America's Ballroom Challenge, and Craig Salstein!

Not that the two have anything to do with each other, well of course other than the fact that they’re both about Dance (and the two styles that I happen to Lurve 🙂 ) and they both happened today…

First, Oberon just informed me that Craig was promoted from ABT corps dancer to soloist!

(Above with Marian Butler in “Rodeo” — photo is from ABT website, by Gene Schiavone)

Hooray for him! He’s such a fun and charismatic dancer — always puts so much energy, attitude, and character into everything he does. It’s obvious how hard he works and how much he loves what he does, so I think he is extremely deserving. Embarrasingly, I have to admit having mixed up his name before — oops! — but I definitely know him by face! I greatly enjoyed his performances this past season in Rodeo and Fancy Free (one of my favorites, and one in which he really held his own next to the biggies 🙂 ). He has a very big dance personality, and of course, that’s what I often go for 🙂 … can’t wait to see more!

Okay, on to America’s Ballroom Challenge, whose second season premiered tonight on PBS.

Above are Ben Ermis and Shaleen Archer-Ermis, American Smooth competitors, who won the first round tonight.

Well, I liked the new breakdown in the way they’re broadcasting it this time around. Last year, they just had two one-hour episodes: the first hour was the regular ballroom competition (where all six finalist couples are dancing together on the floor, competing in technique) for all four dance styles (American Smooth, American Rhythm, International Standard, and International Latin); and the second day was the showcase competitions (one couple on the floor at a time doing a choreographed free-for-all routine with lifts, competing in showmanship and performance quality) again in all four categories. This time, instead of lumping all of the dance categories together each day, they’re breaking it down and devoting one full hour to each category, and are then spreading the entire show out over 5 hours / days.

So, tonight’s competition was all American Smooth (couples competed in foxtrot, tango, Viennese waltz, and waltz). The first half hour was the regular ballroom comp; the second the six finalist showcase routines. Next week will be devoted entirely to American Rhythm (mambo, cha cha, rhumba, swing, and bolero), the following week to International Standard (slowfox, waltz, Viennese waltz, tango and quickstep), the fourth week to International Latin (! 🙂 — Int. cha cha, samba, Int. rhumba, paso doble, and jive), and the fifth week is going to be the competition for “best of the best” among all four categories (which of course doesn’t exist in real ballroom competitions, but is their little showy, made-for-TV category).

I’m not entirely sure what the producers were aiming for. I do think breaking it down this way enables audiences to get to know ever so slightly more about the dances, and to see more of the couples competing within each category. Tony Meredith‘s off-screen commentating helps to educate the audience on what each couple’s strengths are technique-wise. But, in order for the show to attract a much wider appeal, I think audiences really need to ‘get to know’ much better the individual couples and personalities that dominate these dances. And this new breakdown still doesn’t achieve that. Instead of just showing the couple’s dancing with Tony’s background commentary, they should do a little segment on each couple’s background, allowing the dancers to talk a bit about themselves, where they’re from, what brought them to ballroom dance, what brought them to dance in general, if they’ve had any obstacles to overcome, etc. etc. Kinda like how the Olympic shows are done maybe?… I think audiences connect to personalities, and there isn’t enough time each week to devote to each couple’s dancing for people to connect to them through that alone. Those are my two cents anyway… assuming the show’s intention is to bring recognition to the actual dancers and to increase its popularity rather than to educate audiences on ballroom technique and pique their curiosity.

On a side note: Tony is the owner of my studio, and I just love watching him on the show! He’s such a cutie, and is really such a great guy with a fun personality who really cares about his students… but oooh, he is so not an actor when he’s talking to Marilu and reading from that monitor! Ha ha ha — of course I wouldn’t be either — I’d be far worse, totally flubbing my lines, and making it completely obvious I was reading from a script and was vomitously nervous! He sounded much better though when he relaxed and started talking about the dancing — what he knows after all!

Anyway, the show is on for the next four weeks. Check here for local times!


  1. I actually like the little blurbs they do on the Olympics, where they talk about the competitor’s dream of Olympic gold when they were a small child in rural Utah or something.

    I used to watch ballroom dancing on PBS all the time when I was a kid (ballroom dancing and “GED on TV” remedial highshool math classes – when I was in elementary school. My mother thought I was a very strange child.) I would have loved to have found out more about the competitors.

  2. Tonya, I love this idea. I feel like they used to do this on the old PBS specials – I seem to remember a lot of backstory on Jean-Marx Genereux and France Mousseau, and of course Tony and Melanie. I do think this gives married couples an edge, however, since you can’t help but read more romance into the dancing when you know the couple is a couple off the dance floor as well. I’m sure it’s probably a matter of time – don’t I wish that ballroom dancing was on every night!

    BTW, new name and new blog – thanks for all your support while transitioning!

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