America’s Ballroom Challenge Episode 3 Review

The grand finale!  You can see it here.  So this is the ultimate showdown between the representatives from all four styles.  I still don’t get how this is judged (Compare each to the best in the world?  Look at entertainment value? Toss a few coins?), but we’ll go with it.  They will start with a short program, which is supposed to be a more traditional piece that features a typical dance and steps from their respective category, and then a long program that can be more freeform in style.  I don’t think they actually stuck with these guidelines very much, as the long programs seemed to be more thematically traditional.

We start with the Perzhus performing a pretty smooth waltz to a popular song that I hear in competition all the time, “Song for Viola,” which had a sad/ethereal vibe.  It was very pretty but a little sleepy.  Next were Emmanuel and Liana representing rhythm, dancing a fun mambo.   Girl rocks the feathers in a way that most people can’t.  In person, it took three attempts for this performance to work out, due to various technical issues.  Great performance, though I did notice that parts of this routine were exactly the same as from their competition mambo.

Brief break with a super cute mother and son couple dancing a cha-cha.  This kid was ridiculously good, with a lot of star power.

Artem and Inna, the standard couple, gave a kind of bizarre quickstep performance.  They had Inna with lots of extra bust and butt padding, playing a Chiquita banana lady sort of character.  They incorporated some samba steps into their quickstep, to go along with the tropical theme.  I was not crazy about the costuming choice – kind of unnecessary.

Roman and Anna finished up the set of short program routines with an okay cha cha.  Roman entered the floor prancing around in a boa, which I don’t think men should do in general, while Anna rocked a pinstripe jumpsuit overall thing.  Overall, with the short program, I think the American style dancers did the best, which was reflected in their placements:  Emmanuel in Liana in first, Peter and Alexandra in second, Roman and Anna in third, and Artem and Inna in fourth.

Carlos and Dora’s Exorcist piece

We then move on to some theatre arts, woot!  Theatre arts at Ohio Star Ball is great to watch.  It’s definitely acrobatic and lots of stuff that make you go, “what just happened” and “how the hell did they just do that?!” and you don’t often see it in general.  Never at the collegiate level, that’s for sure.  This was actually a competition, but ABC didn’t mention that aspect.  The first performance from Carlos and DOra was an awesome Exorcist-themed dance, which was definitely out there.  I loved it!  Very well performed, creepy, and had good tricks and dancing incorporated into it.  Usually theatre arts stuff just comes in two varieties: romantic flowy themes and intense warrior/tribal pieces, so this was very refreshing.  Justin and Kimalee went next – they’re here every single year and always have a good performance.  They did a romantic piece to Sam Smith that was lovely, with awesome lifts, great transitions, and nicely portrayed emotions.    Third was Shane and Shannon Jensen, a rhythm couple who had some ridiculous transitions.  I think they ultimately won.

Now, the long program!  The Perzhus opened with a fantastic smooth tango, one of my favorites.  It had a flirty, passionate, classic, yet soft feel to it that really worked.  They also had really great musicality.  As a standard dancer, I also really appreciated the inclusion of substantial closed-hold choreography.  The costuming was also fantastic, a nice balance of classic/simple and adorned.  Definitely my favorite out of the bunch.

Emmanuel and Liana went next with a bolero that was very pretty.  I wasn’t sure how to feel about her outfit, which resembled an old curtain/doily.  Artem and Inna followed with a gorgeous foxtrot to Amelie music, which was so much better than their first piece.  Super smooth, ethereal, and technically sound.  Inna is super elegant.  Roman and Anna closed with a pretty traditional paso doble that was great, but lost a bit of steam at the end.

In the end, Emmanuel and Liana took the overall win by placing 2nd in the long program to Roman and Anna’s 1st.  The Perzhus somehow got fourth for their tango, which I thought was b.s.  It was nice for rhythm to have its moment, though.  In the past, I think International style was heavily favored in this all-star competition, so it’s great to see American style becoming more popular and appreciated.

Looking back, some of my favorite performances were:  Max and Michelle’s VW to Sam Smith’s “Not in That Way.”  It might not have been the best dance, but the song and simple feel were lovely, as were the emotional but not overwrought performance.   Artem and Inna’s foxtrot in this episode, as well as the Perzhus’ tango and the Exorcist cabaret/theatre arts (does anyone know the actual difference between the two categories?).  I also really liked the Perzhus’ mambo from episode 1.

Overall, ABC did a nice job of showcasing showcases, not so much of showing typical competitive ballroom.  However, given a general audience, watching showdances is probably more popular and understandable.  I appreciated having two knowledgeable commentators, but wished they could have provided more useful information about how judges might distinguish among the different couples and how things are scored.  From the competitors, I would’ve liked to have seen more creative pieces, but most of them were very nice, generally.  For the whole show, I’d give it a B/B+.

