Reprinted with permission from Dance Notes
Gherman Mustuk and Iveta Lukosiute have achieved great results since the beginning of their partnership in 2003. In their very first World Classic Showdance competition they placed fourth, and at the 2007 World Ten-Dance Championships they were second. Achieving that high of a result at the world level is difficult enough for a couple that just concentrates on one style, but they increase the difficulty factor by dancing in three events—Standard, Latin and Showdance. It seems that all of the practicing, competing and traveling would be enough to keep them extremely busy. But not for this energetic couple; they miraculously find time to have a full teaching schedule. Additionally, Gherman very often competes in the pro/am division with his students, and Iveta not only creates costumes for herself and others, but she also organizes their complicated schedules. Their love of dancing and their absolute belief in the benefits of it keep them passionate. So they make sure to create time in their schedules to study other types of dancing and movement in order to enhance their own artistic and competitive endeavors.
How long have you been together?
Iveta: We started dancing together in August of 2003.
But you had been in this country before that. You met here?
Iveta: We met in the United States. Gherman lived in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Gherman: I moved to the United States in April, 2000 and I danced for three and a half years in Utah, as an amateur. My previous partner was Andrea Hale. We were two time U.S. Amateur Ten-Dance Champions, and we represented the United States in three world championships.
Iveta: I moved to the United States in 1997. I lived in Chicago and danced as an amateur also. My partner was Arturas Narbutas. We didn’t dance in the worlds, but we danced ten-dance as amateurs in the United States. So I met Gherman at the competitions.
You were competing against each other?
Why did you decide to dance together?
Iveta: I was still dancing with my partner when I heard that Gherman and Andrea had split. I split with my partner a couple of months after he did, so one had nothing to do with the other. Then I got a phone call from Gherman to have a tryout to dance.
Why did you decide you wanted to try out with Iveta?
Gherman: I split with Andrea Hale in April 2003, and for a few months I didn’t know what to do. I was just waiting, having a rest after a very busy competitive life. I always did ten-dance, so it’s quite busy and not easy. After a while, I saw on some website that Iveta Lukosiute was looking for a partner. I knew her, so I knew that she danced ten-dance. So I called her and asked her to try out.
Were you the only ones you tried out with, or did you have other people that you tried?
Iveta: I tried out with one other person. He danced amateur Latin. But since I wanted to do ten-dance, Gherman was a better choice. After we met, we saw that our physical appearance matched and we both had the same goals. It was just a perfect combination. And we liked each other’s personalities.
Gherman: I started dancing with Andrea Hale after one try out and the same happened with Iveta. I liked the way we danced together.
Were you always pro, or were you amateurs for awhile?
Iveta: After a week of tryouts, we decided to dance together and to move to New York. I lived in Chicago; he lived in Utah. So we said, “Okay, if we’re dancing together, we have to go to the best place people go for dancing.” So we both moved to New York. We started practicing and then we started discussing what we were going to do. Are we going to stay amateur or turn professional? We thought since it was a new partnership, why not start a new page and start dancing as pros? So after dancing maybe three weeks, we entered a competition as professionals. In the last four and a half years, we became U.K. Ten-Dance Champions, U.S. National Ten-Dance Champions. We were second in the World in ten-dance. We took fourth place in the World in Classical Show Dance. We did all the major rising star finals in the U.K. Championships, International Championships and Blackpool. We were third in Blackpool and at the International and second at the U.K. So we were in the top three of all the major rising star championships in ballroom. In Latin, we were seventh in Blackpool. So we were the next couple into the rising star final.
Were you both better at ballroom than you were at Latin when you got together?
Gherman: We do ten-dance because we like both styles and each style requires different things. But at the end of the day, it is all dances and our results are always fairly even. At our first rising star in Blackpool, after less than a year together, we were seventeenth in rising star standard and eighteenth in rising star Latin. So I don’t know how to tell what is better. And we always compete against couples who do only one style. We do two styles and we have good results, so we like both styles. If we do only one style we start missing the other style. One issue is basically that there is not enough time, so I would like there to be not 24 hours in day, but maybe 48 hours per day. That would make it easier to have time to practice both styles!
