Ballroom teachers Maksym Kapitanchuk and Elena Krifuks Kapitanchuk never anticipated that their classes would provide inspiration for a documentary, let alone an Oscar-nominated one. But this Sunday—when the Academy Awards air at 5 pm Eastern on ABC—they'll be sitting in the audience as Walk Run Cha-Cha competes for the title of Best Documentary Short Subject.
Their journey to the Oscars started back in 2012, when Paul and Mille Cao walked into Los Angeles' Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio, where the Kapitanchuks are independent teachers. The Caos met as teens in their native Vietnam, though they were separated during the Vietnam War, and later reunited and married in the U.S. Now, they're in their 60s, and for the last eight years, they've been connecting more deeply through dance.
A couple years after the Caos started dancing, another student, Laura Nix, approached Elena and admitted she was a filmmaker. She wanted to make a documentary about their teaching, the studio and the melting pot of cultures there. "Maks is from Ukraine. I'm from Belarus—I grew up here in the States," says Elena. "And then all the students here are Vietnamese, they're Chinese, Taiwanese, American. She was interested in how we all still come together for the love of dance."
For the next six years, Nix would film snippets of shows and classes, and began exploring the lives of various couples training there. "We didn't think anything of it, or that it was going to be huge," says Elena. Walk Run Cha-Cha, which centers on the Caos, was eventually born, and the 2019 short doc has generated major buzz. The New York Times has called it "an epic immigration story," and a video of the team reacting to its Oscar nomination went viral after it was shared by The Academy's Twitter account.
The doc paints an endearing portrait of the couple and how they're taking the time to enjoy life in a way they couldn't dream of during the war. The Caos study the International Latin style—cha-cha, samba, rumba, paso doble and jive. "I think they train every day," says Elena. "They take, like, seven classes a week, and that's not including their group and their practice."
Paul competes with Elena, Millie competes with Maks, and Paul and Millie also perform together. Millie also recently placed in the top four for her level and age group at the Embassy Ballroom Championships for ProAm dancing.
There's a captivating scene in Walk Run Cha-Cha, in which Millie, an auditor for the state of California, and Paul, an engineer, speak about their dualities as working professionals and rigorous dancers. "Some people, they think, Oh, yeah. Good, good exercise, they say," says Millie. "But they didn't know we go compete. We go perform...If one day, my co-worker [saw] me dance, they would be shocked. They would never think I can dance the way I dance with my husband. Totally different two people."
You can stream Walk Run Cha-Cha for free below and root for it at the Oscars this weekend.