Ernesto Alonso Palma, hailing from Costa Rica, and Russian-born Nikolai Shpakov have just won the 2014 World and USA Same-Sex Ballroom Latin Dance Championships. The humor and comradery shared by the dance team was worth the interview in itself. They kept me laughing throughout the entire conversation. Ernesto and fellow ballroom dancer Robbie performed at the “Get Out!” Holiday Party on December 12 at BPM. Nikolai and Ernesto are currently being filmed in a documentary slated to be released next year. I caught them both in a dance studio while Nikolai’s dance class was about to finish.
Ernesto, how long have the two of you been dancing together?
Ernesto: We started last year in December in a performance for a fundraising for this movie that we both are in. From there we decided to dance, and we won the U.S. Championship first.
What have you won?
Ernesto: We won “The World Same-Sex Ballroom and Latin Dance Championship.”
Where did this take place?
Ernesto: It was at the World Gay Games in Cleveland, Ohio.
When were you crowned champions?
Ernesto: It was on August 12. We first won the U.S. Championship in San Francisco, and then we had to get ready for the Gay Games. The Gay Games are once every four years.
Like the Olympics.
Nikolai: It seemed like the Olympics. It was a very nice event. A very serious event, actually.
Nikolai: The whole city of Cleveland was involved.
Ernesto: There was 30,000 gay males there. There were a lot of guys, for sure.
Wish I was there! Did it come as a surprise that you won, or were you expecting it?
Ernesto: Well, we wanted to win, for sure.
Ernesto: We had a moment when I said, “If I don’t win this shit…” We had another couple that almost won over us, and we were like WHAT?! But then we beat them, so yeah, it was great.
Besides being dance partners, are you a couple?
So how did you meet?
Ernesto: We both come here and danced at the “Stepping Out Studio.” I was coming here for 10 years, and for some reason Nikolai came here. The studio where he used to teach at closed.
Nikolai: So I started working at “Stepping Out” almost two years ago, and that’s when we met, and I guess we just had a little romantic thing going on.
OK, so I was right.
Ernesto: Um, like every gay man, we kinda hooked up.
Nikolai: But then I got so over him because of practicing and dancing with him. I was so over him. Let me put it this way: He’d forget to tell you that he’s not coming to a practice. I’d be sitting there like an asshole. OMG, I’ve got nothing better to do than just wait for you.
Ernesto: But I have changed a little bit.
Nikolai: Just a little. Not enough.
Ernesto, I think you’re still in trouble.
Ernesto: Yeah, for sure.
How old are both of you?
Ernesto: I’m 33, and Nikolai is 36.
How long have both of you been dancing?
Nikolai: I’ve been dancing for over 30 years. I’ve been dancing since I was five. I competed professionally. I just retired last year. I’ve been in America for 16 years, and I’ve competed here for 15 years. Since I retired last year and got into the same-sex dancing, that’s what I do now.
Nikolai, you’re from Russia, and you like to Latin dance?
Nikolai: Yeah, ballroom generally, but somehow I ended up specializing in Latin dancing. I like both standard and Latin.
Ernesto, where are you from?
Ernesto: I’m from Costa Rica.
How long are you in the U.S.?
Ernesto: I’ve been here since 2001, but I started dancing when I was 11. I didn’t dance professionally, I just danced salsa. As kids we always danced. I started teaching dance when I was 16 in Costa Rica, and then I moved to Kansas and became a ballroom dance instructor for American style. There are four styles. Nikolai does Latin and standard, an international style. I used to do modern dance. I was in a couple of modern dance companies, and then I kept dancing and dancing. I danced with another male dance partner back in 2010, and we won the U.S. Championship that year.
Nikolai: Did you win then?
Ernesto: Yeah – did you hear him? Totally doubting it.
OK, so what do you two think of “Dancing With the Stars”?
Ernesto: Oh, God.
Nikolai: Do we have to say something nice?
Say whatever you desire.
Nikolai: Actually, I think it’s pretty cool because it helps the industry. It’s a great program, and it really brought ballroom dancing to the American public. People know what it is now; at least people know now. People used to ask if it were like ballet. But the only thing about “Dancing With the Stars,” which will probably be interesting to you, is they don’t allow same-sex couples to participate.
Nikolai: No, they are very strict about it, and in a way it’s kind of upsetting. I mean like, how gay can you get? I mean, it’s ballroom dancing, and they have “Bruno” as a judge.
Nikolai: And they don’t allow same-sex like the National Dance Council of America. They also don’t recognize same-sex dancing.
That’s crazy, right? Dancing is kind of gay to begin with.
Nikolai: Yeah, right.
Ernesto: We’re the champions; we should be dancing with the stars.
Nikolai: I’m generally very mellow about all those issues, but that kind of pisses me off a little.
Nikolai: But overall, the program is great though. All of those people are special to me, because I know all those people. We always compete together. I’m watching all those people on TV, which is great.
You two should be on TV.
Ernesto: We will. We actually will be in a movie. It’s called “Hot to Trot,” and it’s about same-sex ballroom dancing.
When can we expect the movie to be released?
Nikolai: I think it will be out next year. We’re still filming stuff; it’s actually a documentary. Of course we’ll let you know when it’s out.
We’ll do a review.
Ernesto: That will be great.
Are you two going to continue dancing together?
Nikolai: Hopefully, unless he pisses me off. Like last Friday I’m on the train and I’m getting to practice, then he texts, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not practicing today.”
Ernesto: Honestly, I totally forgot to tell him, but finally I got a student from my studio at 11, and we were supposed to practice at 1:30, and I totally forgot to tell him. So I was bad, but I hadn’t done it in a long time…
Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?
Ernesto: Definitely teaching, with kids.
Anything that you would like to promote?
Ernesto: Our websites:
I also have a Sip, Spin and Dance class on Monday. We have a drink during the class. I bring alcohol so you can have a drink. They can chill, have a drink and learn.
Ernesto, you’re OK. But Nikolai, I love you.
Ernesto: OMG, you’re on his side!
I can’t help it, I’m Russian also!
Ernesto: You know you’re calling on my phone right?
Nikolai: Here’s my information as well…
You better give it to me, Nikolai, before Ernesto hangs up on us.
Do you guys have a Facebook also?
Nikolai: Yes, Facebook as well.