We are proud to announce that we have a new AIDA Dance USA champions joining us! Toshko Kondov and Kristen Dobson are Professional Rhythm dancers from Ohio. We had the opportunity to sit down with them and learn more about their partnership. Keep reading to find out more about this fabulous partnership!
Kristen started off doing other styles of dance, “I started off doing tap and jazz at the age of 4. I was also a gymnast. One day, I was watching TV with my mom, and we ended up watching Ohio Star Ball on PBS. I saw Yulia and I thought ‘That’s what I want to do.’ Then I took a few lessons as a student, and thought ‘Wow, I love this!’ My previous partner and I auditioned to work on a cruise ship as ballroom dancers in a show called Ballroom Bravo. Despite our limited experience, at the time, we were selected and were contracted for a world cruise for about a year. I came home and taught for Fred Astaire for a while, doing a little bit of professional dancing. I also auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance twice, and I made it to Vegas week. They actually featured me in the New York audition segment. That was only after I had been dancing ballroom for about three years, right after I got off the cruise ship. It wasn’t really until Toshko that I got really serious about competing. We actually started out as Latin dancers and then we switched to rhythm.” Toshko on the other hand, has exclusively done ballroom dancing his whole career, “I started around 5 1⁄2 years old in Bulgaria, where I was born and raised. My Mom basically forced me to do it because she said I had too much energy and had to dance it out. I focused primarily on ballroom dancing. Naturally, in Europe, I started with 10 dance, Latin and Standard. Later on in my career, I specialized in Latin. In Bulgaria, before I came to the United States, I was Vice National Champion and Bronze medalist which gave me the opportunity to represent Bulgaria in two IDSF World Amateur Latin Championships. I had a friend who has a studio in New York, and I asked him if he knew anyone who was looking for a partner. He mentioned that there was a girl in Ohio that was looking for a partner. So that’s how I met Kristen and came to the United States. We did Latin for about a year, and then we switched to rhythm.”
Even though they started off as Latin dancers, they made the switch to the American rhythm. Toshko explains that, “Since I have done Latin for over 20 years, I feel that helped me easily transition to American Rhythm. With the help of our teachers I managed to understand the differences in mechanics and characteristics. The more I understood the differences the more I loved it and am proud to be called an American Rhythm dancer! I still do Latin with my pro-am students, so I get my fix that way. I miss doing the Samba and Paso Doble. I think everyone misses Samba if they don’t do Latin anymore. Besides Samba, I miss Paso Doble because it’s quite a different character dance. It’s a character and emotion that you don’t get to express in the other 9 dances if you combine Latin and Rhythm. ” Kristen added on, “I definitely prefer rhythm. I think it feels more natural in my body, and I feel like it has more of a fluid feel to it. It feels healthier in my joints and muscles. So, I would say some things that I miss about Latin would be Samba. I just like the music and the feeling of the beat."
They have settled into a routine, which Toshko lays out, “I wake up, I take a shower and I make breakfast, including coffee. Then we go to the studio and teach. We take a few breaks in between to eat and then when we’re done, we practice. We usually practice at night. We definitely do not enjoy practicing in the morning, we’re definitely not the most productive in the morning. One of the biggest challenges in our dance career was when we were doing the Rising Star event at Ohio Star Ball on a Sunday morning, because it normally starts at 9AM. Joking aside, we definitely prefer dancing in the evening after work.”
Besides being accomplished dancers, they also own their own studio. Kristen says,“We have our own studio, so we put in a lot of time and effort during the day. Toshko and I actually built out our space ourselves. Toshko put our floors in and tore down the walls.” The name of our studio is Designed to Dance Ballroom Dance Studio. The reason that we called it “Designed to Dance” is because we believe that each and every person is made uniquely designed to dance. Another reason we have that motto is because we believe that anyone can learn to dance. Whether you are a beginner or advanced, we can help you reach your goals. That’s kind of the feeling that we have in our dance studio. Toshko teaches mostly competitive students. I have some competitive students as well, but we also have social students. Before COVID-19 hit, we had social parties and in-studio events. We are very blessed that we have been able to survive the pandemic.”
COVID-19 has inhibited everyone with challenges. Toshko details,“It’s difficult in the sense that, from a functional standpoint, we wear a mask during lessons. Obviously, there are a lot of rules and regulations. For instance, we can only have a certain number of people at the studio. The biggest change has been the masks. As Kristen mentioned, we have a lot of competitive students, and we dance with good intensity during lessons, so it’s kind of difficult with the masks. When we practice ourselves, at the end of the day when no one is there, it’s like when you are climbing a mountain and the air is very thin and there’s not a lot of it. When you climb back down to the regular altitude, you feel much better. Besides that, most of the students, that are comfortable to come in, are comfortable to physically dance with us. Some students are still taking online lessons, which has actually been beneficial for us. We weren’t really sure how it would work in the beginning, but it’s been very beneficial because our students were forced to be very independent. A lot of people actually came back to the studio, once we were allowed to open in person, feeling better about their dancing, which I found very interesting. They were more aware of what they were doing, and more balanced because there was no one to physically help them, which was a little bit of a support for them. Besides that, you adjust, sanitize, wash your hands extra, and try to be mindful of people’s feelings towards it. If they’re afraid, how comfortable they feel, try to give them a feeling of safety, as much as you can, because that’s the most important thing right now.”