Here are my reviews of Episode 1 & Episode 2

America’s Ballroom Challenge Episode 2 Review

Episode 2 of America’s Ballroom Challenge: International Style!  I was surprised to find out that Mary was an Austrian (random) standard champion.  I pictured her as a rhythm dancer or something, but it turns out she did a bit of everything.  They played the everyone-on-the-floor-at-the-same-time mini-round of waltz, which was kinda cool.  In person, it’s pretty chaotic, but visually very cool, with 30-40+ couples on the floor simultaneously.  First were the “group rounds” of foxtrot and quickstep.  At least these were in order this time, as opposed to last week’s smooth dances.  Loved the bit of mini-formation team feather, reverse turn, three step sequence.  I timed it and they only showed about 50 seconds of each dance, which was really not enough to make anything of them.  Boo.  Would another 40 seconds really hurt?  Next was quickstep.

Showdances next.  Standard showdances can be kinda boring at times, so I was intrigued to see what these couples came up with.  These were more varied in dance style/theme than the smooth dances, so that was at least somewhat refreshing.  My favorite thematically was probably Andrey and Anna’s Marilyn Monroe piece, but the hair and costuming were a bit distracting, with her wig flopping around a lot.  A lot of hairspray would’ve helped with that.  Also slightly cringed when Anna overshot the lift and almost fell behind Andrey.  I’m pretty sure they’re one of the most attractive couples on the floor, especially when he doesn’t wear a shirt (from past years).  But I digress.  Oscar and Lenka had an awkward boy-themed foxtrot, with juvenile outfits, that I just didn’t get.  The cowboy-themed quickstep from Canadian couple Anton and Anna was cute.  Artem and Inna, the frontrunners, did a lovely emotionally expressive and technically sound foxtrot to My Heart Will Go On.  I giggled when he kissed her ear at the end (they’re married).  Loved her eye makeup.  Girl rocks the flowy dresses.  Denis and Lesya’s lyrical foxtrot was nice, but not very memorable.  Loved her green dress and loose hair.  Interestingly, she’s Max Sinitsa’s niece and used to dance with him.  The hosts might have mentioned that briefly at some point.  A quick search on Dancesport Info showed that Igor and Ekaterina had danced together way longer than the five and a half years reported by Mary.  They danced together, broke up, and then re-partnered and went pro together.  Their French-themed quickstep was solid but not super interesting.  In general, I found that the women were more expressive than the men, which is especially the case in standard, I think.  You tend to find a lot of tall stoic standard men.

Denis & Lesya

Anton & Anna

Ultimately, in the show dance, Denis and Lesya placed first, Andrey and Anna second, and Anton and Anna third, which surprised me.  Artem and Inna were in fourth, but will represent the standard style anyway, since they were first for the five other dances, I believe.

Brief featurette with the DJ Brent Mills, which was nice, I guess.  On to Latin!  They were gracious enough to show us one entire round of jive.  I wasn’t really familiar with any of these people except for Roman and Anna.  Was hoping that Riccardo and Yulia would show up this year, but no dice, alas.  I liked the plain leopard dress.  It’s nice when people go unconventionally simple and unadorned.  On the other hand, one male dancer decided to wear glittery pants.  No.

Showdances!  Lots of rumbas, of course.   Lots of rumbas in silky shirt-type outfits.  Kamil and Anna’s was nice, but I was confused by her wet-looking shirtdress.  Maybe it was on purpose, based on the storm noises in the music?  Or she was just really sweaty?  Also, they continued the Barbra Streisand theme from last week.  We had definitely heard this exact song, “Don’t Go Away”, during smooth for Mazen and Izabella’s showdance.  On another note, Kamil’s facial hair is an example of a goatee that really works for ballroom, at least in Latin/rhythm.  Roman and Anna did another version of angsty silky-shirt rumba.  A little too much running around for my taste, but they had a really cute moment together at the end.  Also, she is so freaking tan!  She made him look super pale in comparison, even though he’s not particularly white.  Dmitry and Olena did a jive to “Happy” with awkward NYC-themed outfits that I didn’t get.  For once, the hosts had some critique to offer about their side-by-side choreo and costuming.  Evgeny and Maria did a very traditional but good paso…at least it was to a song other than Spanish Gypsy Dance.  Vitaliy and Eugenia’s cha cha, with her in a catsuit, finished off the set.  Pretty fun, and the catsuit worked for the Michael Jackson theme.  The all-black look unfortunately led them to blend into the background a bit, though.  The slower music choice also made them look a bit sluggish at times.

Roman & super-tan Anna

I didn’t have any particular favorite out of the Latin showdances.  Top three showdance placements (at least, based on the lineups):  Roman and Anna, Andrey and Yulia, Kamil and Anna.  Which were, coincidentally (not really), the exact same rankings for the group dances. Side note, all 6 ladies’ names ended in “a”, and three of the men’s names ended in “I” or “y”.  Eastern Europeans!

Overall, solid.  Nothing especially stood out to me, but it was all great dancing and solid performances.  Definitely the best ballroom dancing you’ll see on TV.  In past years, I think people have been more creative in their choices, but it’s not something to expect on a regular basis.

To come soon: a review of Episode 3, the grand finale!  I still don’t understand how they can judge and compare dancers in completely different styles, but we’ll keep chugging along.

