In this episode, I interview US champion and world silver medallist professional ballroom dancers Mariko Cantley and Nazar Batih. They talk about their unusual backgrounds and how Nazar dealt with being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes as an elite athlete in his mid-20s. Their Unlock Moment was a meeting with two coaches in Italy who completely changed their outlook on dance and enabled them to break through to the highest echelons of world-level competitions. They are an inspirational example of achievement against the odds and the power of pursuing your passion with every ounce of your being.
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Website: Nazar Batih & Mariko Cantley
Gary Crotaz 0:02
My name’s Dr. Gary Crotaz. And I’m a coach and author of The IDEA Mindset, a book about how to figure out what you want, and how to get it. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity, when you suddenly know the right path ahead. When I’m in conversation with my coaching clients, these are the breakthroughs that are so profound, that they remember vividly where they were, who they were with, what they were thinking, when their Unlock Moment happened. In this podcast, I’ll be meeting and learning about people who have accomplished great things or brought about significant change in their life, and you will be meeting them with me. We’ll be finding out what inspired them, how they got through the hard times, and what they learned along the way that they can share with you. Thank you for joining me on this podcast to hear all about another Unlock Moment. Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Unlock Moment podcast. Today, I’m delighted to have my very good friends Nazar Batih and Mariko Cantley on the show. Nazar is from Ukraine, and I just want to say before we start that our thoughts with Nazar, his family and friends and all those impacted by the terrible atrocities that are happening in Ukraine as we’re recording this podcast. Nazar and Mariko are champion professional ballroom dancers based in Boston, Massachusetts. Dancing together for 10 years, they are two times United States Ballroom Showdance Champions, World Ballroom Showdance silver medalists, and three times World Ballroom Showdance finalists. In 2009, Nazar was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. At that time, most dancers and athletes with this diagnosis gave up their vocation. Instead, Nazar decided to start competing professionally. Nazar and Mariko describe their goal as to make the world of ballroom dance more inclusive, and build a supportive community of fellow ballroom dance nerds. I adore these two people who are driven, committed, passionate about their craft and determined to make a difference in this world. I know you’ll enjoy hearing about their story. Nazar and Mariko, welcome to The Unlock Moment.
Mariko Cantley 2:11
Hello, thank you for having us. We’re really happy to be here and to be able to spend some time with you, Gary.
Nazar Batih 2:17
Hi, thank you for having us again. Yeah. And to spend time with you. And thank you for mentioning again, Ukraine. With a tough time right now. Yep. Thank you.
Gary Crotaz 2:27
So let’s start out. Tell us a little bit about your background. Maybe Mariko, start start with, you know, where did you start dancing? And what was your journey to become the professional dancer that you are today?
Mariko Cantley 2:40
I started dancing at the age of five, just as many five year olds do. Just dance seems awesome! And over the years, I grew to love it and more and more. My family is very academic. Every person in my immediately immediate family has a Harvard degree. So that wasn’t like a conventional path in in the environment where I grew up. And so I did end up going to college, I got my Harvard degree. And while I was there, I discovered ballroom dancing. So after having done ballet for most of my childhood quite seriously, I discovered ballroom, I thought it was just everything. I mean, it was glamorous, it was sexy. It was cool. It was different. It was competitive. It was all this cool stuff. And so I, while I was there, I in school, I danced more and more seriously, and my senior year actually, I turned professional and have been teaching and competing professionally since then. And that’s sort of how I ended up here.
Gary Crotaz 3:49
And how common is that to turn professional as a dancer after college.
Mariko Cantley 3:54
Not super-common, but not you know, completely unheard of. And I think increasingly, there are people like me who came out of university dance teams who decided to go into that as their profession. So it’s getting, it’s getting more common.
Gary Crotaz 4:12
And at that time, what was it that made you think – This, this is my career ahead of me?
Mariko Cantley 4:19
Well, it was a combination of the fact that I had … that was my childhood dream like you know, as a, as a 12 year old I wanted to be a professional ballerina and I wanted to dance professionally, and my role models were largely dancers and dance teachers. And when I got to university, even going to a place with as many kind of incredible opportunities and things to see and learn about as Harvard, there was frankly nothing there that I found more interesting to do than that. And that was kind of like the, what sort of set my resolve like well, if there’s nothing here that’s as attractive to me as dance then I should probably try being a professional dancer.
Gary Crotaz 5:05
And it was a side hustle alongside a day job or your full time thing when you graduated?
Mariko Cantley 5:11
It was, I, for maybe about a year, I had two day jobs, I worked for the ballet company that I trained with growing up, doing kind of like fundraising stuff for them. And I worked for an architect doing basically model building and stuff. You know, they were just kind of like normal office jobs. But within a year, I basically switched over to teaching full time. And just being a professional dancer,
Gary Crotaz 5:37
It’s all grown from there?
Mariko Cantley 5:39
Gary Crotaz 5:41
So Nazar, tell us about your upbringing and how you came to dance.
