Dancesport is an unusual beast – it is one of those rare competitive disciplines in which you can confidently predict the top 6 couples and the order they will finish in before anyone has put so much as a foot on the Harlequin sprung dance floor. Dancesport has its critics for this very reason but such arguable predictability doesn’t mean competitive Ballroom and Latin American dancing is anything less than spectacular to watch. Indeed, every so often it can even throw up a surprise…
The annual International Championship is now in its 60th year and after the world-famous Blackpool competition is the major Ballroom and Latin event in the UK calendar. Each year it sells out comfortably, despite there being no marketing or promotion, showing just how self-sustaining the Ballroom world really is. For those who have seen the 1992 Australian film, Strictly Ballroom, after which the hit TV show takes its name, its flamboyant, exuberant and undeniably over-the-top depiction of the Ballroom world is not in fact that wide of the mark. It may be loud and brash and clad head to toe in rhinestones, but this is an industry which is quietly thriving. Or loudly thriving: on entering the Albert Hall I am immediately confronted by a world of Swarovski crystals, deep tan, eye-wateringly large false lashes, peroxided hair and all those other glorious things that come with this deliciously OTT world. Unnecessary? No. On a crowded dance floor every couple is battling for just a fleeting glance of one judge’s attention and an extra feather flying off a costume into an eye line could be the difference between making it to the next round and not.
2012 International Championships –
Highlights-Pro Latin & Ballroom finals from Royal Albert Hall – Presented by www.dsi-london.tv, where you can see a fuller version.
Down to business and the competition itself. The evening is split between four disciplines, Amateur Latin, Professional Latin, Amateur Ballroom and Professional Ballroom. Don’t let the term “amateur” fool you; if you’re expecting streaky fake tan and clumsy footwork, think again. The amateur competitors offer inventive and dynamic choreography, surprise results and rising stars. The rounds are relentless with the first of the Amateur sections starting at 5.45pm. By the time we have reached the professional finals it is well past midnight.
So who are the big names in professional circles? Who are the Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta of Latin American? As seven time champions at the Albert Hall, and only improving by all accounts, no one questions whether Michael Malitowski and Joanna Leunis will win. It is simply a formality, and the enthusiastic crowd want to absorb every inch of them. Their style is strong and powerful – Joanna’s expressive back teamed with that trademark shock of peroxide blonde, cut to a crop, create an unmistakable shape on the floor. Not hard to imagine the competition feeling a little intimidated.
Second place is a position Riccardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoruychenko have grown used to filling over the last few years. From the US they are a flirty, fast and musical partnership who glide effortlessly around the floor, confidence exuding from every pore. They don’t resemble a couple who have come here to fail. Not to be forgotten are Russian real-life and professional couple, Sergey Surkov and Melia. Other than the obvious bags of chemistry this partnership are beautifully musical, seemingly enhancing the talents of the live band. Of the renowned top three they are less concerned with technique and more about artistry, which for many creates an equally valuable contribution to the evening’s proceedings.
The Amateur competitions are treated with equal respect although naturally do not carry the fame or recognition. Worth noting are Amateur Ballroom winners, Emanuel Valeri and Tania Kehlet, from Denmark: you know a couple are of superior ilk when they are the most petite on a crowded floor but you are still drawn in by them. Visually they are beautiful with all other attributes to match – not normally a Ballroom lover I could not drag my eyes from them. Equally, the Amateur Latin final threw up a surprise with 7 couples unusually being shortlisted – incredibly rare when there are so many judges as there are at this event. My pick of this bunch were again from Denmark in the form of Morten Lowe and Roselina Doneva; as newcomers to a final, the joy at their number being called was a sight to behold and they eventually finished in a creditable sixth place. England’s Neil Jones and Ekaterina Sokolova triumphed as expected.
As the night draws on and the finals ensue, five of the usual inhabitants reach the professional Latin final with the addition of a new partnership, Italy’s Stefano di Filippo and Dariya Chesnokova, enjoying their first outing. For the first time the couples are announced individually onto the floor and tension builds despite the anticipation of Michael and Joanna’s imminent victory. Controversy then, when the winners are announced as Riccardo and Yulia, winning against their arch-rivals for only the third time in 5 years! A volatile Albert Hall crowd yelp in excitement, almost unsure what to do with themselves, only pleased they took a chance on missing the last tube home to witness such a definitive moment in recent Latin dance history. Perhaps then, it is possible that Dancesport can throw up the odd surprise? … Just once in a while though.