Alexandra Nazarova/Maxim Nikitin: “You can do more with four hands and four legs”
Ukrainian ice dancers Alexandra Nazarova and Maxim Nikitin have developed their own, very unique style. The won the bronze medal at the 2015 World Junior Championships and will focus on the senior level this season. Let’s get to know them a little bit.
Q: How did you start skating?
Alexandra: I was put into skating, because my brother played ice hockey and I had to wait with my mom for three hours. I was complaining that I want to go home and my mother just put me into a skating class so that I learned to skate and had something to do. Then my brother left and I stayed in skating and that’s all. I started in singles and at first I didn’t like it, but then I did and I stayed.
Maxim: We found accidentally skates at home when I was little and I wanted to try it in the winter outside in our courtyard. They made an ice rink in our courtyard and I skated there at first and then we decided to try a sport club, just to be healthy, and the closest one was our sports palace in Kharkov. They were selecting figure skating classes and I ended up there and everything started from there.
Q: When and why did you switch to ice dance?
Maxim: As far as I remember none of us really decided anything, we were too young. They just suggested it to us. At this time, ice dance was quite prestigious in Kharkov. Nobody started out in ice dance, but they selected children from single skating, suggested it to them and they agreed. Nobody started ice dance just like that. Our coach, Galina Vladimirovna Churilova, apparently noticed me or they told her, I don’t remember these details, she came to our group and selected a few children.
Alexandra: I started skating late, with seven years. He started, when he was little.
Maxim: Yes, I was four years old and I went into ice dance when I was about eight years old.
Alexandra: I started late, I learned to skate, then I was sick and we went on vacation and I didn’t go (to training). When we came back, my mom said after a week, do you want to go to ice dance. I didn’t like jumping. At first I said, I don’t want, why I want to skate by myself. But when my mother said ‘you don’t have to jump’ I said, good. I skated in singles just a little bit and I was about seven when I went into ice dance.
Q: Did you have another partner then at first?
Maxim: No. We skated together from the very beginning. I was about eight or nine years old and she was about seven years old.
Alexandra: We were seven and nine, for sure. I was seven and they said it’s late. I came from gymnastics and I attended a choreography session and they only took me in singles because of that.
Q: What does attract you to ice dance?
Maxim: I’m also not a super fan of jumps. What I personally really like is the acrobatic moment, the lifts, the interesting variations and for me it is easier to dance together and to do something interesting when there are two people. There is more variety of moves. When you are alone, you only have two hands and two legs, but here you already have four hands and four legs. You can do more and show more like that.
Alexandra: Yes, and I especially enjoy the time when we mount programs. I like to do interesting, various lifts. The only thing I don’t like is to search a long time for music. In singles I think it goes faster, you just take what you like. In dance, you have to search in certain frames, not only I have to like it, but also my partner and all coaches. That is more difficult.
Q: You’ve been skating since you were children. Did you ever fight and want to split up?
Alexandra: Obviously, there are some moments during your work, but at least I never thought that I want to stop skating or look for another partner or coach or something else.
Maxim: It is the same for me. Of course, we are sometimes arguing, but it never got to some dramatic decisions and I hope it never will get to them.
Q: When did you move to Moscow?
Maxim: We’ve been skating here for exactly two seasons now, so we’ve been here for two years.
Q: How did it happen?
Alexandra: We went to the (Junior) World Championships, which took place in Milan then (in 2013). It was our first Worlds. We went with our old coach (Galina Churilova), skated there and in the evening, already after the competition, Churilova called us to her room and said ‘we have to talk’. We thought as she was leaving earlier that she’d just tell us to behave and not to forget anything. We came and she told us ‘I’ve led you to a certain level, and I probably can’t take you any further, therefore I’ve thought the whole year where you should go, to whom to give you. We were at the seminar in Oberstdorf where many coaches come together. She said ‘I was thinking and I decided to give you to Sasha Zhulin.’ She had talked to our parents at the airport before we left. She had asked them if it was possible. So she told us and that’s all I remember.
Q: How did you react?
Alexandra: I cried at first.
Maxim: It was completely unexpected for me. I didn’t know and didn’t really think about anything. There were a lot of emotions, it was our very first Worlds and we were just starting out. When she said all this I didn’t really believe it at first and I didn’t know what to expect, because we skated from the beginning under Churilova, our training never changed, we always were with her, we always had lived in our city, in our country. We only left for training camps, for a maximum of a month and it wasn’t quite clear what was going to happen.
Alexandra: She also told us that we are leaving in three days.
