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Highlights of TCO's American-Style Congress

By Kevin Viratyosin

Dancer does splits at TCO
Competing in ballroom dance is still rather new to me. I’ve only attended two competitions, the first at Dancers Studio (Dance Fest) and the other in a high school gym (MichComp), so you can imagine the impression I received when I stepped into the ballroom for the Twin Cities Open. The large floor was surrounded by tables decked in cloth, there were stage lights in every corner of the room, and the elegant chandeliers lent the ballroom a final touch of class. This event was clearly something else.

I can only imagine how the competition must have gone with all of those expensive lights and heavy speakers. While I had been out of town for most of the competition, I was able to attend the American-Style Congress held on Sunday, the last event of TCO.

I thought that I knew what to expect from the Congress; after all, I had been to the Dance Fest workshops led by local professionals. I thought it was going to be enhanced group lessons or something along those lines. However, as I walked in, I noticed people grabbing notepads and pens. Notepads and pens? I often write down what I learn or any questions I have, but I typically do so after a lesson. It turns out that the American-Style Congress is more like a series of lectures, and to my surprise, the lectures were very enjoyable. Each lecturer presented information primarily geared at the open-level dancer, but I was still able to pick up something applicable to bronze dancing.

The first lecture was on smooth by Jonathan Roberts, a pro known for being on Dancing with the Stars. Michelle Hudson from Cinema Ballroom assisted him with his lesson. Jonathan talked about many things but stressed the importance of technique. He also talked about personalizing choreography and not trying to do everything at once, but rather focusing on one body part and action at a time. This tidbit was mostly for open choreography, but he also explained that even for bronze dancing, it’s extremely important to be clear so a judge can immediately know what it is you’re trying to do.

The second talk was by Ilya and Amanda Reyzin. Their lecture was very practical, as it was tailored to what Amanda had seen on the dance floor over the past weekend. As a judge, she told us what they liked and didn’t like about the Latin motion they saw, their reasoning behind it, and how to practice and improve.

The third and last lecture of the morning session was by Eddie Simon, with Michelle to help again. The title of his presentation was “The Illusion of Dance.” It was fun to see some jaws drop in the audience during this lecture. A lot of the technique covered was over my head, but whether he was explaining cool moves like lifts or giving more foundational tips such as how to modify frame for each dance, it looked like he really made an impact on the rest of the attendees.

The second session of the Congress proved just as good as the first. Linda Dean started us off by giving us a detailed breakdown of the bolero. Personally, while bolero isn’t really in my scope for dances, I do think that my understanding of it has improved, however slightly. Best of all, she brought in Andre and Natalie Paramonov as guests, the rhythm champions from the previous night.

Rufus Dustin followed with smooth, with Sergey Barsukov and Maria Sindnjova to assist him. Sergey and Maria had taken first place in Rising Star and were a treat to watch. Rufus told us he had ten rules, or body dynamics, that are required in smooth. He broke down the aspects of stretch and sway, as well as telling us how to add story to choreography. The most important idea he wanted us to take away (a theme with the other pros, as well) was that, despite having the same routine for a particular dance, one should never dance anything the same way twice, but rather interpret the music at hand each time.

Up last, Sam Sodano ended the session with a detailed lecture on true rhythm motion, with Andre and Natalie to demonstrate. Watching them dance made me wish even more that I had been able to attend the evening show on Saturday. When they demonstrated cha cha, my first thought was, “I didn’t know that cha cha could look that exciting!” I don’t think I have the right words to describe this lecture aside from "pure fun." At this point, there were many pros in the room, and given their long history with each other, they were bouncing jokes off one another without any mercy. I was laughing so much my sides hurt, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

Unfortunately, the fun had to stop when we ran out of time. The pros had planes to catch, and the floor needed tearing down. I have a notepad full of notes, and I am incredibly glad I attended the American-Style Congress at TCO. I’m already looking forward to next year’s workshops, and I definitely plan to make it to the evening show!