Nazar Batih 5:44
As you have said before, I, I was born and raised, as you mentioned before, in Ukraine, a city called Lviv, it’s western part of Ukraine. There was a little studio around the corner near the house, and my mom decided that maybe he should start dancing versus my dad wanted me to be a soccer player. Yeah, but, but, you know, they brought me in when I was five into the studio, and I loved it. And you know it took over my, I would say my entire life, right? I was, I was dancing until, until my teenage years, like about 18, 19 years old, the same time when I finished high school after that, I went to university because you know, at home was everyone. If you want to have a, you know, future you have to finish university, you have to have a higher education. So I finished veterinarian school. And after that, after I finished veterinarian school, I, I was still, I was still dancing, but not as competing, just, you know, teaching kids. But then I got the opportunity, I was invited by United States of America to move here and teach here in the studio and franchise studios. So I, I took that opportunity and moved here. And then since 2006 I am living and working here in the United States.
Gary Crotaz 7:21
And you’ve got a family here as well in the US?
Nazar Batih 7:24
Yeah, yeah, I do have a family, I have wife I have son. He is now six years old. And so yeah, we are all here but are they have, my wife is American so.
Gary Crotaz 7:37
And it was when you came over to the States, you’d already been here for a little while before you were diagnosed with diabetes?
Nazar Batih 7:43
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. Yeah, I was, I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2009. And yeah, that’s, yeah, that was, I was living here already. And then, you know, no one knows why it happened. For what reason. But you know, there’s a lot of speculation by the medical doctors, like, you know, could be a stress, could be like changing over environments and stuff.
Gary Crotaz 8:08
And what was the journey that you went through at that time to decide what happened next, I mean we described in the introduction, that there was a pivot point where you you were thinking about do I quit or do I…
Nazar Batih 8:20
Well, yeah, I’d say actually, there’s you said, you said it quite right, like it was a turning point for me like You know what, Nazar, you have to go and continue dancing because I have heard so many people like athletes you know, they’ve been diagnosed with diabetes and they they quit, simply, saying like, well I won’t be able to do it. For me it was opposite, as kind of You know what, it was kind of an eye opening. No, I actually do it opposite, I’ll go and show people that actually you can do it and you have to do that – nothing has to stop you.
Gary Crotaz 8:58
And you built a … sorry Mariko
Mariko Cantley 9:00
You’re gonna say that’s like a classic Nazar behaviour. He does not like to be told that he can’t do something. And he’s very, very stubborn.
Nazar Batih 9:09
Gary Crotaz 9:11
And just bring bring to life for the listeners. What, what does it mean as a professional dancer to be diabetic? What, what, how does that affect you on a day to day basis?
Nazar Batih 9:24
Well, it’s, it’s constant monitoring your sugar levels, constant monitoring what you eat, when you eat, being on top of the meditating, so, or just trying to bring, because each stress level brings your sugar high and then if you have a high sugar then it can affect, can have effect on your body, but the same time you don’t want to be too low because when you competing or practising if you get in too low you also can faint on, you can get into hospital. So it’s just kind of constant, like it’s a change of life in the sense of before you thought like, well, I can eat whatever I want, I can do whatever I want. And now you have something else that you have to monitor, and you have to be on top of that, and not let it be, you know, like, not let it be in the way even though it’s still constantly on being in your way, right?
Gary Crotaz 10:26
And how intensive is the training as a professional dancer? So you know, that training that you’re having to balance your sugar levels with, what’s the typical day look like, you know, when you’re training for a big competition?
Nazar Batih 10:40
Our typical day, it’s…
Mariko Cantley 10:44
We kind of have like, I would say, there’s, there’s no such thing as a typical day, but we have multiple types of days. So we have our ideal training days, which involve a couple of hours in the studio practising, either doing technical practice, or where we kind of run through things like competition simulation, some kind of cross training, so depending on what we need to work on, we’ve done you know, we’ve done running, we’ve done fitness, training, strength training, yoga, whatever.
Nazar Batih 11:13
We’ve done boxing…
Mariko Cantley 11:14
Boxing, yeah. Whatever we needed that time. And then so about half of our day is spent on that. And then half of the day we spend teaching. So Nazar, his students that he teaches and dances with and competes with as well. And then we have couples that we teach, where, you know, they dance with each other. And then a lot, there’s a lot of logistical stuff. So we travel a lot, our coaches are all over the place, we have coaches in New Jersey, which is about a four hour drive from our studio, where we, where we train, we have teachers in Italy, we have teachers in London, we can, now because thanks to thanks to COVID, we have all figured out how to do Zoom lessons. So it’s coordinating all of that. So a good chunk of our time is also spent trying to get from place to place and, and…
Nazar Batih 12:04
Not only physical, physical work, but also like coordinating and mental work in that sense as well.
Mariko Cantley 12:12
Gary Crotaz 12:13
And then and then bring to life, what does competition look like for a professional dancer in terms of, again, sort of the intensity, what, what those days look like when you’re at a big competition?