Iveta: Our first competition we did ballroom because in three weeks it was difficult to do ten dances. So first we did five dances in ballroom, and then after that competition we started to do the Latin program. Since we came out in ballroom the first time and because we’re a tall, elegant couple, everybody has this image of us being a ballroom couple. Then it was a little bit more difficult to show that we could be a Latin couple too. But now I think people have started to see that we are quite even in both styles. So you cannot say we are a ballroom couple or a Latin couple because as Gherman said, we work evenly on both styles. We treat each style as an individual style, so when we compete we don’t think of it being ten-dance. We think of ballroom and we think of Latin and we try to get high achievements in both styles. And we don’t do just Latin and ballroom. We take ballet classes, we take jazz classes, we take yoga. For me, sometimes it’s very strange when people ask, “Are you a Latin couple or a ballroom couple?” I say, “I’m a dancer.” Why should it be such a big difference between styles? If you’re good you should be able to dance everything. That’s my own opinion. If somebody is talented and well trained, he can do ballroom and Latin. So far we’ve been doing quite well in that direction to show people that you don’t have to be good in one style and do the second one just to do ten-dance. We’re doing ten-dance because we love both styles evenly. As Gherman said, we cannot pick. If we dance only ballroom for a while, we miss Latin. If we dance Latin, we miss ballroom. They feed each other. We bring to Latin ballroom, and ballroom to Latin. I think all the couples should do that!
So you said you represented the U.S. in ten-dance. How many years have you done that?
Gherman: We’ve done three world championships in ten-dance and we did one championship in just the showdance. We would have danced two showdance championships, but last year we couldn’t go because it was the same days as the ten-dance. The ten-dance championships were in Germany and showdance in the Ukraine, so we chose to do the ten-dance in Germany. So basically together we’ve represented the U.S. for four world championships.
And you were second last time. Were you in the finals all the times before that?
Gherman: Yes, we were sixth and we were seventh, now we’re second.
So you moved up fairly quickly. Who was first last year?
Gherman: A couple from Germany, and the championship was in Germany. We became second without a Canadian judge or a United States judge, so basically without any support.
Were you about even in all ten dances?
Iveta: In smooth we did better than in Latin.
Gherman: The problem with ten-dance championships is you never know. It depends which couples are going to compete. Sometimes it’s only a few couples who dance those styles evenly. I’ve talked to previous champions, like Gary McDonald, and he agrees. Every time it’s depends who you compete against. One year it can be stronger standard, one year stronger Latin. Very often a strong Latin couple decides to do standard or a strong standard couple decides to do Latin. The last championship, we were second in standard and fourth in Latin, and we became second. So this year we want to move up. We can win standard easily and we want to be in the top three in Latin.
The first time you competed in the world for the classic showdance you were fourth?
Gherman: Yes. It was our first time. We really love this routine. We call it Le Jazz Hot and use the music from Victor/Victoria. The idea and music gave us our choreographer. Taliat Tarsinov did all the choreography, and Ed Simon helped us with a few lifts. We were actually the only couple to do such difficult lifts. We have three very difficult lifts. Marianne Nicole helped us with some ideas too. So with this great team we had a very good result.
Is competing in showdance very different for you?
Gherman: Yes, and it’s quite difficult because you have to concentrate on every detail. It is only one couple on the dance floor, and if you dance three rounds the judges have seen you, so they know if you’ve made a mistake with the music. You have to follow the music every second, every movement, every step. In a competition it’s much easier, because you always can improvise, you always can play with floorcraft, traffic, stuff like that. When it’s six couples dancing on the floor, it’s much easier to improvise and to get away with some mistakes. With one couple on the dance floor you have to do no mistakes.
Iveta: The showdance always has many rules. There are a certain amount of seconds you have to have a hold and seconds you can be apart. There are people standing with a timer, so all of these things are in your head. You have to do the routine exactly the same every time. If you have three full rounds, you have to do exactly the same thing each time. It’s very good experience.
