This interview was recorded after Oskar and Karolina won the Amateur Rising Star Ballroom in Blackpool but before their second win there few days later when they became Under21 Ballroom champions. They were the first couple who won two events during the same Blackpool Festival in the same style ever. Oskar and Karolina represent USA - see their profile page
You always have that little extra the ballroom gives you but you have to be prepared for it. You cannot count on luck
Fantastic results yesterday! How does it compare to becoming US champions?
[Oskar] Definitely Blackpool is more prestigious competition. The judging panel is made up of all past champions. The audience is amazing and live orchestra playing in the semi final and the final... It is an amazing feeling out there. Other champions share the floor with you... it is a great opportunity to dance here and we are very happy.
Can you please tell us how you started dancing? What is your history?
[Karolina] I am from Canada. I started dancing when I was four and I was more into Latin than Standard. I started dancing Standard at fourteen. I moved to New York when I was fifteen to dance with Andrey Begunov. We split up and then Oskar came along. We had a try-out which went very well and we started dancing together. We danced together for some two years and then I moved back to Canada. I was so young then and it was very difficult for me to be away from my family so I went back. In Canada I finished school... Oskar had his own life then (laughing). Maybe two weeks after I finished my school Oskar wrote back to me asking if I wanted to dance again with him. I said: yes. And that's how it started. Now we are together for year and a half.
[Oskar] I did not start dancing as early as Karolina. I was eleven, I think. I started in a little studio at first and then got more serious. I started competitions. At first I did not like it, I thought it was weird for guys to dance. I was playing basketball, running around the park, on my bike... My Dad said one day: go to dance, you have too much time on your hands. Go and learn dance... And I said: I don't know about that! I really did not think dancing was for guys. But I went there and there were lots of girls there who I could dance with. And that's what I liked. I thought dancing with girls was fun. I could meet some new girlfriends. So that's how I started. When I got more serious my partner at the time was too short. I am really tall, 6'4 maybe 6'5 (195 cm) and my partner was just too short. I needed a taller partner. When Karolina split up with her partner we had a try-out. We, at the time, danced all 10 dances, also Latin.
[Karolina] We actually were US Youth 10 Dance champions!
[Oskar] When she went back to Canada I took a little break. I was in high school and worked a lot, had lot of other things to do. It was tough. After some time I found another partner but it was not working out. I was traveling, I tried with other partners. I had a partner from Poland as well but nothing really worked out. Finally I decided I was going to call Karolina again. And one day I called her and asked if she wanted a try-out. And we did and started dancing again together. I guess it worked out pretty well!
Definitely the results prove it! When you first started dancing together, how did you find about each other?
[Oskar] Hmmm, I guess that all the dancers in New York know about each other. If somebody splits you know about it...
You talk about New York like it was a small village!
[Oskar] In a way it is!
[Karolina] It is a big city but...
[Oskar] It is a small dancing world. You just see random people everywhere (laughing) you see them on the streets all the time. When somebody splits you just know about it. There is networking, close connections everywhere. So when I heard of Karolina's split I thought she was the best person for me to dance with.
Are you also a couple in your private life?
Do you believe that mixing private and professional life is possible?
[Oskar] For some people it works.
[Karolina] We are very close and good friends. We have a very good relationship.
[Oskar] We know each other for a very long time. Karolina is very beautiful, very beautiful... (laughing) but we are just not together in that sense.
What do you like in your partner the most?
[Karolina] ... Oskar's personality. He is very easy to work with. I like that he listens. It is not always true with the guys, they usually think they are in the center. Maybe it is right actually (laughing)
[Oskar] No, it is 50-50. OK, 55-45!
[Karolina] He listens when I feel something is wrong. He is more than open to listen to what I need to say. He is kind. He is tall, which is good for me. I think our personalities clicked very well.
[Oskar] The same from me! Karolina is very easy to work with. We never argue. Of course, everybody has a bad day
[Karolina] We have disagreements
[Oskar] Yes, we have disagreements but we never fight... We just have, I don't know, the same mentality, right?
