America’s Ballroom Challenge and Lesson 8.

Hallo there, ballroom dancers!!!

It has been a very odd few days. I caught a nasty head cold and it seems like a bunch of dance stuff all coincided. It’s probably just because Teach had something important to do the day of our normal appointment, so we did our lesson Monday instead.

Did you catch America’s Ballroom Challenge? I’ll admit, I don’t know much about American Smooth (or, really, American Rhythm, for that matter), but I do love watching them both. I was thrilled that there would be more ballroom dancing on television, but I was slightly disappointed. I had no delusions that we would be seeing the entire pro events, but I thought at least we would see the entire final! Would it have been so costly to buy an extra half hour of airtime to show it? Ah well, I’m sure they had their reasons.

The other thing is that the commentators sounded so unnatural, but overall, that didn’t really take anything away from the show. Here’s the major upside for me: the high resolution was absolutely incredible.

Peter and Alexandra at America's Ballroom Challenge

Peter and Alexandra Perzhu at America’s Ballroom Challenge, Ohio Star Ball

The Smooth event was so pretty!Β  I didn’t realize until I saw this that I think Smooth dancers have the prettiest dresses through all four styles. Colorful and simple, even though the dresses are flowy and usually don’t have too much going on. (Side note: I would have pulled my partner’s arms off if he kissed an audience member’s hand while dancing with me.)

I really loved the Smooth showdances, even though almost all of them chose VWaltz. It was pretty cool, though, that even though most of the couples chose the same dance, they all danced it completely differently and you really could see every couple’s personality. All of them were gorgeous, but my favorite was Nick Cheremukhin and Viktorija. I used to be an actor, so I’m a sucker for angst, dramatic music, and red light. And I do like Mazen Hamza and Izabela; they’re one of those couples you see once and don’t ever forget. Oh, Travis and Jaimee Tuft are also definitely worth mentioning. They went a little racier, but they surprised us! I liked that they featured some Pro-Am dancers. Natalie Crandall was great.

Plug: I saw my teacher in one of the Rhythm bumpers! Excitement! This was a fantastic Rhythm final. Everyone was in it to win it. My bias will show when I say this, but this was absolutely one of those times where I spend the whole time watching the tv screen corners for Emmanuel and Liana and wondering why the commentators didn’t mention them at all during the final. On another hand, I also really like watching Nazar Norov and Irina Kudryashova- they’re really in tune with each other.

Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine and Liana Churilova dance at America's Ballroom Challenge

Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine and Liana Churilova at America’s Ballroom Challenge, Ohio Star Ball

I expected Emmanuel and Liana to do their mambo, but they, of course, killed it with with a swing. He really seems like such a fun guy, and really interesting thing they did with her costume, ripping it down so it went from a leotard to a full-length dress. (And her knotted bun is amazing!) Andre and Natalie Paramonov are a couple that do not play around – they move BIG. As I said before, I love Nazar and Irina, but I couldn’t pay much attention to their dance because their costumes were just so loud. It wasn’t a good look. Oh, and Shannon Jensen? Those eyes are breathtaking! I’m inspired.

Also thought the Pro-Am performance by Sasha Altukhov and Cheyenne Murrillo was really cool. This was filmed, what, six months ago? And she’s already made the leap from Pro-Am dancer to her teacher’s pro partner. Good for her.

I am super excited for this week’s broadcast with the International Style, especially to see the Latin division. Anna Kovalova is one of my absolute favorite dancers with the most gorgeous legs I’ve ever seen.

Moving on, I had lesson 8 on Monday! Unimportant, but I had a really cute outfit – I did a flowy red miniskirt (because I’m a rebel), black tank top, and finally wore my new Capezio seamed/footed fishnets for the first time. I still don’t get why exactly it’s a thing that dancers need fishnets, but they looked awesome with the black shoes and I was able to stretch in them and everything.

Teach and I went through our rumba routine and fixed a lot of things. I’m dancing weird because he decided to have me in open hold and I’m not doing very much with my arms at all because I’m trying to become a more technical dancer before I start adding the extraneous pretty things.

It’s something I think about, though; what can I do with my arms that will be different? It’s also a matter of how you feel and how your energy is flowing at the moment. Arms should be a natural extension of what the body is doing, but I also don’t want to do the same thing everyone else is doing.

I also got some heck of a reality check on my New Yorkers. Allegedly, I keep thinking of the picture of the New Yorker and I end up doing it with my feet and cutting the action. I’m also not having a very easy time of opening my rib cage to the point that my butt goes with it so it creates that insane body curve line. Let alone doing all of that over my front foot and not breaking the top line. Fabulous.