Mariko Cantley 12:27
So for a big competition, the biggest events are basically full day events. So you, I mean, for us, that means we start, they obviously start preparing months in advance, but the…
Nazar Batih 12:37
That’s physical training months in advance, that’s the mechanical training, that’s all of that, that you can survive also the whole day, the whole day event, like to dance it and as well, as well as Mariko saying,
Mariko Cantley 12:51
And then, you know, you sort of are thoughtful about getting enough sleep the night before, what you’re going to eat in the morning.
Nazar Batih 12:58
What are you going to eat night before.
Mariko Cantley 12:59
What you’re going to eat the night before, make sure that all of your costumes and everything, all of your snacks, especially for Nazar, it’s super-important that we have, like snacks that are going to help him regulate his sugar. One big, like shift for us was finding an electrolyte product that didn’t have any kind of sweetener or sugar in it. So that he can hydrate but not have it influence his blood sugar levels. And then you’re doing rounds over the course of the day. So you, you warm up, and then you dance your first round of five dances. And then oftentimes with the break between each dance, then maybe an hour later, you do the second round after you get recalled and then you repeat, and then hopefully you do that for you know, a total of maybe six or seven hours to make it all the way into the finals. And then you go home, have a glass of champagne and pass out!
Gary Crotaz 13:53
And I understand this because, you know, as people know that, you know, I was also a professional dancer, but for for listeners that that don’t really understand the dance world, I think it’s helped to bring that to life a bit. Because if you think about things like, I don’t know, you know, Olympic athletics or something, you know, where people run 100 metres in 9.9 seconds, and then come back the next day and do it again. In the dance world, your first round might be at nine o’clock in the morning. And then you might do you know, seven rounds through the course of the day. And do your final at 10pm at night.
Nazar Batih 14:24
Right Gary? There’s we can start at 10 o’clock, 9 o’clock in the morning, the first round. Yeah, and the second round could be 12 midday, but the last round of the same day event is happening as you said 10pm or 11…
Mariko Cantley 14:39
We danced at one in the morning…
Nazar Batih 14:40
Yeah we danced in 1 o’clock in the morning by starting also at 12 in afternoon so it just, it’s just, it’s the whole day and you think it’s just, it’s not like Yeah, I mean, it’s also tough to be an Olympic athlete who’s runner you run nine seconds and you have rest till next day, but the same time we have the same nine seconds running from 9 o’clock in the morning to midnight sometimes, right?
Gary Crotaz 15:05
Yeah, yeah. And you said that you trained, you know, in the US, in the UK and in Italy. So you’re doing a lot of travelling around and planning to do that. And I think that brings us into the beginnings of, of what you’re describing here as your Unlock Moment. So bring us into this, this, this particular moment that you want to talk about, this, this moment of clarity that you found at a certain point in your dance career together.
Mariko Cantley 15:31
So for a little kind of lead into the, we started dancing together in 2012. And we, one of the things that definitely brought us together was that we shared an idea of like, what we wanted our dancing to be individually. And our, we shared, we had the same sort of model couple that we had looked up to and admired as as dancers and competitors. And their names are William Pino and Alessandra Bucciarelli, and they are based in Italy. And for both of us, it had been a dream to be able to go and work with them. They had never, as far as we knew, come to the United States to teach or, I mean they probably had, but maybe before we started dancing, they were not available to us at all. And we knew we would have to go there to to see them. We didn’t even know how to contact them, like we actually emailed Gary’s wife Mildred, to ask if she had their email address. And it took a long time just to contact them and then to schedule something and find a date to go and but it was just something, and it was kind of just like, well, that’s just a moonshot, like it’s just a dream that we’ve had. And let’s just do it. Because what the heck. And so we we organised this trip, we were flying from…
Nazar Batih 16:55
Nationals, nationals that year, there was nationals, we flying, and we literally, it, as Mariko’s saying, it took us like half a year to organise a trip to go to have three lessons. With the people that we never met? Like you fly 10 hours to little town Aprilia, Italy, right near the Rome, near Rome. And then yeah, and just to have three lessons. And then I think as Mariko then say like, you know, after we, we took, when we, when you get the first lesson, you know, when you get there there’s excitement, we get the first lesson. You just like, oh, that’s how it feels like it, you know, that’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s, that’s what kind of information you should get. You know, that’s, that, I think, from both of us was kind of like, oh, shoot, that’s, that’s probably Unlock Moment as well, we were talking right now about it just like, realisation, what can be and what can happen and how can, why it’s like this, right?
Mariko Cantley 17:58
Gary Crotaz 17:59
So you’ve flown to Italy. You’re in that first lesson with them. And they were saying something to you that changed your whole thinking about dance.
Mariko Cantley 18:08
Nazar Batih 18:09
Yeah, you don’t, I mean, yeah, it’s in the lesson, you’re in shock right? You… By that time, I was dancing for quite a long, long time.