Maxim: We came back from Worlds, we went to the seminar in Oberstdorf and after the seminar we came here (to Moscow). She came with us and basically handed us over. She stayed with us for two days, to see what Sasha says, how he reacts to us and how we feel in this group and then she felt reassured that she left us in good hands.
Alexandra: She wished us good luck and that was it.
Maxim: We stayed here and she went back home. We still have a good relationship with her, we stay in contact. During the first season, she went to all competitions with us, supported us and helped us. When we are in Kharkov or at Ukrainian Nationals we always can skate on her ice.
Alexandra: She also came to (Junior) Worlds this year. She did not stand at the boards, but she was at our practice and then rooted for us from the tribune.
Q: Did you know who Zhulin was?
Alexandra: Of course. I was watching “Ice Age” when I was a child and I wanted to be coached by him.
I always hoped that Zhulin’s team wins and not Averbukh’s. And of course (I knew) Ilinykh/ Katsalapov, when they won (Junior) Worlds (in 2010). Before that I didn’t watch the Grand Prix, I didn’t know what that was, but when they won, people started to talk about them and I watched videos and when I found out that Zhulin coaches them I wanted to be coached by him even more, but I didn’t believe that this was possible.
Maxim: It was just a dream.
Alexandra: Because we had no means and nobody thought about it, even not our parents. They said, if you skate well, you’ll get far, if you don’t (skate well), we won’t do anything, pay for something. They had no connections. Therefore it was a shock when she (Churilova) told us (about Zhulin).
Q: How did you adapt to life in Moscow?
Maxim: Most of all it was difficult to get used to living alone, to have an independent life. At home we had lived with our parents.
Alexandra: Here we stayed with our friends. Alissa Agafonova skated with us in Kharkov for a long time. I didn’t really know her so well, because I was young when I came into the group, and she then left to train in America after a few years. But she remembered me, and I remembered that she was taking care of me back then. She had switched to Zhulin half a year ago and I wrote to her that we are also switching to Zhulin and if she can help us. We first came for two weeks to stay with her, for the try-out. Then we went to Latvia for a training camp and we became friends and she said, stay with us. For one year we lived together, four people, the two couples. So it wasn’t so difficult for us. And we were also very well received in the group. Surprisingly, Katia Bobrova turned out to be friendly and nice. She knew us and she introduced us to everybody. She invited us to go out. We were not left alone. Now the two of us are living together. Half a year ago, after Europeans, we moved.
Maxim: We didn’t move that long ago, but we had planned it for a while. It was a little hard for us in the apartment we lived with Alissa. There was not much space for four people.
Alexandra: We also were skating on junior ice (at different time) sometimes, because we had a different short dance, the Samba. It was not comfortable. We stood up earlier, they got up later, we came back at different times. The schedule was not convenient.
Q: It’s not easy to find an apartment in Moscow.
Alexandra: Yes, but we found something ourselves. We need half an hour on the metro to come here, but for Moscow that is not that far.
Q: How different is the life in Moscow from Kharkov?
Alexandra: Here are a lot of distractions, parks, there are a lot of things to do. I don’t know if it has to do with Moscow, but I found here more friends than in Kharkov. In Kharkov I missed classes at school and I only found friends at the rink.
Q: You said you are going back to Kharkov for exams in May. Are you studying by correspondence?
Maxim: You can call it that way. We are taking part in the exams ahead of schedule. We are getting support from our federation, the ministery. Especially Juri Vladimirovitch Balkov helps us with the studies so we can pass our exams ahead of schedule. We’ll do the exams three weeks before the other students.
Q: Are you studying in the sports institute?
Alexandra and Maxim: Yes.
Q: In which year of your studies are you?
Maxim: I’m finishing the third course.
Alexandra: I’m in the first course.
Q: How do you rate this past season for you when you skated in juniors and seniors?
Maxim: Yes, the first impression from the season is that it was difficult, because we had three programs. The free dance was the same. At first it was difficult to switch from the Samba, Latin dance, to the Flamenco (and Paso Doble). And once we managed that it was probably just physically hard, because we went to many competitions which cost energy. We first had two Junior Grand Prix, then we went to two senior B competitions, Challengers as they are now called, after that we had Ukrainian Nationals, Europeans and two World Championships (senior and junior).
Alexandra: For me it was difficult to be at the big (senior) competitions and then to go back to Junior Worlds. It is a big difference.
