Monday - May 20th:
8:10 PM I’m sitting on the plane in my first class seat (those frequent flyer miles are great!) fidgeting and a little excited. I’m wondering what my first trip to England as a noncompetitive dancer will be like. I’m also wondering where my light is! This is also my first trip on a new Boeing 777 in overseas first class and I feel like I’m on a spaceship - I don’t know what each button does! The flight attendants are quite amused!
I’m sure a lot has changed since I was going as a competitor. I’m looking forward to the Semley practice sessions and everything else that goes with competing at Blackpool. I’m also a little nervous about my accommodations. I made a reservation only today before I left Miami at the Royal Palace Hotel on Piccadilly Circus in London. I hope I have a bed to sleep in tomorrow night!
Well we’re still on the ground in Miami, thanks to “Airforce 1.” (Mr. Bush was visiting Miami today). Oh well, I’ll just have another glass of champagne. Thank heavens for upgrades!
Tuesday - May 21st:
9:35 AM We’ve touched down at Heathrow and now the fun really begins. I hope I get through immigration OK. Being a “Colombian American” can sometimes set off the alarms, but not as badly as when I was a real Colombian! I remember I was held for about an hour one year.
3:15 PM I’m in my hotel room waiting for Slavik (Kryklyyvy) and Karina (Smirnoff) to call me. I spoke to them earlier and hopefully I’m going to meet them later at a practice session, but I’m not sure of the studio. By the way, I rented myself a cell phone for use in England - I feel like I’m in touch! I think it’s time to take a nap.
6:25 PM I heard from Slavik & Karina and they’re going to a “closed” practice session at Starlight Ballroom - so I guess I’ll see them tomorrow. I think I’ll go to Semley for the Latin practice. I’m not sure how to get there from here!
7:20 PM After a brief struggle with the tube and trains trying to remember how to get to Norbury in South London, I’m on a train from Victoria Station, hopefully heading for my destination - the Semley Ballroom where I used to practice every night prior to Blackpool. I wonder how many couples will be there and how many I will know. These practice sessions used to be very exciting. All the top amateur and professional couples used to go there and some that weren’t so near the top! I’m ready for some excitement!
8:00 PM Well I’m drenched from the rain and out of breath from running, but I’m here at Semley. Nothing has changed! Karen Hardy is teaching a lesson right now.
8:20 PM Everyone is arriving for the practice session. I see Paul Killick & Hanna Kartunen, Vesa & Cheryl from San Francisco and David Weise & Valentina, American Smooth competitors are also here!
8:30 PM The couples are arranged into three heats for practicing by Gregg DeWett who runs these sessions. Paul & Hanna have complete concentration and serenity as they practice. It’s a wonder the couples don’t hurt each other, the ballroom is totally packed!
8:45 PM Paul & Haana definitely stick out, even in practice. No wonder they are contenders for this year’s Professional Latin. Tony & Shala from Utah also looking good.
9:00 PM Practising here is like being in a shop window. Everything must be perfect from head to toe. Everyone is watching with a critical eye. Even what you wear is important! Oops! Paul & Hanna are having a heated moment, I can hear Paul’s voice from here! What passion these Latin dancers show!
9:20 Well, sweat is really beginning to flow now. This building has no AC, so between the dancing and the couples’ tempers, this place feels like a sauna! I have not seen Genya Mazo dance in a long time, in fact someone said he was dancing for another country. I’ll go and find out now.
10:15 PM It’s confirmed! Genya has only danced for America and will only dance for America. They looked great!
11:00 PM I am now at the Starlight Ballroom, Shirley (Ballas) invited me to witness a stamina practice. This is the closed practice session Karina was talking about - I guess I was meant to be here! Slavik & Karina are here as well as other U.S. couples, Paul Richardson & Milana and Paul Green & Aleksandra
11:15 PM Corky (Ballas) is calling one minute before the practice and I’m totally awake. Two of the U.S.’s top couples are here and I have a front row seat.
11:17 PM Corky starts the practice. He calls out the time as the couples dance - “One minute,” “One and a half.” Then there’s a ten second break before the next dance. On the way to the practice, Shirley was explaining to Derek Hough (From Utah), the youngest participant, that this is all about stamina and focus.
