• Kristyn Burtt

Oscars: Ballroom Takes a Front Seat with 'Walk, Run, Cha-Cha'

Updated: Apr 18


With director Laura Nix continuing to develop Walk, Run, Cha-Cha into a feature-length film, ballroom dancers and instructors Maksym Kapitanchuk and Elena Krifuks add another fascinating layer to the story. 

Just like Laura, the couple stumbled upon the Lai Lai Ballroom and Dance Studio in Alhambra, California, while looking for new spaces to teach their craft.

More: Kelly Devine Jumps into the Colorful World of 'Katy Keene'


"We parked our car in the studio parking lot and we heard International Latin music and ballroom music. We decided to peek in to see what was going on," shared Elena. "We opened the door and there was a whole bunch of people social dancing."

"This was 2011 and the owner, Yvonne, asked us if we were teachers. She asked us if we could teach a group class just to try it out and about 60 people showed up," revealed Maks.

Laura had a similar experience being drawn into this seemingly magical dance studio. She began taking group classes with the duo, and private lessons with Elena. Eventually, the story of the film began to form. 


"I was teaching her private lessons and I didn't know anything about her being a filmmaker. She became friends with many of the people in the class. They started telling her to take more classes to practice with them after the group classes and that's when she opened up and told us that she was a filmmaker," Elena explained. "I think a year later she told us that she would be interested in making a film about dancing." 


More: Is It Time to Rotate Judges on 'Dancing with the Stars'?


While the film originally focused on the community of dancers at the Lai Lai Ballroom and Dance Studio, the narrative of four people immigrating to the United States and creating their American dream began to emerge. 


Elena came to the U.S. in 1993 with her parents from Belarus as refugees after Chernobyl. Maks came to Florida in 2009 to perform with the National Ballet Company of Ukraine. Fate brought them together when they each had taken out an ad looking for a dance partner at DanceSportInfo.net.


"Everyone's ad was disappearing and my ad and Maks' ad kept on repeating. I didn't want to write to him because we had a three or four-inch difference in our heights. My mom told me to write to him because you never know, it could work out," Elena laughed.


After competing on the International Ballroom and Latin Dance circuit around the world, the duo has concentrated on teaching and Pro-Am competitions over the last few years. They now have some pretty famous students in Paul and Millie Cao, who still continue to train despite the Oscars' attention.


"They started working with us in 2011. They wanted private classes and the goal was social dancing, nothing serious," said Maks. "Then Paul asked Elena if he could perform with her."

That opened the door for Millie to also jump into the competition and their ballroom studies stepped up another level. Besides sharing a love of dance, there is also a sense of family between the two couples — an understanding of moving to a new country and needing that support.

More: How Henry Byalikov Made the Transition From 'DWTS' to Broadway

"When I moved here, I didn't have any family, only Elena as my support system, but I felt support from Paul and Millie. They were always taking care of me, always asking us to have dinner with them," revealed Maks. "One time, my car broke down and Paul fixed it for me. It feels like parental support. They've always been so nice to us."


The one message the duo loves to share is that Walk, Run, Cha-Cha is proving that dance is an art form for everyone.


"Paul and Millie are not professional dancers, we don't have to see them doing gymnastics on the floor," summed up Elena. "It doesn't matter how old you are or where you are in your life, everyone should dance. It doesn't matter how you dance, just enjoy it and dance!"

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