Sorry it’s taken me so long to get this Ballroom Challenge post up!!! (All pictures by the way, except mine from Blackpool below, by Jeffrey Dunn, taken from America’s Ballroom Challenge website).
I loved Vaidotas Skimelis and Jurga Pupelyte’s retro hustle-y disco-y Cha Cha / Samba! He moved so well; I’ve never seen his hips move like that! The routine had a great sense of humor and charm. I loved his bouncing around on one leg, the other extended out, their excellent lift sequence, the 70s-style costumes, and that great, very disco-y death spiral they ended with. All so Studio 54; all such fun!
Funny because Anna Trebunskaya and Pavlo Barsuk did a retro routine as well; theirs more jive-y and from the 50s-60s, although I felt theirs didn’t have as much spark and fun period flavor as Vaidotas and Jurga’s. At Blackpool last year there was a very popular lecture on the history of Latin dance, where the speaker used several currently competing dancers to demonstrate the looks and moves of the past, tracing them to the present. It was so interesting to see how the dances have changed over the years, becoming faster, the footwork more intricate and the movement much sharper. And with each decade you could see outside popular cultural influences; the 70s period replete with hilarious Saturday Night Fever moves. Of course we laugh now, but back then it was brilliant the way contemporary dance meshed with classical ballroom. It made me wonder what period we’re in right now? Hip hop? The movements are so sharp, so staccato, I wonder if Hip Hop (the club dance of our day) and break dancing have had something to do with it?? Hmm. Anyway, I just thought I’d include a couple of my pictures from that lecture here:
Here is the 50s style. How adorable is that dress! The couples danced so slowly compared to today, they danced much farther apart from each other (it being the 50s and all) and everything was very “cutesy,” meaning, the hips were less connected to the lats (back muscles), so it looked like the butt was kind of shaking cutely on its own instead of the hips being compelled to move by the shoulder blade forcing the lats down and compressing the lower back into the hip socket. (Remember the perfect Rhumba walks exhibited by Yulia Zagoruychenko in the opening exhibition? The hips are more connected to the rest of the body now; whereas back then it was more like the dancers were walking toward their toes, lightly, and, with their hips uncontrolled by the upper body, it made for a rather dainty booty-swaying action).
Here’s the cute 60s style Cha Cha, the couples still barely touching each other to maintain “a safe distance.” See how her entire body sways to one side though?
Here’s the 70s couple with their hilarious costumes and John Travolta arms.
And this couple — my love Sergey Surkov and his Melia — demonstrated the contemporary Rhumba. See how, in contrast to the 60s couple above, her body is straight, only the hip slightly beginning to settle to one side? Now, the active parts of the body move one at a time, first the foot takes a step, then the shoulder pushes down on the lat muscle, pushing down on the lower back, which compels the hip to settle. It’s much more stylized, more controlled, and more subtle than the hip-swaying / entire-body-swaying movement of yore. And much harder!
Anyway, back to America’s Ballroom Challenge.
I loved Delyan Terziev and Boriana Deltcheva’s “Money Money Money” routine from Cabaret. And I love that they used the newer, Alan Cumming version of the song! I loved the way Delyan moved his back, the way he curved his shoulders up and over so he was hunching intentionally awkwardly at times. He kind of inhabited the decadence of Weimar, the corruption of money, in his body, the way Cumming’s Emcee did in the play. And her dress and bob were cute and she did the seductive Sally Bowles well too. I thought this was one of their better routines and I was sorry the judges didn’t rank them higher.
I also noticed, both in group and solo routines Andre Paramonov and Natalie like I never have before. Maybe they come across better on camera than in person since they’re a bit smaller than the others?… I don’t know, but he dances with a lot of character and charm, shows a lot of expression on his face, and she has beautiful extensions and ballet-based technique. Some of those lunges and the dip she’s doing in the picture above were breathtaking.
