Get Ready For Rhythm!

Emmanuel and Joanna  So, tonight is the American Rhythm Championship portion of America’s Ballroom Challenge (for New Yorkers, that’s Channel 13 at 8 p.m.; check here for local PBS times outside of NY).

Although I’m a student of International Latin, this is one of my favorite competitions to watch — at least live. The crowd really goes wild (more so than for the other competitions, for some reason) — there’s so much shouting and cheering for your favorite, and because of that, the dancers really put on quite a show — in addition to exhibiting their brilliant technique to the judges of course!

Above is my own personal favorite, Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine with his partner Joanna Zacharewicz. In addition to their amazing speed and precise footwork, they are great fun to watch because they exude such character in their routines. Before he left my studio to teach elsewhere, I had the very serendipitous opportunity to take a couple of lessons with Emmanuel. I can say, in addition to being a fabulously fun dancer to watch, he is also one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. When I first started, I used to dance primarily on the balls of my feet, rarely putting my heels down. I longed to emulate that light, weightless feathery look of the dancers I so loved. Of course, as a result, I’d frequently lose my balance, especially on turns. Emmanuel taught me really to feel the floor, to connect to the floor more than anything else. I also used to make the stupid mistake of trying to sense the air more than the floor. I know this sounds ridiculous to an experienced dancer, but I think when you’re a beginner, and you go to the ballet (or other dance performances) all the time, it looks like the dancers are just flying through the air, so you tend to want to imitate that in your dancing. But of course they are not connecting to the air since the air can’t support you. “Real dancers ALWAYS knows exactly where the floor is … we need the floor, we are not birds!” he would always say. The bizarre thing is, as a warm up, or sometimes in the middle of the lesson when he could tell I was forgetting to sense the floor, he would stop what we were doing, go into a closely held “closed position” with me, and just make me do salsa basics until he could tell I was back in touch with the floor again. He’d close his eyes, would tell me to feel the floor … not by stomping or dragging my body weight down into it; just by feeling it with my toes. I don’t know how he did it, but whenever I forced myself to feel the floor, simply by focusing my brain down there, he would know it right off. And he’d also know right away if and when I took my mind elsewhere. Weird! Anyway, whenever I see him at competitions, he always goes out of his way to say hello and ask me how I’m doing, how I’m progressing with my dancing. He’s such a great guy! And such an amazing dancer — he totally deserves to win!

However, these two below, are the couple most favored by the powers that be:

Tony and Elena

They are Tony Dovolani and Elena Grinenko. Tony is probably the most famous ballroom dancer, as he’s been on “Dancing With the Stars” for three seasons now, leading Stacy Keibler to her near victory two seasons ago. He also had a role in the American version of “Shall We Dance,” playing the “mean Latin dancer” who pulls off Stanley Tucci’s wig during the competition. He and Elena are the current reigning American Rhythm champs and will likely win this one as well.

Felipe and Carolina

Above is another favorite couple of mine, Felipe Telona and Carolina Orlovsky-Telona. She has an extensive ballet background, and is such a beautiful dancer, making gorgeous lines. And he is a big, handsome guy who just whisks her around the floor. Charming couple!

This is the first year they’ve opened this competition up ‘to the world,’ which means that you don’t have to reside in the U.S. in order to compete. Because of that, and because some couples are no longer competing (sadly, my former teacher, Luis Grijalva and his partner Anya Fuchs), there are some couples who made the finals, whom I haven’t seen much of before. The above photos are ones I’ve taken myself at various competitions, but these below, I’ve taken from the ABC website:

Evgeny Dyachenko and Inna Ivanenko (whose showcase, judging by the above pic, looks fun!)

Decho Kraev and Bree Watson (who apparently are from my hometown — or nearby anyway — Tempe, AZ), and

Michael Neil and Danielle Wilson.

Should be a very fun night — Rhythm always is 🙂 Here are a few more of my favorite photos of the competitors. Enjoy!

Also, Terpishore Musings has posted a YouTube clip of Emmanuel and Joanna’s showcase exhibition performance from last year. Check it out!


  1. wow, looks cool! (only I don’t have a TV…)

  2. Tonya,

    It looks like they took your suggestion of last week – did you notice how Tony and Marilu gave a lot more background info on the couples as they took to the floor for their showdance? I’m so jealous that you’ve danced with Emmanuel! He seems like such a great partner, and when I look at Joanna I see exactly how I want to look when I’m dancing. All-in-all great show, except for the ridiculous showdance rankings. Between last week and this (though I agreed with the top ranking each time!) it seems like “entertainment” is being ranked above technique and beautiful, classic routines.

  3. That’s funny — they did give a lot more background!

    I know, I feel like the showcase routines don’t really count for much in ranking the dancers overall, because the people who scored first in the general group dance have come out on top both times, and last night Tony and Elena didn’t even come in second in their showcase routine. So, unless the showcase counts for considerably less than the general dance, Emmanuel and Joanna should not have lost the overall competition to Tony and Elena. It kind of makes sense though, because they don’t usually have these showcases at the actual competitions (aside from the Classic and South American showdance categories of course), so maybe the judges really don’t know how to judge them or just want ballroom to be more about the general group dance. I’m still glad they’re having the showcases though — I feel like no non-dancers would tune in if it was just the group dance!

    Dea, you don’t have a TV?! Funny, it is more common now to have a computer than a TV set!

  4. emmanuel and joanna are no longer dancing together. emmanuel has a new partner.

  5. The pics are beautiful!! Such pretty, pretty people — no wonder the crowd goes wild. Thanks for posting so many!!

  6. Thanks, Erin — you’re so sweet 🙂

  7. I JUST realized that JT was so familiar because I’d seen her dance with Jacob at the last DTS showcase. Sometimes I amaze myself with my lack of perception.

    And you are one fantastic photographer, my dear. Not easy to capture action shots so well, and so beautifully!

  8. Yeah, JT does off and on dance with Jacob. She’s actually been in the studio a few times and taught me a few things, particularly about lifts (once when I was having a hard time doing one with Pasha!) She’s a total sweetheart, so helpful, and such a great teacher and dancer — I wish she was there more often.

    And thanks so much for the nice compliment, Parker!!!

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