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Photos: 2022 Maryland Dancesport Competition

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During the first weekend of February, the Hyatt Regency in downtown Baltimore staged the Maryland Dancesport competition organized by Amanda Reyzin. A younger competitor named Katia shared some wisdom with me: “In sad times, just dance.” At the time, she was referring to her discipline and dedication to dance throughout the pandemic, but now, only a few weeks later, I imagine her continuing to dance through the news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many Ukrainian and Russian families were in attendance for the competition alongside people from the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, the UK, Eastern Europe, and across the DMV and tri-state area.

Dancesport is also known as competitive ballroom dancing. In the 1990s, ballroom dance organizations adopted the term Dancesport in a global effort to be a part of the Olympic games. Extreme athleticism is the backbone of this competition that requires one to know how to Rumba, Mambo, Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Cha-Cha, Swing, Samba, Paso Doble, and Jive again and again for this two-day affair. At these regional competitions, dance partners at amateur and professional levels, ages 4-81, compete for the chance to win cash prizes. The winners are determined by adjudicators, who are licensed judges experienced at recognizing the accuracy of each “hold” (where hands are placed) and “position” (the spatial relationship between dancers’ bodies), as well as a number of other factors related to creativity, choreography, and energy.

 

Katia (12) and Leo (13) live by the motto “just dance,” something that they return to in sad times, like this last year. “Dancing always helps,” Katia tells me as Leo nods along. 
Zlata (9) and Mykaylo (8) admit that the reason they dance is that their parents want them to, but when Zlata shares that dancing makes her feel happy, Mykaylo concedes, “me too.” 

Vying for the attention of the judges is the foremost challenge. Hence the shimmering costumes and dancers’ fierce facial expressions that accompany their footwork. Each moment of their short performance is a commitment to an emotion: ecstasy, mania, heartbreak, and revenge in no more than two minutes.

Offstage, the dancers are in a trance-like state of anticipation, moving in silence to music in their AirPods, warming up throughout the hotel. They don’t know what song the DJ will play for their routine until they step on the dancefloor. Upon entry into the ballroom, shiny rows of beaded gowns are being sold for small fortunes, for a second suggesting that you too could join in on this world of glitzed-out old-Hollywood glamour. Behind the black curtains, dozens of kid- and adult-sized Fred Astaires and Ginger Rogers twirl each other with the chutzpah you might have seen in Dirty Dancing. The mix of elegance and energy boils down to what the dancers call passion. 

 

Next to the hotel bar, a brightly lit and quiet conference room is used for dancers to warm up throughout the weekend, where guests can peek in while they wait for dinner.
Anna Jgenti (15) and Ethan Hayutt (15) say that passion and feeling are the keys to being a good dancer. “If you can’t have that passion, then you can’t dance,” says Jgenti. 
Hanna Shyvilka (16) spent half a year practicing ballroom at home in her living room with no coaches and no partner.

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