Professional dancers Ashley Nichole Luna and Aurimas Bartkus, who started to dance five months ago, share their dance story, values and thoughts about perfect partnership. We have met for the interview on snowy Monday in Vilnius and it was great “to travel“ through the world of dance from Europe to Asia, from Vilnius to Manila and then back again to Vilnius. 😎
Ashley, Aurimas, at what age have you started to dance?
Ashley: Basically I had started to dance when I came out of my mom… (laughing)… I had started my regular lessons and proper training a bit later, around 17 or 18 years. I have started as an amateur and basically still learning.
Aurimas: I have started to dance when I was 7 years old… and still dancing. I had 4 dance partners. I have danced with each of them for about five years and with my fourth partner I have danced two years and after that I had a one year break and now I am dancing with Ashley. At first dancing was more like a hobby because of friends and later dancing become my life.
Aurimas, for almost a year you was looking for an “ideal“ dance partner. Do you feel that you have found the one?
Aurimas: Noooo… (laughing)… Yes, I think… I think that ideal partnership does not exist. But still when you have common goals, the same understanding… maybe then you can say you have perfect partnership…
Ashley, and what is your story? When and why you have started to look for a new dance partner? Do you have the same feeling that Aurimas is an ideal dance partner for you?
Ashley: Well, my longest dance partnership lasted for about 6 years. I had started to dance with this partner when I was 17 or 18 years old and danced with him for six years. Then I have decided to find someone who has the same goals and drive. After six months I found another partner but this partnership did not work for me because we had too different understanding. So I have decided to quit this partnership as well. Starting from January, 2017 I had several try-outs and in May, 2017 in Blackpool I had the last try-out with Aurimas… So… And now we are here. (laughing)… Basically I have to agree with him. I, mean, you have ideas. When you have a lot of try-outs you tend to learn what you want and what you do not want, especially what you do not want. I believe that there is no perfect partner, but as long as you understand your differences and make things work, and you have the same perceptions and goals – this is the most important thing for me.
What are your goals or ambitions?
Ashley: I know we both are ambitious. That is good. If you have decided to dance, this have to become big… then what‘s the point of all this? My main goal is to go for the moon and maybe I might get the star.. Eventhough we have differences I believe that we could do something beautiful or good. We want, of course, to win Blackpool, maybe to start with the Rising Star. And, of course, we will always aim for the best.
Aurimas: It‘s the same for me. What I have to add… I think it is important to me to be remembered after our dancing career ends and inspire people to dance.
The last competition you have participated was in Paris, right? With how many couples you have competed there? Was it your first competition in Europe?
Ashley: Yes. I think in Rising Star… I do not know exactly… but maybe there were around 48 couples. This competition was the first time in Europe for both of us…
Aurimas: Yes, it was our first time in Europe together.
Ashley: Yeah, in Europe and even in Paris. I did not dance with anyone else there as well. It was a good place. The atmosphere was good. Also the judges were very knowledgeable.. So it was really good and all the couples were very competitive and we had to do our best.
What results did you achieve? Do you feel satisfied with your results?
Ashley: We have finished the semi-final in Rising Star and almost made quarterfinal in the Open.
Aurimas: I think we were 26th.
Ashley: We feel we could have done better as individuals and together because we know our abilities. We know we could have done more.
Aurimas: We always want to be better. Our goal is to dance. One time the results are better, another time they are worse. But we are dancing together five months only, so at this point everything is ok.
Is there any difference between competitions in Asia and in Europe?
Ashley: In Asia.. well..If we talk about the financial side, it is better because you pay for your entries only and they care about the hotel you stay. Here in Europe I feel like you have to care of everything yourself, i.e. your stay, your entries, your flights… basically everything you have to manage yourself. Talking about competition – it depends because there are lots of big competitions in Asia where everyone tends to compete. Also the prizes are much bigger. Here in Europe there is a different crowd. It‘s no matter big or small competition it is still the part of your growth.
Aurimas: For me… I have always competed in Europe.. It is no matter you dance as an amateur or as a professional you have to pay yourself for everything. In United Kingdom (UK) there are some major competitions which it is honour to win. But still you do not get much benefits from honour. You need to earn money as well and Asia is better at this point because they have more competitions for professionals. Of course all of them have money-prizes bigger or smaller ones. In Europe there are less competitions for professionals… So I think we have to have balance among competitions in Asia and in Europe, and of course there are great competitions in USA. More or less everywhere is the same but the audience is different. In Asia they are nice, they really appreciate how you dance and in Europe they are more wild, they are screaming, clapping more during dancing. So that is the difference.. (laughing).
Aurimas, for the past two years you have worked a lot with pro-am students. Have you any pro-am students in Manila, Philippines?
