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Ballroom dancing at its finest

BY COURTNEY SPEARS | NOVEMBER 05, 2009 7:20 AM

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Long, flowing gowns glittering under the lights, as world-renowned ballroom dancers sway to the rhythms of exotic tunes.

This is the scene set by the world touring ballroom extravaganza Champions of the Dance.

The Englert, with its 730 seats, is one of the smallest venues to host the production, which will kick off at 8 p.m. Friday at the theater, 221 E. Washington St. Tickets are $30 to $35.

“We are lucky to live in a town where the arts have priority and attention,” Englert CEO Sean Fredericks said. “There are lots of opportunities for people to see world-class performances, and anytime that we can contribute something to that is great.”

The spectacular features world-champion ballroom dancers, including bigshots from ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and PBS’s “America’s Ballroom Challenge.”

“This is the first time, as far as I know, recently where something like this has come to town,” Fredericks said. “We are sort of riding the wave of national attention that ballroom dance is getting, especially with such shows as ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ ”

Champions of the Dance débuted slightly more than a year ago, and Friday’s performance is one of the first in the Midwest. The show features all four styles of ballroom dance — American Rhythm, American Smooth, International Standard, and International Latin — and 19 different routines performed by five champion couples.

“Normally, you don’t have a ballroom show [in which all the couples are] champions,” said Hong Cheng, the show’s coproducer and cocreator.

While the tour has stopped in many big cities, it is often the small-town performances that are fun for the dancers because of the more intimate nature of the shows, Cheng said.

“In larger cities, it’s hard to get audiences clapping because they have seen similar performances live,” she said. “But for a small town, the audiences are very warm, and they react to what they see.”
A former dancer herself, she hung up her shoes to tackle other projects involving ballroom dancing. She and choreographer Tarliat Tarsinov created the show with the goal of bringing the best dancers in the world to the stage.

As ballroom dancing becomes more mainstream, the show’s producers want all audience members to have the same experience, regardless of dancing knowledge.

Champions of the Dance mixes narration with acts, explaining the different forms of dance performed throughout the production. While these explanations are not entirely educational, Cheng said, they help to elucidate dance for audience members who may not know what ballroom is about.

“These dancers are normal people with emotions,” she said. “It brings out the very sensitive layer of people when they are into the music and they are totally moved by the movement. When the dancers give so much on stage, then the audience receives.”

For longtime dancers, ballroom can be glamorous and lucrative, but it is not without its costs. Costumes can range in price anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000, and each number requires a different look. Dancers spend thousands on travel and competition fees.

Aside from flashy costumes and complex choreography, the show’s producers aim to put on a culturally rich show with versatile music that is as fun for the audience as it is for the dancers.

“This is a show that’s for anyone interested in having a really good time,” said Steve Love, a coproducer of Champions of the Dance. “It’s for the Hells Angels Harley-Davidson guys with the beards and for the pregnant moms.”


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