Irina is a ballroom dancer and an auditor
Irina Morozova started dancing at the age of 7. By the age of 16, she was one of the principals of the prominent semi-professional contemporary company in Ufa, Russia. Irina Morozova started ballroom dancing competitively with Damian Pataluna in 2009. Together, Damian and Irina hold 5 Amateur National titles and 2 Star Quality Awards from the Dancing with the Stars judges Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli. In 2016, Irina introduced American smooth and blues dancing at Hot Winter in Siberia international dance festival in Russia, where she taught and performed. Irina holds a BS in Political Science with a minor in Philosophy and a Post Baccalaureate Accounting Certificate from the University of Louisville.
In this episode, John talks with Irina, an auditor at Strothman and Company who also serves as a dance partner for her own boss, Ray Strothman, who was featured in episode 158 of The Green Apple Podcast. Irina tells us how she became a professional ballroom dancer, pursuing employment in Strothman and Company, and how her experience in ballroom dancing is applied to her skills as an accountant!
• Becoming a professional ballroom dancer
• Finding Strothman and Company
• Meeting Ray Strothman
• Why she felt the need not to initially share her passion for ballroom dancing in the workplace
• What makes the culture at Strothman and Company special
• How her skills in dancing apply to her skills as an accountant
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Hello. This is John Garrett. Welcome to Episode 181 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday I interview a professional who just like me is known for a passion or an interest outside of work. Just by doing those passions and interest and sharing them with others in the office, it makes them stand out like a green apple in a boring red apple world. They’re basically shattering the stereotype because I’m always so fascinated how we usually try to stand out with our technical expertise, memorizing all the tax law or knowing everything there is to know technically in our profession. But I’m here to shine a light each week on someone who understands that expertise isn’t always earned in those college degrees and certifications. Sometimes, it’s experiences from your passions outside of work that’ll make you better at your job, but only if you share them.
Really quickly, I’m doing some research. It’s a super short one-minute anonymous survey about corporate culture and how the green apple message might apply in your world. If you’ve got just 60 seconds, please head to greenapplepodcast.com. Click the big green button there. Answer a few quick questions. Again, it’s totally anonymous. I really appreciate the help. Thanks so much to everyone for subscribing to the show so you don’t miss any of the cool guests like this week’s Irina Morozova. She’s an advanced staff auditor with Strothman and Company in Louisville, Kentucky. Irina, I’m so excited to have you on the Green Apple Podcast.
Irina: I’m very excited to be here as well.
John: Yeah. I know that we had talked to Ray about his dancing. You are the partner in this most recent charity fundraiser. I was like, “Well, we can’t let Ray have all the attention.” So I appreciate you being on with me. That’s awesome. We start out with the rapid-fire questions, so just the first thing that pops to mind. This is going to be a lot of fun. I’ll start it out with an easy one, I think. Do you have a favorite color?
Irina: Color? Gray.
John: Gray. Okay.
Irina: Good enough for Gandalf, it’s good enough for me, right?
John: That’s awesome. That’s so perfect. How about a least favorite color?
Irina: Oh, actually about that, I’m going to steal this answer from my mentor at Strothman and Company. We were doing the rapid-fire questions earlier today because I needed some preparation. I asked him the question. He said that his least favorite color is white because it’s an absence of color. I reworded it and I think that it epitomizes something absolute or perfect. Basically, I don’t know. When you think that you were at this point, either professionally or dance wise, when you’re at a perfect spot, you simply stop growing.
John: Wow. No, that’s really profound. That’s the deepest answer I’ve ever gotten for a color question. That’s perfect. I love it. Do you prefer more hot or cold?
Irina: Definitely cold.
John: Definitely cold. All right. All right. How about when it comes to puzzles, Sudoku, or crossword?
Irina: I don’t do — neither.
John: Neither. Okay. All right. How about when on an airplane, more window or aisle seat?
Irina: Definitely window, a lot more privacy.
John: Oh, okay. Yeah. I guess that’s a good point. That’s a good point. How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Irina: My favorite actor should be, I think, Tilda Swinton. She’s the true chameleon, and she’s very pretty.
John: Right. Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. How about more pens or pencils?
Irina: Definitely pens. It’s more formal. You can’t basically erase it and change it.
John: Right. Yeah. That’s permanent. How about would you say more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Irina: Definitely Star Wars. I think I’m going to dress up like Chewbacca.
John: Nice. That’s a stretch for you to be Chewbacca.
Irina: This year, I was Mr. Fester and we won.
John: Oh, wow. Okay. Okay. Nice. Yeah. You really go into this. That’s impressive. How about when it comes to computers, more of a PC or a Mac?
