Interview with Emanuel & Tania – Part I
At the Snowball Classic earlier this year, Joel and I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the winners of the IDSF Standard event, Emanuel Valeri & Tania Kehlet. Although Emanuel is Italian, the couple represents Denmark and are currently ranked 2nd in the IDSF Standard World Ranking List.
Having traveled to Denmark and having trained with their Danish coach, Hans Laxholm, ourselves, Joel and I had a lot to talk to them about. For those of you who don’t know Hans, he has a unique teaching approach that is based on specific exercises to train the body. Much of his work has influenced many of the great dancers of the world, including Emanuel & Tanya’s coaches, William Pino & Alessandra Bucciarelli, and our own coaches, Luca & Loraine Baricchi. As their pupils, both Emanuel & Tanya, and Joel & I respect and value Hans’ teaching methods and pass those on to our students, whether it is in our private lessons or in the exercise portion of our PEAK training class.
Clara: You guys have been here in Vancouver for Grand Ball and Snowball several times already. It’s no wonder you have become very popular with the local crowd!
Tanya: Yes. We’ve been more in Canada than we’ve been in Denmark the last year! (joking)
Clara: So do you spend much time in Denmark?
Emanuel: Actually, not so much. We would like to spend more, but the problem is we don’t spend much time in Denmark or in Italy or anywhere else. We travel like crazy sometimes, but let’s say, we have our base in Italy. We practice a lot there. We are let’s say, 60 or 70% in Italy and the rest in Denmark. This is our balance.
Tania: We try to be there maybe 5/6 days a month in Denmark.
Joel: Just so that you can see your family?
Tania: Yeah, and because we teach quite a bit in Denmark.
Clara: Do you still work a lot with Hans Laxholm?
Clara: We’ve always really liked Hans.
Joel: (demonstrates one of Hans’ exercises, while everyone laughs!)
Tania: Yes, we passed that one at the moment!
Clara: We’re still on that one!
Tania: Well, he comes back in circles.
Joel: But: ‘Remember that you have to forget!’ (quoting a famous Hans-ism)
Emanuel: Yes. Correct. (smiling)
Joel: It’s funny because I was at a competition in Las Vegas in December, and I was talking to one of the Professionals there who just started working with Charlotte Jorgensen. [another Danish coach] He said that he and his partner went to Denmark to work with Hans. And I said, Oh, so you did the ‘Play-station exercise?’ And he said, “Yeah, yeah!” (laughing) It’s always fun connecting with other dancers who know of Hans style of teaching. We always have these funny stories to tell!
Tania: Yeah. We got an email from someone who was working with Charlotte… someone from the US as well… connecting through us. They say, “Oh, so you’re using the same system.” And I said, “Yeah, it works!”
Joel: But it takes a long time to really get into the system, doesn’t it?
Emanuel: Basically yeah. It takes years, I have to say. For us, we practice that already. We worked with that since when we started, and we find that the things that he tells you, it doesn’t happen right away (snapping his fingers). And of course it’s a different system from other systems. But if you really do it, you will get the result after.
Tania: I think it depends on how you grow up actually. Because when we were very young, we kind of had to do it… and we didn’t know why… so it was kind of just put into our practice. Like we used to use them as warm-up exercises and we had no idea what it was for. In the dance room, you would just do all this clapping just to get warm, and we didn’t know why. Then only later, we started to understand it.
Clara: So Tanya, did you start the system first then?
Emanuel: Actually, I started it with my previous partner.
Tania: I had one lesson with [Hans with] my Danish partner, but Hans was living in London at the time.
Joel: And you met Hans through William [Pino]?
Emanuel: Yes. Through William, because he [Hans] was coming to Italy once in awhile to teach. So William and all of his pupils were having lessons with Hans. It started like this. Then of course when I started with Tania, we went to Denmark a lot. And then Hans moved to Denmark, so it was easier to get the relationship. We started [to be] more focused.
Joel: So how many years in total have you been working with Hans then?
Emanuel: Ehhh… With Tania now it’s about 9 or 10. So let’s say about 12 years maybe. Because I started 2 or 3 years before I started with Tania.
Clara: And when would you say that you really got it?
Tania: We haven’t got it yet! (everyone laughs!!!) We’re still waiting…
Emanuel: Something new always comes.
Tania: Hans is like this. Once you think you almost get it, he changes.
Emanuel: Of course when you grow up, maybe after under 21, this is better. It’s more clear. You use this exercise; you don’t just do it. You put thought into the exercise.
