‘So You Think You Can Dance’: Breaking news! Pasha Kovalev likes dancing with hot girls

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Up until last night, one of the best parts of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ was that, unlike on other results shows, drama still actually happened. On Thursday nights, when the fallout from the audience’s votes was revealed, the judges were able to intervene and make their decisions after dancers had been given one last shot to prove themselves in solos. But now, the eliminations are left entirely to the voters at home.

It’s unclear what the benefit of this is at this point in the show. Viewers have less reason to tune in to the results because the decision has been cast. The final four dancers had one more chance to show off in their solos, but there was no point, competition-wise, because their performances wouldn’t affect the outcome.


One contestant who might have been at a disadvantage when it came to performing in the previous ‘dancing for your life’ solos was 27-year-old ballroom/Latin dancer Pasha Kovalev, a Russian native who lives in New Jersey. Last week, his ballroom counterpart Anya Garnis was sent home, partially because as a partner dancer she couldn’t show off in her solos the way other dancers could.

Pasha talked about what it’s like being the remaining ballroom dancer on the show.

‘The difference in ballroom is that you’re showing off your partner more than yourself,’ he said. ‘That’s how you make dance look beautiful and special, as opposed to the other guys on the show who are used to dancing by themselves. The whole performance is about them and their tricks. We in ballroom don’t really have those flips over our head or jumping splits. Maybe it’s not that appealing to the judges and they would like to see more flashy stuff. I think ballroom dancers are strong in their performance and characterization of the dance and of the song, and it’s really all about connecting to the audience and making them feel what you feel at the moment, with or without the tricks.’

Even though the dancers weren’t dancing for their lives anymore, they still had to prepare their solos for the results show. Pasha discussed what goes into a solo.

‘It’s all about trying to find the right piece of music,’ he said. ‘We have a short time to dance when we perform, just 30 seconds, so it’s hard to tell the full story during that period of time. You just try to create beautiful pictures that people will relate to. After I did my first dance in the bottom three contestants on the second week of the show, I decided what I’d do next and I’ve been preparing it since. So far I haven’t had the chance to dance it, and I hope I don’t.’

Fortunately for Pasha, he didn’t last night. He escaped the bottom four, despite judge Mia Michaels admitting that she thought he’d be there. She, like the other judges, was disappointed in Pasha’s performance of the Wade Robson war-and-peace-related solo Wednesday night. Pasha, like the other dancers, had to face some contrasting advice from the judges and the choreographer.

‘Sometimes the choreographers want one thing and the judges see it as another thing,’ he said. ‘Of course, they’re entitled to their opinions, which are very much respected. But sometimes the choreographer wants you to hit it a certain way or give it a certain character, and then the judges don’t really know what was happening and give their comments for what they feel at the moment from the dance. We never had the experience of doing those solos before, so now I know what’s going on. I definitely will work more on getting the character and personality into that.’

One area where Pasha feels comfortable with the format change is in partner-switching, which also took place Wednesday night.

‘It’s easier for me in the first place because I’m a ballroom dancer and I’m used to dancing with different partners,’ he said. ‘But I think everybody, even the people who didn’t dance with partners before, adapted pretty quickly. That’s the one thing that everybody has this season -- everyone’s so determined at really making those dances unfamiliar to them work. They really put their mind and soul into it and listen to the choreographers and observe all the information. Everybody’s doing well, but it’s mentally stressful. But once you tell yourself, ‘That’s what’s going on,’ that’s pretty easy.’

Even though he might have felt comfortable with Lauren Gottlieb, his new partner, he found himself a bit of a fish out of water performing a Shane Sparks hip-hop routine.

‘I didn’t do much hip-hop before this at all,’ he said. ‘The hardest part is telling yourself that you’re not a ballroom dancer anymore, turning your body off and turn it on as a hip-hop dancer. That’s really the hardest part because the difference between the styles is so tremendous. It’s so intricate when you’re trying to make it happen inside your body and you catch this difference in style and attitude and coordination of the movements. When we were practicing, Shane said, ‘You should be sexy in this way,’ and I was like, ‘Let’s talk about this, because in ballroom, sexy is one thing and in hip-hop I have no clue what it is.’ But he was very good in filling me in on the little tiny things, like the way you walk and how your posture goes. You just start using acting skills, putting yourself into the character and the image. It’s not so much how you play with your partner but what kind of attitude you have in the first place.’

