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Martino Zanibellato

See also: Categories: Instructors, Adjudicators, Dancers, Latin, WDSF

Born: July 2, 1981
Hometown: Treviso, Italy
Current location: Aarhus, Denmark
Current status:

Martino Zanibellato is a former Professional Ballroom Dancer, specializing in the Latin division. With wife and partner, Michelle Abildtrup, Martino attained titles including 2-time WDSF World Professional Latin Champion, Danish National Professional Latin Champion, 6-time Danish National Amateur Latin Champion, and 5-time WDSF World Amateur Latin Finalist. Residing in Aarhus, Denmark, he is currently a WDSF Licensed Adjudicator and the coach of many Danish National Champions.


Martino Zanibellato was born in Treviso, Italy on July 2, 1981. He started dancing around the age of twelve years old, stating that his first experience with dancing was actually not very good. He started and then stopped within a month!

His parents were competing in the Senior age category and they decided to take him to a Social Dancing school, but Martino did not enjoy it there because he could not find the traditional Italian dance really interesting. He thought it did not suit him and that he could not express himself. However, later that same year, he went to another dance school which offered competitive dancing, and he liked it much more. There were more kids there and he liked the social aspect of it as well. At that time, he was doing many things like playing piano and karate, but decided to stop everything else and concentrate on dancing only.

Together with partner Elisa Nasato, Martino represented the country of Italy. During the years of their partnership, they achieved many high results. In 1998, they made the Final at the IDSF World Youth Latin Championships in Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia, became semi-finalists at the 1999 Under 21 Latin British Open, as well as 2-time finalists of the British Open in the Youth Latin Championship in 2000 and 2001. Their last competition together was actually the 2001 Blackpool Dance Festival. Soon afterwards, Martino found his soul mate, not only for dance, but for life.

The Partnership of a Lifetime

At one point in time, Michelle Abildtrup had split with her dancing partner and was searching for a new one. So, her teacher at the time, Lene James, and Martino's teacher, Caroline Smith, spoke to each other and thought that a try-out between the two could be a good idea. And so they went to dance together for twelve years!

It was in 2001 when Michelle traveled to Italy to try out with Martino. There was never any doubt in her mind that it would not work because there was a good chemistry between them from the very beginning. They could dance together straight away. Of course, they wanted confirmation from their teachers, so they had some lessons with Martino's teacher after which Martino then came to the German Open where the two tried again with Michelle's teacher. So, now they had a confirmation from both sides, but for Martino and Michelle it "clicked" straight away. They were both 20 years old when they started dancing together. They knew each other from dancing competitions as they were both traveling a lot already, competing around the world. However, they never really spoke to each other before.

"It was difficult not to notice Michelle because she had the whitest hair of all the dancers. (laughing)"


At this time, Martino's parents were actually pushing him a little bit to stop dancing because at that time, he had to decide if he wanted to go to a University or continue his dancing career. His mom always thought that being a lawyer was much better and a more reliable career than being a dancer. However, Martino went a little bit against what his parents felt. He had support from them anyway but it was good to show them that he made the right decision in the end.

"My first impression of Martino was that he was very passionate about what he wanted to do and very dedicated. If he felt something was not right, he would work until he made it right! I like that about him because it showed he would never give up. You know, sometimes things don't happen as you like them to happen. But from the very beginning he gave me that impression that if he wanted something, he will continue to go for it. This is something I still admire about him. He is very passionate and never gives up."


Latin Specialization

Martino and Michelle's first competition together was in January of 2002 where they made the Final at the IDSF International Open Latin in France - they placed third. In June of the same year, they became IDSF World 10 Dance Finalists, placing 5th. However, from the year of 2005, the couple decided to focus only on competing in the International Style Latin division.

"We danced Ballroom at the time for 10 Dance. We both enjoyed Ballroom, but we did not like 10 Dance that much. We felt we could not cope with doing 10 dances. Our time was limited and we were working very early in the morning to earn some money. We were finishing in the afternoon and then trying to find the time to go and practice all the 10 dances. It was very hard. This is why we stopped. Also, our results were not getting much better. Actually they were getting worse."


"We felt we could never win the 10 Dance competition and dance how we wanted to, and if we did separate styles it will be much better. We never really managed to find that balance. I think we always knew in our hearts that we prefer Latin. Then we decided to, if we wanted to make good results in Latin, we should sacrifice Ballroom, practice more Latin and become better in it. After one year, our results got much better. I think it was the right decision. Maybe we should have done it earlier. It is easier to see it now but at the time it was a very hard decision for us. We liked Ballroom, especially the lessons but..."


Nonetheless, the couple managed great results in 10 Dance. Not only did they become 2-time Danish 10 Dance Champions (2003 - 2004), but they also became the UK Open 10 Dance Champions in the Amateur division in 2004.

Working to Support a Career of Dance

"In the beginning it was not easy at all. We had a lot of support from our parents. We have been working a lot, cleaning houses, delivering newspapers early morning in the train station. When Martino came to Denmark, he did not speak any Danish. So the only job he could take was either cleaning or delivering newspapers. So we have been doing that for years."


"We have been working in a factory as well in the nights."


"We were hanging cloths and things like that. When we got 4th place in the World Championship, we received some support from our federation. There is an organization called Team Denmark and they supported us at the time. So it got a little bit easier. We still had to work but it helped a lot. For the last few years when we got better results, we also earned some money from the prizes and doing shows and teaching. So it is much better now. But we had been through very hard times."


A Career of Success As Amateurs

During the years of their competitive career together as Amateurs, Martino and Michelle became multiple-time Danish Amateur Latin Champions and finalists at all major DanceSport competitions including the European and World Championships as well as the WDSF GrandSlam competition series. They were Blackpool Dance Festival Finalists, UK Open Finalists, and Vice-Champions of the International Championships.

When asked about what is the most important in dancing, whether it be technique, music, or something else, Martino replied:

"For me, everything starts with the music. My father was a drum player, my brother is a guitarist, and I played the piano myself. We always had music in the house. This is the first reason why I dance to try to express what I hear and what feelings that piece of music evokes in me. So number one is music. Number two is partnering and connection, so it is expressing yourself and your emotion with your partner. The number three is technique which is how you can do all this. Without the right technique you will not have the possibility to express yourself though dancing the right way. So you need also to know how to do it."


Martino and Michelle placed third at the 2012 WDSF European Amateur Latin Championships in Cambrils, Spain and third at the 2012 WDSF World Amateur Latin Championships in Vienna, Austria.

Off to the Pros

In 2013, the duo decided to turn Professional. Their first competition in this new status was the UK Open Championships of 2013 where they became the Professional Rising Star Latin Champions and made the semi-final in the main Professional Latin Championship. Just a month later, they became the Vice-Champions of the 2013 WDSF PD European Latin Championships, after which they actually won each and every Professional event that they took part in. In that same year, the duo also won the WDSF Latin European and World Cups.

On October 12, 2013 Martino and Michelle took their first Professional WDSF World Latin title in Ostrava, Czech Republic. They also became WDSF PD Super Grand Prix Latin Champions in Stuttgart at the German Open Championships (GOC) as well as WDSF European Latin Champions. Their last competition of their competitive career was in December of 2014 where they secured their second Professional Latin title in their representing country of Denmark in the city of Horsens.

Life After Competition

In 2014, Martino and Michelle got married, and in 2017, their son was born. Currently, they are instructors as well as lecturers at various seminars and camps throughout the world. They are both also National Danmarks Sportdanserforbund Adjudicators as well as WDSF Licensed Adjudicators.


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