Interview With Elina Sumichan- Dance Brought Me Back to Myself

Photo by BachataX Toronto (2)

Photo by BachataX

You have been dancing a few different dances over the years.  Is Bachata your favorite?

I semi-retired from dancing for about 5 years, and I recently came back to it in the last year and half.  I realized how much I missed dancing. Then I ran into Davy, who is now my dance partner, and Bachata fusion has been our main focus.  But I love all styles of dance combined! I’m a fusion dancer.

You have a background in solo dance first, rather than partner dance, right? 

Yes. As a child, at 5 years old, I actually started with traditional Balinese dancing back when I was living in Bali. Then I learned modern dance, and after that, I did Jazz and Hip Hop throughout high school.  I picked up Balinese dancing again for a few months one summer vacation as a teenager, which is probably where I got my hand styling from. I was dance obsessed ever since I was a teenager, and I learned everything I could as far as other dances- from Hip Hop, Contemporary, Ballet, Belly Dancing, and even Flamenco!

How did you get into partner dance?

The first time I learned Salsa was actually in Bali, when I was 14. It was during the summer holidays when I was with my family. When I came back from the trip, I started to take lessons from various instructors in Vancouver and discovered the social dance scene here.  I spent my summer breaks for the next few years taking private lessons with a teacher in Bali and going out to socials. For a few years after that, throughout high school and university, I worked at a dance studio in Burnaby. That was when I started learning all partner dances on top of all the Latin dances I was already doing- from Latin Ballroom, Standard Ballroom, Argentine Tango, and West and East Coast Swing.

Do you think you got more out of partner dances or solo styles of dance? 

To this day, all of the mix of random dance training that I did contributes to my style, skills and abilities.  There wasn’t one training that I did that became irrelevant.  The fact that I exposed myself to everything gave me body movement awareness that I probably would not have gotten if I hadn’t tried a variety of dances.

Elina and Davy Workshops in Minneapolis

Elina and Davy Workshops

How would you compare the two – solo dance versus partner dance- in terms of what you gain from each?

Solo dances are great to train you to be self-aware of what your body can do.  This can teach you how to hold your own, find your center and stay grounded. Then you can use that self-awareness in partner dancing,

If you are only a solo dancer, you may look amazing on your own, but if you don’t train in leading and following, it could be challenging to dance with a partner.

Partner dancing is its own beast. Not only do you have to be self-aware, but it’s almost like you eventually grow a third eye behind your head.  You have to be aware of the person you are dancing with and be able to learn to use your peripheral senses.  As a follow, you have to learn to wait, be led, and be accepting of the fact that you are at the mercy of the leads.  As a lead, you have to learn to use your peripheral senses to know where your partner is at all times and learn to lead her before dancing yourself.

Fusion dance has become hugely popular over the years. How important do you think it is to learn the fundamentals of the individual dances that are being mixed together before fusing them?

I’m a fusion dancer.  I have no shame in saying that.  But I can confidently tell you that I’ve spent a lot of hours and years learning and training in the basics and understanding the roots of those dances before fusing them together.  Saying that, there is always room for improvement. I am still an amateur.  Teaching, performing and dancing are my passion and I do them as a hobby. But I’m far from a professional in them by any means, and I will forever be a student one way or another.

I think at some point, we are all guilty of being comfortable in one style of dance.  I myself was fearful of doing different dances for the longest time. I was good at one dance and my ego didn’t allow myself to look like a fool in public dancing another style.  But I realized throughout the years that you can’t get better unless you are open minded and willing to be a beginner in other things again, especially if you are planning to teach others.  It is so important to remember how it feels to learn as a beginner, and learning the fundamentals of other dances that you are mixing into your style is important for both teaching and performing.

 

 

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What are some of the differences you see in the dance scenes, or even in social media, now that you are back into dancing compared to before you left it?

I think sometimes people don’t realize how much goes into being a good dancer or a good dance teacher.  You see professional dancers nowadays in videos dancing effortlessly in the 60 seconds they show in Instagram videos. But what you don’t see are the hours of dance and fitness training that they do day in day out. These people are professionals not without hard work, training and dedication.

I find that a lot of people undermine the importance of understanding the human body; what it can or cannot do, and how to engage your muscles to help you execute the movements. For example, as a lead, you have about 10 seconds in the beginning of a dance to be able to read and see what your follow’s body is capable of doing before you try to lead them into a move that they can’t physically do.  And as a follow, you need to be able to submit to the dance, and understand how to prepare your body and your muscles to do certain moves. It is important to be aware of what your body can do before attempting something that can potentially injure yourself.

Dance Me Free is about the power of Dance and other arts to inspire, free and heal.  How has dance got you through some tough times?

Last year I took a big step and ended a 5 year relationship.  My ex-husband was not a dancer.  He never stopped me from dancing and pursuing my passion; however, the fact that he didn’t dance, naturally, stopped me from dancing as well.  I was totally fine at the time giving up dance as a part of life progress, and we built our new life and hobbies together.  For years I didn’t miss it. I would only go out social dancing maybe once every few months. I lived in Montreal for 2.5 years where the dance scene is awesome, but I didn’t dance much there.

What brought you back to dancing? 

I had a rough few years and when we moved back to Vancouver in 2017, the dynamics of our relationship changed even more.  It forced me to find another avenue to get healthy, self-heal and to find myself again in hopes of re-kindling my marriage.  During that time, I went to the only thing that I knew, which was dancing. Slowly but surely, I started to get active in the dance scene again.  I started to help teach and perform again.  I found myself getting into a new life routine. I started to take dance lessons of other styles to find motivation to get better and to break out of my norm.

Photo by Sydney Ednie (1)

Photo by Sydney Ednie

2018 came around, and at this point, my ex and I were two ships sailing in different directions.  It was no one’s fault; we just grew apart. Throughout my journey of finding myself again through dance, I realized more and more that I could never leave dance.  I wanted to do a lot more with dance.  I wanted to pursue something bigger.  I wanted to make a big change.  I’ve known dance since I was 5 years old.  I thought, “Who was I kidding? I could never stop dancing!”

Was there a real turning point for you with this or did it just happen gradually?

I went to my first real congress in 6 years, DCBX in Washington, DC.  It felt like I was dancing to make up for the 5 years I was out! This was when I had my epiphany.  This was when I told myself that something has to change in my life and that dance is the only thing that I will always come back to. It’s something that will never expire. It’s something that I will always relate to.  I also realized that it was no one’s fault but mine that I became unmotivated years ago.

Dance will always be there.  It doesn’t matter what style you do.  They’re all just titles and different forms of dance, but at the end of the day, they all fall under one category which is the art of human movements to rhythm and music.  I realized that it was up to me to find my soul again, and I needed to do it through dancing.

Why do you dance? How does it help you bring you back to yourself?

Dance is therapeutic, it is great exercise, it helps build physical strength and coordination. It is great for meeting people. I was always passionate about music, and I dance to be able to interpret music in my own way.  Dance brings peace of mind, releases stress, and is a great escape to an alternate life.

I am the way I am today because of dance.  Having started dance from such a young age, I can see how it has taught me self-love. It has taught me awareness of myself- physically, mentally, emotionally- and my surroundings.  It has taught me confidence. It has taught me how to let go. It has taught me how to appreciate beauty.  Dance gave me a soul and no one can take that away from me!

As Martha Graham says, “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.” It truly is.

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