That is a lot to do at once. Oh, but I did ask Teach about that thing I mentioned last week, what’s the difference between falling into an Opening Out and stumbling through my Sliding Doors? We discussed the difference between trust falling and falling as physical weakness. And that’s the difference – my ankles are super weak in comparison to the rest of me, so that probably explains why they weren’t doing such a great job of catching me before. My balance is already improving, though, I think.

We also made some tweaks to the routine. It makes sense to me now how maybe it isn’t necessarily difficult to play to a students’ strengths. The Dancing With the Stars 10th anniversary also just happened. I’ll watch that later. What did you think of America’s Ballroom Challenge? I’m interested to see how it all plays out. How do you think judges will be able to judge dancers across four different styles against each other?


Lesson 7: Rrrrrrumba.

What’s up, ballroom dancers?

Went in for my lesson yesterday really excited. My black Karinas finally arrived on Wednesday, so in celebration I picked out a special outfit: tight black tank and slinky asymmetrical black skirt. If I do say so myself, the combination of the tank, the skirt, and the black shoes was super sexy. And the shoes by themselves looked even sexier on the floor! I may or may not have spent most of the lesson just looking at the shoes as I moved in them.

Anyhoo, Teach arrived and I chatted with him about how he had been thinking about my routines and how I spent most of my nights this past week on Slavik and Karina’s Dancing Basics With Passion series, refreshing myself on the Latin syllabus and its terminology. I then told him I didn’t understand the difference between a spiral and a curl. So he showed me.

And then before I knew it, he was choreographing my rumba routine. When I wrote it down afterward, it was, I want to say, 18-20 figures. Nearly done! Now I’m glad I stayed up so late watching those syllabus videos, because maybe otherwise in one 45 minute session, we wouldn’t have gotten so far into a routine, let alone also fix technique nuances in every figure.

Stefano di Filippo & Dasha (c) DanceSport Photography

Dance Legends 2014 – Stefano di Filippo & Dasha (c) DanceSport Photography

Stefano and Dasha. *sigh* They are THE most gorgeous couple. I can’t put my finger on it, but their rumbas have some sort of incredible silent power. I don’t even know how to explain it, but it’s absolutely spellbinding to watch.

On another note, it really cracked me up that we’ve reached the point where Teach knows exactly how to reach me. The biggest issue he’s detecting, at the moment, is that he can clearly see my mind understands everything he says, but my body isn’t showing the same commitment. When I did my Fan, he told me to dance it to an imaginary really hot guy I saw in the corner (I’m picturing David Beckham) and stay over there until he’d pull me into my weight change like “HEY, where you going”? THAT’s when my Fan became awesome. Hilarious.

He also told me something that I thought was sort of insane. We were doing Opening Outs to left and right, and he was showing me the different ways to execute them. He told me obviously when I’m dancing with him, I can trust him, but when I’m by myself practicing, not to be afraid to fall.

Um…excuse me? Hit that rock-hard floor? I’d rather not.

Apparently that could be what’s impeding my mobility, that I’m trying to be safe. Which is odd because I know on my first go around in the ballroom, I moved a lot, but it ended up looking wild in a totally uncontrolled way. That’s not the move. So maybe it has something to do with the face that I’m trying to have a lot more control. I’m not even really doing much with my arms (styling used to really be my thing, too).

Or maybe I’m just overthinking things. “Don’t be afraid to fall” strikes me as odd though, because he’s seen me stumble all through my Sliding Doors. My balance is still not fantastic on those (but I’m not having this problem at all with this routine). What makes that different?

OOH, that’s a good question to ask him next week.

On another note, America’s Ballroom Challenge is back on PBS!!! It premieres tonight at 9PM EST; tonight’s episode is Smooth and Rhythm. Check your local listings! I’ve been waiting weeks for this, I’m so excited!

Here’s the trailer to tide you over in the meantime. Can’t wait! Liana’s dress is stunning. Make sure you tune in so we can talk about it πŸ™‚

Lesson 6: Finally…LET’S DANCE!!!

What’s shaking, dancers?

Got to the studio today and saw, I guess, who I’m realizing is the usual crowd. Some of there are there all the time when I go, but it’s still exciting. Even if I end up being creepy because I try really hard not to be conspicuous when I stare at them.

Was stretching and still messing around with Sliding Doors when Teach arrived. “Sooooo how was practice?” he asked. “It didn’t go well,” I kind of mumbled. Not being the most patient person because I learn so fast, practice really frustrated me because, I don’t know why this was, I couldn’t pick up very much speed on the hip twists. It was kind of mortifying. Upon hearing this, Teach made a mental checklist of things for us to go over. I get that he’s been on the scene forever and has taught tons of students, but I don’t know how he does this. I’m so absentminded I won’t remember anything after five minutes if I don’t write it down.

So there was more practice of my base. And it’s not as bad as I think it is. We got into some rumba choreography, just so Teach could make some points that he wanted me to start thinking about.

