While testing our new “Mentorship” chapter CF offered our 2022 alumna and the freshmen in contemporary dance Polina Razumnyak to ask advice from Viktorija Koceva, our 2017 scholar and professional modern dancer on the training opportunities and professional education in modern dance in Europe.

Polina: First of all, I want to express my gratitude for this opportunity to talk. I believe dance is my thing and it is valuable to talk to someone experienced who shares not only this passion but can also relate to your previous experiences. I really hope your advice can help me in my future experience and my succeed and something like this so I had some questions for

Polina: In the beginning when you started dancing at the age of eight, was that your decision or your parents decided to place you into a dancing studio? 

Victoria: It was my decision. My parents applied for me to take piano lessons. They were more into music. Back then I learned from a girl that there was also a dance studio for modern dance at that art center. That got me intrigued as dancing sounded more fascinating to me. I begged my parents to enroll me in dancing classes. I loved it a lot and the piano lessons  I did not like so much so I gave up on that and continued with dancing.  It has always been like a hobby for me. When I was in high school my parents

thought I should have stopped dancing as I had too much on my plate. But there was something inside me that kept me going. I am still dancing.  So yes, it was totally my idea.

The fact that you realized what you wanted at such a young age is really fascinating!

I appreciate people who can set up their goals in their childhood and follow their dream. I kind of can relate to your story. My mom has been trying to figure out what I could do in my life since I was a kid.  She wanted me to play piano, it took her some time to figure out I was not a piano player. After that I decided try dancing classes.

I was so scared to start because in the town where I lived in Ukraine there were like three teachers and three dance studios. I decided to choose the most srict teacher who was known for achieving best results with her students.

Polina: When you started dancing at the age of 8 years old, did you know back then if you wanted to do that professionally?

Victoria: No, I had a rough path before I learned what I really want to do in my life.  I was dancing  throughout my whole life, but it is crazy to admit that I actually decided to be a professional dancer when I turned 20.  It was on and off all the time. I still treated dancing as my hobby while I was studying mathematics in high school.  That was also very interesting for me. I wasn’t really considered becoming an artist professionally.  Therefore, I first got my degree in economics and then I went to study dance.

I don’t come from Skopje, the capital of N. Macedonia. When I came to Skopje to study, I found myself living on my own and this was a very different setting. My life was changing, I started studying economics and stopped dancing. I thought I was going to become an economist but then I realized that something was off.  I didn’t belong to where I was. Something was missing.  There were dance classes in Skopje and I tried those and didn’t want to stop.  At one point in the second year of my college I started thinking that maybe I should change something. I wasn’t happy with my studies, and I knew that dancing has always been in my life. So, I applied to the second faculty, which was the modern dance department. From then on, I was doing two degrees simultaneously. This summer I finally graduated from both.

This was not an easy path. It required a lot of decisions and sometimes I made mistakes. When you are 15 you may have a plan. But a few years later it might turn out that you have other things in mind. In my case, of course economics seemed to be great and guaranteed a nice job and all that, but an important part of me was missing.  It just didn’t work. You really have to follow your heart and and your gut instinct and not to lie to signific yours.

Polina: What is dance for you?  

Victoria: Dance for me is a space where I can express myself, connect with my feelings and translate my mental state into movements. I think that dance has always helped me to get through the most difficult times. I guess you already know that as soon as you enter the studio, nothing else matters. You are just there and focused on a dance. It’s like a therapy for me. Dance gives me freedom of expressing myself in both happy and sad times.

Polina: I’m really happy to hear that because it was something that I would say too if somebody asked me. Did your dancing career change you mentally and physically? Do you think that your behavior has changed since you decided to pursue a dancing career? 

