America’s Ballroom Challenge Episode 1 Review

The highly-anticipated America’s Ballroom Challenge aired on PBS this past Friday!  I lamented my sad TV antennae’s lack of PBS reception, but it turns out that the episode is available streaming online, at least for now!  It’s just under an hour.  This review will contain spoilers about placements, if you care about such things.

I had the fortune of being able to see all of the aired dances live at Ohio Star Ball, back in November.  Hmm, guess I didn’t write up a review of it then…should have, whoops.  Anyway.  The pro competition was all at night, in the Big Ballroom (I can’t remember what it’s actually called…maybe the Regency Ballroom or something similar).  There’s at least 3 different competition ballrooms in the Columbus Convention Center during OSB, with amateur, pro-am, and collegiate events going on.  People dressed up to the nines for the evening competition and we collegiate competitors were fortunately given admission to each of the nights as part of our registration.  If I recall correctly, the first night was rhythm and standard and the second night was smooth and Latin.  Or the other way around.  Doesn’t matter, I suppose.

They started with the normal four-or-five dances, whittling first rounds or quarterfinals down to 6-couple finals.  After the finals, each style’s finalists performed a short show dance.  Since this was at the end of the night and apparently most people didn’t care about them that much, a lot of the audience left, to the producers’ chagrin.  They all but begged us few stragglers to remain until the end to flesh out the audience for TV.  Also, we had to film audience reactions and clapping and such, which sometimes took multiple takes and hurt my palms.  But hey, the more important people with nicer seats left, so we could move up and get closer to the action on the dance floor.

The first ABC episode features American style smooth and rhythm.  They played brief clips of early rounds and for whatever reason aired part of the “group” Viennese Waltz first, then foxtrot.  Okay?  First of all, random order.  Second, I’d rather have shorter rounds of all four dances, if time is so limited.  I’m one of the cell phones in the audience during the VW! Totally cheesy but it looked cool.  Also, they caught a really nice moment of the Perzhus interacting with the audience and each other at the end of foxtrot.  They showed everyone briefly, and commentators Mary Murphy and Tony Meredith didn’t say anything particularly offensive, nor did they contribute a whole lot of insight.  However, having two ballroom experts is much better than having one ballroom person and one rando who doesn’t seem to know anything about anything and offers inane comments (see the last few years of the show…). They did mention that the Perzhus were current champions eventually, but didn’t say if anyone was poised to challenge them or anything like that.  Could have also mentioned how smooth originated from standard but has more freedom.

Mazen & Izabella’s showdance

After the “two” group dances, they showed the six couples’ showdances and made them sound way more important than being simply a fifth dance that would contribute to the overall placement.  Five out of six were beautiful but same-y angsty emotional contemporary-ish sorts of numbers.  Mary and Tony said they were all Viennese waltzes, but some were distinctly not – they were just kind of interpretive lyrical pieces or vaguely-foxtrots (4/4 at least, definitely not danced in 6/8 timing).  I enjoyed them all, but they did kind of mush together by the end of the night.  Nick Cherumukhin and Viktoriya’s piece was a nice surprise – I had never really watched them before.  Max and Michelle’s Viennese Waltz was refreshing with bare feet and pajama-esque costuming, but needed more polish, I think.  I loved her with Mayo Alanen, but this partnership needs more time, probably.  Loved the Tufts’ sassy, sexy foxtrot to “You Can Leave Your Hat On”.  Not what you would expect from dancers who originated from the Mormon-dominated Utah ballroom scene. Hello, suspenders.  Also no mention of how the Tufts do theatre arts as well (which is impressive in and of itself because she is much taller than most tiny theatre arts ladies) and are more seasoned in complicated lifts than the other smooth couples.

Brief break to show Mary Murphy “shopping” at all the OSB vendors.  Mostly it just made me sad that I can’t afford any of those amazing dresses and pieces of jewelry.  Show me more dancing!

Nazar & Irina’s showdance costumes. Yup.

Onto the rhythm section (the beat!).  Great representation here, in terms of the best rhythm dancers coming to compete.  Again, just showing two dances from the “group” section, out of order, with mambo and swing.  Okay.  And not paying much attention to the obvious winners, Emmanuel and Liana, until their showdance that featured a nifty costume transition.  The individual showdances for rhythm were more varied and interesting, even though half were mambos.  The Paramonovs were entertaining as always – I’ve seen them use this song before as a preface to a cha-cha version of the song “Why Don’t You Do Right”.  Of particular note were Nazar and Irina’s ridiculously over-the-top costumes, complete with huge tri-color ruffles and Irina’s tiny Swarovski-stoned bikini bottom…thing.  She was extremely naked, even if her legs/butt were technically covered with nude mesh fabric.  Funny how Mary and Tony didn’t say a word about that.  And that the episode was rated G.  Okay.  The Perzhus did the exact same matching-suited mambo as they did last year, but it was still awesome.  Wish I could pull off a stoned bra and suit combo.

