Dancing With Kyona Van Santen

Kyona Van Santen has been dancing since she was 5 years old. The work that models do in front of the camera is moving their body with grace, and fashion catwalk shows are choreographed, sometimes with dramatic results, so the modelling and dance have a lot in common. Kyona took part in Elite Model Look in 2015 in the Netherlands and is now a full time model with Elite. We sat down with her to hear more about her passion.

When did you start dancing?

I started dancing when I was 5 years old, I started a dance school when I was 8 and all my other classmates were 12, but I stopped that after a few years because it was very hard to keep up. Then I did a musical, we went on tour all over Holland, it was really cool. I did classes as a teenager, modern dance, and then ballet. I did a few hip hop classes between as well, but because I’m tall, I always feel so clumsy when I do hip hop or street style dance! 

How does dancing make you feel?

I feel a sense of relief – it sounds cliché but when you’re not feeling well or a bit stressed, it really helps to dance because you can really put your emotions and your mood into the music. I feel like I’m expressing myself, I think that’s why I still do it because if I have had a hard day at school or a long day modelling, I get to dance class and I feel like the stress falls away. When I am done with dance class, everything feels better. I only stopped classes because I’m modelling full time now. But they told me when I left that I can still attend whenever I want, so I still go when I’m home.

Do you do any other fitness training to support your dancing?

Yes, mostly strength and conditioning. Most dance performances last two or three minutes, so you have to have the ability to keep going. It is mostly jogging on the spot, jumping jacks, things like that – and for strength we did a lot of bodyweight exercises like planks and exercises for your legs. You have to be strong to be a dancer. You see that most ballet and modern dancers are tall, and for faster styles of dancing, it tends to be smaller girls or boys, because they can be much quicker in their movements. 

Is dance good for communication?

For sure, I made a lot of friends through dancing who I am still in touch with. You go through a lot together. Everyone has bad days, and dance is like any sport, sometimes your body doesn’t respond the way you’d like it to. But everyone is on the same team, they all understand that it can happen, and they really help each other. It’s a real bonding experience, it’s very supportive. 

Do you think that dance more of a sport or an art?

I think it’s both – when you go to school, people ask, “what sport do you do?” And when you say dance, they laugh, and they think it’s not a sport – but it really is! We do competitions too, and national championships. People think it’s more of a hobby, but it’s so much more. The competitions are tough, they have competitions for each style of dance, and then age categories, like 10 to 14. We always competed in the 18 to 30 category, even though we only had one girl who was 18, everyone else was 16 or 17. Sometimes you might be competing with five groups, sometimes with thirty groups, it can totally depend.

Did it help that you had done dance competitions to compete in Elite Model Look?

It’s quite different, but it depends on your approach. Some people go in thinking, “I’m the best, I’m going to compete with everyone” or you can just go in and see how it is. You don’t know what other people are capable of. Personally, I am very easy going when I compete, and it’s the same in my life in general. I let things happen, I think it’s bad to put too much pressure on yourself. It’s important to focus on what you can do, and not worry too much about other people are doing, because you will start to think, “oh she has that going for her, I don’t have that” or “I can’t do that” and you really can’t think like that. We were taught to really just be in the moment and try your hardest. Our trainers had a rule that after each competition, we weren’t allowed to talk about how we did. After we had danced, when we were waiting for the judges to give us the results, we weren’t allowed to say what we thought would happen so we never knew what anyone else thought – it was fun! 

Is dancing similar to modelling?

Yes, I think so – with dancing, you can be very different. One day, you feel amazing and express yourself, and another day, you are held back in some way. In modelling, you also have to adapt yourself to what’s happening around you. You can’t say, “oh, I’m like this” – you have to be open to the situation. 

How often did you perform?

We did at least two performances per year, and then we did festivals too. Mostly, it’s one around Christmas and one at the end of the season to close the year, and that’s a big one with all the girls. I sometimes got nervous, but it was more scared that I would forget the choreography and let the team down. My family would come and watch some of the performances but not all, because I have been dancing for a long time, but they only came to the important ones. They know that I am happy when I’m performing. But for me, it doesn’t affect me if someone I know is in the audience or not. Actually, my family and friends know that I’m quite clumsy and that I mess things up sometimes! 

That’s interesting you describe yourself as clumsy when you are a dancer! Is that something you have to work at overcoming?

Yes! You have to really focus on your body, because you have to keep all the moves very strong. If you only focus on the steps, it will look awful, so you have to keep control on your mind too. But with practice, you get into the mood of the music. I definitely find that I zone into the dance, it’s like a way of getting back to basics with your body. It can be a form of therapy – it’s just you and the music.

Do you dance when you go out with your friends?

I do, although not at the beginning of the night. I get a bit shy, even though I have danced for big audiences like 4,000 people, so it’s strange that I get shy to dance in a club. But it’s fun! When I was much younger, I used to like making my own dances up, because dancing in class you learn steps. But on your own you only think of the easiest steps, so it’s hard to challenge yourself. I find that it’s better to dance in a group. 

Do you have brothers or sisters?

I have one sister, she’s ten years older than me, and she has a different dad. When she was younger, she played soccer – my parents played soccer too, it’s just me who wanted to dance. I am really girly, and I was also too clumsy to play soccer! (laughs) I can’t really handle any ball sports! 

What is the best advice you ever got?

I remember once a girl said to me, “everybody can leave you, but the only thing that always stays with you is your body”. I think that’s true, you don’t know what will happen in life, it can always change. My mom always says that if you feel good, you look good, so it’s important to look after your mind and your body and the rest will follow.  

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