Coming closer to the top than any ballroom dancer has on So You Think You Can Dance but falling just short of the final four, Siberian Pasha Kovalev sounds off to TVGuide.com on the differences between hip-hop and ballroom, his biggest regret about the show, and who he thinks should win it all.
TVGuide.com: Were you surprised by your elimination?
Pasha Kovalev: I don't know, surprised is not the right word, I guess, because you expect every week that somebody will go home, and it might be you. I didn't expect to go this week, but everybody danced so well and deserved to be there. When it's up to America voting, it's completely different — it's not about dancing anymore.
TVGuide.com: Did you think you didn't deserve to go home, then?
Pasha: I don't know, I think I did pretty good, and I haven't been in the bottom three or two since the second week. I could have stayed a little bit longer, but it's just a competition, and if at that point people decided they wanted to see those four as the finalists, that's fine with me.
TVGuide.com: And you made it further than the previous seasons' Russian ballroom dancers. Did that make you proud?
Pasha: Oh, I've always been proud of me being a ballroom dancer, and I'm glad that the ballroom world was represented and we had a chance to go that far.
TVGuide.com: What was it like being a ballroom dancer and having to perform solos? Was that difficult for you?
Pasha: Yes, it was actually difficult because we do not choose to do that — we have a partner in front of you or on your side or behind you, and you always dedicate your dancing to your partner. In ballroom, you're trying to show off your partner the best you can, and that makes you good. With the solos, where you're by yourself on stage and trying to compete with other dancers who are more used to that type of dancing and have more tricks up their sleeve, it was kind of hard. So I needed to be creative.
TVGuide.com: I think some people were surprised with how well you did with the hip-hop and some of the other styles, being a ballroom dancer. Did you have any training in those fields or did you just pick it up as you went along?
Pasha: No, I didn't have training before, maybe a couple of classes to know what it is all about, but nothing serious. I was more like, "What can I do to fake it better?" Because when you're learning new styles, it doesn't matter if it's contemporary, jazz or hip-hop. If you are a ballroom dancer, it's really hard to be on the level with people who have been doing it all their lives — so you basically make it all about performance. And, of course, you're trying to bring the technique level up as much as you possibly can. Sometimes it's hard, but I did the best I can.
TVGuide.com: You said at the beginning of the show that it was Anya who wanted to audition and that you weren't so sure about it. How did that change for you? Were you glad, ultimately, that you did it?
Pasha: Ultimately I was really happy I did it, and even if I hadn't gone as far as I did, I still had a great, great experience. I met so many new, good dancers and good coaches and choreographers, who I think I will continue to work with and create good show dances and expand my dancing vocabulary. In the beginning I didn't want to do the show because I had so many other things on my mind. I was sick at one point and I was recovering, so I didn't think I would be strong enough for this competition, but then it worked out.
TVGuide.com: Do you have a favorite memory from the show?
Pasha: Hmm.... It's like a family album: You turn each page and you see something you did before and it reminds you of a lot of different stuff. So I wouldn't say one moment over any other moment. Every week you're trying to grow and trying to learn something new and you just dive into this new dance you learn, or a new partner you get paired with, and live it over and over again until next week. So all of it was so incredibly inspiring and new. When it's new, you always think, "OK, that was great," and then next week comes and it's even better! I like it like that.
TVGuide.com: Did you have a favorite choreographer?
Pasha: I tell you, I didn't have a chance to work with two choreographers I really wanted to work with: Mia Michaels and Wade Robson. They have incredible minds and a perception of dancing, and their routines with other couples impressed me so much. I wish I had a chance to experience that myself. All the choreographers I worked with were professionals in their fields and I really enjoyed working with everybody. I have only one regret: I wish I could have worked with all of them.
TVGuide.com: What was the hardest for you?
Pasha: Hip-hop was probably the hardest one because I needed to completely throw away my ballroom character to play the part, and tell myself, "OK, I am a hip-hop dancer now and I need to act differently." Because even the way you talk to a girl through your dance is completely different from what we do in ballroom. So I needed to change inside a little bit in order to relate my dancing to my partner in a different style.
TVGuide.com: What was your chemistry like with your various partners?
Pasha: The chemistry with Jessi Peralta and Sara VonGillern was great in the beginning. Later in the competition, when we had a different partner each week, it was harder to have good chemistry because you just don't grow into your partner. Like I said, in ballroom you try to show off your partner and make your partner [look] special and through that you show off yourself. So if you don't have enough time to get to know your partner and trust each other more... each week when it's a different partner, you maybe mentally don't invest as much in it. So you're trying to get through the dance, trying to make it as comfortable for your partner as you possibly can, but you don't have this feeling that, "OK, I need to make it work because next week I will still be with her and I need to keep investing in it." So I think that was a downside of it.
TVGuide.com: When Jessi was sick and you had to dance with a substitute partner — what was that like?
Pasha: It was stressful because that whole thing happened like two hours before the show. First of all, not knowing what actually was happening to her and if she was all right or not [was hard]. Doctors try to keep it private, all this patient-doctor confidentiality, so [it was stressful] not knowing what was going on. And, of course, worrying about her being in the hospital and not being able to participate in the show — we were preparing so hard and suddenly I needed to dance with another girl. So that wasn't the best feeling.
TVGuide.com: Who do you think will win?
Pasha: That's a difficult question because everybody at this point deserves to be a winner, and it's up to the American public to decide who they like most. Because at the end, it's not the best-dancer contest, it's the favorite-dancer contest. So who America will connect most to, personality- and looks-wise, that person will win. I think Danny has incredible technique — the best technique on the show — and for me, always looking at it from a professional point of view, I appreciate technical difficulty or ability. So for me, he is the best dancer on the show. But Sabra has the best character on the floor and I enjoyed dancing with her. Watching her dance, she is like a little sunshine, and she shares her feelings so openly. So I think one of them will win.
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