Locals compete in nation’s biggest ballroom event

Championship level dancers Alec Zhang and Klaudia Kluzinski participate at the USA Dance 2013 Mid-Atlantic DanceSport Championships in Bethesda, Md.
Christopher Pawling and Chi Ewusi at the USA Dance 2012 Mid-Atlantic DanceSport Championships in Bethesda, Md. Men wear numbers on their backs to facilitate the "callback" process. Judges write down the numbers of couples they wish to recall back to the floor for the next round. Dancers dance several rounds -- the number dependent on the number of competitors in that event -- until six or seven couples are left.
A competitor at the USA Dance 2012 Mid-Atlantic DanceSport Championships in Bethesda, Md. Female ballroom dancers dress-up for competitions in elegant gowns and wear large jewelry to be seen under heavy lighting.
????????????? Cloud Cray and YanChen Liu at the USA Dance 2012 Mid-Atlantic DanceSport Championships in Bethesda, Md. Ballroom dancing has four different styles: American smooth, American rhythm, international standard and international Latin. The couple here dances a style within international standard, which includes waltz, tango, quickstep, foxtrot and Viennese Waltz.
Ivana Veliskova and Renzo Aida at the USA Dance 2012 Mid-Atlantic Dancesport Championships in Bethesda, Md. Ballroom dancers hoping to turn pro train for up to eight hours every day. Competitive, as opposed to social, ballroom dancing is referred to as DanceSport.
Champ is the highest amateur level within ballroom dancing.
Championship level dancers Tulga and Ilkin Ersal at the USA Dance 2013 Mid-Atlantic DanceSport Championships in Bethesda, Md. The couple here dances international standard, which includes waltz, tango, quickstep, foxtrot and Viennese Waltz.
Championship level dancers Alec Zhang and Klaudia Kluzinski at the USA Dance 2013 Mid-Atlantic DanceSport Championships in Bethesda, Md. In the Washington area, private lessons range from $80 to $100 for about a one hour session. Group lessons are less expensive, ranging from $15 to $25 each.
Nationals' contestants come from nearly each of the 50 states. Dancers compete over three days, each one lasting 15 hours, and dance in four different styles, including American smooth, American rhythm, international standard and international Latin.
Ben Lavon and Alexandra Sche placed sixth in Championship International Latin at the USA Dance 2013 Mid-Atlantic DanceSport Championships in Bethesda, Md. The competitors are of the highest caliber, having placed in the top 75 percent of at least one of the 12 national qualifying events. However, not every dancer who qualifies attends.
Alec Colvin and Anne Sadler at the USA Dance 2012 Mid-Atlantic DanceSport Championships in Bethesda, Md. Depending on the level and style, men often buy or rent tuxes or tail suits for competitions.
The second place International Latin Championship level couple at the USA Dance 2013 Mid-Atlantic DanceSport Championships in Bethesda, Md. Calloway, who has judged Nationals for more than 20 years, says many couples break up or make the pivotal move to compete at a different level after the competition.
Lydia Petrigova teaches a lesson at Chevy Chase Ballroom, a local dance studio. The World Champion dancer started dancing at age six and teaches several group classes and private lessons each week.
Petrigova has the following titles: U.S. Open National Professional Ten Dance Finalist, Ohio Star Professional Rising Star Latin Champion, U.S. Open Professional Rising Star Runner-up, Youth European World Finalist, Two Times 2009 World Pro-Am Champion, National Judge, NDCA Certified Adjudicator.
University of Maryland student Blessing Bennett, 21, teaches others how to put competition make-up on. Ballroom dancers compete year-round. The events emphasize poise, elegance and technique. One's "look" is of utmost importance.
University of Maryland student Blessing Bennett, 21, puts her hair in a fancy bun. Female ballroom dancers dress-up for competitions in elegant gowns and decorate their hair with jewels to be seen under heavy lighting and at a distance while dancing.
A dancer's hair on March 3 at BAM Jam, an annual all-day competition hosted by the University of Maryland's ballroom dance team.
Female ballroom dancers dress for competitions in elegant gowns and wear large jewelry to be seen under heavy lighting and at a distance while dancing.
This couple dances a quickstep on March 3 at BAM Jam, an annual all-day competition hosted by the University of Maryland's ballroom dance team.
The couple here dances a samba, a style within international Latin, which also includes jive, cha cha, rumba and paso doble.
The couple here dances a cha cha, a style within international Latin, which also includes jive, samba, rumba and paso doble.
Sean Xiao Li and Jessica Smith dance a "New Yorker" move in cha cha. Both competed at the Gold level on the University of Maryland's ballroom dance team's BAM Jam March 3.
During ballroom competitions such as the University of Maryland's BAM Jam on March 3, women often wear brightly colored dresses that show off legs and movement.
Sean Xiao Li and Jessica Smith dance a tango. Both competed at the Gold level on the University of Maryland's ballroom dance team's BAM Jam competition March 3.
Justin Singer and Mimiko Liba dance a samba.
Cobey England and Uliana Andrianov dance a jive. Both competed at the Gold level on the University of Maryland's ballroom dance team's BAM Jam competition on March 3.
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Natalie Plumb, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON – In a narrow, crowded studio in the middle of Northwest D.C., ballroom dance couples practice cucarachas. There are collisions and drops, leads and follows, slow extensions and quick feet.