Valentin Chmerkovskiy & Daria Chesnokova 2011 UK Open Rumba solo

Valentin Chmerkovskiy & Daria Chesnokova 2011 UK Open Rumba solo


GEEZ, I miss these two together. Of course, Dasha is now dancing on another level as a professional with Stefano now, but I’ve always preferred to watch amateur competitors because they are just so hungry. This dance, though! It was some months before Val retired, but it is just poetry in motion. As for this dress, the effect of the white rhinestones on the black is absolutely breathtaking, but I probably would have gone just slightly shorter in the front.

Coming back, it’s a really weird thing. Of course, we go into lessons BURNING to dance. We know in our heads that we need to build our foundation first. (Still doesn’t make it fun, practicing technique so much you can’t even stand in your shoes anymore.) So I instantly got giddy when he took my hand and got into position to start a rumba. I keep getting really silly and smiley when I actually dance, it’s been such a long time.

Except then when you first dance again, it doesn’t feel as…seamless? Is that the word I’m looking for? It definitely does not feel the same – I, at least, felt like I lost everything I’d learned for the past six weeks. Teach said, as I thought, that wasn’t so, because he would have pointed it out. Maybe it’s more in my body than I realize; I didn’t really think about doing it.

And even more, I felt like I was definitely missing my “signature” hips. On my first go-around in the ballroom, I had insane hip action. I feel like they’re not moving at all. But at the same time, I’m working a lot of other mechanics that I’ve just learned that I didn’t have the first time. So I’m guessing that the cascading hips that everyone in the studio knew me for will come back soon enough. They better.

That reminds me, since always dancing in very snug 3.5″ shoes all the time is slightly brutal, I have some shopping to do. I know in my mind I should just buy practice sneakers, but I don’t want to get used to dancing in shoes that aren’t anything like what I’ll be wearing in competition or a showcase. Not to mention the look of them doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. (Shallow? Perhaps. I have a dreamer/artist mind, so I am all about the aesthetics.)

I’m intending to buy these Earth Therapeutics gel socks. I found them in Kohls once (you can find them in store at Bed, Bath & Beyond) and they saved my dancing feet the first time around. The inner gel coating makes it feel like you’re walking in clouds and if you keep them on long enough – a few hours will do – they totally heal up your feet. So you won’t even be able to see the effects of these gorgeous but simultaneously torturous strappy Latin sandals. Those of us who brutalize our feet all need these socks!!! You’ll thank me later :)))))))

Lesson 5: More Sliding Doors and Hitting Cha Cha

What’s going on, ballroom dancers?

I had lesson 5 with Teach yesterday. I got to the studio and it was bustling. EVERYONE was there. Emmanuel was there giving a lesson, Liana arrived later (she said hello to my teacher and then SMILED AND WAVED AT ME! EEK), Yulia and Riccardo were giving lessons (!), Ina and Troels were practicing, a bunch of dance couples practicing or taking a lessons with Vibeke…greatness overload.

The aforementioned teacher from my former studio was there giving lessons. And the happiest part here? I saw my friend Janet, who my pro used to teach. I was thrilled to see her – she is a total doll. She was there to practice with her new amateur partner. So exciting!

This ended up being a lesson where I just ended up being extremely grateful I picked my particular teacher. I’m a good student, I learn super fast and all, but I don’t think I would be learning so much so quickly with anyone else. We enjoy the same female dancers and think a lot alike. And he just has a huge dance vocabulary. It’s pretty awesome; we are starting to build our own “vocabulary words”, so to speak.

This time, we ended up delving even deeper into Sliding Doors. I had been practicing them, so fortunately it didn’t hurt as much to do them (I felt it a LOT in the center of my foot). Only now, he was teaching me the dynamics of the Sliding Doors; every action is totally different, which I realize now is what makes it such a beautiful – and difficult – step.

Teach is really showing me how to use the floor, which is so exciting to me, because I hated how airy I looked when I danced before. However, I’m still having trouble balancing. I guess it’s a process, though. I told him someone he used to work with told me before, which was “your hips should go in the opposite direction you’re stepping in”. At the time, it was how I knew I was doing my samba Voltas correctly, but it’s become a HUGE thing for me now; Teach made it a word (we’ve named it after the teacher that first said it), is using it all the time, and it’s working wonders. It’s reminding me to push one body part against the other and really create resistance, which is naturally creating better balance.

We also scraped the surface of cha cha. It used to be that what I had trouble with was keeping my legs straight during chasses. That actually is a nonissue (well, at least so far). We’re focusing on back breaks and checks.

Lock steps are next week. I bet it’s way more torturous than it sounds. But runaway chasses are my absolute favorite thing in cha cha, so that better be in my routines!

