From the Groton Times (Groton, CT):
The two 14-year-olds are involved in all your typical teenage stuff, like cheerleading and skateboarding.
But Olivia Pentell and Alex Poutchkov have one activity that their friends probably would never even think of doing—ballroom dancing.
They’ve even taken their lessons at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio to a competitive level and discovered there are few others their age.
“People think it’s slow and boring,” said Poutchkov, of Ledyard. But watching him and Pentell, of Groton, nothing could be further from the truth.
They face each other, straight-backed, right hands clasped together under the scrutiny of instructor Olga Golubko, who counts “1-2-3-4” faster and faster until it seems the students can barely keep up.
They tango and then cha-cha to “Venus,” then rumba to “Take My Breath Away.”
“Elbow! Shoulder! Big step!” Golubko tells them, joking even as she’s fiddling with the music that she has eyes on the back of her head. She constantly tries to push them closer together, but it’s clearly somewhat of a discomfort at that age. They also have to keep big smiles on their faces.
They found themselves here after their mothers met through the teens’ modeling agency called The Beauty Within. Alex’s mother, Oksana Blais, is a dance costume designer and had encouraged her son to dance. In Russia, where the family is from, ballroom dancing is like a competitive sport, Blais said, with children starting at age 5. She tried it but said she was too old by the time she started. Alex’s older brother also took lessons.
“I wish I’d started as young as you,” she told Alex. “For the rest of your life you’ll appreciate it.”
But Alex never had a partner. Olivia stepped in to fill that void. A year later—after taking one 45-minute lesson once a week—the two entered their first regional competition among Fred Astaire studios over three days in November at the Mystic Marriott. Around 200 students, ranging from young kids to older adults, participate in hundreds of heats.
They competed in 16 heats and came in first place every time.
Pentell, who has also taken ballet and hip hop, said she likes that it works out every part of the body.
“It’s very critical, strict, on point. You have to be on time, with the music and together,” she said.
The dance partners like the fastest dances the best. Olivia has trouble with the positioning required for the waltz, in which her head is tilted away from Alex at an angle. It leaves her with a sore neck.
But with dances that require so much cooperation, do they ever get frustrated with their partner? They say no.
Olivia said they just tell each other, “Hey, get that right next time!” She plans to keep up with it for as long as she can.
Even though it’s not something their friends do, the teens said their peers are usually pretty impressed.
“I think it would be cool see a lot younger people doing it,” Pentell said. “If they gave it a chance, they’d like it too.”
By KATIE WARCHUTStaff Writer