Born in Belgium in 1982, Joanna Leunis has become an iconic female in the Latin world, instantly recognisable with her bright blonde hair, charismatic style and lightening-quick spins. It might therefore come as a shock to many that off the floor she is incredibly shy and softly spoken, often leaving partner Michael to do most of the talking.
She started dancing at nine years old after a blood disease similar to leukaemia had left her unable to get out of bed for nearly a year. She wanted to get control back of her body and so started dance classes with the support of her family and has never looked back.
Her entry into Dancesport was explosive and smashed previous records. Partnered with Slavik Kryklyvyy at amateur level, they went from unknown dancers to Amateur world champions in 20 months, winning multiple titles along the way. Joanna was just 19 years old. Such a rise up the rankings had previously been unheard of.
Success came at a price though. The couple had worked so hard and trained so intensely that by the time they competed in the world championships they were barely speaking to each other. Although they still won the competition, they split immediately it had finished. Slavik later said that the strain of training so vigorously and both being such perfectionists had caused too much tension for them to continue.
Elsewhere in the Latin world Louis Van Amstel and Karina Smirnoff (heard of them??!!) had recently split after a successful partnership. Louis and Joanna were both based in Amsterdam and began dancing together and Karina and Slavik, who were already romantically involved, would soon become dance partners themselves.
Joanna turned professional with Louis and they won a world showdance title within one year. They also reached the finals at Blackpool and had various other successful tournaments, although never won another world title.
Joanna and Louis split soon afterwards as Louis retired from professional dancing. Joanna teamed up with an amateur dancer who had previously been the Blackpool Youth Champion with his partner of 14 years. His name was Michael Malitowski.
Michael had danced since he was very young. At 8 years old he was entertaining people where he lived by doing the moonwalk and various other Michael Jackson dances. He was yearning to become a ballet dancer, but they did not have a ballet school where he lived in Poland and so instead he started to learn Ballroom.
For many years he would struggle with a weight problem, but at 15 the puppy fat finally fell away and he was free to realise his potential. He had just wanted to dance, but it “somehow become a way of life” and turned into his job and passion. He studied for a masters degree in dance education whilst he competed all over the world and took his finals three weeks after dancing in a world championship competition with Joanna.
Like Joanna’s previous partnerships, theirs was an instant success, but this time it would be long-lasting. They immediately became World Showdance champions and have since won a further 30 titles including World Masters, International and UK Open champions. They have also placed second behind the unbeatable Bryan and Carmen many times, including at the World Championships and European Masters. Along the way they have become a firm fan favourite and have also become famous for their speed, spins and spectacular routines.
After creeping up the top of the rankings they have finally been established as second in the world and have maintained this position for the past year. However, since Slavik Kryklyvyy returned to competition with new partner Elena Khvorova after splitting with Karina, Joanna and Michael’s position has been threatened as the two couples and former dance partners fight for the position as ‘best of the rest’ behind the dominant Bryan and Carmen. Michael and Joanna have both beaten and lost to Slavik and Elena this year and with Slavik considered the better male and Joanna the better female, this tussle at the top is set to continue.
An article written in 2007 by dancingfan100 on abc forum
In 2008 they won Blackpool Dance Festival and became WDC World Professional Latin Champions at Insbruck, Austria.
They started the year of 2009 by winning UK Championship at Bournemouth, England, and then continued to be on the top in all important competitions. They were again crowned the world champions in November at Blackpool.
And their successful carrer continue ….
Read more about their life and feelings as dancesport lovers and be with them on the official site www.malitowskileunnis.com and their facebook page http://www.facebook.com/MichaelMalitowski.JoannaLeunis.OfficialPage