Victoria: Yes, you feel more confident in public. It definitely changed me a lot. I am more patient; I don’t give up easy on things; it taught me to work hard, because nothing comes easy and especially in dance. I can speak only for my country. Macedonia is not that big and the situation with contemporary dance especially is not really great. We still have to fight for everything.  In Germany the situation with contemporary dance is a 100 times better, but there are not so many opportunities here.  So, dancing taught me how to really fight for things you love.  Nothing is like given to dancers in Macedonia. We have to beg for recognition, for support. Of course, we are always hoping for a better future.

Also, you must put your life on hold when you are performing. You can’t do whatever you want – go out late at night or party with your friends – when you have a performance next day as you have to be in the studio next morning and work all day and sometimes even like late at night.  Of course, it depends on the choreographer and the the team, but you should be prepared that there are no Sundays or holidays. You have to accept that dancing is a lifestyle, a way of living. Most of the people do not understand your willingness to sleep at the studio.  But, of course, when you love what you are doing it all pays off.

Polina: Do you have any special rituals or preparations right before that you go to the stage?

Victoria: Well maybe… I prefer not to talk a lot with people before I go on stage.  I want to focus on myself, breathe in and out from two to six times while standing on two feet. This tunes me to be fully present and not to be distracted by random thoughts.

When I am not thinking about the the performance, it comes out naturally. You’re training for weeks and weeks for the show. Your body knows the choreography, but your mind tends to distract you. You must focus on calming your mind down for everything to go smoothly.

These minutes of silence is something that only dancers can relate to.  Back in the days when I had performances in my town, my mom would be very confused when I stopped talking to her or anyone else, apart from the choreographer 10 minutes before the stage time. Choreographer is the only person that can lead you through what your body already knows.

Polina: Do you like solo or group dancing?

Victoria: I don’t have much of experience with solo dancing. Most of the time I am dancing in a group. Of course, I am having some solo parts but I’m never actually alone on the stage. So, I would say, group dancing works better for me. Movement wise, I like improvisation more.

Polina: What was the most random situation that happened with you right before the performance? 

Victoria: Not actually at the performance but I have this situation where my partner got injured during the warmup before the performance. That was an “oh my God scary” situation for all of us. I mean, we were dancing as a group, but uh the most important part of the performance was our duet and that was like the main thing that was holding the whole performance together.

At the warmup we were jumping, and her foot got twisted. Before that she had a really bad injury of the same foot. We all got scared and she started crying. The foot got very swollen and 30 minutes before the performance it became obvious that it was impossible for her to dance. There was no one to cover and the choreographer took her place. As choreographer he knew the piece and just stepped in. We didn’t even practice, we just went with the flow. Everyone freaked out:  we had to go on stage and perform without knowing what was going to happen. For me it was especially shocking. We had this moment with my partner and in a second it all became very different. With a different partner nothing is the same.  At the end it turned out OK, but it was still stressful.

Polina: I feel so sorry for your partner! I I never experienced something like this but I know that that can be really awful. You were lucky the choreographer could step in.

Victoria: It’s life and everything can happen. He was a younger choreographer, and he was still dancing besides choreographing, so it was easy for him to jump in. I cannot imagine if it would have worked with a different choreographer in a different situation.

Since I’m dancing professionally, things most of the time don’t go smoothly as you plan. Injuries happen. You might be planning to perform next week and then you get injured during the class a day before the show and you have to accept it no matter how hard you worked and fought to be where you were. Of course, you feel disappointed.

I can share my story from the last semester.  It was supposed to be my graduation and I was supposed to present myself on stage and I had my special graduation performance ready.  I was planning to dance four pieces in four performances and I was working towards that.  And then at one of the rehearsals I was badly injured. I broke my foot. For two months I had to stay away from the studio. I couldn’t step on my left foot, I couldn’t walk alone on the street, I missed my graduation, I didn’t perform my four shows. As a dancer who hasn’t trained for two months, I had to start all over from level zero again. A lot of things have changed while I was out of the loop and restarting was very challenging mentally and physically. It messed me up a bit.  I have got to now know that when the stakes are high, you might accidently not to get it all. So, I learned to take things easier. Situation may change and things might not go the way you wanted so you have to know how to adapt.

