Thursday, May 31, 2012

Professional Latin Championship

It's Wednesday.  We have 3 days left in Blackpool.  Tonight, we watched the Professional Latin Championship - what an exciting event.

Blackpool residential neighborhood
 The day started with a visit with our friends Alan and Angela Newman who live about a half mile from our hotel.  It was another nice day in Blackpool so we decided to take a walk to their home.  Alan and Angela were very nice to us the last time we were in Blackpool, taking us around the countryside and helping us to enjoy some of the local culture and cuisine.  Unfortunately, Alan had surgery the day after we arrive in Blackpool so we decided to give him a visit at home.

Later in the day, we hooked up the Tom and Yuko again and had dinner at Mama's.  It was a highly recommended restauant.  Tom said that he had asked his coach Giampiero where he could find the best Italian food in Blackpool and the response was unquestionably Mama's.  Giampiero should know.  He is Italian and he still holds the tradition of keeping Sundays as a day for cooking and enjoying a good family meal.  He starts in the morning and cooks all day with fresh ingredients.  The food at Mama's was great!  When you walked in, there was a narrow hallway, full of photographs of Italy, Italian celebrities, Italian families, etc.  It looked Italian, if felt Italian, it sounded Italian.  It was Italian - Great Food!

The service was a bit slow.  Perhaps it just seemed slower than it actually was because we wanted to catch the Ballroom Formation Competition (before the Professional Latin), and we were a bit rushed.  We sat at the bar for a while waiting for a table.  While we were waiting, they took our order.  When our table was ready, the food did come out quickly.  We ate quickly.  If we had more time, we would have enjoyed the food and atmosphere more.  We decided to go back on Friday again for dinner and make early reservations.

When we got to the ballroom, we were just in time to see the last half of the last formation team's performance.  Although I don't have any good pictures of the formation performances, I did get some shots of the teams, as they took the floor again for their placements.  The Chinese teams dominated the event.  Although we didn't see their performances, their costumes were impressive.

The Professional Latin Championship was awesome.  England's Michael Malitowski & Joanna Leunis took 1st in all dances, U.S.A.'s Ricardo Cocchi & Yulia Zagoruychenko took 2nd in all dances, Russia's Sergey Surkov & Melia took 3rd in all dances, and Slovenia took 5th.  I don't need to tell you anything about these dancers.  The pictures tell it all.

Michael Malitowski & Joanna Leunis

Ricardo Cocchi & Yulia Zagoruychenko

Sergey Surkov & Melia

Check out the final Professional Latin Jive on YouTube:

Hope you enjoyed the photos.

With Aloha,
Calvin & Debra

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Under 21 Ballroom & Amateur Latin

Chester, U.K.
It's Tuesday, and we're done with our competition.  But, the Blackpool Dance Festival is just getting into full swing.  Today, the Under 21 Years Ballroom, and Amateur Latin couples are competing - both very exciting categories.  It's just amazing that there are so many couples competing at Blackpool that the competitions start at around 11:00 a.m. (competitors practice in the ballroom starts at around 9:00 a.m.) and continues throughout the day, with short breaks for general dancing.  Competition continues to the Final Rounds which usually end at around 11:30 p.m.  So, there's about 12 hours of competition every day and it will continue all week through Friday, June 2.

Earlier, I compared Blackpool to the Super Bowl or World Cup.  It's more like the Olympics.  There are so many events throughout the week, you would really have to be a hard-core dance enthusiast to sit in the ballroom through all the events.  Most people pick their preferred events and spend some time going about Blackpool or the nearby countryside.  We had planned to go to the town of Chester - south of Liverpool.  We were to meet at around 10:00 and take the train to Chester.

A view of the coast from the Tower

Tom & Yuko were up and waiting for us at 10:00.  When we got up, Yikes!!, it was 11:15.  We had kept Tom & Yuko waiting for over an hour.  We were so tired from the day before, we overslept. We rushed to get ready.  By the time we walked over to the train station, it was already pushing noon.  When we got to the train station, we were told that the train ride to Chester would be over 2 and a half hours.  Although it doesn't get dark here until about 10:00 p.m., we had a dinner date with Japanese Professional Go Hashimoto (used to come to the Hawaii Star Ball with Mrs. Torii, who recently passed away at age 99) and a Japanese dress designer, Asako Kimura, at 7:00.  We decided to skip Chester and go to the Blackpool Tower instead.

