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Expert Series: Meet Katya and learn why movement and dance is so important for kids

Expert Series: Meet Katya and learn why movement and dance is so important for kids

At MiliMilu, we embrace active and adventurous lifestyles. In our Expert series, we're featuring an interview with Katya, the founder of Ballroom Bees. This topic is close to my heart as my daughter loves dancing and has participated in Ballroom Bees for a couple of years. Katya will share more about her and the significance of movement and dancing for children and adults.

Katya Virshilas, a former star on BBC's "Strictly Come Dancing", and her world champion husband, Klaus Kongsdal, have revolutionized the world of ballroom dancing by infusing traditional principles with a modern twist. With over three decades of combined experience in the industry, numerous accolades, and two talented sons who inspired their BallroomBees program, this power couple is making a significant impact. Katya's journey in the ballroom world began when she became the youngest national champion in Canada at just 16 years old. She has since become a renowned professional dancer on "Strictly Come Dancing" and a choreographer on "So You Think You Can Dance". Her innovative vision led her to create her own touring show in the U.K, perform in over 300 shows, and choreograph for Hollywood films like "Take the Lead" and "Shall We Dance".

"Ballroom dancing used to be seen as old-fashioned and rigid, but with the popularity of shows like 'Strictly' and 'Dancing with the Stars', people are now embracing the art form and its many benefits," says Katya. "I want to make dancing not only fun but also accessible and trendy for everyone, regardless of gender." Together, Katya and Klaus bring a wealth of experience, creative flair, industry knowledge, and a deep passion for dance. As parents to two young children, they understand the importance of making dance enjoyable and inclusive for all. With their winning combination of skills and enthusiasm, they are shaping the future of ballroom dancing worldwide.

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 My husband and I have been coming to Hong Kong since 2011- We officially decided to move while I was pregnant with my first son, Alexander, in 2016.I gave birth in London and moved to HK in January 2017.Leaving the glamour of London for family life in Hong Kong. I quickly discovered that the life of a housewife was not for me and so I embarked on the journey of a lifetime. With the ravages of the pandemic and losing everything, inspiration hit me; realizing that there were no opportunities for my young sons to discover the world of dance, I created a children’s dance concept that is inclusive, diverse and multicultural, taking Hong Kong by storm. And soon the world… ( Speaking of sexism I actually found it crazy how dance is portrayed in HK - everything was centered for girls and pink -filled with tutu's and butterflies ( when I took my son for a dance class in a very prominent dance studio in HK - the moms told me I am in the wrong place after I asked them for props for my boys). You can see why there is a huge separation here. Oh my daughter loves Ballet and my son plays football( I mean it's completely 1950's! Girls should play more sports and boys should do more dance and arts.

Have you always been passionate about dancing and what movement means to you?

I have danced since I could remember. My aunt is a ballerina, a former ballerina in St Petersburg Ballet, and my mom was a ballroom dancer and a drama teacher. I loved sitting my parents and their friends down and was always the one to entertain or put on a show.(Obviously, it's a younger child attention-seeking initiative.) I love making people laugh, smile and feel good. I feel that's what people feel when they watch a performance or a show. No one ever said or told me," Gee, I wish I had never started dancing." Movement and music are such a direct link to joy and happiness. To me, movement and dance are key educational components that are missing in schools these days

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Why are movement and dance so important for kids?

The first thing that babies do when they hear music is move, bounce, shake and they do it without even knowing it. It is only when our babies and children grow older they start feeling self-conscious about dance and movement. It is so quick to jump to conclusions about boys and children with certain areas having ADHD or behaviour issues but they are not meant to sit quietly in circle time. Creating more movement breaks and making dance part of the school's curriculum will give the children the opportunity to dance those kinks out of their system. To sweat, move and exercise. So then they will be able to concentrate better. Also boys and girls don't do many activities together from around age 6-7/ Most ECA's are split. Girls do ballet and gymnastics and boys do football and other sports. it's rare to see a 50/50 ratio of girls and boys in these types of classes. Dance and particularly our programme breaks that - we have so many male teachers, and in some classes, we sometimes have more boys than girls!

How does dance help kids' development? What changes can you see in kids when they start dancing?

The changes we see in our students are endless. From better sleep patterns to better eating habits. Self-confidence and so much more that parents tell us. I always say that its more about what Ballroombees and dance teach our students outside of the dance studio. There are so many reasons why dance is important to the health and development of kids. Above all, kids need to move! Any way to get kids moving on their feet is a must (especially in a digital era). Dance, strengthens muscles, improves balance, increases flexibility, and gives the heart a good workout. Dance has also been proven to increase cognitive development. Current research documents the importance of exercise on the brain and supports what dancers have always known – the body and mind are connected in vital ways.

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What are your views on a sustainable lifestyle?

I am a beginner on my journey towards a sustainable lifestyle and recognise that I have a lot to learn. However, I am eager to educate myself on sustainable practices and make positive changes in my own life. I believe that every small step towards sustainability is a step in the right direction, and I am committed to continuously improving and expanding my knowledge on sustainable living. I am excited to explore new ways to reduce my environmental footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future for our planet.

I believe that adopting a sustainable lifestyle is not only crucial for the health of our planet, but also for our own well-being. As individuals, we have a responsibility to make mindful choices that reduce our impact on the environment and promote long-term sustainability.

In my opinion, sustainable living means making conscious decisions about the products we use, the food we eat, and the energy we consume. It involves reducing waste, conserving resources, and supporting ethical and eco-friendly practices. By incorporating sustainable habits into our daily lives, we can contribute to a healthier planet and create a better future for generations to come.

How do you teach your kids about sustainability? 

Our boys learn a lot in school! I teach my boys about sustainability by tapping into their love for nature and animals, especially my oldest son, who is a big nature expert and animal enthusiast with a particular fondness for snakes. He even wrote to David Attenborough when he was just 5 years old, asking how he could help save the rainforest, and received a response! I encourage them to explore and appreciate the natural world through activities like nature walks, hikes, and visits to wildlife sanctuaries. For my oldest son, I make sure to include lessons on biodiversity and the importance of preserving habitats, tying into his passion for snakes and animals.

In our everyday lives, we practice sustainability by gardening ( in our balcony), composting when we can, and recycling together. These hands-on activities not only teach them practical skills but also show them the positive impact of our actions on the environment.

I also introduce them to books, documentaries, and educational resources that focus on sustainability and conservation. By nurturing their interests and curiosity, I hope to inspire them to become future leaders in environmental conservation.

With my guidance and support, I aim to instill values of environmental responsibility and stewardship in my boys, shaping their actions and decisions for the betterment of the planet. And who knows, maybe one day my oldest son's dedication to saving the rainforest will lead to significant contributions in environmental preservation, just like his inspiring correspondence with David Attenborough. We will be organising a ballroombees beach clean up days soon with our very own Ranger Ryan.

What are your and your family's favourite nature/outdoor activities?

We dance a LOT at home and usually end the day with a big dance party. We play a lot of sports, from table tennis to pickleball and rugby and football. I try to make hiking and walking fun and adventurous, and having HK as your back is what's not to love?

 If you want to learn more, check the Ballroom Bees website and follow their Instagram for the latest updates.

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