Polina: Why and how did you decide to connect your life with Creative Fellowship projects?

Victoria: I have my story and it was very very special. It happened back in my hometown while I was still in high school. I’ve heard at school that there has been a call for participation and everyone could apply. Mostly the call was of course for dancing and singing talents.

Because everybody in my hometown and high school knew that my hobbies were dancing, playing guitar and singing, when the application opened, everybody told me that I was the perfect fit.  I got very excited and recorded a video with the help of my teacher. It was my first ever dancing video and the teacher wanted us to create something unique, funny and that hasn’t been seen before. It was hilarious. I think it is still on YouTube.

I got accepted and at first we had to do English classes which was a lot of fun. I was still at school, dancing and on top of that took guitar lessons. As if that wasn’t enough, after classes I would go to study English with the CF to get myself ready for the final assignment.

I wanted to present the best project I was capable of. I called a friend of mine who owned a production studio where they make photo shoots and filming and asked him for help. Because I was taking guitar lessons, my teacher knew someone at a small sound studio whom he asked to assist me with recording my guitar part. The guitar mentor taught me to play a solo part of the song and at the studio we recorded both – music and singing. After that the videographer filmed me dancing. So, it was like my own mini production project.  I was very proud of it. It still can be seen on YouTube. I haven’t deleted it. Thanks to the video I was selected to go to the opera camp in Salzburg. Of course, I was happy to know that I have been chosen but I had the feeling I would be.

Victoria: And what was your experience with Creative Fellowship?

Polina: My experience was also very special. In my case of course, getting selected mattered but the process of getting to the selection point was also overwhelming. It was a very long way and I enjoyed English and Art lessons very much. Back then I lived in Ukraine and neither my English nor art knowledge were that advanced. And thanks to the CF educators we got to know something new at every lesson. The process was very smooth and helpful. It was my choreographer who encouraged me to apply. Once she got to know about the call for submission, she called my mom and persuaded her that I had to try applying. To be honest, she is not just my choreographer, but also a mentor. She knows me better than I do and has always been there for me. My mother had a lot of doubts about my participation in the project, but the chorographer was sure I would be chosen to go to the opera camp in Salzburg. She also continued supporting me all the way through and insisted I had to stay strong and not to give up despite the intensity and difficulty of the program. It was very important to have someone who believed in you. Once I got chosen, of course my mom was very proud of me and lived through every minute of my Salzburg experience.

In Salzburg all those efforts paid back. I only was abroad once before that thrip and when I came to Salzburg, it was a completely different experience – new culture, new language… And that’s when all those English and art classes started making sense. I realized I could communicate with people. In fact, going to the camp in Salzburg was like a dream coming true – I like travelling, meeting new people, dancing – Salzburg opera camp offered it all in one. My new goal is to come back to Austria and preferably dance there, but if not, I still have to go to Salzburg, the city that will stay in my heart forever. People I met there and experiences I had were lifechanging for me.

Victoria: To wrap up our conversation, I would like to summarize a few things.

  1. It is really important to be a part of the dancing scene, to get to know people to

present them what you are capable of. That’s how you will be getting new opportunities and jobs.

  1. In this sense contests and competitions are the bestways to challenge and present yourself to as many people in the industry as possible.
  2. My teacheronce said: you say “yes” to to all the opportunities until you get enough experience to know when to say “no”.
  3. Invest in yourself so later you have enough experience to be on your own and dowhatever you want and then you will know exactly what suits you and what is better or worse for you.
  4. Take as much as you can from all the people you meet

Another thing that came up to my mind Polina, as you don’t have any dance studios in your town, why don’t you gather girls like yourself who are fond of dancing and lead them to start to practice with online lessons? Who knows, maybe you can lead this movement in your neighborhood. We all know that a dancing career starts with warmups and stretching. Go on with that, you can try!