[Karolina] We both want the same thing
[Oskar] Yes, we both want the same thing, we focus on the same things. We just, kind of..., never had issues. So, I guess, this is what I like about Karolina. And she is tall which is nice.
So what are her faults then?
[Oskar] Her faults? She has no faults, she is perfect! what are your faults, Karolina?
[Oskar] hmmm (long pause) She is too nice sometimes. She is sometimes too nice to tell me what is wrong. Besides that, nothing!
What about you Karolina? What do you say now?
[Karolina] Where shall I start? I don't know... He is a little bit stubborn.
[Oskar] Yes, I am stubborn
[Karolina] Sometimes it is frustrating a little bit but I can be a bit stubborn as well.
[Oskar] I am a little more stubborn than Karolina
[Karolina] It can be good though, it is in a good way
[Oskar] Is there something like "good stubborn"?
So his fault is that he is stubborn in a good way!! Sorry, cannot understand that (laughing)
[Karolina] I don't know how to explain it
[Oskar] I am not buying it!
[Karolina] Well, sometimes I just want to try something but he is like: no, no, we're starting here not there. We need to do it together
[Oskar] I am pretty demanding, that's for sure. I agree. But we never have issues together and we get along very well. It is very surprising that many couples argue a lot and are at each others throats all the time! When we are on the floor we know what we need to do and what to work on.
[Karolina] We just laugh at it. When we have a disagreement, we say what we need to say and then we just laugh. There is no point of fighting.
[Oskar] It would be such a waste of time. Between going to school, to work and to practice you don't have that much time and you want to go out sometimes, you want to have good time. So you do not have time to waste on arguing. I find that very stupid. So whenever we have a disagreement, we think: OK, how are we going to solve this. And we move past it or we ask our coaches.
[Karolina] If something doesn't work we just leave it sometimes and work on something else
[Oskar] It is a waste of time and energy, you know! So we never have arguments as we are trying to be smart about it.
Who is taking care of choreography?
[Karolina] Tomasz Papkala and Frantsiska Yordanova. If we see something we like we ask them to have a look. It has to work for us. We are a tall couple, we don't want to do something not our style, I don't know, something which doesn't look to good on us.
[Oskar] You always need guidance. All top couples have guidance. You need somebody to check you out, to tell you how it looks. Because you don't always know how it looks. It might feel good but it doesn't look good, or not as good as it feels. So you always need somebody there to take care of you, to tell you what you can change, maybe timing, steps or an angle. So Tomasz and Frantsiska help us a lot and we are very grateful for that.
How many regular teachers do you have?
[Karolina] Just them...
[Oskar] Pretty much just two of them.
[Karolina] When someone comes to the States we may have some lessons
[Oskar] Tomasz and Frantsiska are in New Jersey and we are in New York. It is a close distance, a 45 minute drive from my house by car. Sometimes we go there and sometimes they come to the city. We see them regularly
[Karolina] Almost every day
[Oskar] We see them almost every day but it doesn't mean we have a lesson every day. We see each other because we practice on a big floor there. They may give us some advice or tips or some hints on what looks good. It is nice to have somebody there to ask a question where you get an answer immediately. Or you have a suggestion or want feedback...
[Karolina] We are very lucky. We are grateful for that
[Oskar] We are very lucky to have such great support from them. We have a lot of help as well in terms of dresses, everything...
[Karolina] We feel like we are a close family, the four of us.
[Oskar] To come here to England from New York is very expensive. The flights are expensive. If you live in Europe it is convenient. You can travel from, say Poland, to London for maybe £100 or less. For us it is not so. It is great to live in America, it's a nice place to live but it's far away from everything. All the dancing happens in Europe, in England. It is hard to travel to London because it is really expensive. And it is hard to sit in regular economy when you are tall. If I won the lottery, I would fly business class! But right now, we are on a budget. So it is tickets, and you lose a day for traveling, you lose a day coming back.
[Karolina] Time change...