Mariko Cantley 18:17
We had been professionals, both of us, for six years by then, you know, like…
Nazar Batih 18:21
Yeah, that’s probably more. Yeah, yes. About six, seven years professionals. Yeah. But then before that, I’m dancing already for, you know, another 15 years probably, and, you know, like, when you just, when someone tells you something that you like, well, I should have heard that before, like, 15, 20 years ago. And you’re like…
Mariko Cantley 18:40
What have I been doing? Yeah, I thought I was doing ballroom dancing, but what have I’ve been doing this whole time? So I totally agree with Nazar, during the lesson, you’re kind of, I mean, you, it is sort of this shock, like, you’re so excited to be in the flesh, like in, in the presence, working with these people you’ve been dreaming of working with and watching on video, and the shock of the environment of the studio, just the whole energy of the space, but also what was going on around us, the other couples, what the atmosphere was like, was completely different. And the, you’re just, and then the information itself, like you’re absorbing all of this stuff that’s very new and and you kind of can’t assess what it is happening. But then afterwards, we took the train back to Rome, which was where we were staying. And I vividly remember sitting on this, like Italian commuter train…
Nazar Batih 19:36
Which is really nice. I don’t know, it sounded like…
Mariko Cantley 19:40
It is like, really kind of like mundane, like everyday environment. And being so angry. I just was like, overwhelmed with anger. And, and kind of thinking like, well, that’s not how I expected to feel after this. I didn’t expect to have this incredible experience that we’d planned and dreamed about and then feel really angry afterwards.
Gary Crotaz 20:03
And what was the anger?
Mariko Cantley 20:05
And the anger is when we spent that 45 minute trip sort of talking about it. Because I was like, why am I so angry? And it was this sense of like, I think a lot of people have experienced this where you, you, the thing you want, it happens, and you’re just like, why isn’t this happened before? Or why didn’t I do this before? Or how have I been wasting my time? Or? Why didn’t someone tell me about this? All of those things where you, you feel kind of like the loss of what you could have had? If you’ve just had that experience earlier?
Nazar Batih 20:36
Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, it’s like, yeah, it might, maybe it’s not like why no one, tell us tell us this way. Maybe they were telling us, but…
Mariko Cantley 20:45
…we couldn’t hear it…
Nazar Batih 20:46
Or you, either we couldn’t hear it, or it was told the way that, you know, not being understandable. You know, and then just like becomes like a little bit? Well, it’s much more simple as some other people would telling us, right.
Gary Crotaz 21:00
So that’s interesting. So you had a moment of clarity. And it felt simple. Because you got it, you understood the essence of it very quickly. But you were angry, in some way, because it felt so simple.
Mariko Cantley 21:15
Yeah, we actually, were just talking to one of our students about this recently, which was that, and as we talked about The Unlock Moment, sort of, you know, I’m thinking maybe this is part of it, that when you get to a certain point of say professionalism, or, or experience, to realise that there’s like, a whole other thing that you could be doing is a little bit, it implies that like, you haven’t been doing it, right, right. So it, it sort of makes you feel like Oh, I’m, I’ve been quote unquote, “failing”, or there’s something wrong with me that I haven’t done it. And that’s very disturbing and very destabilising. And, and I think, you know, it’s, a lot of people might, under, depending on the circumstances then resist that, right. You don’t want to, if you don’t really want to realise that, realising that there’s something else means that realising that what you’ve been doing isn’t quite it. And, and that’s not easy on the ego. But maybe as Nazar was saying something about, like, how we envision this, like making this journey, literal journey, like to a faraway, unfamiliar place, and being in this completely different environment made it possible to, to be open to that, to be open to that, and accept it and take it on.
Gary Crotaz 22:36
And it’s interesting, when I observe you both talking about it, I can see firstly, how visceral and vivid this still is for, you know, years on and how challenging it was for you at that time, because it was challenging a lot of your foundations, a lot of the things you built a career on, and built a, you know, a whole skillset and ability on. And I don’t know if this is answerable. But I’m imagining, you know, if there are listeners who are not in the dance world, is it possible to bring to life, you know, like, in an example, what it is that somebody can tell you, when you’ve been dancing for 20 years? That feels revelatory in that moment?
Mariko Cantley 23:18
So we were, you know, we just came and showed our dancing and, and we were, this was in the lesson with William. And he said, Well, you know, you have some, you’re experienced, you have some skills, but you’re not actually transferring your weight fully from foot to foot.
Nazar Batih 23:33
You’re not fully on the foot. Like, well, we’re standing right in front of you on the foot. You know, like, it’s just kind of it became like, What do you mean, I’m not on the foot? I spent my whole life to be on one foot. Like, try to improve my dancing.
Mariko Cantley 23:47
Yeah, yeah. But if you think of like, what is the most fundamental thing you do as a dancer, it’s probably like, stand on your leg. And then we did it. He showed us and you’re like, Yes. Okay, I … that’s what 100% is!
Nazar Batih 23:59
Like, it is like doing your work, it’s like doing your job and not doing 100%. Yeah, so what’s the point of doing your job?
