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Ballroom’s Best

Greg T. Spielberg

Ballroom dancing is sexy. It’s flirtatious. Ballroom dancing is charming. It’s a tease. Ballroom dancing is a first date. It steals a quick kiss. It’s a third date, an all-night affair, and it’s coming to the valley.

On August 12, the 2006 Vail International Dance Festival brings “Ballroom’s Best” to Vail. Ballroom has been in vogue of late, with TV shows like “Dancing with the Stars” bringing the dance into America’s bedrooms and dens. But, on the second Saturday in August, there won’t be any amateurs ” just trained professionals to heat up the summer night.

Don’t expect the performers to be giving a stodgy Victorian rendition of ballroom dancing when they hit the Ford Amphitheater stage. Ballroom is not what many people envision it to be “-gowns, corsets and top hats. As Brian Jolly, a lifelong dance enthusiast, says, “It’s all fire.”



There are many subdivisions of ballroom dancing: rumba, bolero, cha-cha, mambo, and the more classic fox trot, Viennese waltz and tango. Jolly, who will partner up with Ana Llorente ” the 2004 world mambo champion ” for their first public performance, says it’s more than footwork on stage ” it’s storytelling.

“You tell the story of the relationship between a man and a woman ” one of the most beautiful things out there. You show how they interact with each other,” he says.



Jolly, who specializes in Latin dancing, sees Rumba as the flirtatious stage of the relationship. The playful courtship, the cat-and-mouse game.

“It’s designed around how you’d meet a girl in a bar or any other type of courting activity. Her saying yes for a few seconds, then no, then maybe.”

Cha-Cha is the playful second stage. Bolero, Jolly says, is where a more ‘mature’ expression of intimacy comes out followed by a full-blown, “I love you.”



Cuban origins

Llorente won’t be at a loss for moves when she and Jolly hit the stage for their first public courtship, although she is a little nervous. The dance champion is a native of Cuba, where she attended the National School of Art and studied modern dance and Afro-Cuban folklore. Many ballroom dances are rooted in Cuban culture, but breaking into the style in 1994, Llorente says it was the same as learning a new technique like ballet or jazz.

Before ’94, her dance was displayed at the theater during shows. Learning ballroom was a little strange because although much of the style’s essence comes from Latin America, it had been re-invented in a European context. The techniques had been created for Continental dances, and, Llorente says, were “imposed onto the reality of our world. It’s hard going against the entire world to bring the real thing.”

Llorente feels the fact that she’s a “real Latin girl” sets her apart on the dance floor. Her favorite style is mambo, another Cuban-born method, which resembles salsa. Growing up with salsa, Llorente is a natural, an asset that helped her capture the world crown at the 2004 competition in Hollywood, Fla.

The Cuban-born dancer says that like any other artistic expression, ballroom takes dedication and hard work. Coming from the world of theater, which she says is more magical, the competiive nature of ballroom is very challenging. Competions are showcased in front of an audience and, of course, judges. They last all day and display different styles of ballroom dancing. Heats initially consist of of 48 couples, a group that is eventually paired down until six are left.

Competitive edge

Jolly says it’s difficult to simultaneously please the audience and the judges.

“Judges can be very particular. Each has his or her own preference, and sometimes they miss the overall package. One judge can be very focused on feet and ankles. Another person may not care about that at all. Audiences generally have an unbiased view. They appreciate the overall image of what’s created.”

While Jolly is inspired by the hard-line nature of competition, he enjoys the freedom of doing shows like the one he’ll be performing in on August 12. His style, he says, is “American Rhythm,” a theme that expands past the U.S.’s border into Central and South America. Though it’s infused with Latin rhythm, Jolly’s dancing methods can be traced back to North American icons like James Brown and Michael Jackson. When the Seattle native heard Jackson’s “Thriller” album, he said his love of dance took off. He started breakdancing on cardboard in second grade and would later hit the floor at parties, partially to “meet and have fun with girls.”

In high school he began dating a Peruvian girl, spending days with her large family.

“They’d use any excuse to throw a giant party. The singing and dancing had so much energy, I decided I wanted to pick it up and become the best dancer there. I went from one person to the next who could teach me.”

Come “Ballroom’s Best,” audiences will be treated to a medley of approaches to couples dancing. Ballroom’s influences are so widespread ” they can come from the party of a girlfriend’s family or from a future dancer’s own. Steven Dougherty, who pairs with Eulia Baraovsky, was inspired by his parents in their Yonkers, N.Y., home. They were social dancers, and Dougherty decided he wanted to pursue the art competively. As an amateur he competed in both Latin and American “smooth” styles, but now focuses on the latter’s waltz, fox trot and tango. Though the tango was conceived in Argentina, it relates better to the waltz and fox trot in its lack of percussion and the way couples sweep across the entire floor.

“I do more of a Fred and Ginger,” says the 2005 U.S. national finalist.

Unlike the fledgling couple of Llorent and Jolly, Dougherty has been dancing with Baraovsky for three years. Like Jolly, he sees his art as a form of storytelling. In American smooth, waltz is the romance, fox trot is flirtateous and tango is the passion. The Viennesse waltz, he says, is “the happily ever after.”

The best reason to be at Ford Amphitheater August 12 is to take part in an expression of dance. But, if you’re just looking for something to fill a late-summer night, “Ballroom’s Best” will give you the opportunity heat up a first date and guarantee a second.

Vail, CO


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