11:30 PM Corky gives the couples a ten minute break to recoup. During the break Corky speaks with Slavik and Paul just like a trainer would in any other sport.
11.40 PM It’s time for the next round. Slavik & Karina have definite developed their own style and look very comfortable. Slavik seems very hard on himself, this has made him dance terrifically now but could be a loose cannon at Blackpool. Paul Green & Aleksandra, also dancing for USA look good too. Paul (Green) seems very consistent. Paul (Richardson) & Milana are looking great in this practice, but I do wonder if their dancing looks a bit “dated” in some ways. Slavik and Karina are getting better as they go, their paso has some great material, but they quit in the middle of the rumba following another heated exchange. Corky again calls for a ten minute recess. Paul & Aleksandra continue to practice. Paul Richardson & Milana are leaving. They tell me that Milana has a bad injury to her toes. Only two couples take to the floor for this round - Slavik & Karina are not having a good night any more and didn’t dance this time. The two couples are left are Derek Hough and Annett Piatrowska (Poland) and Sergey Ryupin and Elena Klvorova (Russia)
Wednesday May 22nd
12:30 AM The final round of the stamina practice. Slavik & Karina are back but we’ve lost Sergei’s partner (Elena) who pulled a muscle. I must say Slavik & Karina look great again, their rhythm is outstanding. Once again they have a tense moment during the rumba and go separate ways. Only Derek and Annet finishes the round - the youngest couple!!! Youth has its advantages!
2:00 AM I’m in my hotel room. I wonder at the pressure these top couples must be feeling. After all, everything they dedicate their lives to is dependent on the upcoming results. Oh well, tomorrow will be another day!
12:00 PM I just woke up!! Aleksandra told me last night I’d probably wake up at 2:00 AM. She was wrong - I didn’t go to bed until 2:00 AM. But it’s time to get up and get moving, I have a 2:00 PM appointment.
3:15 PM I’m back at the Starlight Ballroom in Streatham, South London. Slavik & Karina are taking a lesson from Corky Ballas. John Kimmins is also teaching and Larry Silvers’ son Darryl is teaching a Japanese couple.
3:40 PM Slavik & Karina are into their second session. They are both so passionate and have such fire. Maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to them, but it could be a double edged sword! Well, it’s now time for me to visit Chrisanne.
4:45 PM I’m at Chrisanne’s shop and distribution center. I thought that being so close to Blackpool it might be hopping with people picking up last minute costumes. On the contrary, it’s a bit of a ghost town. It seems that everything’s packed for the trip north. I’m told that most of the stock and staff are already in Blackpool setting up for this probably the largest and certainly the most prestigious dance competition in the world. It’s amusing to see how much Chrisanne has grown since I was dancing. The store that started it used to be in a small house and I remember that from the outside all you could see was a few rolls of material showing through a bedroom window. Now they are a world renowned distributor of dancesport costumes and accessories.
5:45 PM I’m now at Dance Options, another location for practice and lessons in Cheam, Surrey, South of London. Jonathan Wilkins & Katusha Demidova are both teaching. This is a larger studio a little more suited to standard dancing. The Latin couples seem to practice in the smaller section of the floor. Unfortunately, I learn that the standard practice was yesterday and this being more of a standard studio, I don’t sense the nervous energy here that I felt yesterday.
6:30 PM Gary & Rita Gekhman have arrived and are taking a lesson. Gherman Mustuc & Andrea Hale from Utah are taking a lesson from Jonathan. There is definitely less drama in a standard studio! Maybe the differences in music and attitude bring out passion in the Latin couples and reserve in the standard couples.
7:15 PM I’m tired now. I’ve been watching ballroom dancing for over two hours and I’ve had enough. It’s time to catch my train home.
8:00 PM I’m on my train back to the center of London and I can’t help thinking how far the Americans have come in the world of dancesport. At all the studios I’ve visited you can feel our presence whether as teachers or dancers. I think this Blackpool is going to be a very special one and I’m glad to be here.
9:30 PM I’m going out to dinner and to check out Soho. Tat tar!
Thursday May 23rd
1:00 PM My last day in London before the trip up to Blackpool. I woke up an hour earlier today at 11:00 AM. I thought I would work out, but only members were allowed in the gym so I decided to go eat instead! Steak & Kidney pie. I need to start getting ready now for my interview with Lucca & Lorraine Barrichi, former World Champions. By the way, Soho was great last night. I ate in Balans (we have one in Miami) then went for a cocktail.
