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Q&A: Michael Malitowski

Posted on May 13, 2013

How does a five-time British Open Professional Latin champion prepare for Blackpool? Michael Malitowski tells Nicola Rayner…

square-michael-malitowskiHow are you feeling about Blackpool this year?

It’s always the big unknown and the preparation is so massive because this is the toughest competition in terms of importance, and the stress, of course. Also physically this is the toughest comp, so the preparation is slightly longer, slightly different, because we have to go through five rounds, all five dances, with only 20 minutes’ break in between.

We’re dancing from eight o’clock to one o’clock – five hours – so it’s a massive ‘rape’ on the body – so we call it not only the Blackpool Festival but the Blackpool marathon really. Every year is different and every year you have to check where you are physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally, so every year is very tough, and only about May, the beginning of May, do you feel that you can do it again, really.

For us personally, with me and Jo, it’s a bit different this year because we’ve won this competition already for five years in a row and it’s less about the results now – [though] obviously when you dance you would like to win and every competitor has that wish to have at least as good a result as last year – it’s more about being there again and to top your performance from last year.

Because it’s not only that you are dancing for those 11 judges who are judging you, but the whole ballroom scene is watching you, is watching your every step, and now, because of the live streaming [with DSI TV], the audience is even wider, so it becomes a different type of game.

It’s more about our self-beliefs, about the values we are presenting and more about leaving something behind that’s more than the results, because results come and go… I’ve been first, I’ve been second, I’ve been in the final, and some stuff never changes: some people like your dancing regardless of the result and some people don’t like it even if you win.

It’s more about the performance on the night, it’s more about how we feel: if we bring something new again, if we challenge ourselves, if we bring some new product… if we can inspire some more people, if we can express ourselves, so it’s more a competition with yourself in the end. Blackpool is really special, it’s definitely number one in the world.

Is it your favourite venue?
Yes, it’s my favourite. Yes, I love, personally, Blackpool, the International, the UK, then the Worlds and Europeans. For me, out of the five majors, Blackpool is definitely number one. There is no doubt about it and probably 90 per cent of dancers would say the same thing: there’s something about that place, the history of it, the people that have been there before, the champions before, that makes it the competition for all the dancers.

Does the build-up get easier or harder when you get to your stage? Is it harder now you’ve done so well? Or is it easier because you’ve done it so many times before?
In some ways it’s easier, because you know you’ve done it so many times and as I say the pressure of winning is less, because I’ve done it… but of course you would like to keep the title! On the other hand, it’s more difficult because you compare yourself with yourself and people always compare you not only with others but with yourself – how you danced a few years back, how you danced last year, so in that sense it’s more difficult year after year to improve yourself again and to get the preparation right.

web-blackpoolCould say a little bit about your strategy on the run-up to Blackpool?
For us every year, as much as what works for you in terms of the physical and the mental preparation, every year you also have to keep it fresh. Once you’ve taken a recipe for success, it doesn’t work the second time around: it’s funny. You cannot follow the same regime as you did last year.

Some stuff stays the same. You have to get the body in the right shape and so on, but your body is an interesting instrument: you have to keep it motivated and inspired every year differently, so every year we try to do something slightly different. Now, for this year, we’ve done a lot of physical training in the gym in the sense of running, of building different body muscles. We use every help that’s possible from outside ballroom dancing as well to get fit.

So do you do other genres of dance? Or yoga?
Yes, of course. As I say, we try to use everything that’s possible on the market, so not only technical lessons from our teachers, but also the physical preparation in the gym, special diets that we are all the time monitoring and changing according to what we need in that moment. [We do] different types of dance, of course.

Do you practise contemporary dance? There’s seems to be a contemporary influence in Joanna’s style…
Yes, we’ve been doing it all the time, not so much in May, but in February, March and April we try to open our minds a bit more to different styles, and London is such a great place to live for that: modern, jazz, all the freestyles, ballet, everything that can help our bodies to bring something new.

Do you dance flamenco to enhance your paso doble?
Absolutely. You can see it in our choreography. We try to bring something new from other dance styles.

How do you find the balance between the repetition of the routines through the rounds of the competition and keeping spontaneous and experiencing each dance, each movement as if for the first time?
That, probably, is the most difficult thing you’re talking about, because ballroom dancing is not about presenting your product once: you have five dances and you’ve prepared a certain routine and certain effects. But the problem is – and the exciting part – you have to do it again and again and again and again and then in the final – this is the round where you have to really do it again, so that’s difficult: to keep it fresh, to dance every round as a new competition, as a new round. On a lot of occasions we have been able to do it, but that’s the most difficult part…

Imagine Swan Lake, doing the ballet once – that’s wonderful, standing ovation! – but now they have to do it the same evening again and over again and that’s the challenge of it: to show the same moves, but to bring something fresh to it. But that’s the exciting part too!

Experience Blackpool Dance Festival through DSI’s live streaming this year, see www.dsi-london.tv/site for more information.

• Visit www.malitowskileunis.com for the latest on Michael Malitowski and Joanna Leunis.

• For the full interview with Michael Malitowski, see the June issue of Dance Today, on sale on June 3.

Photographs: Top © Nicola Rayner

Above © Ron Self 

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Now acting editor of Discover Britain magazine, she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success.

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