Maxim: Yes, but I had this impression more at the World Championships. At Europeans I knew, this is the senior level, this is a completely different story, you have to start from scratch. Maybe I didn’t really understand this at Europeans or it went by so fast, but at the World Championships, I realized that we skate quite well, maybe we could have been higher one or two places, but I realized that this is really our level, our place. We are 17 th and I know that there is a lot of work ahead. In order to move up just one spot you have to put in a huge amount of work and there are a lot of competitors. There were the competitors from Worlds, but in the next year some people will move up from juniors etc. At senior Worlds I understood that it will be very difficult to skate at the senior level and that there are many competitors. This pushes us not so stop in our development. We are working on new elements to integrate them into our programs. We try not to keep one element, we want everything to be new.
Q: You always have very original elements.
Maxim: We’ll try to keep that, this is our specialty and we’ll try not to disappoint. We’ve already prepared some interesting things for the new season and I think people will appreciate and like them.
Q: Who has the idea for these original elements?
Maxim: We have a big group. For example, Alexander Zhulin suggests, ‘stand like this’, we get into position, we understand that it is comfortable for us. Sasha says, ‘put your hand here’ and I put my leg there and someone else, the choreographer for example, suggests move here. It is a complete teamwork.
Q: But not everyone in the group has these original elements.
Alexandra: Maybe you need to find your coach, to think the same way, how he teaches us.
Maxim: It also comes from ourselves. We can only do three lifts in the season in the free dance and one in the short dance. We prepare the lifts in the gym with our acrobatics coach. We are done quickly, we have nothing else to do and we are thinking of something else. So we are growing step by step. Many lifts or elements we created ourselves.
Alexandra: I am often watching shows and performances in the internet. For me it is interesting how it is done on the floor. In dance, not only there are lifts, but just nice transitions and I think how to transfer them on to the ice. Sometimes at home I come into the room and say, look, let’s try.
Maxim: Our acrobatics coach is an athlete himself and performs in acrobatic rock’n’roll and we’re socializing with these guys. Recently we went to their Russian Nationals and watched. After that we had many ideas what we can take from their sport to our. We have many lifts that are currently not allowed by the rules, but we can do them in exhibition programs. Just for our development, we do what is not allowed, and from this something personal, unusual comes out.
Q: Why did you decide to compete in juniors and seniors in the past season?
Maxim : First of all we had to. If we hadn’t competed at senior Worlds, we wouldn’t have had a judge at all without a senior couple. Also the new Olympic cycle has started and we need to get into the senior life, senior skating, but at the same time we wanted to finish our junior career with a bang. We talked to our coaches and Alexander Zhulin said that this is possible and we are not the first and not the last ones to do that. Therefore we decided to do it this way.
Alexandra: I think it was a successful season for us and we did what we wanted to do. The two senior B events gave us a lot of energy. I don’t know why, they are not different…
Alexandra: We just grew with these two competitions and then at Europeans we realized that we are not 25 th , but 11 th . We came with more confidence to Junior Worlds, although it was hard for us, we tried to prepare as quickly as possible. Once we got there it wasn’t so terrible and we were not afraid of the audience or anything.
Maxim: After all we prepared mainly for Junior Worlds. This was our main goal from the beginning and we did everything for it. But to be honest, there was a moment after Europeans. The next competition was Junior Worlds and we didn’t really want to go back to the junior level, we liked it at the senior level.
Alexandra: We thought, what if it doesn’t work out.
Maxim: I just liked it in seniors, it was more interesting for me and I preferred the Paso Doble, our short dance. However, we had to end our junior career at a high note and we really wanted it and it has been a long time that the Ukrainian flag was raised at such an important event. We had a chance and we didn’t want to miss it and it worked.
Alexandra: The coaches also said that we can do it. We had some bad luck at the junior competitions. In practice, everything was good, but in competition something happened to us. So we went and we were very happy when Sasha told us in the Kiss & Cry that he is proud of us, he said we did a great job and thanked us. This was really nice. This was his first junior medal since Ilinykh/Katsalapov.
Q: So in the next season you’re not going to compete in juniors again?
Maxim: No, we don’t plan to do that. We could, we are still age eligible, but we have to move up to the senior level. Sasha also told us before this season that we should finish at a high note in juniors, but he also said that it is not good to dwell too long in juniors. We were hesitating, but now we have no more hesitation, we have to move up to seniors. Before the next Olympic Games – and there is actually not so much time left – we have to build up ourselves in seniors.
Q: What can you tell us about your new programs?
Alexandra: We chose a March and a Waltz by Johann Strauss for the Short Dance. As for the free dance, it is to music by Mozart. We this time wanted to show something new, because everybody expects something fun from us, we are always fooling around, do weird programs. We like that, but we realize that people want to see something else from us. Plus we are moving up (to the senior level) and we need to show something else.