Emmanuel and Liana Cha Cha
I usually hate feathers, especially when they’re used as a tail, but I am in love with this dress. It moves gorgeously and Liana worked the crap out of it. It’s funny, when you see her off the show or competition floor, she’s so adorable and smiley. She looks so young, not in a bad way by any stretch of the imagination, but she does look young. But catch her on the floor and she is all woman. There is no one out there more sexy! I can’t put my finger on what it is, but she’s got some incredible swag.

I remember the first time I watched a competition – Manhattan Dancesport 2010. I don’t know if this goes for everyone, but when I didn’t know so much about dancesport, the couples who caught my eye were usually not the ones who won the competition, but this one sure was. I couldn’t take my eyes off Emmanuel and Liana! At least my instincts didn’t fail me on that one.

DWTS 20, Week 4: Most Memorable Year

Hey, dancers!

I’ve got my lesson tomorrow and have just been practicing my sliding doors (it doesn’t hurt anymore!). Just thought I’d get my DWTS opinions in before I meet up with Teach and he decides to try and kill me with something else.

I keep thinking it’s corny that every week has to have a theme. But Personal Story week is always a good one – if for nothing else, the performances it elicits are, without fail, why we as humans love the arts. My two all-time favorites were J.R. Martinez’ rumba and Amy Purdy’s contemporary. I’m not a very sensitive observer, but I still remember how those two dances sent me into hysterics. But I also like seeing a variety of stories – I don’t think it all has to be about tragedy; some can be about triumph.

Nastia & Derek – that was a MASTERPIECE. Derek’s choreo is 90% of the reason I still watch the show, but I’ve been underwhelmed by his ATs for a while because he keeps using the same steps, but this was something else. Nastia did spend most of it in the air, but seeing as how it’s about how her entire life all came to a head at the Olympics gymnastics event, makes perfect sense. She’s sort of the ice queen – in a good way! Lifts were unbelievable. Song was done gorgeously, costuming beautiful. Breathtaking.

Michael & Peta – easily his best dance. He finally let go of trying so hard to be perfect, and the result was beautiful long lines, and you FINALLY really “felt” him. Too bad he was the one to go – I think this was his breakthrough.

Riker & Allison – in this dance, he seemed to lose the “rock star” persona that sets him apart. The thing is, oddly…Allison might have been the problem. He looked like he got this. But then you could see he had trouble actually leading her because she was just so stiff. I really hope that her inexperience doesn’t end up being his handicap here, because I think Riker could actually go really far here.

Robert & Kym – amazing. He was really humbled by this experience. AHH, I love long micropleated skirts! I love that they didn’t make the dance about the tragedy, just made it a lovely tribute to his beloved mom. He improves steadily, and I love this partnership.

Chris & Witney – she looks stunning, I love this dress. But it’s not even a “maybe” – she did most of the dancing here and he barely moved. I guess he had nice fluidity? His natural opening out looked nice, even though they only went out a couple inches…

Patti & Artem – sang nine months pregnant in six-inch heels? I knew she was my kind of girl. Yaaasss, SASS!!! And I’m liking Artem more every week. Her son knew exactly what her problem was – she needs to DO more. But then the ensuing issue is that with more steps, she moves smaller. But her smile is infectious. Resistance is futile.

Rumer & Val – people are gross. She is beautiful. I could do with less Taylor Swift faces and some more Rumer ones. But during her package, he finally let go of the edge and we saw HER. I am ABOUT that gown, too. I’m afraid the music didn’t allow for much waltz, but what she did was executed well, I guess…but the fact that it was one of those “in-between” dances (not much waltz, somehow looked contemporary) kind of made it fall flat.

Suzanne & Tony – WHO DESIGNED HER DRESS? Oy. She’s absolutely loosened up, and is definitely more fluid and had some beautiful lines. Love how it became a happy tribute to her friend John Ritter.

Willow & Mark – nice use of the troupe. I know it’s just a story, but The Hunger Games is about childrens’ mass murder…not really something you want to see. Great theatrics, awesome choreography. She acted it impressively, but at times it was hard to even see her.

Noah & Sharna – what an incredible story. One of the best parts of the people like him and Amy Purdy is that there was probably a point where they thought they would never be able to dance again, and just the gratitude that is already embedded in them is incredible to watch. This man is a hero. I actually watched the judges’ comments here and am so glad I did – this was a moment that we all live for as human beings. He won the night for me. The ballroom-wide standing O was more than warranted.

Big announcement: another DWTS tour starring Melissa? Umm…okay? And the Switch-Up is canceled? RAR. I was excited to see Riker with someone else. But otherwise, eh. You ever notice people are almost always re-paired with pros that dance similarly to their original? So other than for Riker, I’ll survive.

What did you think? Who killed it? Who crashed and burned?