3:40 PM Back at Dance Options. I’m a bit early, Luca & Lorraine are still teaching so I’m going for a walk in the park - near the studio. The park is beautiful and really soothing. When I got back they’re still teaching so I took some pictures. Some of you may think it strange that so many couples are still taking lessons so close to the competition. For some of them it’s the best chance they have to get time with some of the best dancers the world has ever produced. They aren’t thinking of tomorrow’s competition, but of competitions in the future.
7:40 PM I’m sitting on a bench at Cheam Station. A few minutes ago I finished my interview with Luca & Lorraine. It was a very interesting interview and you will be able to read it later, they have both have very colorful careers. In case you’re wondering why it took three hours for this interview, I was, as always, too early. So I got to watch some more great dancing while a waited. As I sit on this bench, I think back to my treks to England as a competitor and how much I sacrificed. These couples make such tremendous efforts to be the best in their field and follow their dreams. I wonder how much they’re banking on next week’s results. Which of them will go home a step closer to their dreams and which will return disappointed and heart broken? Already I feel for them and I wish I could say to them, “Winning’s not the important thing! The process and the performance are what matters!”
Friday May 24th
10:45 AM Someone stole my jeans! As I was packing last night I noticed my Moschino’s were gone and since I didn’t take them anywhere, I presume they were stolen from my room. Oh well, they were quite old anyway! Anyway I’m now seated on my train. I’m drenched as I had to drag my two big bags and a backpack across Piccadilly Circus in the rain trying to hail a cab, there were none in front of my hotel. So here I am on a train full of college jocks going on vacation in Blackpool.
12:00 PM As I sit on this train listening to the jocks getting louder and louder as they drink beer after beer I remember why I never wanted to go back to Blackpool. Don’t get me wrong, I love the competition but the town was never my favorite part of England. From what I remember, the accommodations are total dumps by American standards. I’m starting to wonder more about where I’m staying - The New Central Hotel. According to the internet (where we found it) it’s been completely remodeled. Well, I’ll soon find out! I remember that Blackpool is a popular resort for lower income, young people who spend their time there drinking beer and making a lot of noise in the streets. I also remember that the hotel proprietors were smart enough to bring out their sheets that were stained with instant tan from last year and use them again. I remember my first year in Blackpool. I thought the sheets were completely dirty - but it was only last year’s ProTan!
1:30 PM Still on the train. The youngsters are getting even louder (if that’s possible). The lady sitting next to me tells me that Blackpool is getting very popular for bachelor and bachelorette parties. She is going to the Lake District to walk. I tell her I wish I was going with her! I think normally this lady would not have been happy to have me with my spiked, bleached hair sitting next to her. But given the other choices, we were a happy couple!
4:20 PM Well I’m here at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. We’re just about to see the second round of the Rising Star Latin. The place looks just like when I left ten or so years ago. The lighting and the atmosphere is wonderful. By the way, the hotel isn’t bad It even has a lift (elevator). My room is about the size of a shoe box, so I’ll be sharing my bed with my suitcase. I have a tiny shower and even a toilet (en suite), how about that! The first round of the Rising Star had 259 couples, sixteen from the USA. As far as I’m concerned, most of those sixteen are capable of making the semifinal or even the final. On the fashion front, some of the costumes are beautiful and some are outrageous. I’m going to try to take some phots of the more interesting ones.
6:45 I just returned to my room. I’m looking at the photos I took and I hope I do better tonight. On the way out of the ballroom I saw Slavik & Karina. They looked very calm and collected. It’s been a while since we had a U.S. Champion as highly placed as them going into Blackpool, I hope they can keep themselves all together. Well it’s time to get ready for the rest of the night. P.S.. US Smooth Finalists, David Weise & Valentina were competing in the Rising Star Latin.