Mariko Cantley 24:05
Also the fact that it was so concrete was something that you can imagine in the dance world? That’s not like the usual approach. There’s a lot of metaphor, and sort of hand waving and, and yeah, descriptive language.
Nazar Batih 24:21
Yeah, I mean, let me one more thing to add after it. That, for me, I had mentioned before that Unlock Moment, this is one of the Unlock Moment for me. One more was that, it’s my Unlock Moment is also when I was diagnosed with diabetes, if I just put it there, just like okay, I got diagnosed with diabetes like well, that’s Unlock Moment, okay, I have to do something about that. Don’t give up and just continue doing more actually, in my case, and to show, you know, to show kids and adults or other athletes that they still can do it.
Gary Crotaz 25:00
So almost as a similarity between those two moments you’re describing, you know, one when you’re diagnosed with diabetes, and two, when you go to Italy, after 20 odd years of dancing, and somebody tells you you don’t know how to stand. And in both of those situations, your response could be to quit, and say, Well, you know, that’s it then, if I’ve got diabetes, or I don’t know how to stand after 20 years of training, you could quit. Or you could go, I’m going to do something about that. And it might be helpful with with … I’m hoping you’re happy to do this … bring to life a little bit, what William’s like as a person, because I think I think describing that just sort of helps paint the picture of that experience of being in that studio. It’s what’s he like, as a as a teacher, as a coach?
Nazar Batih 25:50
It’s both of them. William and his wife, Alessandra. What they like as people, I mean they are genuine people. Really genuine, they really, I’ll say down to earth people, you know, they they’re not going to give you some BS, they’re going to tell you what it is. Right? And how it is.
Mariko Cantley 26:10
And you, when you, right away, even though we had never, I remember also very clearly, we never met them before. We’d only watched videos of their dancing. I remember having this sense that you, you know them right away.
Nazar Batih 26:23
Yeah, almost like immediately part of family.
Mariko Cantley 26:26
Nazar Batih 26:26
And it’s like is like immediately like, that’s kind of warm feeling. Right. Okay. They just, yeah, it just they invite you to be…
Mariko Cantley 26:35
There’s no facade. There’s no … yeah. And even how they were, I think we even said this to each other. They’re so themselves as dancers. I think that was what was very attractive to us, too, is that when you, then when we then met them, you almost have this feeling of like, Oh, I know these people because who I, who I saw in their performance really is who they are. Or is, obviously people are complex, but like that was very honest. It wasn’t like you see someone perform, and you meet them in person, and you’re like, Wow, this is a totally different person. That was definitely a big part. And something that also is like, notable in maybe in performing arts in general. Like it’s not easy to be a performing artist and also be totally, you know, in a way vulnerably yourself.
Nazar Batih 27:22
Yeah, well, yeah, at same time yet they, they are quite tough, right? With their with, with their students, with their pupils, who they’re, like, you know, other couples and with us, but it doesn’t feel like well, you know, this like, like tough but impossible to do it, what they’re asking you to do.
Mariko Cantley 27:44
Yes, demanding with a lot of, very demanding and very supportive at the same time.
Gary Crotaz 27:50
So you’re on this train journey back from the studio, furious, you get back to back to the hotel. And what happened next in the journey?
Mariko Cantley 27:58
The, very quickly, we were like, how do we … it took us six months to get here for three lessons. It’s, we’re in, we’re not only in Italy, but we’re in, we have to go to this small town 45 minutes out of, from the closest major city. How do we get here as much as possible?
Nazar Batih 28:18
Yeah, and then started, first it started, okay, we should come here maybe every half a year, every eight months, then it’s changed to every half a year four months. Now, now it’s about before the pandemic, we were
Mariko Cantley 28:37
Like six times a year…
Nazar Batih 28:38
Six times a year. So almost every, every two months, they almost, depends on the schedule, because we have to be in in Europe for three major competitions which are happening in, in UK, so. And then we tried to combine those trips, there was at least three times right, but then that was not enough.
Mariko Cantley 29:00
Yeah, then, actually, during the pandemic, we were like, at some point, we’re like, oh, wow, we can just have lessons every week now.
Nazar Batih 29:07
Yeah, because of the Zoom.
Gary Crotaz 29:09
Yeah, because it’s over Zoom. So, so this is really interesting. So you’ve travelled halfway around the world, almost halfway around the world into a little studio, and somebody’s giving you some feedback that you found maybe more challenging than any feedback, you’ve got in another dancing lesson, that your initial reaction to was anger, not with them, but with receiving that. And your response to that, progressively over time, was how can I go back and get more?
Nazar Batih 29:39
Yeah, well, this is the, I think it is, yeah, this is just…
Gary Crotaz 29:44
So, so why?
Nazar Batih 29:45
This part of my, I think is part of my…
Mariko Cantley 29:49
I mean that’s that’s, I was gonna say that’s sort of another great parallel between when Nazar was diagnosed, which is like, Oh, here’s something incredibly difficult to deal with. How can I make this more difficult?