Gherman: The showdance numbers remind me of figure skating. Our ballroom competition is not exactly the same. It’s something we have special and I think it is the best. Plus we have experience in dance formation teams. Back in my country, Moldova, I used to be a member of a world championship team. We were world champions in 1997 in standard formation. It was the first time in 25 years. I hope some day American audiences can see very, very strong formations. It is an amazing experience to dance formations like 8 couples dancing together, with the technical level and difficulty very strong.
Would you like to be involved in that sometime?
Gherman: I like to choreograph formations, and back in Utah I had two formation teams. They were cute kids eight to ten years old. Utah actually has formation teams. Lee Wakefield is in charge of the BYU team, and Scott Asbell is in charge of Utah Valley’s college team. Both those teams compete in Blackpool, usually. When I see this, I feel nostalgia about my previous life. But it is great. It’s great for experience and it’s great for people to get involved in dancing. So I really respect both of these people. I think they do a great job.
What are your backgrounds? Have you been dancing since you were very young?
Gherman: I’ve been dancing since I was ten years old. My mom brought me to a dance studio and I saw 2 or 3 boys and 30 girls in short skirts, and very, very tight tops. So I decided that I wanted to stay. And I don’t regret my choice. Ballroom dancing is one of the best things to ever happen in life. It’s part of the art and part of the sport, so I really like it.
Iveta: I started dancing quite young. When I was four and a half my mom took me to a dance club. Because I started walking quite young compared to most kids, she decided I had to dance. I changed several clubs because I was a very bad kid. I was always laughing and talking a lot, so I made trouble with the teachers. Then when I was about six I started ballroom dancing. I went to a club, which was difficult to get into, especially for girls. In the Soviet Union it was free. The government paid for it, so hundreds of kids wanted to join. It had a competition for kids to get in. They would take mostly boys, because there is always a lack of boys. But for girls it was a big competition. So I was lucky to get in. And I’ve been dancing since then.
Do you still have a lot of energy? Do you still get in trouble?
Iveta: I think it’s a little bit less. But I remember my mom was always called and asked to calm me down, to make me stop talking and laughing. I just thought it was fun because lots of kids were around. For me it was boring just to be quiet for two hours and dance.
Gherman: Iveta does have a lot of energy. Everybody asks us how we can do it. A lot of other competitive couples can do only one style. They ask us how we have the energy to do both styles plus showdance and shows. Almost anybody who dances with Iveta will be able to do it! It’s very easy to dance with Iveta.
Does she push you a little?
Gherman: She is a very, very good organizer and she is very well motivated. Sometimes I see that she has more time... she always finds time to practice and to teach and to take jazz and ballet classes, more than me. And she designs her own costumes, both standard and Latin. She designs them herself and she does all the rhinestones. I think it’s amazing. Women that buy Iveta’s dresses say they are like pieces of art. Iveta also draws very well and she does good photography. She is a multi-talented girl.
How do you have time to do all of that?
Iveta: When I was back in Lithuania, I used to study art and dancing, because I didn’t have to work. I was younger. I did study art and dance in college when I was in Chicago. But when we moved to New York, we became much busier, and we travel a lot, so it was difficult to keep up everything. I gave up school and I don’t have as much time to just draw. I still do some mini drawings for designing costumes. I do rhinestoning, which is kind of an artistic way of expressing myself.
Gherman: She designs our advertisements. So all the advertisements in magazines and newspapers, she designs them. She does all of this. So she finds time for many things.
What do you do for relaxation?
Iveta: I like to eat! So for me it’s a very pleasant thing to go out and eat. In general we don’t have much time for vacations, but every time we go to a different country we try to find a day off. We make sure we stay a day after or go a day before to look around. So that’s relaxation, because we feel like a tourist. We see the country; we eat their food. It’s a way of seeing the world and relaxing. I love to relax in warm places, be in the sun, tan, swim, jet ski, or just lay and listen to the sound of water.
Gherman: We try to take city tours on a bus. We did that in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Moscow, Berlin and London. We also do that in America because it’s a great country. Every city is different. So we like to go and have this experience.
Is there a place you’ve found that you really like?
