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Gearing Up for My First Competition

By Tony Guinta

"I'm in." That's all the text said that I received from Michele Madsen on the morning of September 28, 2013. I was still on my first cup of coffee, and it took me a few moments to realize what it meant. A few days before, I had asked Michele if she'd be my partner for Star of the North. She needed time to consider it, and once I realized what the text message meant, I was full-on fist-pumping and cheering all by myself.

One year, two months, and seven days prior to receiving this news, I had my first introductory lesson with Nadine Messenger at Cinema Ballroom, in which I struggled to change weight in the waltz box, instead tapping and then stepping on the wrong foot. Nadine quickly fixed that by teaching me to change my weight immediately after taking a step.

During my first year of dance, I mostly attended group classes and focused on salsa. While I did take private lessons on and off during my first year with Kristina Lee and then Nadine Messenger, I didn't get serious with it until I had a real goal.

With the exception of a small Argentine tango formation in Cinema Ballroom's 2013 Production, I avoided showcases and other performances due to the high cost of participating. However, I had learned about USA Dance from Marty Faeh, and when I found out how inexpensive it was to dance at Star of the North, I decided I wanted to find a partner.

The day that Michele accepted my proposal to be my dance partner, my life changed. I now had a goal, and with only 154 days to prepare, I had fire in my belly. We started rehearsing that Tuesday and took our first lesson together that Thursday. We worked on smooth with her instructor, Douglas Wallock, and rhythm with my instructor, Nadine Messenger.

Other than a single group lesson here and there, I had not danced any smooth, and Michele had not danced much, if any, rhythm, either. So we were both pushed outside of our comfort zones working on new styles while each being able to support the other with our respective strengths. It was an incredibly rewarding, challenging, and fun experience.

This goal also gave me the drive to attend as many social variety dances as I could. It was due to having attended Cinema Ballroom's Wednesday practice party on October 2, 2013, that I met my girlfriend and second dance partner, Lisa Mohr.

Michele and I maintained a rigorous schedule of practicing every Tuesday and taking lessons every Thursday with the exception of a few weeks due to holidays, business trips, and other scheduling issues. Every few days, I'd check the Star of the North website to see if registration had opened yet, and each time I was met with the message, "Registration opens Fall 2013." This message remained well into the winter, and eventually I learned that Star of the North might not happen. Then, on January 27th, when I went the the Star of the North website, I was redirected to the Dance Fest website, and I immediately signed us up. Michele only wanted to dance in newcomer, since there were no age categories, as Star of the North would have had, so I asked Lisa if she'd dance with me in bronze, and to my great pleasure, she accepted.

Lisa and I only had three lessons together with Shinya McHenry, and other than dancing together during social dance events, we didn't have any real practice time. I was thrilled that Lisa and I were able to make it to the quarterfinals in cha cha, semifinals in rumba, and semifinals in swing out of seventy-nine bronze couples, especially after seeing how amazing the finalists were. Michele and I went on to place second in cha cha, third in rumba, and second in swing out of forty-seven newcomer couples. It was so satisfying to see how well our hard work had paid off, and I am an incredibly lucky guy to have danced with two partners in my first competition! Many people struggle to find one good partner with whom to dance, yet I was fortunate enough to convince two very lovely and talented dancers to dance with me in my first competition. Thank you, Michele & Lisa!

I was expecting that Dance Fest would be a very small competition, especially with how quickly it had been pulled together. I was surprised when I saw how many couples were signed up. The competition was well organized and seemed to go flawlessly, from my perspective. The competitors all had such great sportsmanship, helping each other fix their outfits while waiting for their heat to be called, and cheering each other on while spectating. What an intoxicating and addictive experience! I had an amazing time, and I'll remember this day for the rest of my life. I was also thrilled when my very awesome teacher, Nadine Messenger, showed up to watch our rhythm heats. Thank you, Nadine!

Thank you to everyone who came together to put on this event. You should all be very proud of what you accomplished!