Nazar Batih 29:59
Gary Crotaz 30:02
So I’m hearing you lean into the challenge?
Nazar Batih 30:05
Yeah, if you give me a strong challenge, it doesn’t mean that it’s all gonna give up.
Gary Crotaz 30:10
And the feedback they’re giving you is different from the feedback you’ve received from other people?
Nazar Batih 30:16
It’s clear, as I said before, it could be the same, but it’s so much clearer and so much easier to understand. Right. But the other people could say the same, the same thing, other way not as clear and coming, like, you know, from around you and trying to explain to you is, was the, you know, super big words. And I don’t need big words, I need to say, as I was said, before, I was told before, on the first lesson, well you’re not on your foot, so you know you’re not 100% on your foot, instead of giving me this, you know, elaborate explanation how to be on my foot. Okay. Simple.
Gary Crotaz 30:54
So the right message delivered in the right way for you.
Nazar Batih 30:59
Gary Crotaz 30:59
…that you connected with? landed?
Nazar Batih 31:02
Gary Crotaz 31:03
And it wasn’t a happy landing, because there was, it was an honest truth. And what built that trust in them, that meant that you started to shape your career around Italy and getting to Italy as as often as possible? And how was, what was that shift for you?
Mariko Cantley 31:20
I think one part was that it was clear right away from the lessons, from how they were themselves, like just seeing them as teachers, as professional dancers, how they operated, and also, how the other couples in the studio were, it was very clear, all of that together, painted a very clear picture of – this is like another level. And, you know, subsequently, we’ve, we’re more aware of this consciously. But subconsciously, I think we realised the more that we can just like be in that pool, the more that we will be like that, right? That you have to sort of immerse yourself in an environment of excellence, if you want to be excellent, or that’s the best way to do it. And we both have always wanted that, to just be, I think we just both are super attracted to that. Just if that’s out there, like, you know, you want it, if it’s possible to be that, why would you not want to go after that. Life is short, like what else you’re going to do, you know?!
Gary Crotaz 32:25
And I’m hoping people listening to this conversation will tune into this thing that you’re articulating, which is a moment of clarity, difficult clarity, turned into a wider clarity about the bigger picture. So what you were there to do, how you were going to do it, what it was all about for you. And as you said just then, the two of you were really clear on why you do what you do. And that sort of sense of emerging clarity coming out of that relationship as well.
Mariko Cantley 32:58
Yeah, I think the clarity was this sense of, you know, stories are neat in retrospect. But obviously, we saw the product of their dancing, of William and Alessandra’s dancing, and both were like, Wow, that’s cool. We want to do that. You know, just like kids see their heroes, they’re like, Wow, I want to be like Michael Jordan, or whatever. But then to go there and be in their environment and be around them and see, okay, this is what made that, that kind of clarity of, you can see the end product, but then you can see what went into that or what’s behind that. And what in reality, you know, not from what people are, stories people are telling or, or hearsay, just actually to physically experience it with all of your senses. And see, okay, this is what we wanted that, we were drawn to that kind of dancing, and this is the situation and the people that created that kind of dancing, and that’s now vivid.
Nazar Batih 33:54
It was just a reality. Now, it’s reality, right? Easy. Yeah. So something Yeah, like some kids could could, as Mariko said, some kids could dream. Some kids could dream about some superheroes. And, you know, and you’re going to be dreaming and dreaming, dreaming and never have a chance to, to have the dream to come true. Right? And then same time, when you’re dreaming something about something and that dream to come to come true become true, then you’re like, oh, then you’d like in it. And you, it takes time to realise it. Oh, that’s actually happened. You know.
Gary Crotaz 34:32
And talk to me about impact. So you’ve, you’ve, you’ve gone through this experience, you’ve reshaped your training model to be able to get out to Italy frequently to train with these coaches and to train with this group. What happened over the subsequent years in terms of your dancing and your competition results, and how did that change?
Nazar Batih 34:54
It’s, well, it changed quite as you had mentioned before. Well we, we became, we became two times National Champions, right? We were silver, bronze world medalist, three times world finalist in the Showdance. Changed the … people see how much we improved, how much we changed through those years. And people constantly telling us like, well, you, you improve even more, you improve even more, because some, sometimes you can see couples, they stop improving. So that with us, I believe, and what we hear from other people, they see that we constantly improving, right constantly, we, our like bar bar is going higher and higher and higher.
Gary Crotaz 35:53
So ballroom dancing is, is both a sport and an art, really, isn’t it? And so, in a you’re measuring your sporting performance by competition results, do you think you’ve progressed as artists as well?
