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US National Amateur Smooth Championship 2020

The high speed capsule, with most of the seats occupied by ballroom dancers traveling across the US to participate at the prestigious US Amateur National Championships, landed
at the Salt Lake City Airport.

The ride to the venue was smooth.

The weather outside - absolutely beautiful - with transparent layers of snow lightly covering the mountain tops under the gentle rays of sunshine.

A seemingly peaceful atmosphere - looking at which one could not even consider the chaos of decisions hovering over the organizers, Lee and Linda Wakefield, the rest of the BYU team and the NDCA representatives. With the Coronavirus news and developments, closures and cancellations happening all across the country, no one was certain what would happen.

Turbulence is an essential part of our lives, and the danger is not turbulence itself but how we act upon it and how we handle it. As the actions taken to prevent the spread of the virus were escalating, the organizers and the NDCA had to make the tough decision and do what was the right thing. So the anticipated moment came, and the announcement of the cancellation of Friday and Saturday nights was made. The ambience in the ballroom turned grey for a moment; disappointment, sadness covered the entire room. Yet everyone understood the necessity of these actions and with the help of the charismatic MC’s, the energy streaming from audience, competitors and officials alike, the enthusiasm and positivity sparked even stronger than before. The night was filled with some great competitions going as late as 2 AM with pre-teen and junior events, including the final of The US Amateur Cabaret Championships with some exceptional performances as well as the US Amateur Smooth.

When I was first asked by Dance Beat to do the write up for the Amateur Smooth, I was first skeptical. But they were quite convincing!))) For a write up, we generally list the couples who made the final, giving our concise opinion of each with a short feedback. I personally never liked that even as a competitor (neither in a form of a compliment nor a feedback) primarily because our perception of the printed words at times does not match the intention of the writer and can form incorrect preconceptions, as well as have unanticipated effects on the couple. But since I agreed, here is my version…

The Smooth started as a strong first round. The energy of the couples and audience seemed to have blended into a unity. It was as if they all were dancing not only for themselves and to show their skills, but also for those couples in the divisions who could not compete due to the cancellation. They all left their hearts on the floor, and to choose the finalists, was not as easy of a task: there were a few couples in the semifinal who could have also been in the final. But as a judge, we could only recall six.

Despite my love and appreciation of all styles of dance, my favoritism and bias towards this style is perhaps self-explanatory in many ways. I love watching the development of American Smooth, how far it has come and where it’s going; seeing the trajectory of growth and progression, makes it even more exciting to watch, yet harder to judge. Every couple on that floor had something unique to display. If compared with art, American Smooth is like the cultivation of multiple styles under one umbrella to me: Impressionist, Cubist, Surrealistic, Classical, etc. It has the presence of clear technique and skill, yet it’s interpretations can vary from artist to artist to such a degree that makes it easy to distinguish the identity of the artist from Rafael to Degas, Van Gogh to Picasso or Dali… The interpretation of the style and each dance by the couple and its perception by the viewer (judge or audience), gives a strong rise to our personal likes and dislikes, making choice when judging even more subjective, especially when there is more or less equality across the floor on the more objective skill domains (technique, swing, footwork, frame, etc).

All the couples in this Amateur final were beautifully groomed and well prepared: some were more balanced than others, some more dynamic, others - dramatic, yet all had a charisma and something distinctive to offer making my decision rather inconsistent from dance to dance, reflecting in my marks.

In this all Utah final, 6th place went to Nathan Stevenson and Rachel Harding. They were 4,6,6,5 (my marks - 3,2,5,5). I actually enjoyed watching this couple very much, and caught myself going back to them over and over from the first round. They were perhaps one of those couples who lacked the balance between the partners in the technical quality of dancing, especially closed work; however, in my biased opinion, they had the most genuine connection with each other, developing a sense of harmony that was overpowering the lack of technique. They had a subtle internal connection with each other, combined with Rachel’s - dramatic and Nathan’s quiet style of dancing. And if they can strengthen their technical qualities without loosing that rare subtle quality of connection which they already have, to balance the partnership, I’m sure that will improve their future performance and results.

Fifth in this final were Logan Beach and Melina Wright. They placed 5,3,4,6 (my marks were 5,6,6,6). A beautiful couple! Theirs was one of the most stable performances of the night for me: very consistent from round to round and dance to dance with lovely flow and balance in their dancing. On the given night though, especially in the final, I felt they were being rather cautious and careful compared to the rest of the couples. Consistency is great, but with too much caution on a floor that’s on fire, that quality can be overpowered by the high impact elements of performance of fellow competitors. I’d say for the future - once in the final - leave the caution and thinking out, and just dance!

