Picture this: A high performing female dancer who is in need of a partner. She finds out through the grapevine that there is a man who is available, so they connect and she plans to meet him. She flies to meet him in Italy and over the course of 5 days, they not only decide to dance with one another, but they also fall in love. Although it sounds like the plot of a Hallmark channel movie, it is the true story of how Daniel Hustiuc and Jess Li began their partnership.
Their love story began on September 4th, 2018. Jess explains “We were both looking for a partner. I was looking for a partner publicly and he was looking for one secretly because he was still with someone at the time. When I had gone to the Empire Dance Championship in New York, which is my coaches competition, Viebeke Toft and Allan Tornsburg, his coach, Mauricio, had come all the way from Italy to judge. Mauricio kind of knew me from Instagram or social media I guess and I asked if he knew of anyone. He told me that he actually had a boy who might be looking for a partner and that he could set us up if we wanted. He wouldn’t tell me Daniel’s name but I somehow ended up figuring it out anyways. On September 4th, I flew to Italy for a try-out with him. I flew to Milan and he lives in Venice, so that’s a 3 hour drive between the two cities. I met him in Milan and we were in a 3 hour car ride together before anything else happened. We were right next to each other like ‘Hi, I’ve never met you before and this feels like a blind date, but tell me about yourself.’ After those 3 hours, I kind of had a feeling about what kind of person he was. We spent 5 days in Venice because I had bought a round-trip ticket, so I already knew when I was supposed to leave. It was sad because we definitely had clicked during this process. Not just in the dancing, where we had a lot of chemistry, but because I lived with him in his apartment while I was there, I met his family, saw him teach, and met the families of his students, who respected and loved him so much. There was no way I would not end up falling in love with him. The good news was that two weeks later I bought another ticket to Italy. We spent two weeks that time in Italy and in the process, because we had already decided to dance together, we also were collecting his things in order to prepare for a move. We drove 9 hours to Rome in order to get a US visa and also got the chance to tour around the city on vespas. It was September so it was gorgeous and then on October 5th, he took a flight to New York and that was it. 4 months later, we got engaged on Christmas Eve and got married shortly after that in January.”
Being married as well as being partners can be challenging. Jess says that the hardest part of being life partners as well as dance partners is that, “The hardest thing for sure is to find balance. When two people are really hungry and really ambitious, there is always a chance that the dancing can overpower everything. You can easily sacrifice your personal relationship, your marriage as a result of the dancing. There have been a lot of times where we realized that we only dance, we only practice, we only talk about dance, and then we work a lot so that we can dance. Then when we come home, we’re still thinking about dance and it’s so easy to just have dance consume your marriage when you are in a dance marriage. It’s called a dance marriage because dance is first because it’s so easy for dance to be more important and take over everything else. The most difficult thing is to sit and have time for your actual marriage, that is not time for dancing.” Daniel goes on to add “Trying to keep the dancing from our marriage is very hard, because when you’re dancing, you have emotions. You may have a fight and you feel angry, you’re not just going to go home and you start going ‘Hi darling’ and your feelings change right away. It’s also good though being married or together as a dance couple, because what I feel for her I can also share with the audience. If you really love the person and you dance with them, it’s special.”
After taking the big leap to move here and work together, Daniel and Jess have had some great results in the short amount of time that they have been together. They were in the semi-finals of both the International Dance Championship as well as the United Kingdom Open Dance Championships. Daniel discusses why he feels especially proud of these accomplishments, “When we did the International and we made the semi-final we were happy and shocked. We really needed to confirm this result at the UK to see if it was more than just luck. At the UK, we confirmed it and it was even better because we were only 2 marks away from the final.” Jess continued “We were 9th at the International and we were 8th at the UK, but we were next into the final because it was a 7 couple final. The reason why were shocked at both, but especially the International was because we made the semi-final after less than a year of dancing together. It was just shocking and we were so close to the final in both as well, that was even more shocking. So we were honestly so over the moon.”
