These 12-year-old dance partners had only been performing together for a year when they were chosen to compete on an international level
By Jennifer Adler | Photography by John Michael Simpson
When you are born to professional ballroom dancers, sometimes dancing is in your blood. Sometimes your mom hears about ballroom dancing lessons and signs you up. And sometimes two such 12-year-olds become dance partners and, within a year of performing together, are chosen to represent the United States at the Dutch Open World Professional Championships in Ballroom and Latin. Not always, not often and not likely. But sometimes. That is what happened when Alexander Simakov – who has been ballroom dancing since he was 5 years old and whose parents, Oksana Klyuchnyk and Yuriy Simakov, own Fred Astaire Dance Studio on Garrett Road – teamed up with Phoebe Wolf, who has only danced for one year.
The Durham Academy students were one of just four young pairs in the 8-11 age group selected nationwide, and the only couple from the Southeast division, to dance at the competition held in Holland this past November.
Participating in these contests is nothing new to Alexander, who competed regionally by age 6. Phoebe, on the other hand, learned everything “so quickly” over the past year, Oksana says. To be able to represent the United States in only 12 months makes them “special partners,” she adds.
Perhaps their aptitude comes from the love of competition that both preteens share. Phoebe says, “I like feeling proud and I like the suspense for the results. You’re up there and they call the results for first place and you don’t know what you are going to get.” Alexander feels right at home in the competitions and enjoys meeting new people, reuniting with friends from competitions around the country and watching professional dancers.
And they both do work quite hard, with dance lessons almost every day of the week. Oftentimes they’ll participate in additional technique classes. Phoebe likes to end her nights with 30 minutes of added exercise: lunges, squats and planks. Alexander plays other sports like baseball and basketball for extra endurance.
“The days feel really packed,” says Kathryn Wolf, Phoebe’s mom. “From school, it’s double lessons then home and dinner and whatever homework didn’t get done during the day … then Phoebe feels she needs to exercise before bed.” Phoebe doesn’t mind, because she says she “hopes to know dance [her] whole life.”
Kathryn agrees that the practice is fulfilling for her daughter, and it teaches important skills. “It’s an exquisite education,” she says. “The amount of discipline, self-composure it requires, the teamwork and [the athleticism]; you learn how to compete, how to handle your nerves and anxiety.”
The kids’ dedication paid off in Holland. The U.S. team placed second, behind Ukraine. Alexander and Phoebe didn’t end up placing in the couples’ division, but they both agree that this is their new goal. Phoebe says that ballroom dancing taught her that “if you don’t win, it’s OK, and you have a goal to work on for the next year.”
Alexander’s dream was to represent the nation on a world stage. Now that he’s done it, he’s excited and just a little nervous about this next goal. The partners have graduated from the 8-11 age group. The next age bracket is a big step up, “like going from kindergarten to fifth grade,” according to Oksana. Both Alexander and Phoebe also prefer standard ballroom dancing to the Latin style – they have to perform both in the competition. Standard, Alexander says, is “one nice smooth movement. It’s pristine and calm, more fun [to me] than Latin.” But for now the focus is on improving their Latin moves. With their self-discipline and teamwork, and with access to a dance studio that employs top coaches from around the globe, they’re sure to shine yet again as they head out to compete for another international championship trophy at the New York Dance Festival on Feb. 21.