It did help, however, that Lauren had some background in hip-hop. ‘She was so patient and was so nice,’ he said. ‘We really enjoyed our practices together; she was so happy at the end, like, ‘We did it!’'

Because he has so much experience dancing with partners, what -- in addition to patience and enthusiasm -- makes for a good partner?

‘A hot girl,’ he said, joking. ‘But the first thing in partnership, dancing or life, is trust. You make a decision if you want it to work or not and you go with that.’

Who would Pasha choose to dance with who he hadn’t been paired with so far?

‘I think I would pick Sabra [Johnson]. I enjoy her dancing so much. When you look at her, she includes you in her dancing and makes you feel happy and I’d like to experience that.’

As people who have been following the season know, Pasha was in the middle of some drama in the early weeks of the top 20 when his partner, Jessi Peralta, fell ill.

‘That whole thing happened two hours before the taping began that day. We did a run-through where she didn’t feel well, and the doctors came to check her out during hair and makeup. I didn’t really know what was going on since the doctors didn’t share much information because of patient confidentiality. They kept that to themselves until the last minute -- we didn’t know what would happen. Then we found out that Jessi went to he hospital and wouldn’t be able to dance on the show and the producers started to think about what would happen with me, so they came up with the decision [to dance with choreographer Tony Meredith’s partner Melanie], which was surprising but it worked. I was happy to dance. Suddenly I changed partners, and now we do it every week. Of course, they changed it two hours before the show, so it was hard not knowing what was happening to Jessi, and I was worried about her, plus I needed to worry about myself and the performance and consider that it was another person that I needed to dance with and adjust some stuff -- with different people you dance a little differently.’

But Pasha’s been able to breathe easier in recent weeks, perhaps partially because of his popularity with female fans. Pasha claims he’s just being himself, although a bit of that ballroom swagger never hurts.

‘In the beginning, I was really afraid of the camera; it would be rolling and I’d be like, ‘All right! I should say something now.’ Now I’m relaxed. I don’t like being fake in life or fake on the camera, so I’m just trying to be myself. Of course when you perform, you go with the character with the dance, so there are some acting skills, but whatever happens during the rehearsals, whatever you see on those little packages before the actual dance, that’s the real deal.’

Between Pasha and Maksim Chmerkovskiy on ‘Dancing With The Stars’ (which Pasha admits to tuning into occasionally), dancers from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet countries seem to be heralding a dancing invasion.

‘Dancing in those countries is as popular as any sport,’ he said. ‘Parents like to see their kids dancing, and it’s normal for boys to do ballroom dancing because it’s widely accepted in the community. Then, when people move here, you find that since we had a huge school back in Russia, you see those people shining because in the U.S. ballroom is still in a developing point.’

Pasha approves of the burgeoning TV/dance revolution: ‘What I like about it is that it gives people at home a chance to understand that anybody can go and dance. Unfortunately, dancing is not that popular in the U.S., but all those shows are creating extra interest for ballroom and just dancing in general.’

Pasha will be put through his paces again next week, but until then, did America make the right decision, which judge Mary Murphy fretted about? It appeared to. Kameron Bink seemed to be dancing on borrowed time over the last few weeks, and although Jaimie Goodwin was constantly praised for her lines and grace, she didn’t seem to make as much of a connection with the audience as the other ladies on the show.

What’ll go down next week? ‘We found out about our solos at the last minute this week, so the format might be changing again,’ Pasha said. ‘We’ll see how things works out. It might be more solos; it might be like last season where you have two partnership dances. We kind of brace for everything mentally. Whatever we find out, that’s what we do, because we’re here to make it work.’

-- Claire Zulkey