The Ball at SFO 2021

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The Sound of Silence!
MC, Gary McDonald, made the unusual choice to remain silent during the final of the Pro Latin at the SFO on Saturday night.

Why was this? Every now and then the competitors and audience are so perfectly in tune, that “words just get in the way!” That was what happened with the Open Pro Latin here at the SFO. Perhaps it was the stellar dancing on display, or maybe the audience is especially starved for live competition after more than a year of Zoom and YouTube?

The winners, clearly, were Troels Bager & Ina Jeliazkova, the heirs apparent to the US Title. Troels and Ina lost only 1 first place mark (in cha cha), out of a possible 75. Their dancing was stylish and spot on when it came to musical interpretation. A shout out here to music director, Brent Mills, who played an eclectic mix of modern and more traditional Latin music for this event. Similarly to the winners, the runners-up, Mykhailo Bilopukhov & Anastasiia Shchypilina had almost all 2nd placements from the judges and gave their usual relaxed and personality-plus performance. Sasha Altukhov & Cheyenne Murillo, who had a huge fan base in the audience, took 3rd with 3,4,3,3,3. They had the majority of “3rd or better” scores in rumba and jive. The other 3 dances were very closely scored with the 4th place couple, Lukas Alisauskas & Simona Alisauskas, 4,3,4,4,4. We thought this was a very strong performance from Lukas & Simona. There was quite a tussle for 5th place, but it fell to Oleksandr Kamniev & Kateryna Kamnieva 5,5,6,5,6 over Andriy Besyedin & Amanda Besyedin 6,6,5,6,5.

The other Open Pro event of the night was the Smooth. Current (2019) US Champions, Nick Cheremukhin & Viktorija had an easy time of it winning all dances and losing a total of only 3 first places. Oleksiy Pigotskyy & Anastasiia Zhuchenko were strong in 2nd place, taking 2nd in all dances with the majority of “2nd or better” scores in all dances. Tykhon Zhyvkov & Yana Zhyvkov were 3rd in all dances and we thought they were greatly improved since the 2019 season. Igor Dogoter & Natalia Gorshkova were 4th in all. A new couple to us, Anton Silantev & Olga Akopova, were 5th in all and closing this final were Drew Miller & Krista Humphrey.

“What a difference a day makes,” could certainly be the title for the U/21 Latin. Many of the same couples competed as in the Open Amateur the night before, but the result could not have been more different. The winners in all dances were Dave Firestein & Kennedy Eaton. They had the majority of 1st places in all dances, but as was the way with this final, they also had 7th placements in all dances as well. Dave & Kennedy had placed 6th the night before. Arsen Havryshchuk & Stella Zilberberg placed 2nd with 3,3,2,2,4. This couple had not competed in the Open, so were a new addition. They did not receive any first places but had the full spectrum of 2nd to 7th placements in all dances. Nikita Grygorchuk & Naomi Veronica Spektor were 3rd 4,4,3,3,2 and were, we’re sure, disappointed with this result as they had been 3rd in the Open the night before. We had considered them a strong challenger. Timur Valiev & Michelle Itkin were 4th 2,5,4,5,3. You can see even by the final placements that the judges had little consensus on this final. Oleksiy Bonkovskyy & Kiersten Lujan were 5th 6,2,5,4,6. Another couple who must have surprised with their placement was Carter Williams & Rylee Arnold who were 6th 5,6,6,6,5, as they had placed 5th in the Open, ahead of the winners of this division. Closing this final were Matthew Bezzant & Hailey Bills and although they were 7th in all dances, they had scores all the way up to 2nd from the judges.

