couples have great teachers here, and we can share our experience.”
I then asked them how many World Professional Classic Showdance Championships they have attended.
Svetlanta began – “We did one with Beep….Beep, two with Carmen, we did two with Beethoven, and one with Cocktail for Two.”
So were they 8 times US Champions?
“No, we were 3 times US Classic Champions and about,” said Pavel, thinking.
But Svetlanta continued.
“3 or 4 times second and yes we represented the US that many years in the worlds.”
“And we made 3 times the finals in the World Championships.” Pavel finished.
And in the Worlds what was your highest placement?
“Fourth” Pavel Answered. But they both began to giggle and Pavel added “but it is always something else with us!”
They laughed again.
“Yes, LOL every time it’s a different story!”
“But tell me why you’re having such a good laugh, tell me?” I asked.
Pavel looked at Svetlanta and started.
“You remember when we were dancing the first Beep…. Beep, when we were dancing at USDC. We won it twice, but we had to re-dance.”
“And they put it back as an evening event, so we took our costumes of, rested for half an hour, drink a couple shots of expresso and were ready to perform again. And in the Worlds, there were a couple of times where there were some problems or issues with the placements.”
They are still remembering with humor as Pavel speaks.
“Yes, in our first World Championship we were announced fourth, but then they said they found mistakes in the scrutineering so we got fifth.”
“And in the last one,” Svetlana edges Pavel to tell me what happened in their last World Championship!
“So we were announced third and then they said there were some mistakes in the calculations and so we we were then fourth.”
I know mistakes can happen but at a World Championship it must be very hard for the couples to accept, I wondered if there is anyone they can turn to about when all these changes of decisions come down .
“In Italy we didn’t not know anything. We flew out and when we got back home, we found out.”
But what are the rules are they not supposed to show the marks immediately, right after the event?
“I don’t think they posted in Russia” Pavel answers. “In Omsk they did not they announce it during the after-dinner. So they said that there was a mistake and gave the new results.”
Svetlanta said, “we all laughed” and I added, “I would have choked on the chicken” we all laughed heartily then.!
“For us it was our first World Championship and we were so happy! Fourth, fifth, it’s all fine we’re in a world final” Pavel said. “This time the first US couple did not make it, the US judge did not make it, so we were by ourselves and did not know what to expect. We were so happy to make the final and when it was announced and when we were announced fourth OMG! I could not believe it! So when they began to make this announcement at dinner, some other couples from other countries apparently have been through this similar situation, so they got very tense as they looked at us. But we did not know what was going on, so we were just so happy, and after when they announced we were still okay.”
This was funny but really not funny, especially to me. I can imagine being in another country with no one that you know to ask a question or say something, so I had to ask if they did not score the same as a regular event 1 to 6?
“It has changed, but in the beginning, the first two championships were judged the same, with two marks one for the technical and one for your performance.”
“And they are supposed to show your marks?” Svetlanta added, but with a subtle raise of the brow. “After those two championships they changed completely the marking, they just had the judges mark you first to sixth place as regular.” Pavel continued.
“We were one mark behind in Germany,” Svetlana said.
“and in Russia,” Pavel added, recalling their championships.
Svetlanta smiled and said “and so in Germany the US Judge did not like our routine so he or she felt that the US couple should not be in the final, so he did not mark us into the final.”
What! Can you say that again? I could not believe what I was hearing! in most challenges even in the Olympics it’s nearly always understood that the home judge would always pull for their country. So I added, “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble but what was his or her name? Once again we were all laughing and Pavel finally said, “I think we just leave it to history.”
“And In Russia we had a similar situation because they did not want to leave so few couples out of the quarter-final and so they just left 11 couples in the semifinal. Then people got very upset and so they had to them put more couples in the semifinal and so there we had a 14-couple semifinal. But at the end they only put six in this final. This time we did not make it because……. The Canadian judge did not like our routine.”
In defense of the judges, I have to say to them that it is always very difficult especially if you’re judging and you are sent specifically to represent your country as a judge. I think the US and Canada have always worked together but it would be unfair to put undue pressure on our neighbor, but a US judge not marking a good US couple could be quite questionable in some places.
Svetlanta agreed, “we have seen that all the time with other couples in the Worlds and it is totally understandable, when their country judge is pulling for them, especially because it is their own country.”
I decided to move away from the politics of judging and asked them if they are getting work from all this accomplishments?
