"West Side Story" Wins the Day

(photo by Jeffrey Dunn, from America’s Ballroom Challenge website, of Jose Decamps and Joanna Zacharewicz)

Since I’m late in posting again (sorry, was a bit depressed about something last night), most of the conversation has taken place on comments on the last post, so I’ll be brief here.

I loved Jose and Joanna’s West Side Story-ish showdance and I’m really happy to see ballroom combined with these classics (last week was the Fred and Ginger-esque routine by the Smooth showdance winners, Steven Doughtery and Eulia Baranovsky). I thought Jose was just so good; the way he moves his whole body — his upper body just as active as his legs, it’s like he’s a snake with no vertebra. He really got into the fun, fifties-ish theme and he looked to me like a character right out of Jerome Robbins’s dance-movie masterpiece. But he made it a rhythm showdance just the same including all the major rhythm dances, most prominently Swing and Mambo, and even a little Paso Doble thrown in at the end — all of which jibe really well with the Robbins. I’m not sure who choreographed it, but if he did, I think he may have a future as a dance-maker after he retires from competition. I like Joanna too, but to me Jose is the powerhouse of that partnership. He has so much charisma, and actor-ly ability, though I’m not sure if it comes across the same on TV as live.

I was sorry to see Bree Watson and Decho Kraev (below in photo by Jeffrey Dunn) place so poorly. I thought her leg extensions and her stretches were gorgeously balletic, especially in the slower dances, and I was kind of sorry they performed a Swing rather than a Bolero or Rumba for their showdance. But they seemed to know what the judges preferred, since they placed higher in the showdance than in the group dances.

And I always love watching Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine, although I liked him a lot better dancing with Joanna (Zacharewicz, who is now dancing with Jose) than with his new partner, Julia Gorchakova. His routines with Joanna were really cute without being crass and I could have done without all the Robin Byrd-esque booty-in-the-face of their showdance. And watching her, it seems more to me that she is trying to be what he wants, to please him, than being her own person, although Joanna sometimes loses connection with her partner doing too much of her own thing… Still, this is a new partnership and I’m sure they’ll improve. And Emmanuel: he just has such a hunger for dance, and his wild abandon makes him such a compelling showman; I can’t help but root for him 🙂

I loved just-turned-pro couple Pasha Pashkov and Inna Brayer (who performed in the exhibitions; photo below by Jeffrey Dunn). What a lovely combination Latin routine — I love how they softened the Samba and blended it with Paso Doble. And what lovely flowing costumes!

And I just have to give a big huge shout-out to pro / am couple Scott Lazarov and Christine Stanko (Christine is the amateur student; Scott the pro teacher — also performers in the exhibitions; photo above again by Jeffrey Dunn). I’ve met Christine before at Nationals, when she became the national amateur Mambo champion, and learned that she is a full-time dermatologist, and only took up dancing when she was in medical school — so, as an adult — both of which just blow me away. Many amateurs don’t have day jobs; they practice all day long and have a sponsor to pay the bills. And most start as young children. It’s very hard ever to get really good (I mean at the competition level) when you’ve started in adulthood, and more so when you have a demanding full-time job. So big huge kudos to her!

Finally, I have to give the cameraman a whopping D-! Half the time — more than half the time, he completely cut off the dancers’ legs, sometimes everything below the ribcage. What am I supposed to get from seeing a dancer’s shoulders and face? It was like a sea of legless torsos moving across the stage somehow on their own. And I couldn’t believe all the focus on the women’s pelvises — especially with Carolina and Felipe Telona! And sometimes the camera was way too far away. I think cameraguy needs some lessons from the primetime people.

Anyway, I’m glad you guys had fun watching! Next week is beautiful Standard — more on that later.


  1. My thoughts:

    First of all, I think this was one of the best group dances for ABC’s American Rhythm competition that I’ve seen in a long time. I feel like the Telonas was ROBBED (lol!) in the group dance. They had such high energy and precise movements (according to my brain anyways). This the first time that I was really feeling them and I was hoping they would win the group dance and was disappointed when they didn’t.

    I knew Jose and Joanna would win the showdance with that awesome West Side story routine. I actually was not that impressed with Bree Watson and Decho Kraev in the group or showdance. I thought Bree had good extension (definitely!), but they just didn’t do anything for me. Meh.