These results are an testament to the hard work that they put into their partnership and dancing. Daniel explains their day to day practice schedule, “Besides dancing, Jess also does PureBarre or exercise classes and I mainly go to the gym to do stamina exercises as well as running and weights. I also take stretch video classes. For practicing, we usually practice early in the morning until the early afternoon. It’s usually 4 or 5 hours daily, 6 days a week.” Jess added on “We try to average 5 hours. Sometimes we have less time because Daniel or myself have to work, but we make it up the next day. We try to aim for 5 because that is what our coach, Vibeke, has told me for a long time that since we are a new couple we need to spend a lot of time dancing together and she said to spend at least 5 hours dancing with one another, so that’s what we try to do.” Daniel continued further saying “During those 5 hours, we try to be organized. It’s not that we wake up on a given day and we decide what to do. During the weekend, we decide what the goal of the week is or even what the goal of each day will be. Our first hour of practice usually consists of us practicing on our own, like our body and our mechanics by ourselves. Then we spend a specific amount of time on basics and we try to work together, for example, to do a rumba basic. We talk about mechanical aspects, partnering concept or musical timing. Then we divide the remaining time between things that I want to work on as well things that Jess wants to work on.” Jess finished it off by saying “Something that makes us fight sometimes is that we are both natural born leaders. It’s really difficult because he’s supposed to be the leader in our couple. So that’s why we decided that for a portion of practice he will be the leader and for another portion of practice, I’ll be the leader, so that kind of satisfies my desire to make some decisions and have some control. Aside from what he said, we also do rounds twice a week. When we’re preparing for competitions, we up the amount of rounds that we do every single week, every single day. For example, when we were preparing for the UK, every day we did more and more. In the 9 days before we left for the UK, before even any of the camps, we were doing 4 to 5 rounds per day for 9 days straight. When we got to England, we had camps and so we did rounds there too.”
Besides being hard-working dancers, Daniel and Jess also love to spend time at home with their cat. Their cat leads a life full of adventure. Jess elaborates, “We like to cuddle as a family with the cat. The three of us, doing nothing, except cuddling. Snuggle time is life for us, but we also like to take the cat everywhere that we go because she’s literally a dog trapped in a cat’s body. I just feel like it’s nice to have her experience things other than being a house cat. Recently, we took her to Central Park when we took engagement photos. We originally never took any because everything was so fast, so we just never took them. I just wanted to go to Central Park to take a few photos, but I thought that there was no way that we were going to leave the cat at home, so we took her there. Then I was like, ‘I really want a picture on the boat.’ We bought this $10 tripod from Amazon and we took with us on the boat. There was noone there, the whole day it was just us and the tripod. My phone almost landed in the water like 17 times because everytime Daniel set up the tripod, he would have to go to the other end of the the boat where me and the cat were in order to be in the photo with us. Him moving around in the boat would make the tripod lose it’s location. We did that for an hour on the boat and everyone was staring at us because it was a pretty nice day and there were a bunch of people rowing with us looking at us like ‘what are these crazy people doing?, but the cat was good! She was in her little jacket because it was kind of chilly and she was just watching us, waiting for us to finish.”
Even though their life together has been full of adventure, the stay at home order has halted their plans, but they are continuing to remain positive. Daniel states. “Since this quarantine has started, our lives have changed a lot. We are trying now to adapt to this period and try to use it as best as we can. We are still trying to produce something and improve on things, so we are trying to teach if we can, usually in the evening. We hope that soon things will be back to normal, but until then we are trying to use the time as productively as we can.” Jess elaborated further, “We still try to practice about 5 hours a day, which is diffiicult because we can’t do things full-out but we still practice details. We can maybe sit down for 30 minutes looking through Walter Laird’s technique book, just re-reading that and discussing and trying a few things. Then we spend another hour stretching and doing some physical conditioning. Then we spend another hour thinking about a potential showdance. You know, maybe making some choreography,or choosing some music, so no matter what it’s still 5 hours. It may not be the same stuff that we’re used to practicing the way that we were before, but it’s still helping to make us feel like we’re moving forward in our dancing."
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