Junior dance couple takes competitive career in stride

Mukilteo middle school students aim to be among top 12 in world
By Nicholas Johnson | May 10, 2017
Courtesy of: Irina Kourilenko Olympic View Middle School students Lyubov Morgan and Gabriel White, both 13, compete during the Blackpool Junior Dance Festival, which was held April 17-21 in England.

Dance partners Lyubov Morgan and Gabriel White, both 13, know they won’t be dancing competitively their whole lives.

“Dancing is a young person’s career,” White said. “I have other things I want to do, too. I would like to get a degree in engineering so I have a career that will last into my 50s and 60s.”

Morgan said she’s not yet sure what she’ll pursue for a long-term career. In the meantime, both of the Olympic View Middle School students intend to keep dancing through high school and possibly into their college years.

Their goal: become one of the top 12 junior dance couples in the world by age 16.

“They are very serious,” dance coach Ekaterina Zakharoff said. “They’re not delusional.”

They are well on their way. In April, the couple took 32nd out of 155 junior couples at the world’s largest, oldest and most famous dance competition: the Blackpool Junior Dance Festival in England.

“It’s a very prestigious competition,” Morgan’s mother Irina Kourilenko said. “Only the couples that feel confident even go.”

It was their second trip to the festival. In 2015, after placing third in the National Amateur Dancesport Championships in Utah, the couple made its first trip to the festival as one of two ballroom couples on the U.S. team. They came in 49th.

“We didn’t know there would be so many good couples,” White said of their first trip to Blackpool. “Everyone’s focused and amazing and capable of making it to the next round.

“It was better this time around because we knew what to expect,” Morgan added.

Soon after their first trip to Blackpool, the couple was also invited to represent the U.S. at a world competition in Paris. But, when they aren’t traveling the world dancing the waltz, tango, quickstep and more, the couple is balancing hours-long practice sessions at the Hayloft Dance Hall in Lynnwood with school and other activities.

“They are developing into well-rounded people,” Zakharoff said, noting that the couple practices a bit less intensively than the most committed couples. “Kids who are practicing six hours a day are usually homeschooled. These kids go to school. They are in clubs and they have other interests, while at the same time they are competitive dancers.”

White plays violin in the school orchestra and plays soccer in a school soccer club. He said he’s grown up watching his father and brother, who works as an engineer, take apart cars and put them back together.

“I’ve always been drawn to it,” he said. “I find it enjoyable to be able to take the engine apart and put it back together. I like to find ways around the problem.”

Morgan enjoys painting and drawing. She’s also running this year for Associated Student Body class president at school.

“I want to change the school; I want to make it better,” she said, noting that she would like to see a greater diversity of club options as well as greater social freedom for students.

“In the lunchroom, you can’t stand up and talk,” she said. “You have to sit or go outside. I want to change that.”

Morgan said most of her classmates have a positive opinion of her dancing career, while White said he’s gotten a mixed reaction.

“Sometimes you get positive reactions and people think it’s cool, but a lot of others don’t have the maturity to understand what dancing is,” he said. “They think it’s like ballet only.”

White said his favorite dances are the tango and samba, while Morgan’s favorites are the foxtrot and jive. The two have been dancing together since their mothers partnered them up in 2014. Both say their relationship is professional: off the dance floor, they maintain separate friend groups.

“They are very professional,” Zakharoff said.

With two trips to Blackpool under their belts, the couple is looking ahead to the next three years, during which they will continue to compete in the same junior category encompassing ages 12-16.

They still have three years to dance in that category,” Kourilenko said. “They did not go [to the festival] in 2016. They were not ready to dance against 16 year olds.”

Both say they were nervous and intimidated by the other couples during their first trip, but now feel confident they can reach their goal of placing within the top 12 in the junior category.

Zakharoff, who has taught dance for more than 20 years and only stopped dancing competitively herself four years ago, said she’s not just training them to reach their dance goals, but also their long-term life goals.

“Besides learning to dance, they get an understanding that life is about setting goals and working to reach those goals,” she said. “To me, it’s not about just teaching them dance, it’s about teaching them life.”

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.