Nickolas Bleykhman & Alissa Joly were delighted with their win in the Fordney Foundation PT/JR Ballroom. They scored 1,1,1,2,2. They have a beautiful calm demeanor in this style. The runners-up, 2,2,2,1,1, were Daniel Novikov & Mishella Vishnevskiy. 3rd were Anthony Mattos & Sasha Markova 3,4,3,3,4; 4th Nathan Zaytsev & Alice Bankova 4,3,4,4,3; 5th Caleb Judd & Kyra Christensen 5,5,5,5,5; 6th Samuel Kolovyansky & Alexis Kolovyansky 6,6,6,6,6.

The Open Amateur Ballroom unfortunately brought only 3 entries. Easy winners, and really in a class by themselves, were Angelo Gaetano & Clarissa Morelli who won all dances. Jaren Hopkin & Vashti Smith were 2nd in all and Jason Brooks & Margaret George were 3rd in all.

3 couples entered the Pro RS Rhythm and Roman Zotov & Anna Zotova won all dances. In the RS Ballroom there were 5 couples and the winners were Mirko Spano & Pamela Romano.

There were some really strong Youth and Junior divisions run Saturday afternoon and many of the highest placed kids were invited to perform honor dances on Saturday night.

It was great to see the SFO team recognize the outstanding service to ballroom dancing of Gitte Svendsen.  As well as being a US finalist (runner-up) in the Pro Ballroom division, Gitte is still the organizer of one of the longest running events in the USA, The California Star Ball, and an owner of the iconic Westmor Studio in Los Angeles.

Running any competition during this pandemic time is a challenge and offers unique risks for the organizers. We want to offer our congratulations to Stephan, Denise & Colin for their attention to safety and expediency in these troubling conditions. Well done guys!

The Ball is Back!
The Ball at San Francisco Open is on and running for 2021.

That’s right, we’re all dancing live at a competition in California again. Stephan & Denise Krauel and Colin James, the organizers of SFO decided to push ahead with their event this year at it’s traditional home, the Marriott Waterfront at San Francisco Airport, and last night was a vindication of their decision.

With 3 rounds in the Junior Grand Slam and 2 rounds in the Amateur Latin and Pro Ballroom and a 7-coupe final in the Pro Rhythm, this was certainly the best dancing we personally have seen since the pandemic closed down the competition world.

Let’s begin with the Amateur Latin which was a stellar event bringing together some of the current best contenders from the east and west coasts. The win went to the east as Max Firestein & Nicole Renee won all 5 dances. But the judges’ opinions were certainly mixed and indeed, we found all the couples extremely closely matched. Max & Nicole had the majority of 1st placements in cha, paso and jive with jive easily their best marked dance. 2nd and 3rd spots went to couples from Arizona. Daniil Tymoshenko & Vladyslava Vursalova were 2nd in all dances and stole the most firsts from the winners with 5 of the possible 15 in both samba and rumba. This is a very attractive couple and were new to us here at Dance Beat. Nikita Grygorchuk & Naomi Veronica Spektor were 3rd placing 4,3,3,3,3. They also picked up some 1st placements and were closest to the runners up in rumba and jive as both dances were decided my majorities of “3rd or better.” In fact the rumba was very closely scored all the way down to 6th spot. Bumchin Tegshjargal & Michelle Klets were 4th, 3,4,4,4,4 and were perhaps a little disappointed in this position. They certainly had some judges marking them to win. Perhaps their style is a little different to the the others in this final, but there was certainly a case for them to be made. 5th and 6th positions were decided 3 dances to 2 with the decision going to Carter Williams & Rylee Arnold 6,6,5,5,5 over Dave Firestein & Kennedy Eaton 5,5,6,6,6. We thought Carter & Rylee danced a particularly good final, much better than their semifinal round. Dave & Kennedy were the youngest couple to make the final but were certainly always in play with some judges awarding them 2nd and 3rd placements. It’s always great to see the divergence of judges’ opinions as it shows all the couples were worthy contestants.

