Anya Katsevman is featured in this edition of Dance Spotlight! She was born in the Ukraine, but currently lives in New York City. She was nominated by Brielle Friedman. Anya is an accomplished dancer who has won multiple latin dance championships and has also performed for President Barack O’Bama. Check out some fun facts and information about Anya including her social dance pet peeves and her thoughts on performing with one of the true legends of salsa dancing, Eddie “The Mambo King’ Torres!
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What (or who) originally inspired you to try Latin dancing?
My older brother (Eugene Katsevman) was very inspirational to me and he started dancing as a child. It was something he did as a hobby at first, but eventually he began to take dance very seriously. I ended up going with him to lessons because it was easier on my parents for me to be with him.
Describe an accomplishment in your dance career that has made you proud.
Being a two-time world champion is always going to be at the top of the list because that’s a dream I had ever since I started dancing. It’s the epitome of what a dancer can achieve in the competitive field of latin dance. Reaching that milestone was the turning point in my career and I felt that I had made it, and I realized that I could be a dancer for the rest of my life. Beyond the recognition, that was a very proud moment because I feel that striving to be a dancer as a profession is always perceived as a hardship. At least that’s how it was presented to me – something that was hard to do as a career. I felt like I needed that accolade in order to justify that dancing is a safe profession to have.
What did you find most rewarding about competing?
Competing, for me, has never been about being compared to others as much as it is a way to track my own progress. I think competing is an extremely easy way to track how you’re improving. It’s a very useful tool. Also, when you’re competing you tend to put in a different kind of effort because you’re going to be compared to others – so there is more responsibility put on yourself. It forces you to have a different work ethic and you take it a lot more seriously when it’s a competition versus a show. For me, competing helped me to stay motivated.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps and become a professional dancer/instructor?
It’s perfectly safe to have that dream and I wouldn’t allow anyone to take it away from you. There are many avenues and paths to be a professional dancer. If your dream is to be in this creative field, there are many ways that it can manifest itself. Don’t be closed minded to one specific track, but pay attention to what you enjoy the most and be OK with what that might be. For some people, being a dancer means to be onstage, for others they’d like to teach, while others may want to be judge competitions or perhaps coach.
There are so many avenues to be a successful dancer and make a living. As long as you’re open to everything and don’t give up on the dream, then you will find a place to belong. Treat dance as professionally as you would anything that has a structural path. One of the hardships in having a creative job is that there is no structural path. There is no degree to be had. There is no universally accepted validation. You have to pave your own educational path and create your own resourced based ‘school’ for yourself. All of that feeds into how you feel about your career and helps you to pursue whatever path may be for you.
Who do you find inspirational as a dancer?
I grew up in my brothers footsteps and he’s always inspired me because he has overcome a lot of adversity. He’s fought for his ability to be a dancer. When we first immigrated to The States there was very little ballroom dancing for young people and he helped pave the way for that community to grow because he wanted to dance. Nothing was going to stop him. I feel fortunate because the structure that I outlined earlier doesn’t exist for some, but for me it did exist because I had my brother to look up to. He won championships and started coaching and I realized that was a path that I could follow.
Recently, I’ve been most inspired by my students. Watching people from all walks of life following their dreams and succeeding is very rewarding and I’m privileged to see that process.
What’s one goal you still would like to achieve as a dancer?
I’m consistently striving to expand my horizons and have a bigger network of places where I can contribute my talents and do my job.
What’s it like performing with one of the icons of salsa dancing, Eddie “The Mambo King” Torres?
It’s nothing short of a dream. I don’t mean to sound cliche, but he’s truly the epitome of what a successful artist should be. He’s extremely hard working, kind and generous. He’s very good at being himself, yet he’s very diverse as well. Talent, movement, rhythm, passion all pore out of him, but he’s very humble and so generous. He’s a great example of leadership and how success can influence someone to give back and be generous. Sharing the stage with someone so talented is wonderful and it’s an incredible feeling to be part of that energetic exchange. His incredible masculine, rhythmical prowess is extremely liberating. For me, he embodies the perfect role model of how a person on top should behave. It was a great experience for me as a human, as a dancer, as a teacher and as a choreographer. He’s still very passionate and is as driven as he’s been at any point of his career.
What are your social dance pet peeves?
I love latin dancing for the partnering aspect. For me, it’s always a pleasure to be in the masculine/feminine role while dancing. When I share a dance with someone, I really find it distasteful when the dance isn’t about interaction, but about something else. It’s a pet peeve if someone asks me to dance just to test my skills or to practice their moves and there is no connection or sharing.