Vegan Life meets...
If you or someone you know is a fan of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, you will likely recognise the face of Kristina Rihanoff, previous dance instructor to the celeb contestants. After starring in the TV show for eight series, world finalist professional ballroom dancer, instructor and choreographer Kristina has recentred her passions of health and fitness on living a vegan lifestyle, as well as opening up her own wellbeing academy, yoga studios and dance academies. Here, we chat to the professional dancer about what veganism means to her, and whether everyone can dance if they try…
Hey Kristina! When and why did you first become vegan?
I became vegan four years ago; it was about six months after I had my child, and I was going through my Yoga Teacher Training. It all really kind of fell into place — the teaching of yoga, the ethos behind the vegan philosophy and just my love for healthy food. In the past, I’ve tried a lot of different diets and mostly gravitated to a vegetarian one.
I never really liked meat, but I grew in seaport Vladivostok, very east of Russia, so I did love seafood and fish, yet poultry and meat were never something I really enjoyed. In Russia, we love our vegetables and fruits. Lots of families have summer houses with big gardens and my grandparents had this too. I spent a lot of my childhood years helping them out in that garden growing vegetables and then learning how to marinade and ferment them for winter.
Did you find the transition to vegan difficult at all or an easy change?
I found the transition quite easy; I think because of my dislike for meat and poultry. Also, nowadays there is such a big variety of vegan ranges in every single supermarket. I think it’s much easier now to transition than before.
“It all really kind of fell into place — the teaching of yoga, the ethos behind the vegan philosophy and just my love for healthy food”
How did you feel after? Has it helped improve your energy levels for dancing and day-to-day life?
My life is quite intense, as I am an owner of wellbeing centre Soo yoga, with my partner Ben Cohen and also my dance studios Bespoke Ballroom Dance and Drama Academy. Daily, I teach on average about six to eight lessons of all kinds including yoga, dancing, fitness classes and so on, so that requires a very high level of energy. I do love a vegan diet because it makes me feel light and gives me good energy too. Plus, it makes me feel good that I eat fresh, full-of-nutrients food, which is good for my body.
What foods do you fuel up with before a big dance routine/work out?
That would be some sort of protein like beans or legumes. Also, I like energy balls made of pure cocoa, nuts and dried fruit — those are great little power bombs which really can get your energy up!
Do you have a favourite style of dancing?
Ballroom dancing is what I specialise in, and I have been doing it for 30 years (yes, it’s quite crazy number to say out loud!) — I love it in all shapes and forms. Now, I’m teaching children from the age of two to 16 years old and take them to competitions.
Life sort of came to a full circle. I started as a kid myself and now I am passing on my passion for dancing to the younger generations. It feels really good to see the little ones falling in love with dancing and creating great friendships at my academy.
“It really is fascinating that people understand that they have to put the correct fuel in a car for it to run properly, but they don’t have the same attitude toward their bodies”
Do you have a favourite style of dancing?
Ballroom dancing is what I specialise in, and I have been doing it for 30 years (yes, it’s quite crazy number to say out loud!) — I love it in all shapes and forms. Now, I’m teaching children from the age of two to 16 years old and take them to competitions. Life sort of came to a full circle. I started as a kid myself and now I am passing on my passion for dancing to the younger generations. It feels really good to see the little ones falling in love with dancing and creating great friendships at my academy.
And, we have to ask. Can anyone dance if they’re taught, or do you need inbuilt rhythm?
Well, it depends on what kind of dancing you are asking about, hah! I’m sure anyone can dance after a little bit of wine and have a boogie to dance anthems. If we’re talking about ballroom dancing, of course, it’s a very specific and technical form and requires learning the basic steps and executing them with a partner, which is quite difficult for a novice person.
However, let me remind you of a dance on my first year of Strictly… a dance with political journalist, John Sergeant. We sort of made history with his so-called ‘dancing’, which included dragging me across the floor like a sack of potatoes. To answer your question, yes, I think anyone can dance…
Aside from your dancing, you’ve opened up a fitness, wellbeing and yoga studio in Northampton! Would you say that yoga and veganism go well together?
Yes, that’s exactly it; they both go together. I think an overall holistic approach to health and wellbeing is very important. There is no point in doing a lot of exercise to then go and stuff yourself with processed and unhealthy foods. Don’t get me wrong, we all want a cheat day when we can have a pizza or some chips. Once in a while, it’s all okay.
But it’s important to put good, nutritious foods in your body to fuel it in the right way. It really is fascinating that people understand that they have to put the correct fuel in a car for it to run properly, and they would never put the wrong one in, but they don’t have the same attitude toward their bodies. Isn’t that strange?
What are the three foods that you could not live without?
I love houmous, especially with vegan chips or carrot sticks. I also really enjoy olives; I’m not sure why, but I became obsessed with them when I became vegan.
As a kid I totally hated them but now I can’t go without a pot of olives in my fridge. As well as these two foods, I adore quinoa; it’s such a versatile type of food and I can just make so many dishes with it.
Do you have a favourite meal you like to enjoy cooking/eating with your family?
Sadly, I don’t have that much time anymore due to being busy with two businesses. However, every winter I make my Russian Borsch-beetroot soup, which I make vegan without the meat. My whole family loves it, so I must always cook it for the holiday season!
Have you got any exciting projects lined up for 2022?
I do have quite a lot of things going on, mainly starting my online courses. I am in the process of launching my Wellbeing Academy and that will be for any fitness, yoga and dance instructors and enthusiasts who are looking to open their own studios or change jobs and perhaps start running classes.
Since I changed my career after leaving Strictly and opened up a business, I now know this process inside out. It isn’t easy and it can get very lonely, so I want to help others to do the same without feeling alone. It’s been a long process to launch this academy but I will get there, so watch this space!
Finally, what does veganism mean to you?
Mainly, it means for me that I do everything I can to be healthy and to live as long as I can, so I can be around my family and help my children to grow up. I want to be there for them for as long as I can, so it’s important for me to give back to myself not just by doing physical exercises but also eating well.
We’re all very well aware that many diseases form in our body due to us neglecting fresh and healthy foods. I think a lot of people forget that in order to be around their families they must give back to themselves. Sometimes these words can be taken as being selfish, which is so wrong.
If we don’t look after ourselves, our bodies, unfortunately, will pay back with sicknesses. In order to have a strong immune system we must eat well and take time for our mental and physical wellbeing. I hope in 2022 that more people will turn to veganism — to help our planet and ourselves to become stronger, healthier and better.