“Well, we have not really pursued this or advertised this, because we were just focused on competing pretty much. We have done some shows, especially locally, but that is it.”
Having done this at such an incredible level and full heartedly, do you think the industry is neglecting the ShowDance part of our curriculum as for example country western?
“I would say so, probably. Also, from another side, when we stared doing Showdance, at that point Gherman & Iveta were retired. And so there was no other couples behind them that could claim the title. When they were dancing, they had 8 to ten couples dancing Showdance for several years, but then it got smaller and smaller, it’s a little bit like that.”
Svetlanta then added, “It is a lot of work, you have to spend a lot of hours, cleaning it up, costumes, makeup or whatever else goes into your showdance and you cannot use props.”
When Svetlanta said props I remembered seeing her changing her dress in the middle of their showdance like from red to blue, so I asked. “So what is allowed when it comes to tricks or costumes?”
“It all depends on how you do it! The rules say, you cannot use props, but if something is attached to my costume and it stays attached, all the way through form the beginning to the end of the dance I can use it. As long as it is attached to you, you can use it, if it goes on the floor it’s a prop!” Pavel answered.
Svetlanta interrupted to tell me, “yes, like in Italy there was a couple in rehearsal with little flowers but like ribbons, well it just happened that one ribbon got detached, but that was in rehearsal and the invigilator told them that in the real performance you could not leave anything on the floor and that nothing can detach. So they were given a warning for the next day.”
I then added that with so much stuff being left behind making us do a floor sweep, perhaps we should apply this rule to all dances, they thought that to be funny.
“Maybe that is why there are less and less couples doing ShowDance. At some point realize how much goes into this! It takes a lot of effort and time.”
I could not agree with Pavel more, but was at the same time glad that they had loosened some of the old “ridiculous.” “Also, if you dance a four-minute routine, you must do it well from beginning to end without missing any steps and keeping the quality at all times. This is very hard and challenging as well.
“A lot of times couples that have not done a showdance like this don’t realize the physical and mental work that goes into it. In past competitions we have seen a number of couples that start great, but in the middle of the routine they poop out and after two minutes do not have the energy to finish with the same power and stamina as they started. I remember one couple that the quality and everything was great at the beginning but the couple did not finish it and they did not make the final they were left in the semifinal and did not go forward.”
I then have to ask a very simple question. “So what made you guys decide to retire, to not compete any more?”
And I got a simple answer from Pavel,
“I guess it was the time for us to stop dancing.”
But Svetlanta corrected him.
“We did not stop dancing, we are still practicing, we are still creating and continuing our education. Teaching, competing with our students! We just gave up competing that is all.”
“You always have to move on, not just compete there are other parts of dance to explore besides competition.”
I then moved on to the present. A good showdance is very difficult to put together, are you helping any couples at the moment with their routines?
“Not yet!” Pavel answered. “We just retired from competition a few months ago so for now we are concentrating on just our studio.”
Do you miss competing?
“I guess we don’t know yet, we still go every day to practice,” this time Svetlanta answered.
“I think, it actually made our practice a little bit more productive. And the pressure is off, so it tends to make the dancing now a little bit more enjoyable for us.” Pavel said.
“And now we can experiment and we can play more with all our information that we have.” Svetlanta concluded.
And Pavel finished, “yes we have nothing to fear now we just dance.”
To summarize, I asked, “so you would say that one of the most important things to find success in Showdance is to find a good piece of music?
“For us that is how it worked. We were lucky to find these songs. I love to listen to old music and you find some wonderful things,” Pavel answered.
And I tend to agree with him, it is always great to hear and see someone perform to a unique piece of music and not the latest hit.
“For me it’s about telling the story, and the song can help you tell the story, but sometimes it’s opposite, the song has already a story. And then you decide what way you want to go. The first song the “Beep…Beep” was from the “Playmates” and it was a song about car racing in general, so that is how the cars came up in our show. But we put a guy and a girl driving in separate cars and that is how our story developed.” Pavel explained.
And then Svetlanta finished, “we always have to have a story. When you just get a beginning and an end and put your routine in the middle it does not work, it has to have a story”
I agree and with that my story ends. It was a pleasure to meet this very sweet, smart and very talented couple. We are so lucky to have people like this with so much experience that they can later pass on to many here in the USA, where we have perhaps the best knowledge of ballroom dance in the world.