    Speaking of not doing anything for me or for anyone else, can we address how much I really don’t like Emmanuel’s new partner Julia? I don’t mean as a person, but she just doesn’t seem to “compliment” Emmanuel. She’s like me in a halter dress…not horrible, but it’s also not making you look good either.

    Anyways, those are the comments of a novice ballroom watcher. 🙂

  2. Reese, I know what you mean about Julia not working well with Emmanuel. I don’t think so either. Amazingly, she was a national champion for a long time with her former partner, Bob Powers. The two retired a few years ago. I only started going to ballroom competitions when the champs were Tony Dovolani and Elena Grinenko, so I never saw Bob and Julia dance. She’s come out of retirement to dance with Emmanuel after he and Joanna broke up. Hopefully they’ll get more comfortable with each other and will get better together!

    And yes, I forgot to talk about the Telonas — I really like them too! As Montez said on the show, they have a great “man / woman” quality — he’s so masculine and she’s like a petite ballerina. I find them charming to watch.

  3. All I know is I felt like a starving woman at a buffet last night. It was so nice to be able to watch DANCE, real, well done, ballroom dance! I had no idea I was so hooked…when did this happen to me? LOL![img]http://img245.imageshack.us/img245/3316/tfr612ix4.gif[/img]

  4. I read that Christine Stanko has a full time job… and I got super excited because that’s going to be like me (although I don’t know if I want to compete… maybe). There’s no studio for 80 miles so I only get to dance swing (and true swing, not like the swing on there..*eye roll*)

  5. I know, it’s funny how hooked you get, right Sharon! I became downright obsessed at one point — was in the studio about 25 hours a week, and that’s while working full-time! Yeah, Katrina, I work full-time too, but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t (at least in NY) — and I should have made clear, I meant really serious competitive dancers; the ones who travel everywhere and compete at every major competition in this country and even internationally. I have friends who practice all day every day and they travel all over the country — tri-State area, and even Florida and CA to get the best training! That could never be me 🙁 but oh well…

  6. Christine was amazing! I just can’t believe she has NO dance background. Maybe she started Latin in med school, but she must have ballet or jazz or something training in her past. Still, wow.

  7. I’m kind of hoping to get a job that allows me some flexibility to show not only in Dance if I chose but also dogs though dog shows are a little more on the weekends. I can’t believe that people do this without working… How do they pay for it all? I mean I know dog shows are expansive (even my area, where Travel is factored even more into it), and I know both Gymnastics and Figure Skating are expansive…

  8. What was the artist name and Song title for the group Bolero dance?

  9. Hi Keith — I’m not sure. I’ll see if I can find out. Does anyone else know?

  10. Keith, you can find the artist and title for all the songs used in the competition at PBS’ website. Go here for the American Rhythm final’s song list (at the bottom of the page): http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/ballroomchallenge/competition-s3-ep2.html

  11. Whoops, sorry. The website only has the song info for the showdances.

  12. I agree that the quality of rhythm is improving. The five-dance competition was quite nice and many of the showdances were better than years past, as well.

    Felipe and Carolina look as good as I have ever seen them, frankly – in the group dances I felt like they were extremely strong. Since Jose by himself is, by most accounts, better (by a wide degree, I think it’s fair to say) than Felipe, I don’t ever see F+C beating Jose + Joanna.

    I agree that Decho and Bree create a lot of very nice lines and she has superb balance, flexibility, presentation – at the surface level it’s a beautiful package. However, they are lacking the kind of authentic, stretchy connection that makes truly dynamic movement possible. They are very obviously dancing choreography by themselves, rather than using one another to expand and contract and create three-dimensional movement. They’ve risen rather quickly due to the obvious training she brings to the partnership, but I don’t think they can continue to rise until they fix the “ballroom” part of their ballroom dancing. Also, there’s an expression level that’s missing with them.. they’ve improved, but there’s a ways to go.

    Regarding Jose+Joanna’s west side story showdance – I’m pretty sure they work with Taliat and Marina Tarsinov for choreography.

  13. Also, Tonya, not sure if you subscribe to Dance Beat, but in this issue there is an interview with another well-known pro-am dancer, Joan Goddard from Supershag. She is also, it turns out, a doctor (supporting the well-known assertion that top pro-am lady dancers are almost always married into money or, less frequently, making a lot of it themselves.) She has a pretty serious ballet background, which you can see in her dancing.

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