[Oskar] It is six hour time difference. For the first couple of days you are really confused because of that. You feel horrible.
Which way time change is more difficult to you?
[Oskar] Coming to Europe is horrible. Going back is OK. You have your own bed...
[Karolina] It feels like you just woke up earlier, at six o'clock.
[Oskar] But coming here, you just cannot fall asleep. You are tossing and turning thinking you have to fall asleep as there is competition the next day... but you cannot get to sleep. And then come six o'clock in the morning and you take sleeping pills and it doesn't help... And then the next day you feel like you are on drugs all day. You keep falling asleep walking around. So definitely it is easier going back home! so that's why we come couple of days in advance. Maybe three, four days earlier. We practise a little bit and we get slowly used to the time.
[Karolina] Even now we have hard time trying to sleep.
[Oskar] The beds are to short and my feet always hang off!
The rooms in Blackpool are not too big either!
[Oskar] Yes, the bathroom is inside your bedroom and then the bed and pretty much no space left. This year we have better rooms than last year. Last year we had TVs falling off the ceiling....
[Karolina] This year we have air conditioning which is great because it is so hot outside.
[Oskar] It shows that we are so fortunate in the States because standards in the hotels are so much better. I feel like Americans are really spoiled. Everything is always easy to get to, it is cheaper as well. Everywhere you go you have Hilton hotels and the prices are exactly as here in Blackpool. Coming here puts it all into perspective how lucky we are in the States. It makes you enjoy it even more when you are there! I am not complaining, don't get me wrong! I love this competition.
What other competitions do you come to?
[Karolina] UK Open and the International
[Oskar] We do the "big three" English competitions. You have to do them really. If we wanted to do The "Freedom to Dance" and other competitions in England we would have to come and stay three-four weeks. There are some much earlier but not enough to come back home between them and Blackpool. We would have to miss school, work, and pay for the accommodation here in England. But if you go back home say, after "Freedom to Dance", and you have a two to three weeks break before Blackpool you have to pay for a ticket, again!, to go back to England. Between us, it is something like $2500 just for a ticket so it is a lot of money. You have to decide what you spend it on...
Are you still in a school?
[Oskar] Yes, I am. I study Business Management and Marketing. It is something I can apply to dancing as well. There are opportunities in dancing with business, creating products and selling them, opening a studio maybe in the future. I think that would help me. I don't want to do anything random. I don't want to study something like English or Nursing which I don't think would help me with my plans. I don't want to sacrifice money and time just to go to school for the sake of it.
[Karolina] For me, it is difficult as I am from a different country and away from my family. Canada may be close but New York is still far away from home.
[Oskar] It is 10 hours drive
[Karolina] It is very expensive for me to go back to school. I would love to if I could. I have to pay for dresses, lessons, traveling and I pretty much practise and work all day. School is very expensive and I cannot afford it now.
[Oskar] Schools in New York are expensive especially if you are not a citizen. You have to pay $30,000 - $40,000 a year. And because she is not a resident she cannot get any scholarship from anywhere so... It is too much, it is crazy.
How do you manage financially?
[Oskar] We teach. We are lucky that in America Amateurs are allowed to teach. We have been fortunate enough to have good results and that helps us with our work. We have a nice studio which helps us with our work. It is in the city. It has a good floor, nice open space and it is a nice environment for work. Lots of students come in. We work in a couple of different places. New York is very close, you can work in Queens, you can work in the city, in Long Island, in New Jersey. There are opportunities to work in different places.
[Karolina] I pretty much work just at one studio who hired me to work there.
So you are self sufficient?
[Oskar] Yes. We support ourselves, we do not ask parents to help us out. We try to make it on our own. It is our dancing so we feel we have to now support ourselves. Sooner or later you have to move out of your parents house so... Well, now, a lot of people don't or they are coming back as it is hard in America to find work. But in dancing it is pretty consistent with work. Also, it is convenient because when you are leaving for competitions everybody understands and they are OK with that. When you work in another line of business it is not so easy. Karolina was working at a restaurant...