Click here for my review of Episode 1, which featured American style pros.

Post-MAC Update

So it’s been a week, but I haven’t had any time to get my thoughts down on this competition/trip (grad school craziness).  All-in-all, it was amazing!!!  The worst parts were the two 10-ish-hour drives, but with friends, good music, and podcasts, it’s manageable.  Just not something I want to do all the time.  (Of course, I’m traveling to the DC area for the USA Dance Midatlantic NQE in three weekends, but never mind that…).

Anyway.  Staying in the competition hotel was a fantastic idea and now I totally understand why the pro-am folks almost always do that, even if they’re local.  So, so convenient to just run up to your room to change or chill or whatever, rather than find a corner in a crowded ballroom to stash your stuff, have to change in a bathroom stall, etc.  I wish that the MAC was in its traditional venue of Manhattan Center in Midtown, which has a nice regal feel to it, but the hotel was fine (other than the staff seeming to not give a crap about anything, but that’s a separate issue).  Driving there was relatively easy.

On Friday, I had absolutely no events to dance until Masters of Syllabus (MoS) Standard in the late afternoon/evening, and it was great, because I had severe lack of sleep.  So I was just around, cheering people on, and trying to be generally helpful.  We hadn’t practiced syllabus stuff almost at all prior to the comp, so MoS was a lot of lead-follow (which started out a little clunky) and trying to resist doing open moves.  I didn’t feel like wearing one of my costumes, so just stuck with this purple syllabus outfit I have (made by Dance America, love it!) and some bling, which was an approach that one of my friends also took.  I heard from her that someone from the judges’ area or thereabouts approved of our simpler approach, which is nice to know  Mostly, I was just lazy and didn’t feel like dealing with all that volume/floatage.  We got to the final out of a first round and ended up placing 5th, so clearly attire does not matter if it’s classy and your dancing speaks for itself. Woot!  Similarly, the champ Latin winner had an unstoned black dress and just some classy stoned accessories, including this awesome ear cuff thing.  Not that I’m that cool, just drawing a similarity there.  Interestingly, every single champ Latin finalist was wearing black or white.  Mostly black.

MAC Champ Latin Finalists

Saturday was full full full of dancing.  I think I danced at least 50 individual dances in all.  I was exhausted by the end of the day, but it was a really “on” day.  Jesse and I made quarters for novice and prechamp standard, and missed the semi for novice by a single mark.  Big improvement over last year’s MAC and woot, qualifying for Nationals.  We also had our best round ever during the prechamp first round, and importantly made it through quickstep without effing it up!  It’s a common issue.  I now know a lot of people in these events, so that was really nice seeing good friends from undergrad and bumping into other ballroom friends (sometimes literally, on the floor).

The BF (who hadn’t danced rhythm in five years) and I finaled in silver rhythm, and it was pretty fun. Then, smooth! Jesse and I finaled in prechamp from a quarter, and then danced champ.  This was our first time really dancing champ smooth (last competition, we were the only couple), so we freaked out when we found out we had made the final from the semi of 12.  I literally screamed a little, and if you know me, I am not a particularly excitable person (except when it comes to cute animals and food).  I was close to dead from exhaustion by that point, and joked to Jesse that we could just stand there in the final and not dance, because we’d get 7th anyway.  But we ended up placing 5th, which was, again, unexpected and fantastic.  Mayo Alanen was generous enough to sponsor scholarships for those two smooth events, so that’s always a nice bonus.  He seems super nice and I’d love to have a lesson with him at some point.  The winners and many finalists (I think) are his students, so I think the money will just go back to him in some form, but it’s nice nonetheless.

Saw some spectacular champ standard dancers, and the whole thing ended with some slightly controversial results.  The winner was a couple with better dramatic, athletic, WDSF-style shaping, but worse floorcraft, while my (and many others’) favorites took second – they were more balanced, I think.  The 2nd place guy looked familiar and his name rang a bell, so I thought he was one half of a youth 10-dance couple I had loved from a few years back. It turns out that he is that other guy’s brother!  Ridiculously talented families, man.

Sunday was a fun day in the city, watching the Broadway musical If/Then starring Idina Menzel from the 9th row (!!!), eating lots of good food (highly recommend Cook Shop and Stanton Social Club), and doing a moderate amount of touristy walking around stuff in the cold rain.  Overall, fantastic weekend, and I was sad to go back to my normal boring life.

I was really happy with our dancing, but being the way I am, am always looking to improve.  A few major things now – shaping/huge steps in standard, extending shapes and polishing transitions during smooth, and some posture stuff.  Looking forward to a couple of lessons this week!

Edited to Add: Also, so many of the Midwestern dancers who traveled to this competition killed it! I identify as more East Coast, but have come to adopt this area of the country.  I think the East Coast has a better reputation for good dancers, but the Midwest people proved to everyone that there’s some fantastic dancing there as well :).  Also! MAC has the best team match.  Where else are you going to see Robotic Hustle and 3-person Argentine Tango?