Alicia and India Phillips have their sights set on a glittering career in ballroom dancing. But the 18-year-old sisters – two of triplets from Wolverhampton – have had to scour the world to find the partners they hope will eventually help take them to the very top.
Their mum, Jane, herself a former dance champion with her husband Warren, explains: “Many of the best dancers are from Eastern Europe. It’s the attitude. They take it more seriously than British dancers and are very dedicated. There are talented British male dancers, but there just weren’t any when we were looking.
“Dance groups on Facebook are now the way to find a partner. It never happened in my day, but the internet has opened up the whole world, and it’s more common for girls to look abroad for partners now.”
That search led Kirill Dovzhik, 23, from Ukraine, and Thor Jonsson, 21, from Iceland, to move thousands of miles to live with the Phillips family at their home in suburban Wolverhampton. It’s from there that Jane and Warren run their dance studio, Zig Zag Dance Factory, subject of the 5 Star series Baby Ballroom, which returns this week for a second series.
India Phillips with her dance partner Thor Jonsson (Richard Grange, UNP)
The couples – Alicia partners Kirill, while India dances with Thor – practise for at least 20 hours a week, the girls fitting in their training around their A-level studies. When they leave school they want to dance full-time and eventually turn professional. Their sister, Savannah, has other plans. “They all had dance lessons, but Savannah decided it wasn’t for her,” says Jane. “She wants to study maths at university.”
Kirill moved to the UK in November 2015 after he and Warren started corresponding on Facebook. “I’d had an ankle operation and said that I didn’t want to dance again,” Alicia recalls. “I didn’t know Dad had started to talk to Kirill on Facebook. He finally told me after six months and I agreed to meet Kirill in Kiev. I guess he persuaded me to go back to dancing.”
Their friendship blossomed into romance, but they decided to split up last September. “We were spending almost every hour together and it got a bit much,” confides Alicia. “We were arguing. Now we have our own space. It’s fine to still be living and dancing with Kirill. We never considered splitting up our dance partnership.”
Kirill is supported financially by his parents, but food and accommodation are free, thanks to his hosts. Thor can earn money by teaching dancing, but Kirill doesn’t have a work visa.
Alicia and Kirill specialise in Latin dancing and love the rumba, and are All England Under-21s Latin Champions and British finalists. India and Thor are ballroom buffs and experts at the waltz, and are the West of England Open Champions. They were also first runners-up in the Adriatic Pearl dance competition in Croatia.
“They would come into lessons in their pyjamas to say goodnight when they were little, so it’s what they’ve always known,” agrees Jane. “When they started school they were surprised to learn that everyone didn’t have a ballroom at home!”
Interviews by Roz Laws. Baby Ballroom is on Thursdays at 9pm on 5 Star