Nazar Batih 36:06
Oh, yeah. Big time. Big time. Yeah, just…
Mariko Cantley 36:10
I mean, it’s sort of difficult to even like articulate, it’s almost like we’re just different people. So the, if anything, one of the outcomes was that we also then ended up making different decisions about, you know, even choosing to enter into the Showdance category, and then choosing later what other teachers to work with, besides William and Alessandra, and being more both, you know, with them, one of the things that they, they do and explicitly said to us is that as teachers, they teach, they guide their students in everything. So it’s very holistic. So you know, that influenced who, of course, who else we wanted to work with, but then how do we work with those people? How do we approach our training? How do we think about it, we changed how we thought about how we spend our practice time, we changed how we think about our physical training, we changed how we think about which competitions to do and how to spend our time and how to spend our time off and how to like literally every single aspect and…
Nazar Batih 37:17
As you said, also, like, we, we, we have a team of teachers in England that we can now actually on also understand and I can see how those, yeah, I would say understand what the teachers, teachers tells you. But again, that’s a team which, which kind of helps it … integrates together with them. Yeah.
Mariko Cantley 37:47
Yeah, I think that’s super important that, that there’s, you know, in any world, in the world world, in the dancing world, there’s sort of infinite information. So if you don’t have like, a way to navigate that, then it doesn’t help you that all of that information is out there, you have to apply and organise it. And, and that also was a big impact of, of working with them and having them be kind of central to, to our team.
Gary Crotaz 38:15
And has it changed your identity as dancers, do you think?
Mariko Cantley 38:18
I think in a very simple way, you know, there, it’s nice to have just like a role model, where you can to start out with, sort of be like, Okay, how does this person who has been in this longer and achieved things at a higher level, just how do they operate? How do they make decisions? How do they, how are they as a person? So it’s nice to have, it’s always I think, valuable to have that model. But the other thing that I think attracted us to going there in the first place was that they clear even you know, in their, in their dancing, but also as people and how they did their career are people who kind of go against the grain, like the importance of doing what they did in the way that aligned with their values, and, and what they wanted to create was always very clearly important.
Nazar Batih 39:07
Yeah, oh, yeah, for us I mean, I think since we started dancing, together, we we were like, you know, it’s like a black sheep. It’s called, like, totally different, tried to be different. And it’s our it’s actually our, I would say motor right? It’s what it is for the like, kind of we tried to be different right? And then I think they helped us to actually to, to, to bring that even higher from like bringing more out of us like you know, because I want to be different I don’t want to be I don’t want to, I don’t want to be as was particularly with ballroom dancing. You don’t want to be the same, you don’t want to be paste and copy of someone else. You want to be you want to be yourself you want to be – I mean my opinion want to be different. You don’t want to be, you don’t want to comply with a form, I would say.
Gary Crotaz 40:05
So the experience really reinforced your difference, and helped you to embrace that as part of your identity.
Nazar Batih 40:11
That’s right. Yeah.
Mariko Cantley 40:13
I mean, I think for me also.
Gary Crotaz 40:16
It’s interesting when, you know, we talked at the beginning about your, your vision to support the community of ballroom dance nerds, there’s something in that that’s about people that are different from the norm a bit. And then I know Mariko, you and I have talked about this in the past this idea of something that’s very inclusive that you want to stand for, in the future.
Mariko Cantley 40:35
Yeah, with the … Yes, we both have aspects of our, of our lives, ourselves, that makes us not easily fit into the, the model of, or the stereotype of what it is to be a ballroom dancer, and that’s challenging. That’s challenging to experience. And so of course, you, you know, when you work through something that’s not easy. At least I think it’s natural to then want to make the path easier for people who come after you. And also because in a very selfish way, you want to be there to be more people like you, right. So, you know, as you said, the beginning with being a person who came into this, like from a university team, that’s when I started, I was quite uncommon. Now there are more and more people doing that. And, of course, that’s cool for me to sort of be like, Oh, look at these people who’ve had a similar path. It’s nice, we share something in common and to want to encourage that. And then, you know, for Nazar with diabetes. Like there aren’t a lot of people who are not sure if we know of any people who who have type one diabetes?
Nazar Batih 41:44
No I mean. Remember that kid when he came into the studio, yeah,
Mariko Cantley 41:48
We know, a couple of young, young people who…
Nazar Batih 41:51
…to come in, you know. And the one quick story that one, we had this someone contacted us like mom of a kid and coming in for a lesson. Okay, so mom, Kim came in with a kid and I see that the boy’s, the boy’s wearing like this CGM, like constant sugar monitor. I’m like, do you have diabetes? And this is kind of like a moment, you know, like, almost again, I felt like, he’s my, he’s my brother or something. And I’m like, this is like, it’s felt like different. And I was so happy that actually, you know he’s dancing. And, you know, it kind of became like, almost like, yeah, like, really? Like, almost made me choked up a little bit, you know, like, the kid is dancing as well. So can you can see,
Gary Crotaz 42:43
That’s a real moment, isn’t it? When when you realise that, you know, maybe you’re inspiring somebody to go do something or to keep going, as you know, as you say that it’s too easy to stop. It’s too easy to stop and you do see, you know, not so much in dancing, but there are sports people, you know, in different environments. You know, Steve Redgrave, the rower you know, Olympic gold medal winning rower who was diabetic and there’s a famous 100 metre sprinter [ed. Aries Merritt, sprint hurdler], who had a kidney transplant, and then went and competed in the, in the Olympics again [ed. kidney transplant not for diabetes, competed post-transplant at the World Championships not Olympics]. So, you know, you do see it, but it, but it’s unusual. And for young people, same as representation, you know, you want young people to see people ahead of them that look like them. So, it’s important, it’s important. So you’ve had this experience coming through your career where something was in front of you, that was almost impossible. On the other side of the world, there’s somebody, there’s a couple who can help us but to go from where we are with our sort of comfortable lives in on the east coast of the States to, you know, frequently travelling and covering, you know, finding the money to pay for all of that, you know, to advance our dance careers for our passion. What advice would you give to people who are looking at something and thinking it just feels too hard?