Maxim: We thought about that even before this season (14-15). The middle part of our program, Bach, was a kind of practice, kind of test for that. We wanted to try it. In 2012 at the Youth Olympic Games we had a program to Evanescence, a rather serious one, the other ones were more funny. So we decided to do something more serious, something classical.
Alexandra: In the elements we’re trying to keep our specialty. We changed the music and did everything differently, but we want to keep our specialty in the elements. Therefore we thought of some ideas and I think it will be interesting to watch.
Maxim: We’ll be in a new character for us. It is interesting to see if it works or not. Yes, if we do something fun and crazy as usual, it will be funny and good, but we have to grow and we cannot always do the same. We try to do new lifts and elements each season, but we also have to try new styles and use different styles of music.
Alexandra: We skated the Waltz many times in juniors as pattern dance. One year we skated in juniors and novice and we skated five or six Waltzes and I didn’t like one of them. We skated the one for this season in juniors as well. But this Waltz (Ravensburger) is the fastet and I like it. Right now it doesn’t feel so comfortable yet, but I like it better than the Samba.
Maxim: In our Free Dance, we’ll just dance to our music, as our choreographer said. When we chose the music and started to discuss about who we are, which character we want to portray, he said, you can think of whatever you want, but I think the best way is just to dance to the music. We can choose an emotion we want to show, but the spectator should decide himself who we are. Our choreographer is Sergei Petukhov. He and Sasha Zhulin mount our programs. They work on the idea and the character of the program, the steps and choreography.
Q: What did you do in your vacation at home in Kharkov?
Alexandra: It wasn’t so much a vacation! We came back home, got things done at our universities and met our former team. When we were at home, (former coach) Galina (Churilova) suggested that we start coaching and help the younger generation, which we did during our whole vacation. We tried to stay in shape and skated our programs all the time. And of course we also tried to spend time not only with our friends, but also with our parents.
Q: How is your preparation going for the season?
Maxim: We had one month off, then we came back (to Moscow) first and went on the ice on June 15. June 28 we flew to Turkey for the training camp. We’ll be there for five weeks. We’ll be in Erzurum, which is at 2 600 m, like Courchevel, and the hotel will be at 2000 m. It is an interesting experience.
Alexandra: At first it was a bit tough to train at high altitude, but we got over it by now. We are now doing run-throughs of our programs, get into the image and get into physical shape. The whole group is working well together and we’re moving forward. We really like it here (in the training camp), we have great conditions. We are happy to be here.
Q: How do you describe the character of your couple?
Alexandra: A difficult question. I think we are as weird as our programs turn out to be therefore they are weird like that.
Maxim: Yes, I can’t really explain it, but maybe it is something like that.
Q: You are a little different from others.
Alexandra: Each couple has something of its own.
Q: You are definitely setting yourselves apart.
Maxim: I hope it is like that. It is nice to hear. Everybody tries not to disappear in the mass of people and nobody wants to be similar to others. But I honestly don’t know how to characterize our couple.
Q: How do you describe your partner in three words?
Alexandra: In three words? I have to think about that.
Alexandra: I think first of all he is a good helper, because when we start thinking of something, first of all lifts, everything is always very easy. Usually I’m pestering him, saying I want this and this and this, and everyone is looking at me. We start trying something and many partners would say ‘no, what do you want, this is hard, I won’t do it, it doesn’t work’, but here is nothing like that. We always start trying and he might add something and make it even harder and it works. This is what I like best about him.
Maxim: I don’t even know which words to use. Sasha… I can’t do that. When I come home after practice I prefer to lie down and watch my movies or think about something different. I don’t like to think about figure skating all the time. She is a fanatic, you can say. She likes to watch some shows as she said, things like that. I like watching them too, but here and now and I don’t like to overdo it. She is hard working, it is not the same, you know what I mean. A fanatic, maybe, I don’t know which word to use. She is also hard working and she often forces me to do something in training, when I’ve had enough or I’m tired I might get sloppy, everybody wants to go home and the coaches too, but she still wants to skate and to do something. What else…
Alexandra: In the next interview we’ll answer this question in more detail.
Maxim: It’s our homework.
Q: Which competitions do you plan to attend?
Maxim: As we discussed with our coaches and our federation, we understand in this season it is important to do some simple competitions, B, Challengers, to skate calmly and to just to see what is good and what is bad, to check. So we’d like to go to some earlier competitions.
