Strict in the rehearsal room = Strictly success for Artem Chigventsev & Kara Tointon ?
Strictly newcomer Artem Chigvintsev is a professional dancer with something to prove. “It’s the perfect job at this time. I think I was fully ready to take a job. If you were to ask me, say, two or three years ago to do Strictly Come Dancing I don’t think I’d be able to do what I’m doing now, so I think it’s perfect timing for me.” Artem started dancing in his native Russia as a youngster, caught the bug and has since taught many dance students in America and has appeared as a pro dancer on Dancing with the Stars, which gave him plenty of experience in terms of seeing what works with an audience and what doesn’t. “I’m taking the job extremely seriously especially being the first year. You really want to do well and showcase yourself, show that you deserve to be there, because if you’re the newcomer to any kind of show you’ve got to prove yourself – that you are worthy of doing the show. It’s really important too for me, because this is what I love to do and especially having a partner like Kara (Tointon, actress) who is capable of doing things and you probably don’t get these partners every year! You’re trying to really use that opportunity to the fullest so you can showcase 100% of yourself; showcase her because she’s such a good chance of maybe even wining it, who knows? There’s a lot at stake; it’s a one-time thing and you really need to be smart and clever. We’re having fun and being silly sometimes when the stress gets too much, but most of the time it is hard, hard, hard work, absolutely 100%. People think it’s easy for Kara to get steps and make it right. You know, it’s not. Not at all.”
Kara Tointon is dyslexic and so self-confessed workaholic Artem devises innovative ways to encourage her to learn the steps and to make the most of the short amount of training time they have each week. They record every training session so that Kara can watch them back, and train for around 20 hours per week, which Artem says is perfect if the hours are spread out, “I think what’s really good about four days of training is that you can do 20 hours in two days and never get the same results as if you do with 20 hours in four days. Your brain needs to accept certain things, remember certain things, so time is the main key for them to feel comfortable. I think Kara is an amazingly talented girl. I think she can do anything she wants to do, to be honest with you. She’s very talented, she’s a natural mover which is a huge advantage, so she doesn’t look awkward doing practically anything. She needs to know the technique of the dance & the way it should be performed but I do try to push to make every single dance more like a character, and usually in a tango when she gets into character people like it and it works for us. I can’t complain, I couldn’t have got a better partner.”
But training sessions are tough; Artem makes no bones about being strict and the results are evident every Saturday night. With the exception of one dance, the Jive, Kara looks comfortable with the steps and dances from within herself, which makes her dances stand out from the others. She has innate musicality and an intuitiveness that cannot be taught, but she also works extremely hard and never gives up. “You know, rehearsing for five hours straight is never an easy thing; it’s always hard. Especially being mean. You have to critique their dancing all the time and it’s extremely hard for me as person because what you’re trying do is to help by critiquing them, and it’s just tough all the time to do that. I find myself very strict. I’m not sure if I like that but you know, you do have to go through the struggles to feel good on Saturday night, it‘s part of the game.”
Still, he’s loving his time on the show, “I mean it’s an unbelievable show, I’m really enjoying it. It’s a dream come true and it’s a really awesome job to have. The best thing you can possibly get being a dancer.”
So how did he approach training with Kara in the early days ? “Well, I think that the main thing is that you find out what kind of person you have as a partner, and find the strong parts and the weak parts. It’s not the first time I’ve choreographed so I more or less know what’s likely to be good, or what’s not going to work, so I’m trying to really be clever because having four days to choreograph three dances and rehearse them and make them look good – it’s a challenge – and you just really have to be clever with the way you do it; what you do and how you teach, and it is different for every single person.” For the final, they will have four dances to perfect – their top scoring dance, a dance of their choice, a new dance and the show dance.
During rehearsals, “there’s everything; amazing moments, there’s moments when we’re really frustrated. It’s like being married, you know what I mean, it’s fights, it’s laughs, and through one day you go through every single emotion you can go through being on Strictly in the training room.”
Much has been made of the celebrity weight loss over the series, with Pamela Stephenson and Patsy Kensit dropping several dress sizes, but it affects the pros too. Artem has found the all-consuming way of life on the show has meant that he hasn’t had time to go to the gym and as a result he’s been losing weight throughout the show – up to a stone in muscle so far. “For the past four weeks I haven’t had the time to even walk into the gym and workout so I’m pretty bummed about that, but we’re just trying to eat whenever we have a spare moment.” As a result he doesn’t follow a particular diet while on the show – he can’t – it’s all about taking in calories when time allows in order to remain focused in training, “you just try to get energy anywhere you can to sustain focus every day and do what you have to do because it’s just exhausting mentally.” He does love breakfast, starting the day with porridge, and he’s a big meat eater. He’s never enjoyed junk food and he says that as far as his dance partners are concerned, he allows them to eat whatever they like and prefers to recommend cardio as a way to increase stamina while dancing, as he says that stamina is what you need and he could never find the right words to suggest to someone that they should diet.
What’s great about dancing on Strictly (and the same is true of all dance) is that for so much of the time the celebrities are concentrating on learning the steps that, despite the hard physical work, it doesn’t seem like exercise; and so they aren’t particularly aware of the amount of exercise they are doing every day.
Now that Kara and Artem are in the final, I can reveal that he has been hard at work on the show-stopping show dance which they will hopefully perform on Saturday night. “I think the show dance is extremely important. How you do the rest of the dances is a big part of it, but I think in general it’s the show dance when the audience decides who they’re going to vote for. The show dance is always something really special. It’s something that you just create specifically for your celebrity. You’re trying to showcase them. Kara been photographed a lot of times as the Flashdance girl, so I’m thinking of taking that idea and applying it to the show dance. It think she looks iconic in that outfit and she looks just like that girl from Flashdance and I think people can relate to that, so I’m hoping for a remake of the film I guess, on stage, if I’m clever enough with the choreography ! I think the song plays an extremely important role in the show dance because if people cannot relate to the song, it’s very hard for them to accept the dance itself. We have a really good song and really good combination of steps and if we do a good job, it’s the perfect mixture for the show dance.”
Once Strictly is over, what’s next for Artem ? “Next is the tour in January. Then I have to go back to the States for a while, and hopefully I’ll be back here for So You Think You Can Dance, maybe as the choreographer for that show; nothing is confirmed yet but that would be ideal after the Strictly tour and then, who knows ? A second season of Strictly if everything goes well……”