Interview: Szilveszter Székely and the Relation Between Academic Ballet and Latin American Dance
What kind of relation do you have with dancesport?
Szilveszter Székely: I am a 30-year-old professional dancer and trainer from Hungary. I used to dance competitive Latin American dance. After that I studied classical ballet for 9 years. Then, I graduated from the Hungarian Dance Academy. There I wrote my thesis about the relation between classical ballet and Latin American dance.
In 2013, I was among the best 50 talented Hungarians under the age of 30. In 2014, I received the Junior Prima Prize, which is one of the biggest artistic prizes in Hungary. I have been the only professional dancer to receive it ever since. In 2017, I was the invited as official coach of the Hungarian Latin Dance Team at the World Games in Wroclaw. Thus I ended representing Hungary in dancing.
Which were the main difficulties that you met when you started academic ballet?
Szilveszter Székely: Well, it certainly wasn’t an easy job because I was on a tight schedule. I had 2 hours of ballet lessons every single day, from Monday through Friday. So that’s why I could get very good basics in ballet. You know, ballet training is very important for any dancer.
In this academic technique, there are strict rules, which you have to follow. You must stretch a lot, work on footwork, balance, alignment and, of course, turns. Training in ballet is tough, long and arduous. Nevertheless, it gives you a larger understanding of movement in your own body.
Did your experience in academic ballet help you become a better Latin American dance teacher?
Szilveszter Székely: The ballet technique has changed my life completely. While it may be difficult to see the connection between ballet and other styles, after learning ballet I could feel in my body that I could do a lot of things better than before. I could turn out my legs, I was more flexible, my alignment was much better. I was able to use my body weight and balance properly.
Ballet builds strength, flexibility, and balance that can be applied in other classes. Because of that, I decided to write my thesis about this kind of relation.
The academic technique, which is several hundred years old, appeared and revolutionized present-day dancesport through explicit and implicit effects. In the 1980s it started to be adopted primarily into Russian-speaking areas. There ballet was known as a high-level supplementary technique applied in different sports. In Hungary instead, the application of classical ballet in dancesport was not very typical.
There are turns, jumps, leg lifts that trainers integrate into latin choreographies from ballet. However, they do not even know that most of the time, it’s not a conscious thought. When I have private lessons with Latin dancers, I always work with them to improve their technique in footwork, turns, jumps and alignment in their actual choreography. I never change their choreography, I just develop their skills and improve what they need.
I really want the dancers to understand the process. It is quite important for me, because if you understand what to do, then you can work on it. You can then go into the dancing room and improve your technique even if you do not have a partner.
Do dancers that apply this method in your lesson feel any improvement in their performance?
Szilveszter Székely: If you take this kind of ballet-based lessons, you can be better in footwork, flexibility, turns, alignment and in jumps. When you or your coach want to integrate a jump or turns into the choreography, you will already know how to do that kind of movement properly technically speaking.
The influence of the academic ballet technique – according to my research so far – can be observed in two directions: explicit and implicit. Its explicit effect appears in integrated ballet steps, i.e. the classical ballet movements embedded in Latin American dance choreographies. Its implicit consequences can be followed in the footwork.
Can you give us an example, going more in depth, of some exercises that you do with your students?
Szilveszter Székely: In my lessons I use a lot of exercises that improve the dancers’ footwork. For example, during the training, I encourage dancers to use the first and the fifth positions. This is when the musculus adductor femoris can develop the best – which is important and useful for the balance. Before giving an example, let’s clarify the battement tendu position. This position appears in a lot of Latin movements (especially in Rumba), that’s why we work on it a lot.
During the exercise, the abduction and adduction of the stretched foot come about within a defined period of time, which is turned out from the hip joint. The abduction of the working foot from the standing foot – following the rules of the exercise – is allowed to last until the toe of the working foot touches the ground. From this point the movement starts on the way back to the same foot position (adduction).
There is an exercise for rondés, that includes a turned-out battement tendus and a spiral. We start in the first foot position. Then, the supporting leg will be the left one, so we need to transfer our weight to the left side without any action in the hip. After making a battement tendu position forward (using the right leg), we start doing a circle with the point of the right leg, which is called a rondé. We must turn out our legs from the hip joint, ignoring the hip action. We repeat it three times. Then, we do again a battement tendu forward with rondé finishing into check position backwards and we turn a spiral.
Repeat it of course with the other side of your body.
Could you name any of your students that got a big improvement from this method?
Szilveszter Székely: Three years ago I started to work with Orsolya Kaszás. She is 16 years old now and her foot technique is much better since we started. We have worked a lot on her alignment, turns and flexibility as well. I also used to teach ballet basics to Paul Moldovan and Cristina Tatar as well.
If you want to learn more about Paul and Cristina you can check our interview with them here.
Is there any difference in the results if this method is applied from the very beginning compared to applying it to an advanced Latin dancer?
Szilveszter Székely: No, I don’t think that there is a substantial difference. The reason is that what I teach provides strong ballet foundations that are necessary and useful for all dancers regardless of when they start applying the technique.
Of course, the earlier you start, the faster it becomes part of your body, but regular and continuous practice is the key anyway.
So, which would be your suggestion to Latin dancers and teachers that don’t include any academic ballet element in their everyday training?
Szilveszter Székely: They should learn the basics of ballet because it is the best supplementary and basic technique for them. This is my opinion, and the result is the following: any dancer who practices ballet gets much better in its Latin American technique.
However, it is important that you choose a coach who understands both classical ballet and latin dance. Solid knowledge about both fields will make sure that you receive specific and relevant training, one that is rooted in ballet technique and improves your ballroom performance.
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Italian, dancing since the age of 5 and currently based in Moscow. With his partner Ekaterina Utkina, he is in the top 50 WDSF Adult Standard World Ranking, representing the Russian Federation.