Sergei Nabatov: Teaching the Ballroom Dance Moves


The theme song “Moving On Up” from the Jefferson’s blares through the speakers and resonates throughout the dance studio in the Brooklyn College West Quad building. Its 9:00am on a Monday morning the students are in position and their teacher stands in front of the mirror lined studio, microphone in hand, coaching them through a sequence of twirling and stepping. The students are all laughs and awkward steps as they follow along with the professor who every few minutes stops the music grabs a partner and executes the move correctly as they try to catch on.

This is ballroom dance class, led by Sergei Nabatov, 59, ex-military officer and engineer, turned world-renowned ballroom dancer.

This may seem like an unlikely jump in profession to most, but for Nabatov, now ballroom dance professor at Brooklyn College, that was exactly the turn his career took back in the Ukraine many years ago.

He discovered his love for the art form when at 21 years old, joined a dance club while planning to work in the civil aviation engineering.

“It was the only way to meet some girls,” he said with a laugh. But more than girls he found a passion he would spend the rest of his life pursuing. Although he graduated with a master’s degree in Civil Aviation Engineering from the University of Kiev, he continued to dance and enter competitions, winning his first competition just three years after he first started dancing.

Although at heart he is a dancer he credits his engineer experience as well as his life as a military officer to his success as a ballroom dancer.

“I am blessed to be from a military family.” he says with pride. nike kobe 9 His father was a military officer, and following in their footsteps, his eighteen year old daughter, a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, is a navy enlisted officer as well. He says the military gave him the discipline and the focus to persevere as a world-renowned dancer. “Ballroom dancing is a hard job,” he says “If you are talented and want to prove it, it will take the rest of your life, practicing at least 6 hours a day to make people like your performance.”

Nabatov acknowledges that ballroom dancing is quite a stretch from engineering, but, for him, the two work together, as his engineering background has contributed to greatly to his ballroom dancing career.

“Half of my brain is an engineer and half is a ballroom dancer,” he said, his slightly Russian accented voice always carrying a hint of laughter. “Many choreographers don’t know how to switch the loud speaker on or the amplifier. But I know. So it helps.”

Not only has his engineer experience helped with his dancing career but it has helped him as a professor as well. He helped design and develop the Apple I Book application for his ballroom course called Dancesport. On the I book app that is required for the class, students can read the related material, hear notes play videos and music, and the lessons for the entire course can be found in the I book.

For Nabatov the change in career move wasn’t a hard choice to make. He says the moment he joined dance club he was sucked in and that is the passion he tries to get his students to feel. His love of dance lead him to choreographing  and naturally to teaching the art form which he says gives students the opportunity, like him, to meet different people and connect with others with the same passion.

“Many of my students have found not only dancing, but marriage and kids,” he tells during a sit down in one of his classes on a recent Monday morning. “They meet on the dance floor and get married in the wild,” he added with a laugh.

He created the first ever ballroom dance school in Ukraine, from where famous US Dancesport Champion, Maria Manusova graduated. Then in 2001 he was contacted by a colleague from Fred Astaire’s Dance studio and invited to work in the United States as a dancer and choreographer. He then joined the Brooklyn College teaching staff where he created the first ever ballroom dance course in the college.

Some of his students from Brooklyn college include well known dancers Dmitry Chaplin top ten finalist from So You Think You Can Dance and Maksim Chmerkovsiy professional dancer and finalist on Dancing With the Stars.

Watching Nabatov in action it is not hard to see how his very disparate career moves have culminated in the classroom. He stands in the front of the dance studio, dressed in all black, cotton pants, t-shirt and dance shoes, microphone in hand chanting instructions like ” one.. two.. three.. twirl” or “quick.. quick.. slow arms up two three” to which the students follow suit, reminiscent of a military line drill if one were to ignore all the giggling from the students. He controls the music and equipment while demonstrating dance moves simultaneously yet so effortlessly. And when the giggles and chatter among the students persist or some become distracted, a firm “Listen to me now” gets them all at immediate attention.

He is a balanced combination of discipline and fun, while he knows how to keep the students in line, his rapport with them is affable and comedic. He is hands on with them. He holds them by the shoulders to guide them along, he holds their legs to show them which way to turn, nike kobe 9 elite gs and he holds their hands as he explains the moves to them. And after dancing with them he hugs and thanks them. It is not hard to see his love of ballroom dancing reflected in the way he teaches his students the art of dancing.

From the front of the room he surveys each dance couple. He spots one student not keeping up with the steps and Nabatov playfully yells to the student’s partner “Can you kick him?” the class erupts in laughter as Nabatov runs to the student, fists in the air as if to engage him in a fist fight. Then he shows him to accurately perform the move. Here he is less militaristic, less mechanical and his obvious love of what deems to be an amazing art form prevails.

“He’s very patient and he really teaches you,” says Jean Vernon, a physical education major who enrolled in the class as a requirement for her major. “He makes it so simple, the way he breaks down the steps. If I can do it, you know he’s good,” she adds with a laugh.

Another student Toni Figueroa, a theater major, echoes the same sentiment. “It’s a pretty fun class. And he’s very funny and eccentric. He makes it fun.”

Yet in a melancholy tone he reveals this may possibly be his last semester as a Professor at Brooklyn College after 13 years. “The number 13 is an unlucky number in many countries and it looks like it is. . . this could be it,” Nabatov said. The Physical Education program removed ballroom dancing as a mandatory course and all courses that are not mandatory will be cancelled due to budget constraints. But he remains hopeful that the course will continue under the Liberal Arts department but as of now, that is yet to be decided.

Regardless of the fate of ballroom dancing at Brooklyn College, Nabatov will continue in his work as a professional dancer and adjudicator where he organizes competitions, nationally and internationally for both children and adults. “I’m proud of what I did in Brooklyn College from scratch to this level.” he said.

“Ballroom dancing gave me the chance to be an unbelievably international man in every aspect, ” he said, reflecting on his experience over the years.

Nabatov says dancing has changed his life and is still changing lives all over the world. As proof, he referenced the documentary Hot Mad Ballroom, that depicts the lives of New York pre-teens who turned from gangs and street violence after being introduced to ballroom dance.

And what more proof that it does change lives than his own life–from a career in aviation engineering to professional ballroom dancer and professor.

As if on cue the music comes back on drowning out all chatter in the studio. Nabatov signals to the front of the studio indicating that it its time to resume his dance training. “That’s it,” he says smiling as he waltzes hurriedly to the front of the studio to join his students.

When the music comes on duty, or destiny calls and Nabatov always answers.




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