Sunday, 22/4/2018 | : : UTC-7
Skate Today

Beloved Bulgarians

Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski

Over the past few years, Bulgarian ice dancers Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski have become fan favorites. And the feeling is mutual. “It’s a pleasure for us to skate anywhere,” Staviski said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Grand Prix event or a small show. Of course, placement is important in our lives because we want to become champions, but it’s more important than placements if the public loves us.”

And they have won a lot of medals. The dancers have been Bulgarian champions every year since 1996 and are the first Bulgarian skaters to win a medal at an ISU World Championship. They finished third and second at Worlds in the last two seasons and second at Europeans the last two years. They have also won two bronze and one silver medal at the ISU Grand Prix Final in the last three years. This season, the skaters took gold medals at the Bofrost Cup, the NHK Trophy, and Skate Canada, and a silver at Trophee Eric Bompard Cachemire.

Another reason that people love the couple is their courageousness in overcoming severe injuries and illness. In the most devastating incident, Denkova was severely injured in practice at the 2000 World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, France when another competitor’s blade slashed through her leg, severing two tendons and a muscle. She endured a lengthy operation to rebuild her shattered leg, then remained hospitalized for almost two months. It was over four months before she could skate again. Staviski also had a bad year in 2000, suffering from pneumonia for almost a month, and then both skaters fell ill from the flu during the European Championships in 2001, but managed to compete anyway.

Denkova and Staviski have earned the respect of fellow skaters by lobbying for fairness in judging. They were the first to challenge the judges at the 2002 World Championships in Japan when Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas were denied a bronze medal under suspicious circumstances. That included circulating a petition requesting a review of the results that was signed by almost all the ice dancers and holding a news conference to discuss the judging. This was the first organized protest by skaters against unfair judging.

Now that the new judging system is being implemented, they are closing watching its implementation and making recommendations for changes. “I think it can help the skaters,” Staviski said, “but I hope they will make some changes before the Olympics. The new system is very difficult because it’s just elements.” “I have seen good and bad points in every judging system,” Denkova added. “But there needs to be some changes. Now it’s just element, element, element with no time for dancing and showing a program. They need to reduce some of the required elements and have elements without levels. We need more freedom to interpret the dance. It should be the choreography first and then the elements. Ice dancing is supposed to be about dancing.”

Denkova and Staviski are admired not only for their technical proficiency as dancers, but also for skating unusual programs with strange positions. “People accept strange ideas,” Staviski said. “We like to do something different every year, to show different characters.” “We improvise a lot in the off season,” Denkova stated. “We try to make our lifts different each season, but it’s hard with the new rules. It’s the same with all the moves unfortunately. Everyone wants to do the hardest, most difficult lifts. The difference between us and the other couples is what we do between the elements. We don’t just do the elements and run together hand in hand. We do lots of steps and body movements in our choreography in between elements and that is very difficult.”

Their early years didn’t forecast a future as skating trendsetters. Denkova actually started in athletics as an artistic gymnast when she was four. “Gymnastics was very popular in Bulgaria and we had just won all three medals at the European Championships,” she remembered. “So my parents wanted to send me to training. Then when I was eight or nine, a skating coach came to our training center and asked me if I wanted to try figure skating. It was not known very much in Bulgaria but was on television, so my parents decided to let me try it. I liked the combination of artistry and strength, but I could not jump. Then I saw the ice dancing and thought it was very beautiful and very artistic so when I was 12 I started in ice dance.”

Staviski began skating when he was four. Because he was in poor health as a child, his parents thought that figure skating would help him to be healthier. “Skating was very popular in Russia at the time and they thought some sport would be good for me,” he stated. “I competed for many years by myself and was doing all the double jumps. But when I was 11 or 12, I broke my leg. Not terrible, but I was in a cast for six months and after that I could not jump as well. My coach recommended me to Dubova’s group and I became an ice dancer.”

Denkova first competed with Hristo Nikolov but it didn’t work out. Staviski began dancing with Anastasia Belova, reaching Junior Worlds in 1996 as the third Russian couple. “My partner wanted to continue to compete in juniors, but I was too old, so we broke up,” he stated. “I got proposals from as far away as Australia but I wanted to stay close to Russia.” When Bulgarian officials began looking for a partner for Denkova in 1996, Elena Tchaikovskaia recommended Staviski. “That’s how I found Maxim,” Denkova said. “I had not skated for a year,” Denkova said. “But we matched each other so Maxim moved to Sofia.”