In the Open Pro Ballroom it was not close, at least not for first place. Iaroslav Bieliei & Liliia Bieliei won all dances and lost a total of only 5 first places. The battle really began for the runner-up spot and it went tonight to Gianni Caliandro & Arianna Esposito who were 2nd in four dances and 3rd in QS. They did not, however, have a majority of “2nd or better” scores in any dance. They are an explosive couple on the floor, always very visible, and their style contrasted very strongly with the more sedate approach of most of the other couples’ in the final. With 3,3,3,3,5 Serhiy Averkov & Olena Barna secured 3rd place with a very stylish performance overall, although they did appear to tire in the QS. Radu Sterban & Xenia Cletova, on the other hand, saved their best for last, taking 2nd in QS and 4th in the other dances. Mirko Spano & Pamela Romano placed 5th with 6,5,5,6,4. They were closest in style to their Italian compatriots, Gianni & Arianna with tango and QS their best dances in our opinion. Marek Klepadlo & Zhiting Yang closed this final with 5,6,6,5,6. We saw much improvement in this couple and indeed, they like all of the couples in this closely fought final, had individual scores up to 2nd place from the judges.

The Open Pro Rhythm fell to a 7-couple final following some deletions and was a “2-horse” race for the winning post between 2 of the nation’s best who, between them, took all of the judges’ 1st place marks. The clear winners, however, were Danas Jaksevicius & Yuki Haraguchi who won all dances with the majority of 1st places. Dmitry Nikishkin & Olena Shvets-Nikishkin were 2nd in all dances. The closest score came in mambo that the winners took by 7 first places to 6. There was also a clear 3rd place as Ryan Lockhart & Danelle Newman had the majority of 3rd places in all dances. The remaining 3 places were much closer. Roman Zotov & Anna Zotova placed 4th in all dances but the judges’ marks were quite diverse on all of the 4th 5th and 6th placements. Antonio Nunez & Oxana Kashkina were 5th 5,6,5,5,5 but were very close to 4th in mambo and John Bernal & Bailey Carrillo were 6th 6,5,6,6,6 but similarly they were close to 5th in bolero. Stephen Rallison & Brodie Wray Rallison were 7th in all dances.

The largest event of the night was the Pre-Teen/Junior Fordney Foundation Grand Slam that began with a quarter-final round of some of the best young dancers in the country. It is interesting to note that we have not seen most of these youngsters for over a year and many of them had grown almost unrecognizably!! Daniel Novikov & Mishella Vishnevskiy were the clear winners, taking all dances with a majority of 1st places. Nathan Zaytsev & Alice Bankova were 2nd in all dances and had the majority of “2nd or better” in all dances except rumba. The couple pushing them in rumba, Nickolas Bleykhman & Alissa Joly were 3rd in all dances. All the 4’s went to Robby Milstead & Emily Tatoosi; 5th in all dances, Connor Wayment & Kamri Peterson; 6th in all dances Dallin Keck & Mya Tuaileva. What a great event this was, all the way from round one!

There were also 2 Pro RS events held last night. The larger was the Smooth and the result was very close. With 1,1,2,2, Igor Dogoter & Natalia Gorshkova were the winners in a Rule 11 tiebreak over the new partnership of Stefan Badea & Whitney Myers with 2,2,1,1. Drew Miller & Krista Humphrey were 3 in all dances; 4th Antonio Nunez & Oxana Kashkina 4,5,4,4; 5th Jason Rivers & Jennifer Marie Davis 5,4,6,6; 6th Nikolay Kralev & Julianne Daniells 6,6,5,5.

Only 3 couples entered the RS Latin and ndriy Besyedin & Amanda Besyedin were the winners in all dances. 2nd in all were Casey Treu & Kayci Treu and 3rd were Joseph Hopwood & Alexandra Hopwood.

Pro-Am entries are a little down from other years at SFO, but California studios were hard hit by the pandemic and are only now beginning to reopen.

Look out for more from tonight’s competition here on Dance Beat soon and more detailed reviews from our experts in the coming weeks!

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