Strictly Standard

Jonathan and Katusha

Tonight on America’s Ballroom Challenge (8 p.m. on Channel 13 in New York, check here for local PBS times) is the Standard competition. In the first part of the competition, the group dance, couples will compete in Waltz, Slowfox, Tango, Viennese Waltz, and (my personal favorite!) — Quickstep. Second half is a showcase in the dance of their choosing. Pictured above are the reigning American champions, Jonathan Wilkins and Katusha Demidova. They are also the number three Standard couple in the world, making them the highest-ranked American couple world-wide right now. They are the obvious favorites tonight.

But champion of the underdog am I! So, here is my personal favorite couple, the ever so charming Victor Fung and Anna Mikhed:

Victor and Anna

I don’t seem to be able to get very good pictures of Standard (the couples fly around the ballroom floor so swiftly!), but here is one from the Manhattan Dancesport Championships last summer. I just adore this couple — they’re so sweet together, so charming, so charismatic. Her dresses are always so classic, so classy — they’re the king and queen of class those two!

And they work so well together, which you have to in Standard. If you aren’t on the very same wavelength as your partner, you’re going to tumble right over each other. If one of you goes down, the partnership goes down. This is one thing I both love and despise about Standard — love to watch it, hate to try it! Your bodies must make a martini-glass shape — which is absolutely beautiful. But so difficult to do. You’re connected from the waist down, and you must maintain that connection at all times, no matter how fast you’re moving, no matter where you go on the floor, through twists and turns and everything; if you lose that hold, it’s all over. And that’s the awesome beauty of Standard to me: the couples really are dancing as one. Nothing tests the strengths of partnership, trust, and lead and follow like Standard. You can’t choreograph your routines for the group dance very well because too many things could happen with all of the couples dancing on the crowded floor — you never know when you’re going to need to change speed or direction because you’re about to slam into another couple (which happens quite often, understandably). So, the man must “drive” (that’s often to me what he looks like he’s doing anyway, judging by facial expressions!) — leading, going forward; the woman reading and following his lead, while going backward, TRUSTING him to watch her back! And it’s so hard to trust — you really want to look behind you, to look out for yourself, but you can’t — you’ll ruin the line, the shape, the look, and of course most importantly the connection.

I just love watching this competition live. The room just becomes a whirl of color with all of the big beautiful ballgowns swirling around the floor. I hope it’ll look comparable on TV.

I don’t know much about the other four couples competing, as I don’t follow Standard all that closely (mainly since I don’t take lessons in it), but, taken from the ABC website, they are:

Giampiero Giannico and Anastasia Murayeva;

Linas Koreiva and Ieva Pauksena;

Igor Litvinov and Julia Ivleva; and

Erminio Stefano and Liene Apale, whom I have seen dance before (and they are a gorgeous couple too) but whom I seem to have no pictures of. All of these photos are copywright of Jeffrey Dunn for WGBH and I’ve linked to them from the ABC website. Anyway, please tune in tonight for the most beautiful of all the ballroom competitions!

Here are some more pictures I’ve taken at various competitions of the two couples who will likely be duking it out for the trophy: Jonathan and Katusha, and Victor and Anna. The ones where the camera is panning down on the dance floor from above were taken at the Blackpool Dance Festival last June — the largest and most prestigious professional ballroom dance competition in the world, held in England yearly in late May / early June. Enjoy!

I love that one of Katusha!

How sweet was Anna’s bluish-green Blackpool dress with the Thirties-style black hat and shawl!

And one last one of Jonathan and Katusha, third overall in Blackpool, top U.S. couple:

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