At the Tower, we watched an interesting 4-D movie (3-D plus sensory effects, like vibrating floor, sprinklings of water, etc.)  It was fun.  We then went up the Tower and climbed up the several levels of observation decks and took some pictures.  One of the levels had a glass floor, which was interesting - certainly not for anyone who is afraid of heights.  We were told that we were having unusually good weather for Blackpool - like we had brought the weather with us from Hawaii.  The sky has been very clear since we arrived last Tuesday.

After the Tower, we went back to our hotel to get a little rest before dinner.  Tom went back to the ballroom to watch the Under 21 Ballroom competition that had started at 3:00.  We knew the rounds would go well into the night so we decided to wait until after dinner to go back to the ballroom.  We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant, Ocean Palace.  The food wasn't bad - pretty good considering we're in Blackpool, U.K., but perhaps a little pricey - about 130 Pounds or $195.00 for six of us (including 2 bottles of wine).

Under 21 Years Ballroom Championship
The competition going on in the ballroom was exciting.  By the time we got back to the ballroom, it was past 10:00.  Time goes by so quickly, especially when it's still light outside and you think it's much earlier.  We got back just in time to watch the Semi-Final and Final rounds of the Amateur Latin and Under 21 Years Ballroom competitions.

Amateur Latin Champions, from England
The Amateur Latin competition started in the morning with 330 couples.  It ended with an English couple, Neil Jones and Ekaterina Sokolova, taking 1st in all dances.  2nd went to a couple from Denmark, 3rd went to Russia, 4th and 5th to Italy, and 6th to Russia.  We were excited to see Pasha Pashkov and Danielly Karagach from the U.S. make it to the Semi-Finals.  We always see them at the U.S.A. Dance Nationals, and they're one of Debra's favorite couples.  Unfortunately, they didn't make it to the Finals.

Under 21 Years Ballroom Champions, U.S.A.
The British Amateur Under 21 Years Ballroom Championship was exciting as well.  A U.S. couple, Oskar Wojciechowski and Karoline Holody took First Place.  They made Blackpool history because they also won First Place in the Amateur Rising Star category.  You can imagine how they must have felt when they're names were called as the winners.  If you're interested in ballroom competition and would like to see more pictures, just look on my facebook page, I'll be posting a lot more pictures there.  If we're not friends on facebook, just send me a friend request (search Calvin Ota) and I'll acknowledge you.

Tomorrow will be another exciting night of competition, with the Professional Latin and the Ballroom Formation competitions.

With Aloha,
Calvin & Debra

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blackpool Senior Latin

Latin Competitors getting ready
It's Monday, May 29.  Today we dance in the Blackpool Senior Latin competition.  We didn't dance until this evening so we had a little time to do some practicing in the morning.  At noon, Debra went to see Yuko to have her hair and makeup done.  When she came back to the hotel and walked in the room, I looked at her and asked "Who are you?"  She had done a severe Latin look with her hair all pulled back.  She always likes to "poof" her hair and complains when it looks flat.  So, this was a totally different look for her.  But, it did look like a lot of the other Latin competitors.

We were on the floor at 6:50 p.m. and danced to the Blackpool Orchestra.  It was an exciting experience, to say the least.  Things didn't go quite as we had hoped through all the dances, but we did have some good moments.  Our Cha-cha and Rumba were ok, our Samba went out of sync, and our Paso left us feeling we should have practiced more.  We need to break our Paso down into short grouping rather than following a set choreography. 

We hadn't practiced to all the different Paso Doble songs that could be played.  We were most familiar with the phrasings in Spanish Gypsi, or Espana Cani, and ran into some difficulty with the Paso music played by the Orchestra. We should have know better and should have prepared better, but we spent so much time on our Quickstep performance and working on some Standard technique that we neglected our Latin.  Excuses, excuses . . .    Tom gave us a lot of encouragement and said that we looked good and that should be happy with our scores.  Yuko was encouraging as well, but was honest about our Paso.

Blackpool Senior Latin
Running alongside the Senior Latin competition, was the Professional Rising Stars Ballroom competition.  These young professionals are so good.  China and Japan are producing very strong dancers.  After we were done competing, we changed and came back to the ballroom to watch the final rounds of both the Senior Latin  and Professional Rising Stars Ballroom.

Chao Yang & Yi Ling Tan
In the Professional Rising Stars Ballroom, a Chinese couple, Chao Yang & Yi Ling Tan took First Place, U.S.A.'s Artem Plakhotnyi & Inna Berlizyeva took Second, and Japan's Go Hashimoto & Keiko Onda took Third.  China took Fourth, Ukraine took 5th, England took 6th, Germany took 7th, and China took 8th.  The Professional Rising Stars had 232 competing couples  So, you can see, China is coming on very strong at Blackpool.