Irina: Well, I have Apple phone, but at Strothman and Company, we use PCs.
John: Right, a little bit of both, a little bit of both. How about do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
Irina: I’m not into sweets, but raspberry from Graeter’s is definitely my go-to.
John: Yeah, good call. Good call. And Graeter’s, oh, man, I miss them. Yeah, good call. How about would you say more diamonds or pearls?
Irina: I actually wear both.
John: Okay. Pearls with diamonds in the middle of them.
Irina: There we go.
John: Yeah. I know there’s some good pizza places. How about do you have favorite toppings on the pizza?
John: Pepperoni? Yeah, absolutely. There you go. All right. How about when it comes to financials, more Balance Sheet or Income Statement?
Irina: I’d say Balance Sheet because it’s at a point of time. It’s a snapshot over financial health. So I’d say balance sheet.
John: Okay. I like it. I like it. Now, this is an important one. When it comes to a toilet paper roll, over or under?
Irina: Over, definitely over.
John: All right. You’re laughing like, “Is this even a question?” That’s crazy. Okay. Three more, three more. Do you have a favorite number?
Irina: Number one.
Irina: When we went for a training for ballroom dancing, second is the first loser.
John: Right. There you go. Okay. How about do you have a favorite adult beverage?
Irina: Bourbon, definitely, basically.
John: Bourbon? There you go. You’re in the right city for that. That’s for sure. The last one, last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Irina: I think the abundance of sequin dresses.
John: Right. Nice. I love it. Which naturally comes from, I assume, a lot of your dancing. You’re not just wearing those on a regular Thursday, I would assume.
Irina: Well, sometimes you have to spice it up at clients.
John: There you go. I like it. Nice. Yeah. You get ready to wear a sequin cummerbund. Then you come in in that. They’re going to be like, “What’s going on?” No, but that’s so cool though. I love — I know that there’s a lot more of a backstory to your dancing. How did you get into that? Is it ever since you were a little girl?
Irina: Mm-hmm. I started dancing at the age of seven back in Russia. I started with ballroom dancing, surprise, surprise. But I wasn’t particularly good at it. My mother switched me to contemporary dance at about ten. Soon after, by the age of 16, I was one of the principals of the prominent semiprofessional contemporary company in Ufa, Russia.
John: Wow. Yeah. That’s really cool. Congratulations. I mean that’s a lot of work. To get there is — I mean, golly. Yeah. I mean that’s really, really impressive. How often would you practice?
Irina: At that age, at that time, probably seven days a week. I basically went to school and dance. I didn’t have any social life whatsoever.
John: Oh, wow. Okay. All right. Gosh. Yeah, but I mean it paid off. I mean you’re dancing with Ray in a charity event, so there’s that. No, but I mean this is so impressive. I mean that’s really cool. Are there any big recitals or anything that comes to mind as being really rewarding and something that you were really proud of?
Irina: Well, we won five National Nine Dance Amateur Championships. The last one and the first one, I think those were the most rewarding ones because the last one in 2017, we actually lost the year prior to that and we regained the championship. But it was huge. I mean we were happy. It was a great moment.
John: That’s great. So that was here in the US?
Irina: Yes, it was here in the US in Baltimore. Our first championship in 2010, we won in LA. The last one was in Baltimore.
John: That’s really cool. So you moved from Russia when you were young?
Irina: Yes, young, 16 years old. Wait, I lied. It wasn’t 16. It was 17.
John: Okay. Right. I’m not going to bust you on it. That’s fair. We’ll let you go on a rounding, 16 and a half, close enough. So you came to the US and then you just kept dancing when you got here?
Irina: Yeah. Well, I did a couple of shows with Moving Collective, which is a contemporary company here in Louisville. Then I switched to social dancing. I did a lot of salsa, merengue, bachata. It’s basically Latin Club that you do late at night at pubs. That’s where I met my dance partner, Damian Pataluna. We started dancing together basically ten years ago. He proposed that I‘m going to be his ballroom partner. I declined right away. But then he was convincing and we had our first competition in August of 2009. In March of 2010, we won our first national championship.
John: That is awesome. Wow. Yeah. It’s good thing you listened to him. He’s right. That’s really fantastic, really fantastic. Because I mean those are dancers from all over the US. I mean I know that that’s super obvious to you, but for the listeners and for me, I’m just trying to process how intense that is. That’s great. How did the dancing — because I know you talk about it at work. Is it something that you talked about right away, like part of the interview process or was it something that slowly got out over time?