Saturday May 25th
1:00 AM I’ve just got back to my hotel room after the Rising Star Latin. Of the fifteen Americans who began, five made the semifinal. I thought they all danced great and at least two more of them could have made the final. My hat is off to all these couples; they represented the U.S. better than I’ve ever seen. The couples that did not make the final were: Andre Paramanov & Natalie, Jonathan Roberts & Anna Trebunskaya and Rick Robinson & Ashly Delgrosso. In the final, the two couples who I felt should not have made it were Ilia Danilov & Rysiko (Russia) who I found slow and old fashioned and Igor Mikhalkov & Daria Reznikova (Russia) whose dancing was not up to the caliber needed and their costuming left a lot to be desired. I thought Daria’s outfit looked a bit like maternity wear. This may sound a little prejudiced, but I think many in the ballroom saw it that way tonight and as most of you know I usually call it the way it is. Our two front runners were Andrei Gavriline & Elena Kryuchkova who went all the way and deservedly won this event. Their performance in the final was a total package and their win was never in doubt for me. I also loved their outfits. The surprise of the night came from Delyan Terziev & Barina Deltcheva from New York who took second place. This was a dynamic performance from a couple who is not that well known in the U.S. This was a great start to the 2002 Blackpool for America and I’m hoping for great things over the rest of the week.
10:00 AM The practice at the Winter Gardens has just started and I’m getting ready to go over. This morning as I was sitting at breakfast, thinking over last night’s victory, I saw Kevin King & Olga Rodinova - I thought I was the only dance aficionado staying here. The hotel turned out to be a bit noisy at night, but nothing a pair of American Airlines earplugs won’t cure. The breakfast is good, however.
6:30 PM I’m back in my room, getting ready for tonight. The Under-21 Latin is being danced right now. The reason I’m a bit late with this entry in he diary is because I stayed to watch the entire first round of this event - eight heats of each dance. This was and still is one of my favorite events. The youthfulness of these couples make them attack their dancing without fear. In fact, a couple fell right in front of me this afternoon and I mean they went head first. I thought they might not get up, but thanks to their young age, they just got up and kept on going. A older professional couple may not have been so lucky, but that’s youth for you - invincible. We have about twelve young couples from the U.S. competing and I really should get back and see how they’re faring against the rest of the world. We also have the Professional Teams Match tonight and the U.S. is fielding a strong group. It’s starting to rain again, so I’m going to head back. By the way, at dinner I heard that Rufus Dustin and Victoria Regan, who lectured at the congress, brought the house down so America is doing well on all fronts.
11:40 PM We’ve just finished the semifinal of the Under-21 Latin. It has been a difficult task for out youngsters tonight, there were very few couples in the whole event who were not of a very high caliber. The dancing and the atmosphere were terrific. Only five of our couples made the fourth round and two made the quarter-final. These two were Dmitry Chaplin & Ilona Mayzenberg and Yuriy Kutikov & Liliana Gitterman. Both of these gifted couples should be very proud to have come this far. Yuriy & Liliana were also lucky enough to make the semifinal we just saw. I say “lucky” because all of the couples were of such a high standard that it must have been Hell for the judges. But it’s not over yet and I think there’s a good chance that Yuriy & Liliana could make the final.
Sunday May 26th
10:30 AM I just woke up! Yuriy & Liliana made the final last night! I didn’t write last night because I went out to a disco with friends. Here everything closes at 1:30 so we had to run. I’m sure Yuriy & Liliana were happy with their place in the final, it certainly wasn’t easy to get your feet in there. The winners were Alex Silde & Ann Firsova from Russia who danced extremely well but were not my winners tonight. They had lots of power and good quality to their dancing but did not seem to have that magic spark that makes you keep looking back. For me the winners should have been the second place couple, also from Russia, Stanislav Nikolaev & Kristina Koslova. This couple caught my eye from the first round. They were very rhythmical and musical and gave a tremendous performance in the final. In third place were Kevin Clifton & Ana Melnikov from England who were another talented couple with a lot of power and precision in their work. I thought this was a good placement for this couple. In fourth place were Derek Hough & Annette Piotrowska (The young couple from Starlight). This couple also stood out in the early rounds and I first considered them for the winning position, but in the final they rather fizzled out. I would only have placed them 4th in the first two dances and fifth in the last three. I also found the young lady’s facial expressions rather overdone - maybe she was compensating for a lack of stamina. Our knights, Yuriy & Liliana came in fifth place. Although it was a tight race in my eyes between the fourth and fifth placed couples, overall I would have gone for Yuriy & Liliana. The sixth placed couple were Clive Uter & Lindsey Muckley from England. This couple I did not feel should have made the final, their overall performance was far below the standard of the other finalists.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the new Chairman of Judges and MC, Mr. Peter Maxwell. He has not only a commanding presence on the stage but also a wicked wit. For example, he pointed out during the Youth Latin that many of the officials, himself included, has previously won this event but that it was so long ago, their names were not even listed in the program!