German Finalists Senior Latin

The Senior Latin competition started with 79 couples dancing - not too many this year.  It was dominated by the Europeans and Eastern Europeans.  We were surprised to see quite a few entries from the Philippines this year.  The only Asian couple to make it to the Quarter Finals was a couple from China.  At the end of the Final round, Finland took First, Germany took 2nd, and 3rd, Czech Republic took 4th, Belgium took 5th, and Russia took 6th.  You can see what some of our competitors looked like.

It was another long day for us, and we're up past midnight again.  Time just disappears in Blackpool.  Time to say good night.

With Aloha,
Calvin & Debra

The North American Party

It's Sunday, our last day of practice before the Senior Latin competition.  We spent the morning reaffirming Debra's religious convictions and meeting some friends we had made the last time we were in Blackpool.  It was another beautiful day in Blackpool and it was a nice walk over to the Kingdom Hall.

After meeting, Debra was anxious to practice some more so we went back to the Winter Garden practice room for more practice.  Around 4:00, we returned to our hotel from some rest - we're meeting Tom & Yuko to go over to the Imperial Hotel for the Blackpool Party for the North American Competitors.  Debra wanted to spend some time checking out the Ballroom vendors at the Hotel and wanted to get there a little early.  We agreed to meet around 6:00 p.m. to catch the shuttle over to the hotel.  We weren't sure what time the party started, but assumed it was around 7:00.

We got to the hotel around 6:30 and found out that the party didn't start until 8:30!  We had some time to kill.  Debra and Yuko went around to the various vendors selling Ballroom dresses and accessories.  I conveniently slipped away and went for a little walk outside to take pictures of the Imperial Hotel and the surrounding area.  I think Tom did the same.

After about half an hour, I returned to the Hotel lobby to find that Debra was still trying on dresses.  She had the "can I get this one?" look in her eyes, and it was obvious that she was going to be a while looking at dresses, so Tom & I slipped away again and went the the Hotel Bar and had a couple of lagers.  We were told that Winston Churchill used to come to this bar to have a drink, puff his cigar, and discuss matters of State.

Soon, we saw people gathering for the party.  We saw our friends Winston and Lily Chow and sat at the same table.  Also joining our table were competing professionals, Mikhail Andeev and Olga Blinova who we've known for a couple of years and their friends, Latin professionals Denis Podolskiy and Yuliya Kushnirenko (originally from Russia, but now representing the U.S.).

We were served a roast turkey dinner.  We had a glass of wine.  After some congratulatory salutations for competitors who had already competed in their categories, we were treated to a fun skit and performance by Team Americas.  It was really fun and entertaining to watch the top ballroom dancers in the world, both Standard and Latin, let their hair down and just have fun.  Take a look at short video clip, and you'll see what I mean.  It was a lot of fun.

After the show and chatting with our friends for a while, we looked at our watch and it was already 11:30 p.m.  We compete tomorrow.  We need to get some rest.  By the time we got back to our hotel and into bed, it was well past 1:30 a.m.  There's so much more we want to share with you, but, we just need to get some sleep.

With Aloha,
Calvin & Debra

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Team Match

It's Saturday, another day of practice for us.  Today, they have the WDC Congress where some of the top Professionals come to give lectures and demonstrations.  We would have gone, except Debra is very anxious about her Latin and wants to practice.  We really didn't practice much Latin in the past couple of months because we were preparing for our Quickstep exhibition for USA Dance at the Palladium.  So, we are skipping the Congress and going to the Winter Garden to practice.  We will be meeting Tom and Yuko later in the evening for a bite to eat and to go over to the Empress Ballroom to watch the Team Matches.

In the Blackpool Dance Festival Program, we saw that there was free Latin practice time at the Tower Ballroom for competitors at 9:15 a.m.  We had breakfast and walked over to the Tower Ballroom and it was closed.  We ended up back at the Winter Gardens where they had set up a practice room.  We got there and there were already a number of couples practicing on the floor and soon the floor was full of dancers.  Ballroom couples were flying across the floor, Latin couples were squeezing out space between the Ballroom dancers.  It seemed pretty chaotic, but most of the couples seemed to know exactly what they were doing and, amazingly, there were no collisions.

After practice, we met up with Tom & Yuko and walked around town a bit - just a few blocks from our hotel.  We wanted to go up the Blackpool Tower to take some pictures because the weather's been so nice, but found out that the Tower is not open in the evenings.  We ended up having dinner at Nando's Chicken Restaurant, a block down the Promenade from the Tower.  There were interesting sights to see along the way, especially the people.  Blackpool is a blue collar holiday destination so, if you're here for the dance festival, you'll see an interesting mix of people - the dancers, the vacationers, and the locals.