What was very cool was spotting people I know in the audience.  It’s a small (ballroom) world after all…  I even spotted some of my team members for a hot second.  One of the best aspects of this program is that it’s the best TV depiction of ballroom dancing out there – a much more accurate, genuine take on the ballroom world, compared to shows like Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance that pretend you can learn and master, or at least fake, ballroom in a week.  This show seems to better appreciate how technical and complicated the dance form really is.  And nowadays, it can sometimes be hard to find free high-quality video of good pro dancers that uses multiple camera angles and pretty good editing.  If I remember correctly, PBS ballroom shows were probably my first exposure to ballroom dancing as a kid, though I didn’t have any personal interest in it at the time.  Funding has been limited or non-existent for the past few years, so it’s fantastic that they were able to bring it back this year, even if it was just in this limited three 1-hour-long episode format.

In the end, the overall winners are Peter & Alexandra Perzhu and Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine & Liana Churilova, who will go to the “grand finale.”  I still don’t know how this is really determined – how can you compare smooth to standard to Latin to rhythm showdances?

Next week: International style!  Spoiler – think of how much better it would have been if only the world champions and finalists had shown up!  Still some great dancing, though.  Riccardo & Yulia, Arunas & Katusha, and Victor & Anastasia have all shown up at OSB in the past, but have been mysteriously absent for the past of couple years.  I think sometimes they skipped because a bigger world competition was going on, but I don’t know about this time around.  Mysterious.  It’s basically my only chance to see them compete live, so it was too bad that they weren’t there.

Here’s an outsider’s take on the show: What happens in a ballroom can be little shocking.  Uh, okay.  Lovely last paragraph, though.

Help Me Pick a New Latin Outfit!

I’m currently thinking about looking for a new Latin dress/ensemble!

I’ve had the same blue halter dress from eKclothing for the past three years or so for Latin (and occasionally rhythm), so I figured it was time to change things up soon.  It has to be syllabus-friendly (no sparkles/stones/glitter/shiny, sadly), and something interesting.  Basic black is not for this girl, at least not at this time.  So….I figured I’d turn to the Internet for input! Budget is flexible-ish.  Ideally I’d like to spend less, but am willing to fork over a bit more for something really awesome.

Here are some contenders, but I am open to suggestions!

Danceshopper Banded Box Dress not in this blue, but oxblood, a deep red.

Santoria Kardia Dress in purple rather than pink.  Then again, I have a LOT of purple already, including my Latin costume that a friend has borrowed for a while, as well as my syllabus standard/smooth outfit that occasionally comes out to play.  On the other hand, purple works on me.

Dance America Asymmetric Full Flounced Latin Skirt in “Bright Print.” I’d probably pair this with a black tank top or leotard…the full-on print outfit would be a little much, methinks.

Chrisanne Moonlight Latin Dress in Hot Magenta or Fuchsia Pink.  Side note: according to their chart, I am supposed to order this in a size large.  If you know me, I am probably not a typical large size – more along the small/medium spectrum.  Silly Europeans.  Unless they’re trying to imply that us Americans are too fat.  Hmm.

Star Dance Shop Turquoise Skirt – would probably pair this with a black top, but it could go with lots of things like my purple off-the-shoulder top, maybe even white or a black-and-white print top.

VE Dance Carla Skirt in…I have no idea what color! There’s lots of good options.

VE Dance Julia Skirt in Violet or Salmon.  Definitely the most economic option at $45 and the only one I’ve tried on in person (it fits).

Light in the Box Dress in Black with Red accent.  (There’s a red with black belt one, but it  reminds me too much of Mrs. Claus.)  Quality is slightly suspect, but this website has insanely cheap ballroom stuff!

Light in the Box lacy dress in purple…looks more like burgundy to me.  Poor model…that is the derpiest pose ever.

My favorite option at the moment:

Just kidding.  I don’t think I could or would want to pull that off…

I guess I tend to like things with clean lines with some interesting details but not too too much going on.   And generally just above or at the knee, or longer asymmetrical hems.  Color-wise, I tend to gravitate towards blue/purple/red/pink, but am open to others.  I think at my level (gold) you see a mix of colors, but sometimes there’s a LOT of black and red.  I do also like black and white in a print/pattern, but it’s harder to find good options with that.

So…opinions? Please comment with your thoughts!  Also, If you know of other sites with good options, please comment below!

Help Support Vincent and Daisy!

I found out recently that a fellow ballroom dancer, Vincent, has been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor.  The collegiate (and formerly collegiate) ballroom community is very tight-knit and many dance friends have been super supportive of Vincent and his fiancee Daisy during this difficult time.  One of their friends started a crowdfunding campaign to help Vincent and Daisy with medical costs that are not covered by insurance, which has quickly surpassed its initial goal in just a matter of hours!  This is just proof of how  dancers are so generous and take care of one another!

Even if you don’t know them personally, you might have been a customer of theirs or seen them vend as VE Dance, as they have been travelling quite a bit to different dance competitions and events.

