Natasha Shevchenko is a 22 year-old Latin-ballroom dancer. Her achievements in dancing include representing team USA at junior Blackpool at age 12, earning a bronze medal at nationals and being a national finalist for 7 years, making the quarter-final round at Blackpool, international and world championships, and earning a top 10 spot in Under 21 Latin at the Dutch Open competition in 2017. Not only that, she is also a recent graduate from New York University, graduating with honors. How did she manage her double life of dance and school and excel in both? Here is her story.
Natasha began ballroom dancing at age 6. Her parents enrolled her into a local dance studio when they deemed her too hyper to sit at home. Like most young children, Natasha tried everything– swimming, soccer, ballet, and gymnastics. Her heart eventually settled on ballroom dance, and she has never looked back since.
Her journey as a competitive dancer got off to a rocky start. “During my first group class ever, I stood behind a wall and cried. These two little girls came up to me and invited me in. I ended up enjoying the group class because their kindness made me feel welcomed in that new environment. They later became my best friends in high school!”
At the age of 9, Natasha had her first taste of the limelight, when she and her then-partner were featured on the “Champion Kids” segment of Dancing With the Stars, season 4. When asked about her experience on live television, Natasha says, “At that time, my teacher, Nadia Eftedal, recommended us [for the show]. It was so fun, I loved it! I was also scared, though. In fact, I was so scared that I started dancing at the wrong time! Luckily you can’t see that on TV.”
Natasha’s primary teacher growing up was Eftedal, a champion dancer and internationally recognized adjudicator and instructor. “If it wasn’t for Nadia, I would not be where I am today. She took me to my very first junior Blackpool when I was nine, so I was very fortunate to have been exposed to it so early on in my dance career.” Another major influence in her dance journey was esteemed dancer Anna Kovalova, who coached her from age 13 to 18.>/p?
Through it all, Natasha lived a double life of school and dance, which resulted in an unconventional academic journey. “I skipped 7th grade, so I was 12 years old when I started high school. I did online schooling for my last two years of high school.”
Dancing not only impacted her schooling, but also led to a nomadic lifestyle. “I lived in LA until I was 14, after which I relocated to San Francisco to dance with another partner. After that partnership ended, I moved to San Diego for the next one-and-a-half years [for another partnership]. I started college at age 16, at UC Riverside, majoring in math, while continuing to dance with my partner from San Diego.”
Another noteworthy moment of age 16 happened when Latin dance legend, Allan Tornsburg, visited San Diego and gave Natasha a lesson. “I instantly fell in love with him. I thought, ‘Everything he was saying was literally everything I’ve ever felt in my body and wanted to produce and showcase. Just the way he described Latin dancing made me realize why I do what I do.’”
After that enlightening experience, Natasha and her partner flew out to New York City every few months to take lessons from him. That was her first introduction to New York.
When it came time for Natasha’s partner to apply for colleges, he decided to apply to schools in NYC. At that point, Natasha was a year in to college at UC Riverside. To maintain her partnership, she considered applying to transfer to a school in New York. “I didn’t really think it would work, especially because he was applying as a first year, and I was applying as a transfer. The application deadlines are different [for first year and transfer students], so he would have to commit to a school before I knew whether or not I got in [to the same school].”
When Natasha’s partner gained acceptance and committed to New York University, Natasha thought, “Oh my goodness, if I don’t get in, then we’re splitting, it’s not going to work.” As fate would have it, though, Natasha ended up getting into NYU as a transfer student. “It was just a sign that we should move.”
In August of 2016, the pair moved to New York together. Natasha’s transition to New York life was difficult, to say the least. “The move was rough, as New York is a big city, and in it you can feel really lonely. The first few months especially hit the hardest, as there was a huge culture shock. Even though I grew up in a major city, [LA and New York] are such different cities that I felt like I was in a different country. I was very fortunate, though, to have crossed paths with my best friend, Monica, who is also a dancer and lived in New York for a little while. We explored the city together, and slowly, I found my home and my community.”