And now the Teams Match. I was a little disappointed. I don’t really think it had the spark it has had in previous years. Four countries fielded teams, Russia, USA, Italy and England. Perhaps I did not enjoy it because I felt it began with a lot of boring, uninteresting team entrances. The Russians did something about the KGB versus Alcoholics Anonymous. Looking around the room, most seemed as confused as me. The USA, I’m proud to say, kept their entry short and sweet. The USA also in my opinion had the best costumes. Then came the Italians who resented some type of Fellini movie and a trilogy dating back to Roman times. This was too long and tiring, and once again, I don’t think anyone understood it. There was light relief with the English entrance, thank goodness. They also took us back into the distant past as the tam danced a formation all dressed as Michael Stylianos & Lorna Lee. This was clever and appropriate.
The dancing itself in the teams match was of good caliber, but not something we’ll remember for years. Maybe I’m being prejudiced, but only Slavik & Karina really stood out. Judging by the overall polite applause, I think the audience agreed with me that this was not truly memorable dancing from most of the couples.
Well, it’s getting late and today I’m off to Sammy Stopford & Barbara McColl’s competition at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. I remember this as the most beautiful ballroom I’ve ever seen. It’s a day off for the Blackpool Festival itself on Sunday.
2:00 PM I’m in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom and as you can see from the photos, it’s architecture is monumental. A few moments ago I came down from the tower itself. In all the times I’ve come to Blackpool, I’ve never been up the tower. It’s not the Eiffel Tower! On the way down I met Leysa Sinitsa who told me that none of the U.S. couples made the second round of the Standard. This is unfortunate indeed.
5:30 PM I’m back at my hotel and must get ready for the U.S. Reception to be held at the Imperial Hotel. Here all the U.S. competitive couples are given a dinner in their honor. The comp at the Tower was pretty good. I saw the first round of the Under 21 Latin and the Amateur Latin. Most of the top couples in the Under 21 from last night were missing so the spark was missing. Things got a little better in the Amateur as we started to see some of the top amateurs who will be competing later in the week. I was enjoying the competition and stayed longer than I intended to. I may even go back later tonight. I never competed in this ballroom myself, there was no Sunday competition in those days, but I did practice in it among the old couples dancing to the organ music. It was quite an experience! It’s so lovely. What a pity it’s too small to actually hold the Open British inside.
Monday May 27th
1:30 AM I missed the Mayor of Blackpool’s Reception, but I was at the North American Reception and it went quite well. Most of the American competitors attended. Those that didn’t seemed either not to know about it or were competing at other competitions. (Apparently there were two events running tonight). There were also a lot of supporters and sponsors. After dinner Colin Hillary, John Kimmins, Brian McDonald, Jean Marc Genereux, the President of the Canadian Association and Gary McDonald all made short speeches. After the two National Anthems, we all left. It was really great for all of us to get together in one room and celebrate all the couples who are representing us at this, the most prestigious competition in the world. After dinner all the competitors went to bed and the rest of us hopped into cabs and went to the casino. I have never seen a quieter place. They have more rules than a competition! You can have a drink in the gambling area, but you can’t take that drink into the dining area. You need a manual to gamble in the Blackpool Casino! I’m sorry I missed the Mayor’s Reception, everyone is telling me the American Team’s skit was hilarious. It was some type of dating game with all the men dressed in drag. Igor Suvorov was the funniest, reportedly. I had decided that I would be in too much of a rush to attend, but the tickets are free so maybe next year ...... Well, I’m quite tired now and the hotel is so quiet, I think Kevin, Olga and I are the only people in the place, I don’t think I’ll need my earplugs tonight. Good night! Or should I say “Good Morning!”
10:25 AM I’m at the Winter Gardens waiting for the first qualifying round of the Amateur Latin to begin. Approximately 330 couples will be competing. It will be an exciting event that will not conclude until tomorrow night.
For the rest of the story, see the July 0702 edition of Dance Beat
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