Kristina grew up in the cold climate of Siberia, but her home was a warm and comforting place, as it was enveloped in music, provided by her father who was a musician and composer. Kristina fell in love with music and dance at an early age and also used her ballet training to perfect the skills that would one day make her a ballroom champion.
At the time of the interview, Kristina was starring alongside Robin Windsor in Burn The Floor at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End.
Kristina recently took time out from her busy schedule to answer some questions about herself and her career. Enjoy!
You grew up in Siberia, where your home was embraced by music. Can you share a little of what it was like growing up?
My dad would play in a band at birthday parties and weddings and practice at home. Because of the relationship with Russia and Cuba at that time the style of music was Cuban and Latin and this is what I grew up listening to and that influenced the style of music that I liked.
You trained in Ballet, Latin and Standard styles of dance. What was it about Latin that “stirred your passion”?
Latin music was a favourite of my father’s and having listened to Latin music so much when I was growing up it has always been close to my heart. It is so vibrant and always makes me feel so happy.
As a child and into your teens you took part in many dance competitions. Can you tell us about this?
In Russia, ballroom dancing is extremely popular and is treated very much like a sport. It was possible to travel around the regions where there were competitions happening every weekend. My dance teachers were husband and wife, and they always kept us occupied and pushed us to compete. They kept us from playing on the streets and made sure that we were very well disciplined. We went to Moscow and also abroad to compete.
While also studying at school, how much time did you have to put into practising dance each week?
Dancing was really my life as I loved it so much and my parents didn’t have to force me to do it. My father who was a musician wanted me to play a musical instrument but dancing was always something that I wanted to do. After school I would spend about 3-4 hours in my dance class, dancing and practising.
At the age of 21 you were invited to dance professionally in the United States. How difficult was it to leave your home country and move to the US?
It was very hard as I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was looking to make a better life for myself and my parents. Also, the main thing was that I was following my heart and my career, as at that time there were no other options for me in Russia. I couldn’t live without dancing. Missing family and friends was quite tough but the desire to dance was so much stronger than anything else. It was very hard during the first year, as I didn’t speak the language and had to work very hard. But I was with a wonderful family and it was worth it. My mother visited the US to spend some time with me but then I got the job with ‘Strictly’ in the UK and I had to move to London, so my mother went back to Russia.
You achieved considerable success as a professional dancer in North America and around the world in numerous competitions. What were your likes and dislikes of travelling and competing?
Anyone that competes in ballroom dancing will tell you that it is a very political world. It was very hard to break into it, especially as I was a new girl and although my partner was American he hadn’t competed. We had to work extremely hard and sometimes had to take ‘lessons’ from people that we didn’t want to but for political reasons we had to. It was very much against my belief but we understood that we had to ‘play the game’ in order to be successful. We became a successful couple and reached finals so it was good.
You retired from professional dance and joined the US TV series ‘Dancing with the Stars’ followed by the immensely popular British show ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, including live tours. How did it feel to be a part of such a successful show?
It was absolutely fantastic, it was a dream come true. When anyone finishes competing it can be very hard to find the next thing to do. When you have a love for performing and dancing many people go into dance schools. I was with Dancing With The Stars in America for a few months and then ‘Strictly’ came along and it ticked all of the boxes. It is sort of competing but it is also great fun. It has wonderful celebrities who are interesting people to work with and you get to know them. I do a lot of choreography on Strictly, particularly group dances with my partner Robin.
One of your major successes with ‘Strictly’ was lifting the Glitter Ball in a Christmas Special with star of stage and screen John Barrowman. What was it like working together?
That was such a fantastic time. John has a big personality and lights up the room whenever he enters. He was wonderful and so professional, and such a hard-working guy. I had a blast working with him. I only wish he could have worked on the whole show and he said that he would have loved to but he couldn’t take a few months out of his already busy schedule.
As well as ‘Strictly’, alongside Brian Fortuna you were involved with the BBC3 show ‘Dancing on Wheels’, where you adapted your choreography for wheelchair dance. Can you tell us about this?
It was a very special feeling. I had never worked with wheelchair dancers before. It was Brian who got me on board with the show. His mother runs a dance school in America where she also has dance competitions for wheelchair dancers. So Brian knew a lot about it. I didn’t know anything so just came in with an open mind and it really was such a fantastic and humbling experience. I just wish wheelchair dance could have more exposure on television. I loved doing this very much and it was a very special project.
In 2009 you were partnered on ‘Strictly’ with the undefeated boxer Joe Calzaghe. How much of a challenge for both of you was this?
It was amazing, especially to work with the man I love. We have been together for 3 ½ years now. He was incredible to work with and he would do dance practice for as many hours as we needed to. He is a man’s man and he has always been the ‘top guy’ in his life, so I think he found some of it difficult, but he was brilliant and we had fun.
You are currently starring alongside Robin Windsor in Burn The Floor at the Shaftesbury Theatre. What can you tell us about the show and the performers?
Working in the West End is incredible. I went to theatre school as well as dance classes and I always wanted to perform in theatre. It is just an amazing feeling to perform live in front of an audience every day. It isn’t just dancing it is like a play with various scenes. It really is a fantastic and vibrant show. There are various styles including fusion, street-dancing and jazz, all put together in a hot sexy way.
Which is your favourite dance in the show?
There are a few, but perhaps my favourite is where I have a duet with Robin in the second act where we dance a rumba. It is very much like a Romeo and Juliet foray with two sides fighting and after that it is very quiet where Robin and I dance. It is so very quiet you can hear people breathing and the focus is very much on us dancing.
The show opened in early March – how much time is still spent with rehearsals?
We arrive at the show two and a half hours before curtain up. We warm up for an hour and during that time make any changes if someone is out of the show due to injury or sickness. We will improve something if it is needed. So, during this time we make sure everything is at its best.
How does it compare to be performing on a West End stage rather than in a competitive arena or on television?
It is very different and much more intimate. It excites me to be in the West End, I love it. To see the faces of the audience so close to the performers, it is fabulous.
You are constantly busy, appearing on many popular British television shows. Which one has been the most fun for you?
I have done quite a few different things but Strictly is the best.
You have taken part in various fundraising events for charity. How important is it for you to ‘give something back’?
It is something I really enjoy doing. I think anyone who has some spare time to help others should do so.
As well as Burn The Floor what else have you got planned for 2013?
I really hope that Robin and I will be back on Strictly and that is the main thing looking ahead to next year, we will find out very soon. We have a wonderful cruise with P&O Cruises in July. I also have a few shows around the country with Robin. We also have a project with Robin that is growing at the moment and hopefully it will come to life, with our own show being the end result.
Away from dancing what do you like to do to chill out?
I just like to go and watch a film with my boyfriend, that is the best thing.
Any message to the many people that are following your career?
Thank you to everyone who is following my career and watches our dancing and our show. I am so very grateful to them. Strictly is so very popular due to the amazing fan base and I just wish for them to come and see Burn The Floor as I know that if they enjoy watching dancing then they will enjoy the show.
Many thanks Kristina for a fabulous interview. Best wishes for Burn The Floor and your future success.
You can follow Kristina on Twitter @KRihanoff and also on her official website at www.officialkristinarihanoff.com
20th April 2013