Gherman: Every country is different. We just came back from Tokyo and we were amazed by the food, people and their way of living. So every city is amazing. If you ask about living somewhere, I still think that New York is the best city in the world. And the United States is the best country. Of course you can find things that are bad in every country, but in total, I think it is the best.
Why did you both move to the United States?
Iveta: My mother moved first for the same reason as most people looking for a better life. She came to this country to look around and then she asked me to come. She didn’t plan to stay here and live, but things went on, and I started high school, then I went to college. I saw how many opportunities there are here, and I thought that this is a great country to live in.
Gherman: I was part of a formation team from Moldova and we traveled around the world. We had visited around 25 countries, but I had never been to the United States. I was always wondering how life was here. My friends asked me to come to the United States and see what’s around. So in 2000 I decided to come. I looked around and I liked it. Plus by accident or by coincidence, my previous partner, Andrea Hale, was available to try out. So I did a tryout and decided to stay here.
Since Iveta is busy with the costumes, the advertising and things like that, do you do most of the teaching?
Gherman: Yes, of course, because we teach mostly pro/am. I teach more than Iveta, because it’s more ladies willing to dance than gentlemen. But Iveta teaches a lot too. She teaches at Princeton University. So once a week she goes there. So again, I don’t know how she finds time for everything, but she does.
Iveta: Gherman does teach more hours than I do. He has several clients in different styles. I have more couples. I have maybe just one client that does competition. I like to split my time between teaching and making costumes. I also make costumes for other people. Not just sell my own dresses, because not everyone can fit into my dresses because of height and size or style. I enjoy making special designs for people matching the colors and making a design just for them. This is my second income besides dancing and teaching.
How many competitions do you dance pro/am?
Gherman: I didn’t count actually. As many competitions as we dance in the United States professionally, we try to dance pro/am. My ladies like to dance. I never push my students to enter competitions; they want to do it. I like to dance, so we do it.
Iveta: When we are not in Europe we try to compete in the United States as much as we can. Sometimes we have shows scheduled, so we cannot do every competition.
Gherman: Last year we were very busy. We probably danced fewer competitions; especially the second half of the year after our good results and more people got to know us. They saw our shows and they liked them, so we got invitations to do shows across the country. It is good for us because we keep dancing. Plus, we are very well paid.
Iveta: Shows are the best that dancers can do, because when you are a competitor you do what you love. You show your emotions performing and you get paid for it. It’s the most pleasant way of working.
How many hours a day do you practice?
Iveta: We try to practice—if we can—two times a day, because we dance two styles. Nobody practices four or five hours in a row. You don’t have enough energy. I believe in productivity, concentration, a work with result, so sometimes if you stay in the studio for too many hours in a row, you may lose these things. I don’t like to waste time, that’s why we always plan our practices. We try to dance one style in the morning, and then we teach, have a break and we try to do another style in the evening. Sometimes we do both styles. We might take three hours when we do both styles. So we really do what we can. And every time we go to England we have lessons during the day and then we go to practices. They have group practices at night where you do rounds for all the dances. We always stay for the ballroom practice. Then all the ballroom people leave, we stay for the Latin. We try to do as much as we can. Because we know a competitor’s life isn’t that long. However, besides practicing, we take classes. One ballet class is one and a half hours long,. Sometimes I take two classes in a row, one ballet and one jazz or pilates, that’s a total of three hours of dancing.
Do you have any special diet that keeps you energized to dance that long?
Iveta: The best diet is to listen to your body and eat everything you want, just keep a balance of all things. I don’t believe in not eating certain foods or anything. I think you can eat everything, but have a good balance. Not too much and not too little. But in general, we eat quite healthy, I would say. We eat vegetables, fruit, meat. We eat everything, but we don’t eat junk food. Not because it’s fattening, just because I don’t think it’s good for you.
Gherman: We don’t eat fast food. I prefer Asian food—Japanese, Chinese. I like Italian food, like pasta, before competitions. It gives you energy. Try not to drink a lot of alcohol. We don’t even drink soft drinks.
Iveta: We drink juices and water.
What do you most respect about each other?