When asked how she coped during her transitional phase, Natasha replies, “It helps to build a schedule and have a routine that keeps you going, because it’s so easy to tumble into a downward spiral and it’s really hard to get out of it, especially in such a competitive place like New York. I do miss the sunny weather of LA, my car, nature, and In-N-Out Burger, but I love New York for the many opportunities it gives to do literally anything you want to do. I love the museums and operas and musicals that are so close to each other. If you need some inspiration, you literally just have to step outside.”
As far as studies, Natasha started as a math major at UCR, and upon transferring to NYU, switched her major to Hotel and Tourism Management, with a concentration in Marketing and Revenue Management. She spent a total of three years at NYU and five years in college overall. She graduated with a B.S in May of 2019 and was even featured on NYU’s Dean’s List.
When asked how she was able to juggle dance and school throughout her time in college, Natasha replies, “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, especially because New York is a competitive place, NYU is a competitive place, and Latin-ballroom is so competitive. You really want to give your all in everything that you do. The pressure is always there.”
In regards to daily life, Natasha says, “[My dance partner and I] had to find time to meet and practice every single day, and also figure out when we’d have our dance lessons throughout the week. Most days I would wake up at 7am, and then go to practice first. We usually practice about three hours in the morning. Then I’d run to class, and come back to the dance studio to have a dance lesson, then run back to class.”
Living a double life was definitely mentally taxing, but Natasha credits the support of her family, friends and her boyfriend, without which she would not have been able to succeed. “It was really hard to get through it, especially during finals week, which is really close to Blackpool. I pulled all-nighters multiple times, just because I had no other time to study. I don’t recommend sleepless nights, but I did do that. You make it work. You do it because you have to.”
When asked what drove and inspired her to keep going during her hardest moments, Natasha replies, “My love for what I do is what kept me going. It’s almost like I didn’t know any other way. [Dance] is something I grew up with, it’s my identity.”
There are many things Natasha loves about dancing, including music, creative expression and the partnership aspect of ballroom dance. “I love music, and I love playing the role of an instrument, adding on to the music with my movement. I’ve always felt so sensitive to music. A good song can make me cry. It’s amazing to express myself. The rawness and humanity I get to experience when I dance makes me feel the most alive. I also love sharing the experience with someone else, using non-verbal communication to speak to each other, especially in improv.”
When asked who her biggest inspiration was for dancing, Natasha replies, “Yulia Zagoruychenko. I still freak out inside whenever I see her, because she has been my biggest inspiration since I was 9 years old. When I first watched her at Emerald Ball before she was competing with Riccardo, I thought to myself, ‘This woman has more energy than anyone on the floor. At the end of jive, everyone was dead, and she was still so alive!’ That really shocked me, and I’ve followed her journey ever since. I never ever swayed. She’s always been my favorite dancer, hands-down. She’s a champion on and off the floor. The way that she interacts with people, she is so kind-hearted and humble and sweet.”
Interestingly, despite 15 years of competing and performing under her belt, Natasha still gets performance anxiety every time she gets out on the floor, no matter how many people are in the audience. When asked what helps her cope, Natasha says, “It helps to have a pre-performance ritual, which has been key to me. It’s the one factor I can control all the time, no matter where I perform. All the other variables change, but that I can keep the same. Also, I need to have a good preparation plan, where I know that I’ve given it my all. Because no matter the outcome, you know you’ve done everything you could based on the plan and strategy you’ve created for yourself. After the performance, you can evaluate how well it went, and whether or not that plan needs some tweaking.”
As for her goals with dancing, Natasha aspires to go professional one day, as well as do more choreography and perform in showcases.
Outside of the ballroom, Natasha enjoys being curious and learning anything, from reading books to watching movies to attending live performances. She has also found a great community in swing dancing and enjoys spending time with her boyfriend.
When asked what advice she would impart to young dancers, Natasha says, “It’s important to listen to your heart, know instinctively what you want to do and how to express yourself, and never let anything change who you really are inside, or how you feel the music. The world needs to see more unique people. Don’t just follow the bandwagon– not only in dancing, but life in general.”