Tania: And he also changes. Because in the beginning, he just gives it to you. And then it’s up to you. And then, lots of people give up straight away. And if he sees that you kind of continue and it worked for you, then he starts to give you more… more information… you mature together with the system. But he continues. Even now, before the UK… Once you think you’re safe, he comes with something new. There’s always something!
Joel: I remember we used to take lessons with Hans in Cheam right before the majors…
Of course everybody else is taking lessons at that time. Everyone’s dancing around, while we are walking around the floor doing our exercises. (Joel does his exercises, laughing) But I knew it was for something in the future anyways, so we just accepted it and said, “Yup, that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Emanuel: But in the end… When you’ve also worked with other teachers, it’s basically the same information from a different point of view. At the end of the day, it’s the same. Different words, say [for]standing leg, maybe Hans can use this: you know (doing the exercise); others will say you have to use more the side, and show it like this; another one will use more the leg. At the end of the day, it’s still the standing leg… same thing.
Tania: Hans simplifies everything. And giving you an exercise actually makes sure that you improve it. Where many times you will get different information and you don’t realize what’s important and what’s not important. And by doing this exercise, it takes care of everything. You don’t have to think about it all the time. At least if you take standing leg, you know you’ve practiced standing leg, so you can tick that off and think about something else. That’s how he works. He works that the brain can only think about one thing at a time. You can’t practice position and feet and everything all at the same time.
Joel: So in your practices, do you still do some of the exercises?
Emanuel: Normally, [during] warm up. We always warm up with some exercises.
Joel: And it’s not the same warm up all the time.
Emanuel: Changes… depending on what you’re going to do during the practice. For example, we do it separately a lot. When we do the exercises, we do 10 min me alone, Tanya alone. Maybe I do the standing leg, and she has to practice energy in the arms… so different ideas. But we use it always… and sometimes together as well. It depends how the practice develops. But we use it as a warm up.
Joel: And do you use the same warm up for competitions or is it a little bit different?
Emanuel: Different. Of course during your career you experiment. So maybe for a period you work something, then after one year it works for you another thing. But there was a period, I remember, we were warming up with some exercise before the comp. But uh…
Tania: It didn’t work. (grimacing)
Emanuel: So I need to change. You know, you change and so you have to change exercises.
Tania: I think it’s that you shouldn’t think. And he always says that as well. I think if you do the exercises on the day of the comp, you are already thinking. So for us, that doesn’t work. For us it’s better to… what’s done is done. If you haven’t done it by the day of the comp, it’s not there. Just perform.
Clara: Speaking of not thinking… I remember once in Cheam I was dancing with Hans, and he was talking to me the whole time… asking me what I had for dinner the night before.
Emanuel: This was a period… I remember that period. (nodding knowingly)
Tania: If you were there during that period, then I can tell you what he did to us. We were dancing the Crystal Palace competition before Blackpool and he was on about this subject… every lesson you have to talk, you have to talk, you have to talk… Right. We go to this comp…
Emanuel: And he was judging.
Tania: And Marcus Hilton was judging, Gleave… It was quite a panel. We walked on the floor… Don’t think, just perform. And we’re dancing away and he’s looking at us really bad. Something is wrong. He said we should talk. And we were like, “But not in the comp. He doesn’t want us to talk in the comp does he? We’re not going to do this. We’re not going to talk in the comp.” Then he walks past me and he slips a note into my lap; a little note; and I open it and it says, “You’d better start talking… NOW!” So in the next round, we had to talk. So we’re dancing around in this Foxtrot and he’s (pointing to Emanuel) just laughing because I said something like, “What do you want for dinner tonight?” And he’s laughing away.
Joel: It’s always about food, isn’t it? (laughing)
Tania: And then we do this Hover Corte, just in front of Anne Gleave.
Emanuel: And I said something. And she turned around and went, “Huh?” (everyone laughs)
Joel: Ha, ha! “Are you talking to me?”
Emanuel: All these judges… Hans of course, he was laughing so much. So we experienced this talking period. We remember.
Tania: I remember that period very clearly. It was a nightmare! (everyone laughing)
Joel: But it’s always for a reason, right?
Emanuel: Yeah. To free the mind.
Clara: You have to have a lot of trust in your coach to really get through the system. A lot of people don’t quite understand it at first, and then they tend to give up.
Emanuel: Yes, this is important. Because it takes too much time… You say, “I’m not going to get it… so it’s better to go for this [something else].” But as I said, I believe that everybody’s got their own system and it works for them.
