LYNNWOOD — Like other top athletes, dancers Scott Nicholson and Evie Gorobets work out many hours a week. They train mostly together, but also on their own and usually at a gym where they lift weights, stretch and do cardio exercises.
The hard work is necessary to prepare for competitions where there is more hard work. Because in competitive ballroom dancing, the trick is to make what is difficult and sometimes painful instead appear easy and elegant.
“(Dancing) is insanely demanding,” said the 17-year-old Nicholson, who lives in Everett. “The reason you can finish (a competition) is because there’s so much adrenaline and you want it so bad that you just keep going and going. But after you’re done and then the day after the competition, your body just hurts.
“You have to love it,” he said. “Because if you don’t, you won’t put in the extreme hours that it takes.”
Nicholson and the 15-year-old Gorobets, who lives in Redmond, love dancing enough that they meet for practice five days a week. Their coach is Ekaterina (Katia) Zakharoff, a Russian emigre and former elite international dancer who retired last year to focus solely on teaching. She lives now in Everett.
In mid-November, Nicholson and Gorobets were in Vancouver, B.C., for the World DanceSport Federation U-21 World Championships. Though they finished back in the standings, they were one of only two American couples to qualify for the event.
“There was a lot of people there and a lot of really good competitors,” said Nicholson, who moved from West Linn, Ore., to Everett last summer to train with Zakharoff. “Overall, it was just a really good competition.”
“I felt a huge responsibility when we got there because there was only one other couple from the U.S.,” said Gorobets, who was born in Russia and raised in Canada, but has lived in the Seattle area for three years. “You feel this huge pride being one of only two from your nation to compete.”
According to Zakharoff, competitive ballroom dancing — or dancesport, as it is sometimes called — is growing in popularity in Snohomish County, just as it is gaining greater acceptance as a true sport. The World DanceSport Federation has already been recognized by the International Olympic Committee, and dancing could be included in future Games.
If you are a dancer, then “you are an athlete,” said Zakharoff, who competed for 25 years. “You get prepared for the competition, you treat your body like it’s an athlete’s body, you have restrictions in your diet and you must be going to the gym. There’s no other way around it. … As one of the dancers said, when we’re doing it on the floor it may be art, but everything that surrounds it is a sport.”
“It’s a competitive art,” added Nicholson. “There’s a lot of sport going on, but in the end you’re trying to create a beautiful thing.”
Nicholson and Gorobets compete in 10 separate dances. In International Standard they dance the waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot and quickstep; in Latin Standard, the cha-cha, samba, rumba, paso doble and jive. At certain competitions they dance all 10, and each one “has its own characteristics,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson, who also teaches dance, has very specific goals for the future. “I want to keep on dancing and do very well as an amateur, and then turn professional (in about four years) and eventually become a world champion,” he said. “That’s my plan.”
Gorobets, a sophomore at Interlake High School, is undecided about a professional dancing career because she is also considering college. “By the time I’m a (high school) senior, I’ll know,” she said.
Zakharoff understands the commitment needed for dancing excellence because it is one she once made for herself.
“There has to be this investment of yourself without feeling like you’re losing something,” she explained. “There is much less of a social life (because) there is a more important thing you put for yourself. … You have to feel like that’s what you want to do, and you don’t even have to think about the sacrifice because you don’t feel like you’re sacrificing.”
But if the demands are high, so are the rewards. Not only competitive success, but also those moments of dancing oneness that transcend every inconvenience and discomfort along the way.
“(Dancing) is so much fun,” Nicholson said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. You’re doing what you love out on the floor and it just feels amazing.”
As a dancer, Gorobets said, “you have a connection with this one other person. And when your dancing works, it feels so amazing. It’s like everything’s right in the world. There are no other issues. There’s just the music, your partner and you.”