Irina: Actually, at the interview, we did not talk about dancing at all because I was interviewed by a partner who wasn’t into dancing. My career at Strothman, it’s just crazy, right? So I’m a not conventional student because being from Russia, we came in. I was 17. I didn’t speak any English. So I had to build up on that and then go through English as a Second Language Program and basically only then I was able to start going to college. That’s why by the age of 26, that was where I was.
I was older. I already had quite a bit of a background in dancing. When I was going through the interview process through school, I found this firm. I went on a dozen interviews, maybe 15, even 16, bunch of interviews. I was interviewed by one of the Assurance partners in Strothman and Company. I completely — I don’t know. I was enamored. I decided that this is the firm I’m going to work for. I didn’t know anything about Ray. I had no idea he was a dancer. I didn’t know who the founder of the company was. So I didn’t get hired by Strothman first time around because it was too far from a graduation. For some reason, at the time, I was shopping around for a fulltime position only. So next year, I came in guns blazing, trying to.
John: Right. Right.
Irina: They basically had no choice but to hire.
John: Yeah. It was probably because you wore a sequined dress, cha-cha-cha. No, I’m kidding.
Irina: In between those two recruitment processes, I met Ray. He was dancing with some other professional at Dancing with the Stars, with Kimberly Foster. I already knew that he’s Strothman from Strothman and Company. I build up a courage to come up to him, introduce myself and say, “Hey, I chose your firm. Please pick me.”
John: Yeah. Right, right, right.
Irina: Then we had a closing party. He didn’t show up because he had other things to do. So I was heartbroken. But then again, they hired me at the end, so I’m quite happy.
John: Yeah. So when you started there, did you talk to people about your dance history or how did that come out?
Irina: How was it? Oh, a lot of people were asking me what was I doing in the evenings. I practice five days a week. So that’s how it came out. I think one of the senior managers, we were discussing something. He was asking me what was I doing on a Saturday or the next day. I said, “I’m going to visit my seamstress in Cincinnati.” That’s just not something that people do, I guess.
John: Right. Right. And pick up some Graeter’s while on there too. That’s funny. They’re like, “Seamstress, what?” Yeah. Then it comes out. I’m always fascinated with this because I was the same way where I had my comedy, but yet, I didn’t necessarily want to let that be known. I just felt that people would judge me or what have you. What was the thought process behind maybe not telling people about the dance right away?
Irina: Well, I always thought that I am a much more accomplished dancer than I am an accountant. So I wanted to impress people with my skill as an auditor rather than my dance experiences.
John: No, that’s very fair. That makes complete sense. That’s interesting because normally, for most people, it’s the other way around. Well, at least in my accounting, I have a degree and certifications and all that. But your dance, you have way more experience than accounting for sure. So then, how did it come about where it’s like Ray is like, “You and I should do this.”
Irina: Well, Ray decided to partake in the Hosparus dance event because we have one of our offices in Southern Indiana. I was one of the pros. We just thought that it would be incredible if we just go guns blazing with team Strothman as a brand. So we did exactly that. It was a very tasteful, great performance that I choreographed for us. He did incredible. It was just timeless and classic. I really, really enjoyed working with him.
John: That’s awesome. That’s really cool. I guess the neat thing is this had you not had the dance, then I would imagine your relationship with Ray would be a little bit different.
Irina: Yeah. I would say yes, absolutely different. Yes. So that certain aspect, that brought us closer together. Ray was an incredible leader. He knows everybody by the first name. He knows their families. That’s why I chose the company I needed to work for. After my internship, that’s why I really, really — I was so eager to stay they couldn’t get rid of me.
John: Right. Are you getting a paycheck, Irina? I’m a little nervous.
Irina: I’d probably just work free, but no, not really.
John: Right. No, no. I know. I know. But that’s so encouraging to hear that that’s how Ray is. Do you feel like there are things that Strothman and Co does that make that culture be so special? Is there anything in particular that they do besides Ray taking time to actually get to know everybody?
Irina: We have an incredible Mentor Programs here in Strothman. This is just so special. First of all, in a year and a half, in Assurance Department, I not only gained a lot of experience, but I think I also feel true friendships with people, which is incredibly important in Assurance because we travel together and we spend abundance of time together. If you don’t like the team you’re working with or managers or seniors you’re working for, it makes a dreadful experience. Not one day here I felt like it was the environment where I wouldn’t want to go extra and go beyond.
John: Yeah. No, that’s really fantastic. The Mentor Program, how does it go? Is it somebody that’s been there for a couple of years gets the new hire, gets partnered with a new hire?