Gherman: I’ve already said mostly what I respect. She’s a multi-talented girl and beautiful and smart. And she maintains our partnership and relationship together. It’s very easy. With her personality it’s much easier to do that. She also always feels correctly. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what to do but she can feel. I believe all good dancers very often go with the feelings. She has this talent, to go more with feelings.
Iveta: Gherman is a very talented dancer too, because he does both styles very well. His personality is easy to deal with and to work with. He is very understandable and a very flexible open-minded person. He is always willing to try anything and listens to what you have to say. And he is very supportive. Many partners say, “Oh, you’re not doing this, you’re not doing that.” And Gherman is the opposite. He always says, “Iveta, you’re the best. Just go there. You’re the best. There’s no one better.” He always tries to keep you feeling good about yourself. Also, he has a great personality dealing with other people. I am always amazed that he can find solutions, in conversations with anybody... an angry person, mean person, good person... anybody. When I watch him dealing with people and students, I’m always amazed at how he can find a way to have a relationship with everybody. I think it is a talent. And he is very nice person to have around. At the competitions Gherman is the one to start joking, and I can see how people right away start laughing and relax.
So when you practice you get along? Do you have arguments?
Iveta: When we argue it is because we get tired. Sometimes from flying and not getting enough sleep from time changes we both become tired and a little irritated. Sometimes because of stress, if a big competition is coming up, like the world ten-dance; we’re both stressed. We both want things to be better than they are. Sometimes we get disappointed that they are not feeling better. But these things I think everybody goes through, because we are in very close contact working together. We are not sitting at two desks in one room. We’re dancing together. We depend on each other. But in general, I would say we don’t fight, because we understand each other. We like working with each other. We like dancing with each other.
Gherman: From our great teachers, especially in ballroom, I understand the dancing is basically a man dancing with a woman. The man has to be very powerful and very strong and he must make the woman feel very comfortable and feminine. So you want to be gentle with her, and at the same time be very competitive. So I always try to listen to what Iveta says. I believe that if there’s a good looking girl on the dance floor, half of it is because she has a good guy. So it’s my way to improve it. If she feels it is right then she will look good, which means the couple will look good.
What are your goals now?
Gherman: We’re just trying to improve our dancing. Because if you’re really good no matter who is judging you, no matter what’s going on, no matter what kind of couples are dancing around you, sooner or later people will start to like you and they will start to support you. We try to improve and we try to dance better. You probably forget some of your results, but you always feel that you improved, so you’re happy with your own self. We take lessons. We take more knowledge. We study our bodies.
Iveta: To win the World Ten-Dance title is one of our goals, and to win the World Classical Showdance competition, but it’s not our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is to become as good as possible in each style. My biggest goal is to prove to people that one couple can be great in both styles. To be in the finals in both events at the biggest competitions in the world would be a really good achievement. People still don’t believe that one couple can be that good. I’m not talking about being world champion in both styles separately at the same time; I’m talking about major finals. I still believe we can. That’s my goal.
What do you think you need to do to become better? Anything in particular?
Gherman: We have to keep doing what we do. Maybe even more focus. Every couple develops; so we have to develop, too.
Iveta: In dancing there is no end. So you cannot say, “That’s it, I learned how to dance.” The dancing is improving itself like everything in life is improving. So even when we get higher, we cannot say we’ve learned everything. So our goal is not to learn all the dancing, our goal is to become as good as possible. To do the most with our own dancing, until we feel we want to start a new chapter. I see no end. There is nobody perfect. There is no dancer who knows everything, because everything is moving in life.
Would you ever be interested in going on Dancing With The Stars?
Iveta: We have thought about it. We could be perfect because they do both styles. But right now we are so concentrated on competing. We don’t want to take any time away from practicing or competitions, yet. In the future many things may change, but today we want to compete.
Gherman: We would like to do guest shows. We have a few good numbers, so if we receive an invitation, we of course would like to do it.
Was there anyone when you were growing up that you really looked up to?
Gherman: From every dancer I try to find what they’re good at and try to learn. In every situation I saw some people had bad results, some had good results, so everyone was a good example for me. I thought, “If they can do it, then I can do it, too.” But of course in our business we have many good people. Many great dancers, so you keep learning.