Q: Maybe you’ll come to Oberstdorf.
Alexandra: If we get ready in time.
Maxim: Yes, we talked about this. We’ll see. We hope that we get Grand Prix. We think that we’ll do two B’s or Challengers, then of course Ukrainian Nationals.
Q: Unfortunately the situation in Ukraine is very difficult right now. How does it affect you?
Alexandra: We try not to think about it, not to watch news or read anything, just live here and work and do our job.
Maxim: We basically don’t comment on or discuss any political moments. I always say, everybody should do their job. I’m an athlete, I can talk about sports. I can’t give any advice or tell anybody about politics, because I don’t know about it. I want to be impersonal, and I’m impersonal about sports and I can talk about figure skating, teach someone, discuss with someone about it. I don’t want to touch this topic as it is not nice.
Q: How can your federation support you financially?
Maxim: Of course, our financial support could be much better. But at this moment we get a lot of support from our city, and especially a huge amount of help comes from Juri Vladimirovitch Balkov. He finds money in Kharkov and elsewhere and some competitions he even paid from his own pocket when there was no money.
Alexandra: He treats us like his own children.
Maxim: Yes, he knows us from childhood. The federation, with president Evgeni Alexandrovitch Larin helped us at the beginning of the season 14-15 with costumes and now when we rent our own apartment the federation and we share the cost, each pays a half. They help us, but it is not consistent, and it is still hard for us, because there is not enough money. During the season it is a bit easier as there is sometimes some prize money or stipends. But for our sport there never was a lot of money in Ukraine and it is difficult to ask for money at this time, because there really isn’t any. Therefore we are glad to receive some help. But it is hard. For example I’m skating now the second season with my boots. They’re done, but I don’t have the possibility to buy new ones. We tried to find a sponsor, but there is nobody who tell us with whom to speak. To do it ourselves is difficult and basically impossible.
Alexandra: We’ll find some solutions, because we want to skate and we will skate. A human being does the maximum to live his dreams. We’ll search for something and we’ll skate during this time in order to continue skating.
Q: Maybe you can teach kids.
Maxim: Yes, during the season we do this, we are working. Now it is a bit difficult as everybody goes on vacation, but during the season we’ll earn some money that way, we teach children in Moscow. We have to live somehow.
Q: Moscow is an expensive city.
Maxim: Yes, and for us after Kharkov we really felt it. Now I’m counting everything in rubles already, we got used to it.
Q: You said you have a brother that played hockey. Do you have any other siblings?
Alexandra: No, just the older brother.
Maxim: I’m the only one in the family, but I have cousins.
Q: Are there any other athletes in your families?
Maxim: My father’s brother, my uncle, in his family they’re all athletes. He is a track and field athlete himself and currently he coaches the national athletics team of India. They are not active athletes anymore, my cousin was a shot putter and my other cousin was a high jumper, her husband was a runner. They are no active athletes anymore, though. In our family I’m the only one. My father is an engineer and my mother is a housewife.
Alexandra: In my family they’re all athletes. My mom did folk dances for 16 years and my father was a footballer and now he is a football coach. My brother was a footballer, swimmer, hockey player and he eventually became a footballer, then he got injured and now he is a football referee. I also did swimming and gymnastics, but in the end I only did figure skating. I didn’t want it at the beginning. I wanted to do gymnastics, but they said, you have to go to Russia. But I was six years old and my mother said no. In swimming my mother said, ‘I put you into swimming so you learn to swim but not that you get that kind of body.’ I learned swimming and they put me into figure skating.
Q: You mentioned before that you learned Korean. How did that happen?
Maxim: Now I don’t remember anything of course, but I still can read. I came to that, because there was a school next door, on the other side of the street, a private school, that was supported by the Korean embassy. Korean volunteers worked there and everything was in Korean culture. It was a regular school, but they additionally offered Korean, their martial arts taekwondo, drums, singing. I studied in this school until sixth grade. Korean visitors came often and we greeted them. I had a Korean outfit and a Korean girl, we also had lots of Korean children, was dressed in a Ukrainian costume. I remember we were reading poems, me in Korean and she in Ukrainian. Now I don’t remember anything because I had to switch schools in order to focus seriously on the sport. I came into a new school and studied together with hockey players. I really liked (the Korean school and I regretted that I had to switch. I liked the school, everything was in Korean style and it was interesting. Maybe I can get into it again, I still have the books, my notebooks in which I wrote at the time.
Q: Thank you for the interview!
This interview was originally conducted in Moscow in May 2015 and updated in July 2015.