Irina: Well, new hire gets a coach and a buddy. A buddy is a person whom you go to in the first, probably, five weeks or so when you have regular small little questions. The buddy is usually at the same level as you, maybe a year older. By old, I mean as far as positions are concerned. My coach is a senior manager. She’s Meaghan Reynolds. She’s incredible. She’s actually my age, so I wish I would be this accomplished in accounting as she is right now. I’m just lucky to have her.
John: No, that’s great. But she’s jealous to all your sequin dresses, so I think you’re even.
Irina: I’d say I doubt she cares about sequin dresses.
John: Fair enough. No, but that’s fantastic though how you have people to go to right away from the very beginning so you don’t feel alone and you don’t feel lost. That’s really fantastic. I guess when I talk to people, they seem to think that my passion or my interest has nothing to do with accounting, which, clearly, ballroom dancing on paper doesn’t have anything to do with accounting. But it sounds like it’s benefited your career in that there’s aspects of it that you’re able to bring to work. Do you feel like there’s a skillset that you developed from all of your years of dance that make you better at being an accountant?
Irina: Oh, absolutely. I mean in any career, I think ballroom dance or any kind of sport, — because actually, ballroom dancing is a sport — it’s perseverance. A lot of times in ballroom dancing, there’s a lot of politics because it’s a sport of aesthetics. So as far as – yes, technique plays a big role in it. But top six in the country, yes, technique is not lacking by all means. A lot of other things come into play such as who are your coaches and what’s going on or what type of dress you’re wearing and how you’re behaving outside of the dance floor, charisma, other things. So you have to be a true diplomat in order to navigate all this, not just on the floor. Give it your all and do the best you can, but also navigate the politics, so to speak. So with that, that definitely helps in a professional atmosphere. Second of all, I think when there are failures, you shouldn’t concentrate on them. You just keep going forward in doing your best because sports, we never give up or in ballroom dancing, there is no tears. There’s just sequined dresses.
John: Right. No, but I think that’s so fantastic. I really love how you pointed that out that you have to be a true diplomat because once you’re in the top six in the country, then obviously, technical skills isn’t going to make you stand out. I think that that’s the same when it comes to accountants and lawyers and consultants and I mean especially in the CPA profession that everyone’s got that same degree and that same CPA designation. Getting that doesn’t necessarily make you stand out. But having something outside of work like, obviously, your ballroom dancing clearly makes you stand out from everybody else. We all have our own things that we stand out with. I think it’s cool that you’re willing to share that and open up about it. That’s exciting to hear just you and the founding partner, be able to partner together for a charity dance. It’s really fantastic. So since I started out the episode with grilling you with my rapid-fire questions, it’s only fair that I turn the tables and offer it to you to rapid-fire question me.
Irina: Okay. Great. If you were a dance, which dance would you be?
John: If I was a dance? Here we go. Does the robot count? Does the robot — only because that’s something that I can probably actually do. I’m not quite salsa. I mean that’s a little spicy.
Irina: I don’t know. Maybe merengue’s festive and moving.
John: Okay. Yeah. I’ll go with that. That’s a very nice compliment. I appreciate it.
Irina: Yeah. But that’s right. That’s cool. How about a song, like if it was the soundtrack of your life?
John: Oh, boy, boy. Oh, man, this is deep. This is deep.
Irina: It doesn’t have to be of your life. It can be of today.
John: Yeah. No, I mean maybe like Eye of the Tiger. How about that one?
Irina: Ooh, yes.
John: Yeah. You’re down for the count, but then you bounce back up and keep on going.
John: Was that a good answer?
John: Whew, I pulled that one out of nowhere. All right. I feel like I’m in an interview where it’s, “What tree would you be if…” I was like, “Well, I don’t know.” These are good though. These are good. Do you have one more?
Irina: Yes. What’s your favorite movie?
John: Oh, favorite movie. Hands down, it’s going to be Dumb and Dumber. That’s my favorite movie, Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels, hilarious.
Irina: Why? I want to know why.
John: Why? Because it’s hilarious. It’s always funny to me. The writing is really good. The acting is hilarious. It always makes me laugh. So that’s good. That and — I mean the movie Rudy is also another movie that I love. But that’s going to make me cry. So it depends on which I feel like doing, which typically, it’s laugh, so Dumb and Dumber.
Irina: That’s awesome.
John: Yeah. All right. Thank you so much, Irina, for taking time to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast. This was so fantastic.
Irina: Oh, thank you.
John: That was so fantastic. It really was. If you like to see some pictures of Irina dancing and maybe connect with her on social media, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big green button there. Do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. It’ll help for the book that I’m releasing very soon. Thanks again for subscribing to the show and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread which is to go out and be a green apple.