Kristen and Toshko are both dance partners, as well as a married couple. When it comes to their favorite things about one another Kristen said, “He’s very methodical in his thinking, aware of what he is doing, and very patient. If I have a question about the mechanics of something, the way he explains it and understands things makes me go ‘Wow!’ He just understands things so quickly. I really admire and love that he is so passionate about movement and understanding movement. I also think that’s why all of his students love him so much too, because he’s able to pass down that information and then they can become better. I admire that he is so aware of what he is doing all of the time, which makes me a better dancer because I am always watching him and asking him questions.” Toshko says, “A problem that I have always had is that I could never find someone that I enjoyed dancing with; physically and energetically. I have had partners that were good dancers, but speed-wise, movement-wise, we didn’t quite match because they were a different type of dancer. Now, with Kristen, we match in a fantastic way. In terms of speed, pure physical speed and mobility, I have never had anyone better than Kristen in my life. Something else that I really enjoy is that I think she is a fabulous performer and she has that presence which is something that you can’t really teach. Speed, energy, performance, it’s all fantastic.”
Of course, being a partner privately as well as professionally can have its challenges. Toshko explains “I don’t think that there are any major drawbacks with us. I can see how people may have difficulties with it, but sadly the only time we have arguments about anything is when we’re dancing. We get along fantastically, and we’re with one another 24/7. There’s probably 10 hours during the week where we’re not together.”Kristen added, “I have to say that when we fight, when we dance, it’s mostly him getting mad at himself and then him walking away. It’s more that he’s internalizing things than anything else, but it obviously doesn’t feel good when you’re dancing. It’s not really directed at me. It’s more directed at himself.”
It’s always good to have a 5 year plan, and in a perfect world, Toshko said “In 5 years, hopefully winning something significant, some sort of major title in our division. We wouldn’t mind being retired if we achieved that. We wouldn’t disappear, we would continue to work with students, and pass along our knowledge to help people learn to dance and fulfill their dream, which a lot of them have had for a long time. Of course, you can never guarantee anything, but we can just try our best.”
Even though dancing takes up a majority of their time, Kristen enjoys “hiking and being outside. I like going in the woods, like being away from noise. We spend so much time in a studio where there is so much activity and noise going on that it’s nice to kind of get away from that.” While Toshko, “likes accompanying Kristen on hikes. I, to a fault, like watching a lot of European football (Soccer). I also like to make things. I actually picked it up during COVID-times. I borrowed a couple of professional saws and equipment from a friend, and I actually made a couple of pieces of furniture for the apartment because I wanted to measure it and make it exactly how I wanted it. I saw some pictures online and figured out how they did it.”
They also have ways that they keep in shape for their dancing. Kristen states, “We are constantly doing special exercises, basically physical therapy. I think like most dancers, we have small injuries that we have to keep an eye on. So we have to do, at least every other day or every three days, a set of exercises that we’ve been given by our therapist. Another interesting thing about us is that we go get dry needling once a week. Dry needling is actually when they put the needles into your muscles and then they put electro-stimulation around the dry needles, which then shocks the needles. What it does is it brings down inflammation and it takes the place of getting a handful of massages. It’s basically a faster way to get your body to recover so that you can continue to train. It doesn’t hurt, it just feels weird.”While Toshko adds, “It’s actually miraculous! People are very skeptical. When they put the needles into your hip, for example, if you move around you can feel it. It feels more weird when they take the needles out. The more your muscles have tightened, the more it hurts when they go in, but by the time they’re done, the muscles are relaxed. Sometimes you can see the needle sticking up vertically when they’re put in, and they kind of relax when the session is done, because the muscles have relaxed. We also watch our diet a lot and try to eat as clean as we can. I don’t eat french fries. I haven’t had them for 13 years. Kristen needs a piece of chocolate a day, just as a little treat.”
Kristen has some advice for those young dancers, who may want to turn professional, “I have my best ever advice, which is what I have been saying since the beginning of our partnership, whenever anyone asks. Just keep going.”Toshko elaborated “To elaborate on that, because it may sound oversimplified, determination and persistence trumps everything else. There are so many people in all walks of life who are very gifted and talented, but don’t have that itch to keep going or pushing. That’s what it takes, it just takes determination. It’s constant because success is not just one giant leap. Sometimes you see a couple that you may not have noticed before and then they make a final somewhere or win something major. If you look closer, you may see them in previous years. They were in the semi-final, slowly chipping away. You don’t just parachute in. It takes time and you have to keep pushing and going on.”
The dancing accomplishment they are most proud of is that they made the final of the Professional Open Rhythm final. Kristen says, “Last year was our first time making the Ohio star Ball Open Professional Rhythm final. Personally, that was one of the reasons I started dancing, so to just think of the people that I admired walking into the final, and then I was walking out into the final, I was thinking ‘Oh my gosh, it’s happening! We’re also from Ohio, so we usually have friends and family who come to support us.’ Toshko “Yeah, it was a pleasant circularity because you watched that competition first, which inspired you to do ballroom and then you’re in the final of a division at that comp, so it’s nice. Of course, the ballroom is very special. By far that would be the biggest success that we’ve had.”
Watch here to see Toshko and Kristen in action!