After dinner, we made our way back to the Empress Ballroom  to watch the International Invitation ProfessionalTeam Match.  There were 4 teams, with a team representing Ausralasia, the Americas, Europe, and Great Britain.  Each team consisted of two Ballroom and two Latin couples.  The Americas team consisted of Arunas Bizokas & Katusha Demidova, Victor Fung & Anastasia Muravyeva, Riccardo Cocchi & Yulia Zagoruychenko (all from the U.S.), and Maurizio Vescovo & Andra Vaidilaite from Canada.

All ten dances were danced during the team match, with dances being alternated between Ballroom and Latin.  Each couple was judged and the teams were given cumulative scores.  Team Americas took First Place, Europe (Russia & Slovenia) took Second, Australasia (Australia, Japan & Chinal) came in Third and Great Britain came Fourth.

Because there were only 4 couples on the floor at a time, you could see everyone dancing, and it was quite exciting.  Although it was a competition, it was like watching a show, with top pros from around the world.  I took a lot of photos.  If you want to see more, check out my photos on facebook.  Also, you can click on this link to watch a YouTube video of the team match:

That's it for now, we need to get some rest.

With Aloha,
Calvin & Debra

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Blackpool Senior Ballroom Competition

The Blackpool Dance Festival competition began on Thursday, with the Amateur Rising Stars Latin and Ballroom competitions.  Today is Friday and we competed in the Senior Ballroom competition.  Because the Senior Ballroom competition began at 12:15 p.m., we had time in the morning for some last minute practice.  Between 9:15 and 9:50, the competition floor was opened for ballroom practice and warm-up. The floor was packed with competitors getting a last-minute feel of the floor.

But, well before breakfast and practice, Debra went with Yuko to have her hair done by Boyko, a famous hair dresser who does hair for many top competitors.  In fact, he's in such high demand, it's almost impossible to get an appointment with him unless you're already a regular client.  Debra was lucky because Yuko has her hair done by Boyko (as does Anne Ho) and Yuko asked Boyko to do Debra's hair too.  At 6:30 a.m., Yuko & Debra were off to the Imperial Hotel to get their hair done.  When they returned, we had breakfast and went to practice.

At 10:05, the competitions for the day began with the continuation of the Amateur Rising Stars.  After practice, we went back to our hotel room (conveniently directly across the street from the ballroom), got a little rest, and changed into our costumes.  Having a hotel room so close is such a relief - we don't have to change at the ballroom.  Unlike most U.S. competitions, many European competitions, and Blackpool, provide only a large open room for everyone.  No lady's dressing room - just one large bay where everyone got changed.  You walk through there and you'll see gents in their shorts and ladies changing into their dresses, with little or no privacy.

We returned to the ballroom around 11:30 to get our numbers.  The Latin competition was still underway.  We had number 179 and Tom & Yuko had number 15.  There were 199 couples, divided into 9 heats.  Tom & Yuko were in Heat 1 (1-23).  We were in Heat 9 (178 - 199).  Also dancing were our friends from U.S.A. Dance National competition, Winston & Lily Chow.  They were in Heat 5 (91-112).  So, you can see that there were over 20 couples on the floor for each Heat.  We've been to many U.S. competitions where they don't even have 20 couples competing, so being on the floor with 20 other competitors all at once is challenging.

So, it took 9 Heats, or rounds to complete 1 dance (the first dance is the Waltz).  When all couples have danced the Waltz, it starts over again with Heat 1 dancing the Foxtrot.  This process is repeated until all couples have danced all 4 dances (no Viennese Waltz).  This is followed by a short 15-minute break and general dancing is allowed.  At this point, we went back to our hotel room to get out of our costumes and relax a bit.  It will be another 2 hours before the second round is called for the Senior Ballroom competitors.  We returned to the ballroom, dressed in our costumes ready to dance the 2nd round (if we get called back).

The chances of us getting called back for the second round in this World Championship level competition is minuscule to none, but we obediently stood there dressed and ready to go.  Debra thought we danced pretty good in the first round, and I think she had a little glimmer of hope (wishful thinking perhaps) that we might be called for the second round.  The 2nd round began and we heard Tom & Yuko's number called for the 1st Heat.  They had made it to the second round - fantastic!  Then, we waited until the last heat for the 2nd round of Waltz was called, and we didn't hear our number.