Mariko Cantley 44:09
I would say my two kind of like mottos for myself are: one is if you have an idea of doing something, just do it. Like just decide you’re going to do it there’s even if you decide you’re going to do it, there’s still a chance that you know, life happens and you can’t, so like, just decide you’re going to do it and and go for it. Why not? Just always, when you find yourself in that place where you’re like, Should I do it? Or should I not do it? Just the answer is always do it. And the other thing for myself is that the fear because when we say there’s, there’s things that are hard because it’s difficult to figure out logistically how to do it. But I think oftentimes the bigger fear or the more the bigger challenge is actually fear. that the worry about Well, is it going to work out or not and the physiological fear that often stops you from working out the logistics. And that that is to see that as actually a good sign that, that to relate to that sensation as actually something positive, not something negative. Those are the things that I, that’s my advice to myself with this kind of thing.
Nazar Batih 45:32
Yeah, for me, if you have that Unlock Moment, just trust it, and grab into it and just continue doing it. Right, don’t give up.
Gary Crotaz 45:42
So at that point of challenge, you need to lean into the challenge. So when you look at, you know, we’re sitting here in early 2022, and you’re, you’re looking at the year ahead, what are the things coming up for you?
Mariko Cantley 45:52
So tomorrow, we’re, we’re doing a, we’re actually doing like a feature length performance, here in Boston, at my ballet school. And, and it’s celebrating our 10 year, basically 10 year anniversary, 10 years of, of dancing together. So that’s the first thing that’s coming up. We’re preparing for the Blackpool Dance Festival, which is probably the most prestigious international ballroom competition in the world. And that’s going to be in May. So we’re ramping up our training for that. And then we’re preparing for the next World Showdance Championships…
Nazar Batih 46:31
…which is, which is still has to be determined when it’s going to happen and where – I mean, hopefully, you know, everything’s going to be okay in the world. And we can do everything what we can do. But yeah, those are the major things what’s happening right now.
Mariko Cantley 46:45
We have this collection of, you know, bronze and silver medals and a fourth place, and we need, need to complete the collection!
Gary Crotaz 46:54
You’re going you’re going for the gold medal.
Mariko Cantley 46:57
Yeah. All the colours.
Gary Crotaz 47:00
I think that would look beautiful on the wall.
Nazar Batih 47:03
It would be perfect. Yeah, yeah.
Gary Crotaz 47:07
And for people that want to follow your journey, how can they do that?
Mariko Cantley 47:12
The easiest way is on Instagram. So our Instagram is @nazarandmariko, and we post photos there and just like updates about what is what we’re up to. And then if you kind of want the more impersonal in depth, experience, if you want to support us, we also have a Patreon which is also @nazarandmariko and that’s where we put kind of the, the content that we don’t necessarily share with the public, like the more heartfelt stories and the rehearsal videos and some kind of content before we put it out before it’s available, sort of generally on the internet to the public. So those are the two best places, Instagram, and Patreon and in both cases, you can find us under @nazarandmariko.
Gary Crotaz 47:59
That’s amazing, and I encourage people listening in to to support Nazar and Mariko on Patreon because it’s an expensive business travelling the world is boring dances and the prize money is is very, very small. People are always amazed when I talk about what the prize money is in ballroom dancing, it’s tiny numbers. And they’re travelling the world and doing these amazing things to inspire young people. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity when you suddenly know the right path ahead. Nazar and Mariko have chosen to follow their passion for dance in a journey that has taken them around the world, navigating the significant challenges in their way they’ve shown commitment and drive to remain true to their vision to achieve extraordinary goals and inspire others in the process. In doing so they’ve demonstrated the extraordinary power of partnership over the course of a decade. Nazar and Mariko, thank you so much for sharing your story on The Unlock Moment. And I know you’re such an inspiration to young people who are pursuing their dreams. Thank you for being here today.
Nazar Batih 48:56
Mariko Cantley 48:57
Thank you for having us.
Gary Crotaz 49:00
This has been The Unlock Moment, a podcast with me, Dr. Gary Crotaz. Thank you for listening in. You can find out more about how to figure out what you want and how to get it in my book, The IDEA Mindset available in physical book, ebook and audiobook format. Follow me on Instagram, and subscribe to this podcast to get notified about future episodes. Join me again soon!