Alexei Gorshkov coaches the dancers, who split time between Sofia, Bulgaria and Odintsovo, Russia. They spend six to eight hours a day training, six days a week. About 4-6 hours is spent on the ice with another 2-3 hours off ice. “We train a lot every day,” Denkova admitted. “Every day we have a class in modern ballet, go to the gym, and work on our choreography and compulsory dances on the floor as well as on the ice.”

“We practice a lot on the compulsories,” Denkova continued. “So we have very good compulsories. Unlike most of the couples, we like the compulsory dances. That is the place where you can show your technical level.” “The hardest ones are the easiest ones for us,” Staviski added. “We like the hard ones, not the easy ones like the quick step.”

Sergei Petukhov choreographs the dancers’ programs. This season, they are using “Bach to Africa” by Lambarena for their free dance. “We had chosen a classical free dance in the summer, because our fans had asked us to do a classical program. But then we found out that the other top couples were doing classical programs,” Denkova said. “So we decided to try something new. So we started our second free dance in June, which is very unusual for us because we usually start much earlier.”

“Some friends of ours from the ballet suggested the music to us,” she continued. “The London Ballet has also used this music. It is very good music because of our style and the fact that we want to be different. It has a nice back rhythm with the African music. Lambarena is a group that was formed especially to popularize African culture throughout the world. We really like this music.” They may use the other free dance for next season or go in an entirely new direction. “We have some ideas for the Olympic year, then we find some new ones,” Denkova noted.

For this year’s rhythm combination original dance, the couple is using a Charleston by Big Beat Band and a slow foxtrot to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” “The Charleston is more fun to do than the Quickstep,” Denkova explained. “There’s no freedom in the Quickstep, no place to be artistic. It’s not our favorite dance. We prefer Latin or blues.”

“It’s important to have good music and good costumes,” Denkova noted. “I think about costumes when I’m listening to the music. I have ideas in my mind and then take them to our designer. I’m always watching the fashion channel on TV because I love music and clothes.” Since her family used to own a garment factory, she knows a lot about clothes. “She has great taste,” Staviski said. Even though she has a university degree in economics, she is considering a career as a clothing designer. “I’m a huge fan of fashion and I’m thinking of going to New York or Paris to learn,” she stated.

Denkova is interested in art as well as fashion and reads a lot of art books. One of the reasons that she uses a computer is to look at CDs showing famous paintings and other works of arts. “I love museums,” she said. “My first time in Paris I spent four days running around to see all of the museums.” But Staviski is the artist of the pair. “I’m always telling him he has to draw,” Denkova said. “He’s very good.” Staviski is more modest, explaining that he went to an art school for a few months because he was always drawing fantasy figures and his parents told him that he must know how to draw as a professional. Now he’s doing computer drawing with a software program.

Both of the skaters enjoy visiting other countries. “I like to go everywhere,” Denkova said, “but I don’t like big crowded cities. I prefer old towns with small streets and lots of sights to see like museums and castles. We loved walking around in Paris but we got so tired because we’re used to skating, not walking.” Staviski cited Australia as the most interesting place that he had traveled. “We would like to go to Brazil and see Carnival, and to Argentina to see their dancing,” he added.

The skaters don’t get too much of a break from skating. “There’s no time in the winter to think about anything except skating,” Staviski said. “When we aren’t skating, we just rest or sometimes go to the cinema or bowling. In the summer, we like to go to the sea and forget about skating for a week.” He likes to dive and spearfish, while she likes to sunbathe. “I hate snow and cold. I want to go to places where it’s sunny and warm,” she said. Although they don’t collect anything, Denkova keeps all their gifts. “They’re all over my room,” she laughed.

After the 2006 Olympics, the dancers will decide how long to continue. “We’ll do the 2006 Worlds for sure and we have a lot of fans in Japan, so we plan to do the Worlds in 2007, but after that we don’t know,” Denkova said. “We may do some shows if we’re not competing or do something other than skating.” Staviski has a degree from the sports institute, so he may go into coaching, especially now that figure skating is more popular in Bulgaria. “Figure skating is very popular in Bulgaria now,” Denkova said. “It is the most famous winter sport in our country.” Even her younger sister, Ina Demirova, is now competing internationally in ice dancing as a junior.

About Us

Skate Today was created in November 2004 to showcase the people of the skating world, skaters and coaches and others, who make figure skating and ice dancing a pleasure to watch for fans from around the world. The goal was to create a site that would give viewers an insight into the personalities of the people involved in this sport and to give you a more personal connection when watching them live at an event or on the television. Our staff knows how much time and dedication is put into this sport and that's why Skate Today was created.

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