[Karolina] Yes, when I came back to New York I worked at a restaurant. Every time I wanted to leave for competitions it was so difficult to explain to them. They always complained that I was taking days off.
[Oskar] Imagine, she is taking off every other weekend to go to a competition but they have a lot of work at the weekends. You can see it could not last long.
But now you are doing what you love doing I presume?
[Oskar] Yes, and it is so convenient. We can always practise in between our work. We can work two hours, then practise and then work again and then practise some more. We are in a studio whole day. It is very nice for us.
What do you do outside of dancing?
[Karolina] We relax! Sometimes we go to the movies
[Oskar] We hardly have any free time. But sometimes we have a chance to sneak out for a movie. Sometimes we are so tired we need that.
[Karolina] Sometimes we just want to stay home and sleep.
[Oskar] We are always running around. We leave at 8am and we come back by 10pm. And sometimes we are so tired, we sit down and fall asleep. What do we like to do?
[Karolina] We like vacations.
[Oskar] We never have vacations. But we planning on it.
Where would you like to go?
[Oskar and Karolina] Somewhere hot!
So you don't want to go to an adventure holiday in Antarctica?
[Karolina] No, no! Somewhere very hot. But it costs a lot of money.
[Oskar] Whenever we go to competitions we try to have some time to see places
[Karolina] We went to London, to the city, and just walked around the streets
[Oskar] Before, we used to go to dance the competition and then come back straight home. Now, we try to squeeze some vacation into it as well.
[Karolina] You have already pay so much money to get there so you may as well see something
[Oskar] We went to our Nationals which were in Utah and we decided, as it is a nice place for skiing, beautiful mountains, that we will stay two days extra to enjoy it. We went skiing. Karolina fell couple of times and had a couple of bruises. But we had lots of fun
[Karolina] Hats and gloves were falling off, skis and ski poles went different places... People had to help me!
[Oskar] She can dance be she cannot ski!
[Karolina] I could not coordinate my skis.
[Oskar] What I like to do sometimes is to ride on motorcycles. It is easy and nice to ride a motorcycle in the city. It is the easiest way to get around in New York. What else do we do? We hang out with friends as well. It is hard to have friends when you are a dancer because you are so busy all the time. They don't understand the amount of time, amount of effort and sacrifice you need for dancing. It is easier for me, as I lived in New York my whole life and my friends are here. But it is hard from Karolina.
[Karolina] All my friends in New York are his friends!
[Oskar] She's adopted my friends! She took over them. So now I don't have friends, she has them all (laughing)
[Karolina] It is hard to keep the friendship because people don't understand that we travel. They just get angry...
[Oskar] That's why you have dance friends.
So most of your friends are dancers?
[Karolina] Yes, very few outside of dancing....
[Oskar] Except of people you know for a very long time, people you grew up with. But outside of danceworld, people just don't get it, you know.
Do you go home often?
[Karolina] No, not very often. I try... I always say I will go home every two months but we are so busy... We also always thinking money wise, we rather spend money on lessons. So I go home every six months maybe. I try to go home for holidays.
[Oskar] Yes, holidays are times you have to see your family. Karolina lives with me and my family but she needs to see her own family, her brother and sister... her cat (laughing)... her parents...
Interesting priorities! (laughing). Are your parents coming to your competitions?
[Karolina] It is difficult for them as they work a lot. As much as they would love to come to see me competing, they would love to come here to Blackpool as well, it is just so expensive. They would love to but they'd rather help me out financially... They came a few times.
[Oskar] My parents also work a lot and it is hard to take time off to go and see us, especially when you have your own business. My parents run a day care, like a pre-school, and they just cannot take days off. They have kids coming in, they teach, and they cannot just take off to a competition. And it is too hectic for them as well. We sometimes fly in the morning to a competition, dance and we come back the same night or following morning. They wouldn't be able to cope with something like that. But we keep in touch. The first thing we do we always call our parents to tell how it went. When I was younger my parents had to come with me everywhere. When I become fourteen, fifteen my parents started to let me go by myself as it was so expensive. If you go to any big competition in America you have to fly. And you have to pay double for food, entry, accommodation...