Iveta: I never idealized one person, because from a young age, I always wanted to be somebody. I didn’t want to be like somebody. But I always had a great respect for people who are very successful, like Michael Jackson. I always look up to him, not because I wanted to be like him, but because he made such big achievements in his life and he’s such a talented person. No matter what he does in his personal life, for me he is a legend. So I respect people like him. I respect talent. I respect hard work. I respect different styles and different opinions. The first time I saw a competition, I thought, “Wow, how amazing, it is all so different.” You watch the couples and they are all different, each having their own style. Everyone was great. Donnie Burns was amazing. Espen Salberg was amazing. I respect every one of them. I still do. Each couple has something special and something different than another couple. That’s why I never wanted to be like one. I enjoyed what they had, but I want to have something of my own so other people can enjoy that too.
Why is the dancing so important to you?
Gherman: Ballroom dancing is the best thing that we have in our life. It involves the relationship between man and woman. It’s very, very good for fitness and stamina and intellectual level. And there are so many good people involved. They are well dressed, very intellectual and challenging people. It’s the best combination from the arts and sports that we can ever have. I’m very happy that ballroom dancing is developing with the TV shows that we have right now, and I wish it will be even more. I believe in our business. Everybody who dances should keep doing it, and anybody who has stopped dancing should come back to it.
Iveta: To answer this question I will tell a short story. I was always interested in many things in life and never had time for most of them because I made dancing my priority. One day I hurt my back and I couldn’t practice or teach for about a month. When I wasn’t dancing I could have done all these other things I wanted to do, but I felt quite the opposite. I lost the interest to do anything, in life itself; without dancing my life felt empty. I feel complete and hungry for life when dancing is part of it. Taking dancing away is like taking everything. I just wish everybody would enjoy the dancing. Results sometimes discourage couples. Competitions can be very disappointing because results change and your feelings get hurt. Very often one day you get one result and the next day the result may be very different and you get hurt. But the results should not be the reason you dance. It is part of the whole. But I would say not to concentrate on the results. Concentrate on the dancing. Take the result and if it’s good then be happy, if it’s not good, it’s just a road you have to walk through to get where you’re going. Bad results are just stones on your way, so don’t trip.
Do you have anything else you would like to tell our readers?
Iveta: We have very, very good coaches. We have coaches from all over the world coming to the United States and we have many, many good coaches in the United States. So use the opportunity to take good training. And stay inspired. I heard this lecture in Japan by Donnie Burns, and he said that when we get older we lose the belief in many things; we are not as naive any more. We don’t have as many dreams. And I do feel that. I thought it was only me, but now I know it’s normal; it’s age. So stay inspired by people, keep dreaming, believing, stay positive and on top of it, work hard.
Gherman and Iveta Coach’s Corner
Gherman: Any type of dance is about developing your own body. Many people don’t pay enough attention to developing their own body muscle structure, bone structure, skeletal structure, your diet, your regime. They spend a lot of time practicing only ballroom steps. They take only ballroom lessons. Of course, it involves a lot of money and a lot of time. But if people are more open minded and try to develop physically their own body, I believe they will achieve better results easier.
Iveta: Depending on what level you are dancing, whether you are social or competitive, or kids... in general, ballroom dancing is a lifestyle. So it’s something you live. It’s a life. So look at yourself in the mirror and find the points that you like and what you don’t like. If you think you’re too heavy, you can change that. Start losing weight, practice more, go to the gym, change your diet. Change your way of living. There are some things you cannot change, like you can’t change your bone structure. So develop your dancing in a way that you can look your best. We are all different and we can all make the best of what we have. Don’t try to copy anybody. Don’t try to look like somebody. Change what you can, then try to bring the best out of you. If you can do the best from your body structure, have your own style and bring out your personality, no one can compete with you, because you will look great and amazing. Do as many styles of exercise, or dance, that you can. When you study law, you don’t just study the rules, you study many things. Any school you go to, the knowledge of people is wide. You don’t just study the one thing you’re going to be majoring in. It is the same thing in dancing. Study as much as you can and develop your intellectual level. We need to see the world. Read about psychology, philosophy, news Stay on the ground.