Not only did Tom & Yuko get recalled for Round 2, they were called back for Round 3, and Round 4.  They made the top 50, which is awesome considering they dance in Senior II (over 45) in the U.S. comps.  We were very proud of them.  Yuko was ecstatic.  She was so happy, she was smiling from ear to ear.  And, you could tell that Tom was equally pleased in his conservative manner.  It was Yuko's dream to dance to the Blackpool Orchestra (the live orchestra only plays for the evening rounds - the daytime rounds are danced to recorded music).  Yuko got to dance 2 rounds to the Orchestra.

If you did the math, you might have figured out that by the time Tom & Yuko danced the 3rd and 4th rounds, it was evening.  The 4th round started at 8:05 p.m.  This was followed by the Quarter Finals at 9:30, Semi-Finals at 10:35, and Finals at 11:24.  Between each Senior Ballroom rounds were the Professional Rising Stars Latin rounds.  The last Latin round started at 11:36 p.m.  By the time they were done with the Presentation of Awards, it was past midnight.  It takes a lot of stamina to start dancing in Round 1 and make it to the Finals.  Three U.S. couples made it to the Finals.  1st Place went to Italy, 2nd to Germany, 3rd to Netherlands, and 4th went to U.S. couple Xingmin & Katerinal Lu, who we are familiar with from the U.S.A. Dance Nationals.

It was a long day.  Tomorrow, we practice for our Latin.  ;-)

With Aloha,
Calvin & Debra

Friday, May 25, 2012

One Day Before Comp

We picked up our programs for the Blackpool Dance Festival competition and saw that the Senior Ballroom Competition starts Friday at 12:30 p.m. - a bit of a relief to find out that we don't compete early in the morning.  This year, the Senior (35 and over) division has 199 couples entered.

The Blackpool Dance Festival is an all Championship level competition - no Bronze through Gold, Novice, or PreChamp.  It's only divided into age categories and Professional and Amateur (and the "Rising Stars" categories).

Although the Senior Ballroom category has 199 couples entered, it's one of the smaller categories.  The Amateur "Rising Stars" Latin category has 418 couples entered!!  I guess you can say that this is a large competition.  It started in the 1930's and, since then, competitors have been drawn here from around the world.  This is the Ultimate ballroom competition - the Super Bowl, the World Cup, of ballroom dancing.  The competition starts on Thursday and runs 9 days, through the following Friday.

We're back at the Tower Ballroom today for more practice with Tom & Yuko.  Debra is getting anxious as we go through our dances.  Things don't go quite right and the tension mounts.  It's an interesting experience.  We know that we don't have a chance at any significant placement in the competition (we're not delusional), yet we still want to do the best we can. Tom and Yuko were also a bit more serious today, as well.  But, then, they have more reason to be serious.  They are championship level dancers, and the current Senior II Standard USA Dance National Champions.

When we walked into the Tower Ballroom, we were treated to a group of children who had been practicing a dance.  We can't remember the name of the dance.  Some of you may recognize it from the video.

There were the local regulars dancing in the ballroom as well.  Some of them were quite good.   Rather than showing you pictures of competitors practicing (especially us), we thought we'd share these pictures, and a couple of videos you might find interesting.  The first shot above is the Ballroom organ player.  There were two, and they are both excellent.

We know that on the first Thursday of the Competition, there is a huge shoe sale - SupaDance usually has shoes marked of at least 50%.  We actually went to the Winter Garden to look for the shoe sale before we went to practice at the Tower Ballroom (priorities?).  When we got there after breakfast, we were told that the sale doesn't start until 4:00.  When we went back at 4:00, there was a huge line waiting to get in.  It was about a 20 minute wait to get to the shoes, and when we finally got to the shoes, we found that most of the popular sizes were already gone.  So, maybe the sale started a bit earlier . . .  oh well.

While we were shopping for shoes, Tom and Yuko went off to the Empress Ballroom (where the competition will be held) for more practice, and I think they were meeting their coach for final tips before the competition (priorities?).  I guess that's why they're National Champions.

By the time we were done shopping (not just shoes, but dancewear as well), it was around 7:30.  We had requested seating at the Cabaret of SuperStars show for the evening, but we were so tired, we decided to get a quick dinner at Bella Italia and call it a night.  We need to rest for tomorrow's competition.  Debra needs to get up at 6:30 to go with Yuko to the Imperial Hotel to get their hair professionally done.  This time, we went to the Bella Italia closest to our hotel - just around the corner.  This place is very popular among competitors because it's right across the street from the ballroom.  And, the food is pretty good.

With Aloha,
Calvin & Debra