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© RIA Novosti. Vladimir Astapkovich

Ballroom blitz

by Kristen Blyth, RIA Novosti at 28/04/2012 18:58

Rhinestones ... shoe shine … dancing! Partners – and glitter – twirled across the dance floor as guests and professionals from across the continent gathered in Moscow for the WDC European Ballroom Championships 2012. The annual event, held this year in the Kremlin Palace, was the culmination of a series of regional qualifying tournaments that took place around Europe over the last year. In the late April event, 38 ballroom-dancing couples from 18 countries converged on the Kremlin to tango their hearts out and battle for the ultimate title of champion.

In the moments just before the start of the competition, dancers’ nerves were tangible. The male participants, all cleanly shaven and impeccably groomed, wore traditional black-and white tuxedos with long-tailed jackets. They paced back and forth in the hallway outside the dressing room, briskly brushing dust from the bottoms of their radiant dress shoes and smoothing down errant hairs above their ears with just a little extra gel. The women, mascaraed to the max and perfectly coiffed, wore loose robes over their elaborate dance costumes. Absent-mindedly moving through their steps while gazing intently at the spotlighted dance floor, they seemed to be mentally preparing for the contest the way a boxer, throwing mock punches in the corner of the ring, would get ready for his first round.

The competitors brushed dust from the bottoms of their radiant dress shoes

© RIA Novosti. / Vladimir Astapkovich

The competitors brushed dust from the bottoms of their radiant dress shoes

Anticipation was high. “We are friends in the dressing room, but everyone is a competitor on the dance floor,” declared Jacek Fidurski, part of couple No. 21 from Poland. He and his partner, Malgorzata Kotlicka-Fidurska, sat sipping water and talking quietly by the windows before the start.

Most of the dancers didn’t specify any particular rituals they used to prepare for the night’s event. “Just practice, practice, practice,” they said.

Some, however, did have their quirks. “I spend the night before every competition ironing her dress,” said Martin Reichhardt (couple No. 12) from Denmark, gesturing toward his partner, Maija Salminen. “Then we spent today rehearsing. We are ready!”

After some opening remarks, the ballroom championships kicked off with a waltz to the classic strains of Sinatra’s “Fly Me To the Moon (In Other Words),” played by a live orchestra.

There are five modern standard ballroom dances: the modern waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, slow foxtrot, and quickstep. In the first round, the couples competed in four heats of nine to 10 pairs for each category of dance.

The floor was a blur of bright colors, glittering costumes, and blinding smiles. The dancers interacted with their audience, mouthing the lyrics and facially expressing the drama and passion of the music with furrowed eyebrows and parted lips. The floor spun smoothly with coattails and trailing veils. Well – almost smoothly. With so many motivated and energetic couples on the dance floor, the occasional head collision between two twirling women was almost inevitable. The elaborate hair and dress decorations of couples No. 7 and 30 became awkwardly entwined for a moment, but all was quickly disentangled with cheerful grace.

The rounds of ballroom dancing alternated with those of the Russian national championships in Latin dancing: all Russian couples, contending in the five international standard Latin dances (cha cha cha, samba, rumba, pasodoble, and jive).

The male participants wore black-and white tuxedos with long-tailed jackets

© RIA Novosti. / Vladimir Astapkovich

The male participants wore black-and white tuxedos with long-tailed jackets

After each round, the 10 international adjudicators compiled their scores for elimination. Professional dancers are judged on a great number of assessment criteria, including posture, timing, musicality and expression, togetherness, shape, foot and leg action, floorcraft, and overall presentation.

After the first round of ballroom dancing, 24 couples remained standing to waltz their worth in the quarter-finals. Each elimination narrowed the field of participants by roughly half, while seeming to double the dance floor drama. Couples No. 1 and 11 had a few run-ins during the quarterfinal quickstep: one girl accidentally smacked the other in the back of the head, then blocked the same pair into a corner a moment later. An accidental misstep, on the other side of the arena, tripped Alexander Voskalchuk (No. 33, Russia) and sent him sliding across the floor.

“It’s normal, though, it happens all the time,” he and his partner, Veronika Yegorova, exclaimed afterwards. They were right: they proceeded to the semifinal round despite the incident.

Ultimately, seven ballroom dance and six Latin dance couples competed in the final championship round. After one last fierce but accident-free whirl through their respective five dances, the winners were announced.

The female competitors were mascaraed to the max and perfectly coiffed

© RIA Novosti. / Vladimir Astapkovich

The female competitors were mascaraed to the max and perfectly coiffed

In the European Ballroom Championships, Andrea Ghigiarelli and Sara Andrachio (couple No. 9, Britain) placed 1st, with Valerio Colantoni and Yulia Spesivtseva (No. 32, Russia) taking 2nd, and Sascha and Natascha Karabey (No. 10, Germany) claiming 3rd.

In Russia’s national Latin dance championship, 1st place were couple 24, Sergei Surkov and Melia (Agnieszka Melnicka); No. 13, Anton Karpov and Yekaterina Lapayeva, took 2nd; and No. 22, Yevgeny Smagin and Polina Kazachenko, placed 3rd.

Following a brief awards ceremony, each of the winning couples respectively claimed the floor for one last solo champions’ dance. Various eliminated couples watched quietly from the dressing room hall, while the audience looked on in congratulatory awe.

At the end of the night, guests and couples alike trailed out of the auditorium. The dancers had changed into street clothes but were still in full hair and makeup, dangling high heels from their fingertips. The sound of chatter and laughter resounded faintly into the warm Moscow evening: tomorrow is another day, and another dance.

Maybe next year.

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