And I just want to say something about Ilya Ifraimov and Nadia Golina, who did this robotic thing that reminded me a bit of Gary and Rita Gekhman’s techno Standard showdance from a couple of years ago. It wasn’t my thing as I’m thinking it wasn’t for a lot of people, but the judges placed them first because in the showdances they seem to value creativity and uniqueness over all else. This, I think is where Jonathan Roberts was coming from with that rather odd-looking routine he created for Marie Osmond on Dancing With the Stars last season that he received so much public scrunity over. These competition judges go wild for these kind of odd-looking routines, sometimes the more out of the ordinary the better.
And finally, the winners, Andrei Gavriline and Elena Kryuchkova. I find their showdances to be rather bland, actually. Andrei used to teach at my old studio, so he’d perform in the showcases first with his students in the student section, then with Elena in the pro portion. Pasha and Anya though were always the main draw, their showdances having loads more flavor, cool tricks, and just overall pizzazz, though they were never ranked as high as Andrei and Elena in the comps. I think Andrei and Elena have excellent Latin technique and a quiet, subtle charm, but, while understated works in group dances, it doesn’t for showdances. I do think they deserved to win the overall.
It’s very weird, but I feel that Andrei on his own is one of the most amazing dancers I’ve ever seen. And on his own he seems to have a decent amount of charisma. But together they’re lacking in that department, and that’s extremely nonsensical given how in love they are and how much attention he showers on her, both during dance and outside the ballroom (I’ve seen them together a lot and they’re always all over each other!) Ballroom dance is all about partnership, though, so they have to learn how to have appeal as a couple. How do you teach that: how to have charisma when dancing together? All I know is, they need to take it up several notches if they ever want to achieve real popularity with the crowd. If that’s what they want.
Going over my notes, as far as the group numbers: I love that the camera guy focused so on Vaidotas and Jurga. Thanks camera guy! I guess others find them charismatic as well… I liked Anna and Pavlo’s close, cheek-to-cheek Argentine tango handhold at the beginning of their Cha Cha. It was different. Anna also had some great moves, some beautiful ronde de jambes en l’air (one leg circling the air), particularly coming out of a deep lunge. I liked Natalie’s beautiful Rhumba splits, which she did several times, making good use of her long legs and flexibility. I loved Delyan and Boriana’s costumes, the cherry red making them stand out brightly. They’ve moved up a notch, by the way, regularly surpassing Ilya and Nadia in the standings now, very unusual in Latin.
That’s another thing: Ron Montez kept saying he had high expectations for Anna and Pavlo, thinking they’d be at the top and possibly even winners, since they’re a new couple who’s shot up the charts recently. He should know though, unless something has changed since his day as a champ, that precisely because they’re a couple new to the finals, they would place at the bottom. Those are the ironclad rules of ballroom dancing that make these competitions so frustrating. Pavlo and Anna placed in the finals because Max and Yulia didn’t compete (Yulia, by the way, is not retired, as Montez said; only Max Kozhevnikov, her old partner with whom she danced in the exhibition, retired. She is now dancing with Italian dancer Riccardo Cocchi, but wasn’t yet ready to compete with him when this competition was filmed); last year Pasha Kovalev and Anya Garnis’s departure from competition allowed Vaidotas and Jurga into the finals. It was a given therefore that Vaidotas and Jurga would place fifth, Pavlo and Anna sixth, being the second-newest and newest respectively. That’s just the way things work. I could have told you the finalist positions before the comp happened, as could anyone who regularly attends these things.
One last thing. For anyone who tuned in a bit early and saw the end of the McNeil Lehrer Newshour where Mr. Lehrer was talking about the New York Times article arguing PBS was no longer necessary, here is that article. Regarding this show in particular, the writer, Charles McGrath, argues that PBS is now, in an attempt to get audiences, copying the networks by putting on a dance competition of their own. Mr. McGrath obviously didn’t know that this was a real competition, not a reality show of the kind seen on the networks. He also wasn’t aware that these PBS ballroom competitions have been around now for well over a decade. It’s true that they went off the air for a couple of years due to lack of funding. But they have long been a mainstay of public television. Dancing With the Stars has been around for, what, two years now? I don’t think America’s Ballroom Challenge is doing any “copying.”