With dance floors just starting to get going again, Ivailo reflects on his dance career at the 5,000 square feet Studio 9 dance studio, the biggest one in the city, and how it helped him to meet his dance partner for life, his wife.
When did you first realise dancing was going to be a big part of your life?
I started dancing when I was seven years old as it is hugely popular in many Eastern European countries. It’s part of the culture. I grew up watching TV dance competitions, then, one day, I insisted to my parents that they sign me up for dancing school.
At that time, I was in love with Latin American music – the beat, the rhythm, the melody…Everything really. It was what I most wanted to do with my life. I was actually quite lucky, as my hometown, Burgas [a city on Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast], was something of a ballroom dancing hub.
Do you have to be born a great dancer or is it a talent you can acquire?
The studio where I first started dancing was run by the then-Bulgarian champions and that really helped me hone my dancing skills.
While I’d like to think that there’s a natural synergy between rhythm and me, I can’t overemphasise how important it is to work on your skills. So, I would say, it’s all down to a mix of rehearsing really hard and your own natural talent.
What’s the daily regime like for those looking for success in the world of competitive dancing?
Well, every competitor starts their day with stretching, a lot of stretching. Nowadays, many are very conscious of their physique, so they’ll go to the gym, ensure they have a proper diet and spend hours training and rehearsing their routines at the studio. Whether you’re preparing for a competition or already competing, you never stop learning, something anyone who aspires to be a professional dancer, will really have to take on board.
A competitor also never really stays in one place. The three major and international competitions are hosted by three UK cities and there are also the European and World Championships. So, there’s a lot of travelling involved.
What was it like to be crowned Vice-Champion of Latin American Show Dance?
Of course, it was great to win that particular title. While we signed up for the competition with no real expectations, we, of course, came prepared. Everything was seamless – from choosing the music and the choreography to the selection of the outfits and shoes. It was definitely a milestone win and the dance of a lifetime for us.
Even now, as a retired dancer and a World Dance Coach Adjudicator, apart from the technicalities that I share with my students, I tell them the same thing, that when participating in a showcase, everything has to be seamless.
What led you to move to Hong Kong?
The move to Hong Kong was far from planned. I was on the way to Malaysia with my partner for a competition and we had a stopover in Hong Kong. While we were there, I met with some fellow dancers and friends who invited me to their dance studio for a short-term guest instructor gig. From there, I fell in love with Hong Kong because it is like dancing for many reasons. They are both colourful and, sometimes, a little bit too noisy.
I like the fact that everything here is convenient. For me, the commuting experience in Hong Kong is among the best in the world. Ballroom Dancing was pretty popular here in Hong Kong, so that was another good reason for me to move here.
You also opened The Beat Dance Studio in DB. What was the thinking behind that?
My wife and I, moved to Discovery Bay, 12 years ago, when we decided to retire. We opened The Beat Dance Studio because we still had a real passion for dance. We now operate from two sites, so evidently, a lot of the people in Hong Kong share that passion. Which I am very grateful for. The response by the public to our businesses is truly admirable. We will keep on improving and continue to serve our clients, to keep the dancing spirit in the city alive and, hopefully, grow to a bigger community.
In addition, I am also the General Manager of Studio 9, the biggest studio in Hong Kong – a dance hub open for all styles of dancing, ballroom and Latin to wedding dances for couples and kids’ classes.
I think dance studios are spaces with huge transformational potential. There is always a sense of freedom and liberation and it’s a space quite distinct from real life.
Who are your typical students?
Whether purely for exercise or for competition, the age of our students ranges from as young as two, to teenagers who are competing, to working and retired professionals who just see it as a social gathering of sorts.
I think letting go and just being yourself is what makes dancing worthwhile. I believe that there is something more to dancing than what people generally know about the art. It really goes beyond its meaning. That’s what I love about it.
Tell us about your typical day.
I like to think I’m something of an early bird as I typically wake up at around 6 am. My daily routine includes a visit to the studio at Discovery Bay, where I do personal training or teach a dance group class. After that, I’ll go to Studio 9 in Sheung Wan where I spend the whole rest of the day working. The most exciting part of a day, and my personal favourite, is when I go home to my wife and kids, and just relax and enjoy the night.
What is your goal for the new year?
Fingers crossed, we really hope that 2023 will be a life-changing year for all of us. I believe it will be a time when Hong Kong finally rebounds and more people will feel free to socialise and go out. With a sense of normality finally restored, people will be able to plan things like their long-delayed weddings, or just meeting new people amongst many other things and reasons.
This means they come to one of our studios and we can help them by doing what we do best – teaching them how to dance. Now that social gatherings are finally back on the agenda, we are also more than happy to have our studios rented out for events. I hope more people take up dancing and experience its sheer and unbridled joy. That’s something we can all relate to, now that we are, once again, able to put our dancing shoes on.
(Interview by: Joseff Musa; Photographer: Jack Law; Art Direction and Styling: Jhoshwa Ledesma; Videographer: Jack Fontanilla; Venue: Studio 9)