Tania: But you learn so much [through Hans’ system]. Just imagine talking in the comp when you are so young. But in the end, when you’re standing in the comp today, it’s kind of like, nothing can be much worse, can it?… than having to talk your way through a comp. So you definitely gain something.
Joel: Yes, it’s true… learning experience.
Tania: You learn not to feel stupid.
Emanuel: That’s for sure.
Joel: That’s important. As a performer… anything goes!
Emanuel: Anything can happen! You fall off, and what can you do? You can’t change it.
Tania: I just had now at the UK, my dresses made too long. All the way through the comp, I had my feathers all over the UK floor; it [the floor] was covered in black feathers. It was so embarrassing.
Joel: This reminds me of one of the Professional World Championships in Florida, when William was still dancing.
Emanuel: Ah yes! This was in Miami when Christopher won.
Tania: Oh yeah… and he fell!
Joel: The floor was really slippery that time.
Emanuel: Yes, and on the fleckerel!
Clara: Yeah! I remember seeing William fall on the fleckerel, and then just sat there on the floor and spun around on his bum! (everyone laughs, remembering)
Emanuel: Yes. And Christopher Hawkins, he was doing the Quickstep, and he also fell.
Clara: And Slavik too! They all handled it very well. Instead of being embarrassed, they all just made fun of the situation, got back up and continued dancing as if nothing happenned.
Emanuel: Yes. It was so slippery that floor. It was in Miami… I remember. (smiling)
Joel: So how often do you see William and Alessandra? Do you work with them on a weekly basis when you’re in Italy?
Emanuel: With William… The problem is… Now it’s ok. Before when he was dancing, he was busy traveling and then we were there. And now it’s a bit the opposite. [Now that he’s retired,] he is more at home, so it’s easier for us. When he’s at home, we try to be at home to work a lot. So we have a period where we see him everyday. And maybe one week we don’t see him because we are here, away or we travel. But we try to see him a lot…
Clara: So is your home near the studio?
Emanuel: Our house is maybe 5 minutes from William’s house. And the studio is about 20 minutes from our houses. Yeah, we live in the same city. He actually moved to our city.
Joel: So he was following you.
Emanuel: Yes, that’s it! (smiling proudly)
Tania: Yes. William followed Emmanuel… in one thing in his life! (laughing)
Emanuel: Normally I follow him, but for this he followed me! Because I always lived in this city, and he lived about half an hour away.
Joel: What the name of the city?
Emanuel: Nettuno. It’s on the sea. South of Rome.
Tania: It’s beautiful.
Clara: You travel so much… Do you have your own apartment, or do you live with family?
Emanuel: We have our own apartment when we are in Italy… small one. But when we are in Denmark, we live with Tanya’s family.
Joel: It’s nice living with family, because then they can help take care of you.
Tania: Yes. But it’s also nice to have your own.
Joel: Yes. A little bit of both.
Emanuel: Balance. Sometimes it’s good to be on your own and sometimes it’s good to have company. A mix.
Joel: Do your parents dance?
Tania: No, not mine. Emanuel’s parents have a social dance studio.
Emanuel: Social, not for competition. In Italy it’s a lot about this line dance… for normal people who just go for fun. My parents have this kind of school. They don’t have competitors.
Joel: Is that how you started dancing?
Emanuel: I started because my grandmother and my parents were going to dance, like in the social. Instead of being home alone, because I was 6, I went with them. I started to look, and I started copying the steps… for fun I started. Slowly, first competition and then it developed. But it started by mistake.
Joel: And how about you Tania?
Tania: My parents never danced. My mom played music. She plays the trumpet. I started because I was doing children’s modelling … and I was 3 when I started. And you have to walk in time with the music… and I couldn’t. I was just running back and forth, back and forth. They had to have one person with the candy at the end… (laughing) So they said [to my mom], “You have to get this girl to a dancing school.”
Joel: Oh! Musicality.
Tania: Yes. Learn to walk first and then…
Joel: And obviously, your parents support you and your dancing?
Emanuel: Yes. Both my parents and Tania’s mom come to watch our competitions. My parents come to all the comps: UK, Blackpool, International…
Tania: Now. Because during the first 6 or 7 years of our career, Emanuel’s mother didn’t travel, because she suffered from Claustrophobia. She was afraid of flying. She never saw us dance basically. Then his father decided that he didn’t want to be stopped not seeing us dance, so he started traveling with us to some comps. And then she was kind of like, sitting at home alone…
Emanuel: She went and did a course with Alitalia [an Italian airline company]. They have a course for the people who are afraid to fly. And she slowly, with the method they used, with psychologists… she basically passed the problem.