[Karolina] But our parents miss coming with us...
[Oskar] I think so as well. All parents would want to watch their kids winning Blackpool! They watch videos. Actually my Dad is more into dancing. The only part my Mom enjoys to watch is the awards part. Pretty much you can just skip the whole competition, it doesn't matter how you danced, except for the dresses which she likes to watch. So you can erase the whole competition, leave the dresses and the awards!
In America you have lots of different events at the dance competition and everybody who enters the competition gets an award
[Oskar] What they try to do is they try to promote dancing for all the kids. So pretty much all the kids get their awards so they are happy. They can all say they are winners.
[Karolina] Because there are so many events, competitions last for several days. But it makes sense as well when you have to travel for many hours to get there you may as well stay for a bit longer. Once we went to California and danced 2 days but we were there for 3. There was a one day break. So we went for a hike with bikes. But the bikes broke and by the time we came back we were burnt and bruised. We always have adventures!
[Oskar] It was fun! There is always something happening because you have to travel so for for the competition and you always have to fly. It is not an hour or two to get there. It is not like in Europe where you an hour or two away. You could even drive from country to country if you want to. But America is pretty big and if you want to get to California from New York you've got to fly.
[Karolina] Everything feels so close in here. It is close, one hour or two hours away to go to Spain or to Poland.
Are you both from Polish families?
[Oskar] Yes, all parents are Polish. We are "Polak crew"! There are lots of Polish in New York you know. Also in Toronto, Canada.
Were you both born in, respectively, USA and Canada?
[Oskar] Yes, but Karolina was almost born in Greece!
[Karolina] I was born in Canada and I am full blown Canadian
[Oskar] Yes, maple syrup loving Canadian, hockey loving Canadian. We have a lot of Canadian jokes in the USA.
[Karolina] We are different. We say sorry a lot.
[Oskar] They are really nice people, too nice. In New York everyone is really not that nice. Here, people are also nice. They will carry bags for you...
[Karolina] I remember, Oskar came to Canada once and we went to grocery store. And he was so surprised because they were like: hi, how are you! Thank you.
[Oskar] In New York people are always so busy and nobody has time for you. People hit you with their car and keep driving!
[Karolina] Or they walk on a street and you have to move over for them because they will walk right onto you!
[Oskar] This persona of New York is very busy and active. Everything is so close together and packed... In Canada is so much space! People have so much time, just driving around or walking on a street. People are relaxed. Canadians are nice people. Anyway, I cannot say anything else as Karolina is here. If she wasn't that would be a different story! (laughing)
[Karolina] Whenever I say I am Canadian he tells me I am American now!
[Oskar] She came to live in America so she is! Whenever our anthem is playing I say to her: Karolina, get your hand on your chest!
[Karolina] In Canada we do not do anything like this! In America, they do it all the time. Every morning, when the school starts they stand up and sing the national anthem.
[Oskar] Americans are very proud and patriotic, that's for sure!
Coming back to dancing, what are your plans for the future?
[Karolina] In a near future... this week on Tuesday, we will dance the Under 21 Ballroom. Actually, coming to Blackpool this was our main goal to win that event. Rising Star was a kind of an extra thing which we are so very happy with! We were thinking we might have a chance in Rising Star but we never thought of winning it, we always aimed at Under 21.
[Oskar] So we have to do really well, our best, on Tuesday. This is our last year in Under 21 so we have to show our dancing.
[Karolina] At the UK Open, Rising Stars turned out very good for us...
You have almost won it then...
[Oskar] Yes, we won 2 dances. We were happy of course. And here we were surprised to win as you never know. So we have to dance well on Tuesday also.
You said you planned the Under 21 but not Rising Stars. What is the difference?