Their situation especially hits home for me, as I had a good friend and suitemate in college, Lauren, who lost her fight with cancer at a young age.  Like anyone else, I have known too many people who have had to deal with cancer – some won their fight, others did not, and others are still living with illness.  Any support – monetary, emotional, physical, whatever – is so meaningful to anyone fighting this tough battle.

Please, please consider donating, or passing on this link to others if you cannot do so at this time: Indiegogo: Medical funding for Vincent and Daisy.

Relatedly, Beata, a world champion dancer, is also fighting against cancer, and a page has been set up for her support as well: Partner with Beata.

USA Dance Nationals 2015

So, here’s a quick update on USA Dance Nationals, which took place in Baltimore at the end of March.  (There’s another NDCA Nationals that occurred in Utah a few weeks earlier – I haven’t been to that but it looks awesome.)  We danced novice and pre-champ standard and pre-champ/champ smooth.  Similarly to MAC, we had one event on Saturday and the other three on Sunday. Yikes…fortunately, they were spread out between 8 am and around 8 pm, thereby reducing the chance of dance-exhaustion, which is never fun.  However, dancing pre-champ standard at 8 in the morning was also not fun…part of the reason to move up to open is so that you don’t have to dance first event of the day!

Our results were pretty good and unsurprising – made the semis of novice standard out of a quarter, didn’t get a callback for pre-champ standard (which also started at a quarter), got 4th (!) in pre-champ smooth, and didn’t get into the final for champ smooth (which started at a semi).  It was similar to MAC, which I feel is very comparable in terms of the level of competition.  We got one place better than last year in pre-champ smooth, so we met our goal of performing the same or better, placement-wise.  But, more importantly, our dancing felt better than ever, which is always an “I’m the king of the world!!!” sort of feeling.

From workingatanonprofit.tumblr.com

I had worked on my shaped turns being more upward (be a shark chasing its fin rather than a dog chasing its tail! Weird but effective advice) and fully extending my arms.  I have a long-ingrained fear of hyperextending them, but Alexandra Perzhu and Izabella Jundzill, two top professional smooth dancers, have the same deal with their freakishly long arms, so I just went for it. What was also really nice was cheering on and hanging out with various dance friends from all over.  The open smooth crowd is fairly small, so many of us have gotten to know each other over the years.  I was pleased to see a large group of competitors in novice and prechamp smooth – these fields have grown a lot and have become really competitive!

I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by Next Level Dancing and got to use a fantastic Dore blue peacock smooth dress, which got tons of compliments.  Loved it! Even though it was sized a bit off – a little small in the bust (hello, side-boob) and a touch too long.  Whatever, it was awesome and I was very sad I had to give it back.

Also, this happened and makes me so happy (photographer credit to Brandon): 

Also this of most of the pre-champ smooth finalists (not sure who took the picture):

I volunteered most of Friday at registration and had to deal with a ton of people failing to bring proper residency documentation (which, FYI, entailed photo ID + either a passport or birth certificate.  Or green card/visa, etc.).  Oh my goodness.  Despite this information being on the website, probably a third to half of the competitors forgot it or said they didn’t know they had to bring it in the first place.  Part of it was miscommunication from last year, but a lot was just competitor ignorance (“But I didn’t know! We’ve never had to do this before!”).  Well, do your research, read all of the rules and regulations, and you save all of us some time and energy.  Nationals is not just any competition, because a lucky few get to represent the US at world championships.  People were obviously upset, particularly with the fear that they wouldn’t be able to compete, but the organizers found some workarounds.  One competitor was so dedicated/intense that she asked a friend to break into her house to photograph her paperwork!  Other fun volunteer activities involved dealing with (mostly eastern European) families.  Some were extremely on top of things, being very familiar with competition procedures, while others just could not get their act (nor their children) together.  Some plusses of volunteering: seeing some elite competitors in normal-person mode (“oh, you’re him/her?! huh.”), meeting people, hanging out.

Spectating was awesome as usual.  I have a new favorite ten-dancer Junior II couple, and we saw lots of really excellent young dancers.  My favorites from the MAC, Earle and Charlotte, won adult champ standard. This is why (watch for the awesome body roll!):

I caught the end of the adult Latin final, which was also great.  It’s fun to predict who the finalists will be and also to try to figure out the ultimate placings.  I can’t get it 100% right, but I think I can usually figure out the first, middle, and bottom third of the finalists, usually.

Some complaints: Friday night ended early, around 9 or 10 pm, while Saturday started at 8 am and ended at about 1:45 am.  Yup.  Ridiculous.  Someone didn’t calculate the heat list correctly and/or they didn’t speed up the evening session enough.  I know you want to give the champ couples their due recognition and whatnot, but everyone wants to get back to bed at a reasonable time!  Other than that, it was a very nice event and I look forward to attending again next year, as it is supposedly in Baltimore indefinitely (a somewhat controversial topic for a different blog post, perhaps).