Monday, April 19, 2010

A Marriage Made On The Dance Floor

from (Bedford Hills, NY):

Some marriages are made in heaven. Others are made on the dance floor.

When Yuri Tsarev was a 15-year-old ballroom dancer in his native Belarus, his coach advised him to partner up with a 13-year-old dancer named Elena.

“He said she’d be good, and I said, ‘OK,” Tsarev says in a matter-of-fact manner.

Coach’s intuition? Kismet? Or both? Whatever it was, it is clear from the way Elena and Yuri Tsarev flirt with each other that they have chemistry behind and beyond the footlights.

That chemistry helped them become seven-time ballroom champions in Belarus. Now they have translated that experience into a franchise of their own, the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Bedford Hills.

The Tsarevs were among the wave of Eastern European dancers who emigrated to the U.S. with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. (They arrived here in 1993).

“It was always in the background of my mind,” Yuri Tsarev says. “I had a lot of relatives here. We came here to the world championship and decided to stay because there were more opportunities.”

There was never any doubt that those opportunities would be in the sphere of dance.

“It’s not just an occupation,” he says. “It’s like our life, like our religion.”

The Tsarevs had some contacts with the Fred Astaire Dance Studios Inc., which was founded by the big-screen hoofer in 1947 and which later pioneered hiring Eastern European ballroom champions as teachers.

In 2002, the couple opened their Fred Astaire franchise.

“Business is good,” Yuri Tsarev says. “People want relaxation and entertainment.”

What they get is a whole lot more, says student Bira Rabushka.

“I feel both (Elena and Yuri) have that special talent to find out where the niche is for each student,” she says.

Rabushka, a Goldens Bridge resident who recently retired as a violinist with the New York City Ballet Orchestra, has been studying ballroom dance with the Tsarevs for almost four years. She describes the experience as an infectious combination of an exercise high and an emotional response to the music.

“It’s physically and emotionally very satisfying,” she says.

But it’s also demanding, and not just because of the intricate patterns that make up each dance. As Yuri Tsarev explains – punctuating his words with crisp movements in typical dancer fashion – ballroom dancing is accompanied by a code of courtly conduct.

Elena and Yuri Tsarev in their Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Bedford Hills.
“(Americans) look at it as exercise,” he says. “But ballroom dancing goes with the culture. Without the culture, there’s no ballroom dancing.”

That blend of discipline and delight is evident as instructor Andrey Savenko works carefully with student Carol Steiner to the beat of Elvis Presley. (The studio is hosting an Elvis 75th-birthday party May 14.)

“I love to dance,” says Steiner, a Mount Kisco resident who’s been studying at the Bedford Hills studio for three years. “But I hadn’t danced in years. Now here I am, dancing again.”


Dance, American style

What’s up with the categories?

What is commonly referred to as ballroom dancing actually consists of 10 dances, five each in the International Standard and the International Latin categories. Under International Standard, you have the waltz, the tango, the fox-trot, the quickstep and the Viennese waltz. International Latin contains the rumba, the samba, the cha-cha, the paso doble and the jive.

In the U.S. and Canada, you also have the American Smooth and American Rhythm categories. American Smooth has the waltz, the tango, the fox-trot and the Viennese waltz. American Rhythm has the rumba, the cha-cha, East Coast swing, the bolero and the mambo.

Apart from some divergence in actual dances, what’s the real difference between the International and the American styles?

It’s not only the combination of steps, says Yuri Tsarev, who owns the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Bedford Hills with wife, Elena.

“International must be done with full connection with the partner,” he says.

American-style, which allows for individual movements and more space between partners, is “more expressive, with more variety,” Tsarev adds.

“In International, you’re limited with the amount of steps. But you polish the steps. With American, there are more steps. But you don’t need to polish as much.”

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