Fourth overall went to Blake Fox and Nicole Ascione. They were 6,5,3,3 (my marks - 6,4,3,3). Another lovely couple, rather balanced, with more dynamic approach to their performance compared to the dramatic yet subtle style of Nathan and Rachel and the more classy flow of Logan and Melina. Nicole’s pink dress was adding softness to their zestful performance. Waltz for me was perhaps the weakest dance from them, loosing the character of the dance in an effort to execute powerful movement.

Third were Robert McShinsky and Jenna Harding. They were 3,4,5,4 (my marks - 4,5,4,4). An elegant couple! They easily catch one’s attention from the earlier rounds. They are tall and lean, with a classic look which on one hand is a strong trait for them, yet can have destructive effect as well, if caught in a wrong moment. Their height highlighted their soft and flowing movement across the floor, yet at times due to the choice of dynamics and timing, caught them in broken and unfinished lines. Choreography may be beautifully phrased to the music and ideally could look perfect; however, taking into account their height and effectiveness of movement using their strong link, might be wise to reconsider certain structures and timing to allow for the finishing of actions to further improve their performance.

The runners up in this event were Landon and Hannah Anderson. They were 2,2,1,2 (my marks - 2,3,1,1). A good looking couple, with a style separating them from earlier rounds, with their grooming to choice of outfits. My initial impression of them in the first rounds was – “my clear winners.” But as the night went on it changed a bit. Their effortless and soft style became a bit heavy in the final primarily in Waltz and Tango, as if they were working too hard, and only relaxed during the last two dances.

The overall winners of this all Utah final and the US National Amateur Champions for 2020 were Brendon Keck and Serena Keck. They were 1,1,2,1 (my marks - 1,1,2,2). Another gorgeous couple: very dynamic and exuberant, with a powerful performance from the first round, and very potent choreography suiting them well as a couple. What threw me off a bit from marking them to win in all dances was their loss of fine tuning in connection to each other by the last two dances. Overall a very strong performance and well deserved win.

It is hard to pinpoint and verbalize every aspect that played a role in my decision making during this competition. However, one of the most essential ingredients to me is the honesty of dancing and genuine connection between the partners. Understanding of dynamics, technique, etc are fundamental in mastering the skills and improving. However, communication between the partners for me remains the utmost important essence
separating Ballroom Dancing from all other forms of dance. And we as dancers and educators should be careful not to lose this skill in search of progress, high speed and efficiency, growth and development.

As Brigham Young said “Honest hearts produce honest actions." Stay true to yourself and to the art, honest in your connections, actions and expectations and let the beauty of your dance journey unfold…

Congratulations to all the competitors and the finalists! Thank you to Lee and Linda Wakefield, and the rest of the organization team for having me. It was a true honor to adjudicate at our Amateur Nationals and be part of this amazing event.

And thank you to Keith Todd and Didio Barrera for having me to do the write up.

Stay healthy and safe! And keep dancing!

  • Report by: Anna Shahbazyan
  • Photos by: Dance Beat

Open Professional Latin from NYDF 2020

A review of the final six couples.

  • Report by: Allan Tornsberg
  • Photos by: Ryan Kenner Photography

Pro/Am Latin at the Ohio Star Ball Open A & B Divisions

Continuing with some of the best Pro/Am competitions in the USA, I have to say that the World Pro/Am Dancesport Series in the Latin divisions were amazing.

  • Report by: Didio Barrera
  • Photos by: Dance Beat

Open Professional Ballroom from NYDF 2020

I’ve been asked to report on the professional ballroom championships from the NYDF 2020, a very high level dance competition that is becoming an iconic event in our Ballroom world.

  • Report by: Ieva Pauksena
  • Photos by: Ryan Kenner Photography

Open Amateur Latin from NYDF 2020

This was my first time at the New York Dance Festival and what a great experience it was.

  • Report by: Graham Oswick
  • Photos by: Ryan Kenner Photography

Open Professional Rhythm from Platinum Dancesport 2020

Platinum DanceSport Classic Championships were held in the beautiful Hilton Blue Lagoon Miami Hotel on February 6-8 2020.

  • Report by: Katya Kuznetsova
  • Photos by: Ryan Kenner Photography

A Strong “C” at the US Pro/Am Smooth Championships

Continuing with some of the best and most challenging Pro/Am Championships I saw in 2019, I must continue with the US “C” Open Championship in the Smooth division.

  • Report by: Didio Barrera
  • Photos by: Charles Ryder Photography

Platinum Dancesport Classic - Professional Open Ballroom

It was an absolute pleasure to be invited to adjudicate this year’s Platinum Dancesport organized by our very good friends, Igor and Polina Pilipenchuk!

  • Report by: Rauno Ilo
  • Photos by: Ryan Kenner Photography
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