The light is dim, but faces are bright and concentrated. The music is a smorgasbord of sounds — tunes clash and rhythms mix. But each couple, from 11-year-olds to those over 55, dances to its own beat.

These dancers are preparing for the biggest amateur ballroom competition in the nation.

About 1,100 athletes are heading to California this weekend for the 33rd Annual USA Dance National DanceSport Championships (Nationals) in Los Angeles. Many of them are from the D.C. region.

Sweat, blood and tears

Ballroom dancers hoping to turn pro train for up to eight hours every day. Competitive, as opposed to social, ballroom dancing, is referred to as DanceSport.

Kensington, Md. resident and ballroom dancer Joe Huesmann, 42, trains five days each week for two hours at a time. In addition to that, he and his partner schedule a private lesson once a week.

“Some mornings it’s hard to walk, and some days after a competition it’s hard to walk,” Huesmann says. “But I love dancing, so I keep doing it.”

In the Washington area, private lessons range from $80 to $100 for about a one-hour session. Group lessons are less expensive, ranging from $15 to $25 each.

Spokeswoman for USA Dance, Inc. Angela Prince says D.C. tends to be one of the more active regions in ballroom dance, saying it has a “strong selection of dancers.” The area is home to three ballroom dance studios in D.C. and more in Maryland and Virginia.

Huesmann has competed in Nationals for the last six years, placing first in 2008 against 26 other couples. He says participating in the competition, which he will do again this weekend in a more advanced division, is not something he takes lightly.

“It’s only the biggest amateur competition in the United States,” Huesmann says. “It’s the best way to determine your level of dancing and where you stack up against other dancers.”

Nationals: Numbers and nitty-gritty

Bethesda, Md. resident Dan Calloway, 54, is a retired professional dancer and the DanceSport coach for Georgetown University and the University of Maryland.

Calloway compares qualifying for Nationals to qualifying for the Olympics.

“The pressure is great being watched so microscopically,” Calloway says.

Contestants in the Nationals come from nearly each of the 50 states. Dancers compete over three days, each one lasting 15 hours, and dance in four different styles, including American smooth, American rhythm, international standard and international Latin. To watch the event live, visit USA Dance’s live stream.

The competition is judged by nationally and internationally acclaimed adjudicators.

“We make sure that the judges are of the highest esteem,” Richards says.

The competitors, too, are of the highest caliber, having placed in the top 75 percent of at least one of the 12 national qualifying events. However, not every dancer who qualifies attends.

“We’re not going for the largest number of dancers,” Richards says.

“We’re going for the quality of dancers because we’re trying to crown a national champion, not have days and days of lower-level competitions where we have to finally get to a champion.”

Behind the curtain

At ballroom dancing competitions, preparation starts hours before dancers step into the spotlight.

Women arrange their hair in extravagant designs, shellacking it with hairspray, glue and gems. They wear pricey, elegant gowns — costing hundreds or thousands of dollars — that sparkle and flow.

Depending on the level and style, men often buy or rent tuxes or tail suits for competitions.

Calloway, who has judged Nationals for more than 20 years, says many couples break up or make the pivotal move to compete at a different level after the competition.

“It’s a very emotional week for everyone leading up to this,” he says. “If your objective is to move up in levels or ranks, Nationals is a great checkpoint for that.”

The growing popularity of ballroom dancing

The number of people investing in ballroom dance has grown recently, with a 35 percent spike over the last 10 years, USA Dance reports. The most interest comes from college students. Prince calls the collegiate ballroom population “explosive.”

“The fastest-growing segment is youth,” she says. “I know about 120 active collegiate ballroom teams or social clubs nationally,” adding that there are 174 DanceSport chapters throughout the country.

Ballroom dancing’s popularity also can be attributed to shows like “Dancing with the Stars.”

“The shows plays a role in sustaining interest, but ballroom dance was already seeing a significant growth globally,” Prince says. “It already had a foundation. Those shows didn’t create it. They only spiked it.”

So what’s next for ballroom dancing?

“The major goal of the World DanceSport Federation is to bring DanceSport to the Olympics,” Richards says.

Until that moment, competitive ballroom dancers will set their sights on achieving a national title.

Lydia Petrigova, who possesses various championship titles, teaches at Chevy Chase Ballroom and Crown Dance Studio in Fairfax, Va. The video below shows Petrigova’s teaching style.

Lydia Petrigova: Professional Ballroom Dancer from Natalie Plumb on Vimeo.

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