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Elegant dresses, rhinestone shoes and sassy expressions filled the Marriott Center as the annual U.S. National Amateur Dancesport Championships took place March 11–14.
Students taking international or social dance classes at BYU are given the opportunity to compete at this event. Each class enters one of the dances in their curriculum. Students are able to get a feel for what it’s like to dance on a stage and to be placed by national judges.
“Performing is a nice feeling. It gives you the butterflies,” said Curtis Udall, a senior at BYU and a member of the BYU Ballroom Dance Company. Udall was both a competitor and teacher at Dancesport. He enjoyed watching his Dance 180 and Dance 280 students compete.
Along with the BYU class events, national championship events are held as well. Dancers from all over the world come to compete after months of training in hopes of making it to the World Championships in Paris, France. Competitors are both young and old, from the West Coast to the east, all hoping for that ticket to Europe.
“Literally the best couples in the U.S. are here,” said Brent Keck, a member of the BYU ballroom dance faculty. Keck had two formation teams competing at the event.
Not only are the dancers some of the best in the U.S., but the judges are as well. All 28 judges at Dancesport were once in the competitors’ shoes.
“To be a national judge, you have to be in the final of a U.S. championship,” said Lee Wakefield, administrator for the ballroom program.
Jonathon Roberts, a dancer on “Dancing with the Stars” and choreographer for “So You Think You Can Dance,” was one of the judges this past weekend, along with Mary Murphy, judge from “So You Think You Can Dance.”
All dancers at the competition live in the United States, but not all of them started out here. Gokturk Yurtyapan and his wife, Asli, moved from Turkey to Seattle. They moved to the States because of Gokturk’s work, but it ended up being beneficial for their ballroom life as well.
The Yurtyapans have been dancing together for 15 years but had to stop while raising their two sons. Three years ago they decided to start competing again, and that is what brought them to Dancesport. They took second in the U.S. National Senior I Ballroom Championship, making them one of the couples to represent the United States in Paris for the World Championship.
Couples at Dancesport aren’t all college students or adults. Elementary schools, youth formation teams, pre-teen and teen couples also compete in the event. Daniel Novikov and his partner, Natalina Chen, were among the younger couples — Novikov at 7 years old and Chen at 9. They competed in the U.S. National Amateur Pre-Teen I Ballroom Championships and the U.S. National Amateur Pre-Teen I Latin Championships.
Novikov and Chen have been partners for seven months and have been working hard to do well at this competition. They are required to perform five dances for each event, but the young couple had their favorites.
“My favorite would have to be the cha-cha,” Novikov said.
Chen couldn’t quite settle on one favorite, unlike her partner. “I have three. Jive, cha-cha and quickstep.”
Novikov and Chen placed first in both of their events, proving that hard work paid off. They will be the U.S. representatives for the pre-teen events at the World Championships in Paris.
Each evening, a top event took place. On Thursday, March 12, the U.S. National Amateur Smooth Championship took place. Many of the couples that competed were from BYU, inviting a lot of local fans. The couples performed four dances: waltz, tango, foxtrot and Viennese waltz. Six couples were left in the finals. The crowd roared as the last dance came to an end.
Trevor and Emily Guthrie won first in the event. This was the couple’s last time competing in Dancesport, since both will be graduated before next year. The Guthries embraced in a long hug as their victory was announced.
“It’s surreal,” said Trevor Guthrie. “It’s something you always hope for.”
The Guthries had the cabaret event on Saturday evening to look forward to as well. Trevor has competed in cabaret before, but this would be his first time competing with Emily.
“It’s such a different experience with your wife,” he said with a smile on his face.
Emily Guthrie nodded in agreement: “We’ll give a good show!”
The Guthries gave it their all on the dance floor Saturday night, placing third in the cabaret.
Friday evening was a night of sass as the U.S. National Amateur Latin Championship took place. The cha-cha was the first dance. The samba took spectators to a Latin dance party. Rumba slowed things down as the couples performed the dance of romance. The pasodoble was awe-inspiring with the fierce expressions and sharp movements. Closing the event was the fun and upbeat jive.
“This event is the most competitive competition in the U.S. and world,” said Parker Lynn, a junior at BYU and member of the BYU Ballroom Dance Company.
Lynn and his partner, Nanette Scheetz, made it to the quarterfinals of the Latin Championship event. They joined the crowd to see who would win this competitive event.
The finalists came down to four couples from New York, one couple from California and one couple from New Jersey. The first- and second-place winners would go on to the World Championships in Paris to represent the United States. The crowd roared as the couple from California, Ferdinando Iannaccone and Yulia Musikhina, took first.
Iannaccone and Musikhina were the champions of the Latin championship last year as well. They felt much better performing this year though.
“This year was better than last year, because we were prepared for the altitude,” Iannaccone said. “We were able to better train for it.”
Iannaccone is a native of Italy and Musikhina a native of Russia. They moved to the United States two and a half years ago after living in Hong Kong. They were happy with the move, because California was a much better fit for them.
“We kept having to come here for the best competitions,” Musikhina said. “The longer we stayed, the more we fell in love.”
California not only saved the couple from long flights, but it also benefited them in their training.
“Our coach is here, it is better for our career, and California has the perfect temperature for training,” Iannaccone said. “It doesn’t get too hot or too cold, so we can train all year long.”
For those who are looking to become serious ballroom competitors, Iannaccone and Musikhina offered some advice.
“You have to be disciplined, make sacrifices and go through pain to compete. If you really want to achieve something, you’ll get it,” Iannaccone said.
Saturday evening closed the four-day event with the U.S. National Amateur Ballroom Championships. The women looked stunning in their long, beautiful gowns and the men handsome in their tailcoat suits. The audience was graced with the performances of the waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot and quickstep. Andres and Veronika Ends, from California, swept the board, placing first in all events.
This year’s Dancesport was one of the most successful events yet. According to Linda Wakefield, there were record-breaking numbers in amateur events and many more couples from out of state. Along with the high numbers, there was high talent.
“Many of the judges have told me that this is the best competition in the world in the amateur level that they have ever seen,” said Wakefield. “This event has well exceeded our expectations.”
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