Tania: And now she just doesn’t want to miss anything.
Emanuel: And now she just wants to go, go, go!
Joel: That’s wonderful.
Tania: And my mom also. I have a younger brother that dances as well, so she has to split her time between me and my brother.
Clara: Do you have brothers or sisters?
Emanuel: No. I am an only child. No brother no sister.
Clara: That’s why your parents can follow you around to all the competitions, eh?
Emanuel: Yes, I am lucky that I’m alone!
Joel: You said that you do a lot of teaching in Denmark. Is it within the Danish system or at a private studio?
Tania: It’s in the Danish system. It’s in the Club in Aarhus.
Emanuel: It’s like a sports club where different teachers are teaching. It’s not like a private club.
Tania: It’s where Lena James and Peter Stokkebroe teach… it’s the same studio.
Clara: Do they still have the International training camp that we used to go to in Aarhus every year?
Tania: No. They stopped it now. They have national training camps, but not the International one. Because that one, the IDSF decided that you couldn’t do training camps before the comp. Then they wanted to do it after, and they did that one year, but it was not the same.
Emanuel: Because after a comp, it’s hard to start again with the lessons and lectures. The day after the comp, in the morning, you wake up and you have a lesson…
Tania: And there weren’t as many foreign couples coming anymore.
Emanuel: But they still have the national training camp. The Danish system organizes it.
Tania: It was a nice one though, the Jonkers [International training camp].
Joel: So apart from William and Hans, what are your other influences?
Emanuel: This is our main team. We work also with Oliver Wessel-Therhorn and in England.
Tania: We try to have many influences. We listen a lot. We like those group lectures.
Emanuel: Yeah. I enjoy to listen a lot to Latin lectures, Ballroom lectures… a small thing I can take and then develop it. It’s nice. I enjoy it. You have to take inspiration from everything.
Joel: Have you ever taken a Standard lesson with a Latin teacher?
Tania: For sure. With Lena James.
Emanuel: When we have a new show, she helps us with the movement and timing. It’s good.
Tania: We also work with Ruud.
Emanuel: It’s more a mix of Ballroom and Latin. But it’s nice sometimes with a Latin couple to ask their opinion. We like to listen to different ideas. It’s fun.
Clara: Did you do Latin before?
Emanuel: Yes. We did 10-dance for one or one and a half years. We danced only in Denmark. We never focused enough on Latin. It was always 99% ballroom and 1% Latin. Just a few days before the ranking in 10-dance, we’d practice the routine. So after that year, we said, that’s it.
Tania: Before I danced with Emanuel, I used to dance Latin. I was better in Latin.
Emanuel: Better results in Latin than in Ballroom.
Clara: So then how did you decide to go into Ballroom?
Tania: I had better results in Latin, but I enjoyed Ballroom more. When I was Junior, I liked Latin more, but when I got to Youth and I got older, I never really felt comfortable in the competition in Latin. Somehow I knew. I liked to practice it, but in competition, I just felt stupid.
Joel: Me too! (laughing)
Tania: I love ballroom much more. It’s just a different feeling for me. So when I stopped with my Danish partner, I looked for a Ballroom guy… and I got one! (smiling)
Joel: How did you find each other?
Emanuel: It was William. I was without partner for about 6 months. Tania was dancing in Italy… and because William was going to Denmark to teach, so that’s why there was this connection. I was free, and Tania didn’t have a partner, so William organized a tryout.
Tania: I had seen him at Jonkers [the International training camp that we were talking about earlier]. When I was dancing with my Danish partner, he was there with his Italian partner. And I saw him. I was dancing Latin, and I was second or fourth or something in the Youth Latin and he was in the Youth ballroom. I was looking at him and I liked his dancing very much.
Emanuel: But then after that, it was one year.
Tania: For about 6 months he wasn’t dancing. I actually thought that he stopped dancing. Then, when I was without partner, I said to William, “Why don’t we try to ask him. Maybe he wants to dance again.”
Joel: And it worked out well from the very beginning?
Emanuel: Yes. We were both with William [so it was easy]. After one and a half months, we did a Championship. We did the routine in one day maybe… 4 routines straight. So that’s why it clicked. It was positive from the beginning. We’re both lucky.
Tania: I think also height was just right. Because I had a Danish partner, for example, and we were about the same height. And then I had one very tall, and Emanuel was just right.