[Oskar] It is a mindset. All we were thinking about was Under 21. We never thought of Rising Stars as plausible... We are only 20 and our biggest chance was to win Under 21. You dance with younger people, while in Rising Stars they are more mature and you have to be more mature. We always wanted to win Blackpool and we always thought of Under 21. Karolina is turning 21 in two weeks so we just about made it. This is the last year for it. So winning the Rising Stars was a total surprise, I still cannot believe it! I woke up this morning and said: Karolina, you know, we won it, oh yeah!
It will be quite a pressure for you on Tuesday, tomorrow.
[Karolina] The pressure would be there anyway. You always have to dance well.
[Oskar] This competition always makes you give 150%!
[Karolina] It is amazing. The feeling of dancing the final here, the orchestra, everything. The feeling of going out there, the audience cheering for you... It makes you want to go for it!
[Oskar] When you her all the North Americans cheering for you, you don't care how tired you are and you just want to give this 150%. You can pass out on this floor but you are going to give whatever you've got! Under 21 is going to be extra special, we are going to dance in the evening. The Rising Stars final was during the early afternoon, like 1:30pm, so there were not many people there. Still a lot, comparing to New York competitions which are a little bit emptier. But the evening of Under 21 is going to be amazing, is going to be fun.
I was talking yesterday to one of the Latin couples and they told me that, they don't know why, they always have the energy till the end here in Blackpool. At the other competitions they get tired but never here!
[Karolina] I know! When you come here it is so special! All the history, all the amazing dancers from all these years. And you are on the same floor on which all these amazing people, where other World champions danced.
[Oskar] You walk inside, it is all beautiful, the lighting, the floor, the presence of the whole ballroom... You don't often have a chance like this.
[Karolina] And you have the World class judges checking you out!
[Oskar] You feel inspired. And I think that getting tired is as much mental as physical thing. If you tell yourself that you are tired, you feel tired. But if you come here and you're inspired by all of this, if you're mentally prepared you can do so much more.
Are your preparations for Blackpool any different to other competitions? We know of some couples who, for instance, play Blackpool music when they prepare for this competition.
[Oskar] You always have that little extra the ballroom gives you but you have to be prepared for it. You cannot count on luck. You have to work hard at home and be physically strong to be able to pull of all the dances. And for Blackpool you crank it up, you do more.
[Karolina] We play Blackpool music pretty much all year round.
[Oskar] They always turn it off at the studio but I put it on. Some people think it is boring. Until they come here! When you hear it here, you fall in love with it.
[Karolina] When you are young you don't really understand that music. But then you appreciate it a lot.
It is funny to hear you saying: when I was young....
[Karolina] I mean, when I was younger, like fifteen!
[Oskar] Last year was our first Blackpool. We never danced Blackpool before. So when our coaches played Blackpool music we thought: was is it? It was so different.
[Karolina] No vocals...
[Oskar] And when you come here you hear the orchestra playing it, and you get goose bumps all over. It is so amazing to hear it live. So before UK Open, and before International we played Ross Mitchell music as well, orchestra music.
Will we see you in October in London as well?
[Oskar] Definitely! And for the UK Open as well. We loved the Royal Albert Hall. I felt like a gladiator dancing there!
[Karolina] When we finished dancing he stopped and said: where is our exit?? Because the floor is all round and the same. I remembered which judges were standing by the exit so I said: there!
[Oskar] The floor has no corners and you go round and round.... There are so many couples and when the music finishes you don't know where to go. It put me off a bit.
You are right, you are like a gladiator, all the way down and the audience is above you.
[Oskar] Yes! You go down backstage and then back up. People watch you and you see their feet and their shoes first when you return to the floor. But it is nice. It's a nice experience. This year we have a star and will not have to get up early morning to dance
[Karolina] Last year we had to wake up 4am to get ready and take a train to Brentwood for 8am! And we danced all day and between rounds we were sleeping.
[Oskar] We arrived to London only two days earlier and we were totally jet-lagged. Our brains were scrambled!
So earning your star for this year was really important, wasn't it
[Oskar] Very true!
Thank you very much for coming and good luck for Tuesday!