Aurimas: Now, most of the time I dance myself and do not dance with pro-am. I have more teaching now. Here in Philippines people enjoy dancing and they really do not care about the results like in Europe. So it is more about having fun. They are having nice events and that is amazing. And the learning process is different. They are not pushing so hard, they are still enjoying the lessons and what you are giving for them. For example, they are trying to do rumba walk in quality. Of course they learn steps and choreographies as well. I think learning to dance is a longer process here.
Ashley: I have really never danced with pro-am students because pro-am students are usually women. Most of the time I am dancing myself and teaching. I have never done social dancing as well.
Are there any pro-am dance competitions in Philippines like in Lithuania?
Aurimas: There are. I think Ashley knows more about this.
Ashley: In Philippines or in Asia?…
Aurimas: In Philippines.. In Philippines they have more or less…
Ashley: In Philippines there are not a lot of pro-am competitions. One our colleague, who helps us in physical training, is one of the vice presidents in Asian Dance Council (this organisation is under WDC) and we will have a big pro-am event next year. It will be a part of world series, I think it will take place on 1 August, 2018, in Manila.
Aurimas: So we invite everybody from Lithuania to participate… (laughing)
Ashley: And I believe anyone do not regret if decides to participate in this event.
Aurimas: Pro-am competitions are organised each weekend in Asia, I guess. It is more like USA as well. And of course it differs in different parts, for example, Honkong have small competitions.
Ashley: Yes, pro-am become more and popular in Asia as well. Because when you see someone dancing, you want to try and want to dance like that so this inspire people to dance.
I have noticed in Facebook that almost every month you dance your show in some kind of dance events. Could you please tell more about those events?
Aurimas: You mean Rosebud shows… It is like a social dance event. You just take your partner or teacher and buy tickets. It is basically a possibility to practice your social dancing skills you have learned during dancing lessons. They are also celebrating birthdays all the time.
Ashley: Yeah.. They usually celebrate the birthdays which were on that month. Those events take place every month.
Aurimas: They have shows, ours or by other professional dancers. The major point of this event is dancing and having fun.
Ashley: Right.. It opens around 7 p.m. and the people dance until 10 p.m. and then the show starts. And after the show it is up to them to stay longer and dance or to leave. We could consider this as a private event run by a private person, female.
Aurimas: But basically those types of events could be run by organisation, private person or studio. This event is open for everyone who wants to watch the show or to dance himself or herself.
Are there any ballroom classes for adults in Philippines?
Aurimas: Something like group lessons for hobby class… No, this kind of dancing is not very popular in Philippines. Usually these couples take private lessons. I guess teacher-student is more popular.
Ashley: In our studio because of small space there are mainly private lessons and mainly Latin.
Aurimas: And in Philippines it is pretty hard to make group classes because of traffic.
This Saturday (16 December, 2017) you had a dance lecture in dance studio Šokio harmonija, right?
Aurimas: Yes. We hope that everyone who came to the lecture enjoyed it. (laughing)
Ashley: Before lecture we were talking what the main topic of the lecture should be.. because the main participants were solo dancers. During lecture I have asked what they would like to learn. They started saying the things like „passionate“, „sexy“ but then again I always go to fundamentals. I think the fundamentals are very important. If you are able to stand on your own legs or be more stable, only then you could add something more. I think that most dancers are focused on the form and not on the function of particular step or movement.
Aurimas: The main audience of the lecture were solo ladies but there were also teachers and a few couples. I think some of them got new ideas. I talked a bit with some of them after the lecture so I hope our lecture was useful. And I hope they feel happy. We are always open to share.
Ashley: I also hope they have found it useful.
Both of you represent different cultures – Europe and Asia. Was it difficult for you to understand each other in dancing?
Ashley: Thanks God, his English is good and it was not difficult for me to understand him (laughing). Of course if you can not communicate with each other it is difficult. But for me with Aurimas it is not just the language. I know he has different style and he is a certain individual, I have my own style. The good thing is that we complement each other in a way „opposite attracts“. And it is not just a language for me, it is a perception, the way you see things.
Aurimas: Yes. English is English. The communication is not the most important thing. If you do not know some word you can check it in Google. The dancing language – the steps, the movements, the same teachers, the same school and dancing style…
Ashley: Basically we came from the same dancing family. And it was not hard to put it together.
Aurimas: And, of course, what Ashley have said – dancing it is not even talking, it is more like you know what to do and it is working. You do not really need to talk, you do feel the person, you know what she wants to do. So she is doing, and you are answering.
Ashley: It is more like to give and take.
Aurimas: So maybe that means perfect partner. We can communicate and share.
When and where would be your next competition?
Ashley: Well… UK championships. It is in January. This is one of the major events. And we feel we need to do it. So we going to do our best.