The excellent weekend of dance in San Jose, CA had its final evening last night and as on every other night, it packed the ballroom with fans and dancers form around California and the USA. Smooth was not the only excellent competition of the evening or even of the week we saw perhaps one of the best pro/am leaders in the Smooth division and guess what, it was not a man, this proves that we can all lead and follow and that this new gender neutral maneuver by our council might be a great thing for women in general in our industry. We’ll explain later.
There is lots to say about the City Lights Open, but let’s begin with the event just mentioned the Open Professional Smooth, a signature event last night. Two US finalists competed for top prize, our current US Smooth Champions Nick Cheremukhin & Viktorija and Yegor Novikov & Alexandra Smirnova. The two couples are very different in their skill but their work was well received by the usually difficult California audience as well as by the panel of adjudicators. Nick & Viktoria danced beautifully perhaps one of the best performance we have ever seen and they were fully rewarded by winning all dances with a majority of firsts. They lost one first in the waltz to Yegor & Alexandra, two firsts in the tango, three in the foxtrot and three in the Viennese Waltz, and we can honestly say that when it came to these two couples last night the choice was in the eye of the beholder. There was a little inconsistency with the judges that awarded the firsts to Yegor & Alexandra overall, but the one that gave a majority in all dances was Valentina Kostenko who awarded them all firsts with the exception of the tango, this she awarded to the winners.
Third in all dances was awarded to Slava Kostianets & Valeria Kostianets, who in our opinion started a little slowly but half way into their waltz turned it all on and captured this third place easily. The great surprise was the excellent comeback of Mariusz Zakrzewsti & Lynnsay Ray who placed fourth in all dances and last year had a bad spell on results and were literally struggling to stay relevant in the scene. On last night’s performance they were not afraid and were very challenging, their choreography seems to be part of their new strategy with what we think to be some very sharp maneuvers. We would have not been surprised if they have taken a few thirds within this final, but we think consistency of work was their “achilles” heal. In the waltz for example - to begin with, at first class performance, we thought they might even take this dance, but as the seconds went on their work got a little shaky and we could see why the brother and sister team had a solid third placement.
Fifth went to Ilia Sydorenko & Tetyana Kuts, a couple that has plenty of power, perhaps a little too much at times, turning it into a match of push and shove. There is lots of potential with this couple, but in our opinion they just need to channel that energy wisely, you can see by the marks some judges had a few doubts about them 5,5,6,5. For us the couple that could have easily been in fifth place but placed sixth overall was Igor Dogoter & Natalia Gorshkova 6,6,5,6, perhaps the work might just not be original and a little blasé but when it came to quality it hit the mark for us.
The Professional Latin was also a hit last night and here Francesco & Sabrina Bertini showed us as usual their free and energetic Latin performance, winning the hearts of the people and the judges who awarded them almost a perfect performance in every dance; Francesco & Sabrina only lost one mark in every dance out of 13 judges. The runners up in every dance were Roman Italyankin & Alexandra Bokova who took seconds in every dance, and who from our perspective gave an excellent performance, in particularly Alexandra. Third in all dances went to Lukas & Simona Alisauskas. This couple for us has lots of potential Simona in particular. However, some of their work is hard to understand especially Lukas, who can do some very abstract maneuvers on the verge of “weird,” turning perhaps some of the judges off, as well as some audience.
From here down we have to say the couples got less productive and their performances had less value to the eye. Joseph & Alexandra Hopwood were perhaps the best of the group placing fourth in all dances, but their performance lacked the isolation and quality to challenge the top three just mentioned. Fifth overall but not in all dances went to Mattia Bielli & Taisiia Huges 5,5,6,5,5. We must mention that at the after party some of the judges were a little perturbed by the color of his lipstick (Pink), some thought it brought too much attention to the face and not enough to the dancing. Sixth were August Jensen & Nanette Scheetz 6,6,5,6,6, and seventh went to Zholt Katona & Timea Potys and this was in all dances.
In the Professional Rhythm all dances went to Dmitry & Olena Nikishkin, and they did manage to get the majority of firsts in all dances. However, it was interesting to see that a minority of the judges awarded Andrew Escolme & Amy Baker who placed second in all dances a number of first place marks, 4 in the cha cha, 1 in the rumba, 4 in the swing, 2 in the bolero and 4 in the mambo. On this night we found Dmitry & Olena very consistent in their work, Andrew and Amy were excellent at times but not in all dances or at all times, the bolero was for us their best dance even though from the marks they did not capture as many firsts.
Ryan Lockhart & Danelle Newman who placed third in all dances and who were very impressive in their opening dance-on mambo fizzled out a bit and only managed to get thirds and seconds in their column. Fourth in all went to Aaron Pierce & Ksenia Stavrica, fifth were John Bernal & Bailey Carrillo and sixth were Roman Zotov & Anna Zotova.
The Professional Ballroom also had a wonderful surprise and that was the inclusion of Andres & Veronika End who won all dances and three of them with perfect scores from all judges. This professional ballroom competition was only a five-couple final, but the dancing was also very entertaining. It was great for us all to see a very strong come back for Igor Coloc & Roxanne Milotti to the scene after about a three-year hiatus. For us their performance was very fresh and motivating and they took second with these marks 2,2,3,3,2. Third overall was awarded to Slava Kostianets & Valeria Kostianets 3,3,2,2,3, fourth went to Mattia Bielli & Tasiia Huges and this was in all dances leaving fifth to Joseph Nuget & Kyla Liu.
The professional Cabaret was a three couple affair and left us all perhaps wanting more. The winners were Roman Italyankin & Alexandra Bokova who did a rumba with some lift work in it. Second went to Joseph Nuget & Kyla Liu who did a “Men In Black” routine. And third went to Robbie Cromwell & Ruth Trimmer.
As we mentioned, before the lift of the mandate or “embargo” of man only to lead and woman must only follow, has allowed some ladies to step on to the floor and compete with some of their women students, giving them and everyone involved a chance to make a living regardless of their gender. The ballroom and in particularly the pro/am world where all professionals make their living had been closed to women leading but now we start to see many of them come out to compete and it is a refreshing sight and here in the City Light Open it was no different. I was very impressed with a young lady by the name of Elizabeth Thomson who was a student and led “Vanessa” her teacher in a closed bronze level category to win the Bronze Closed Scholarship. What impressed us and many of the judges present was the quality of lead and basic work that this women produced. The performance was just not technically right but very musical for this level of dancing, her upper body posture challenged not just her male opponent in this category, but also some of the teachers we see at many events. We want to tip our hat to Elizabeth for a terrific performance of a basic level of dancing in the leading role. We must add that Elisabeth won her “bronze” Smooth scholarship with perfect scores from the judges.
Having just seen this wonderful basic level lady leader, I spoke to a lady who told me how wonderful this would be for everyone including children who at times refuse to dance with the opposite gender and who at times have a hard time finding partners. The lady mentioned that finding a partner for one of her young female children was hard, many of the boys want to get paid to dance with her, and if the boy is good he basically has a “Harem” and a monopoly sometimes to the point of abuse, especially if the little girls want to desperately dance and need a male partner to dance with. So see the NDCA in their wisdom have made it possible for many more people to dance and enjoy this great skill we call ballroom dance.
On this night we also got to celebrated the life of a co-organizer of City Lights, Mr. Paul Homes, who passed away suddenly last December. Anna Shahbazyan, another organizer of City Lights made a short emotional address and then asked everyone to join her on the floor for a waltz in Paul’s honor.