Charlotte Star Ball 2021 - Atlanta, Georgia
BY ROSE-ANN LYNCH
Pre-Teen Bronze Latin, Saturday Day. Photo courtesy of Alla Zemlyak
“Heat one, we are happy to welcome you to the floor of the first NQE after 14 months of COVID.” These were the words of organizer Andrea Zaramella, as the first couples took to the floor, Friday, April 16, for the 2021 Charlotte Star Ball (CSB)!
Despite the odds presented by a country and world just reopening, as vaccines are becoming available to combat the Corona Virus-19 pandemic, Zaramella’s team found a way to hold the first USA Dance National Qualifying Event (NQE). As for the dancers, they were ready to boogie, flick, kick, sway, swing, and glide!
“It was a big deal. We were excited to see our dance friends that we used to see all the time in our competitions.” said Senior III 10-Dancer Maria Bolyard, who drove up from Huntsville, Alabama, with her husband and partner Carmine Rucco. “It’s like family. You don’t get to see them for a long time, so you miss them…You also wonder how they are going to do.”
“To me, it felt like the first time ever,” joked Carmine, describing how it felt to be back on the competition floor after such a long period away. The couple found themselves without a regular ballroom for the first four months of the pandemic and were only able to take sporadic lessons until things started reopening in June. Now they are back to their six-days-a-week routine.
“For me it was more exciting, especially in the Latin portion because…I worked harder, trying to get stronger in the Latin,” explained Maria.
Unlike past years, the 2021 CSB was not held in Charlotte, North Carolina. This year, the doors opened at the Volga Dance Studio, an Atlanta, Georgia-based facility that normally hosts the talented students of owner and professional Katrina Volgina. However, for this event, the studio was completely transformed to a lovely competition site, providing a main ballroom, large practice floor, four changing rooms, and a VIP lounge for the judges.
“We split the entrance in two,” explained Zaramella. “We created a flow, where the competitors could go in, check in with the on-deck captain, access the floor, and then, after they are done dancing, exit through a different door.” This reduced the traffic in the venue, facilitated social distancing, and allowed for a more “COVID safe” environment.
After traversing an interesting labyrinth, dancers and spectators entered a ballroom decked with intercontinental flavor. International flags streamed across the ceiling and lights flickered to the sound of the CSB theme song, “Follow You, Follow Me”. “I was surprised,” said Carmine, who had been to Volga Dance Studio for a previous event. “I was impressed with all of the flags and the atmosphere.”
“It had a European feel to it,” added Maria, “when you go in and think, ‘WOW! This is really well prepared.’ They made us feel like we were back in Europe again, with all the flags and everything. It looked so good!”
The fifth CSB attracted 112 participants at all levels and in age groups Pre-Teen 1 to Senior IV. Anxious dancers, including some of the country’s top couples, travelled from across the county – as far as Texas, Ohio, California, and Hawaii — to take part. There were new gowns, new tail suits, new Latin outfits, new shoes, new hair styles, new choreography, new partnerships, and a much-needed new spirit. There were also renewed friendships with a renewed appreciation for our long-missed dancing world. The largest group of competitors danced in Senior III Standard, which was a full final of seven couples from six different states.
“I think the kids were under-represented,” said Maria, who was expecting more kids from the local studios as well as studios up north. “However, the kids that were there were amazing. They did their best and I was well entertained when they did their dancing.”
Behind the scenes were the vendors. The Designs by Riveras team of Luis and Dilandia Rivera set up early on Friday to accommodate their excited hair and make-up customers, and remained on site through Saturday. “My hair was excellent as always,” said Maria. “They are always very good.” Also, positioned between the large practice room and the main dance floor, was Marius Kriukelis of MK Design, who catered to a steady stream of male customers looking for the latest in stylish ballroom haberdashery.
Saturday night brought a crescendo to the festivities, starting with a parade of fully costumed dancers, who grandly took to the floor with smiles on their faces. Even judges were seen with clappers in their hands, as the music played and lights circled in time. The judges were individually introduced and properly welcomed by all. The National Colors were then presented by popular 10-Dancer Alessandro Scalora, while Senior III Smooth and Standard dancer Rose-Ann Lynch performed the National Anthem. The parade was followed by a special presentation of Nrityam dancers led by Indian Dance teacher Radhika Unnithan. Their beautiful costumes and unique medley of Indian classical, folk, and American Hip Hop moves helped set the mood for the evening’s events!
Saturday night’s competition opened the floor to more dancers, who took full advantage of every opportunity to be in front of an audience and a distinguished panel of judges. All enjoyed a chance to do what they love, and performed to the best of their abilities.
“You always say, ‘I wish I had done this, I wish I hadn’t done that.’” Said Maria. “But this time I was thinking, ‘I wish I could do what I am supposed to do…the things we practiced.’”
“It’s rare that we feel like this, but this time we felt like we were ready,” said Carmine.
“I am happy with it!” added Maria. “I have improved!”
Then, shortly after 10 p.m., the dancing ended, and competitors received their awards while cameras flashed to hold onto memories and long-missed faces of friends.
“I would like to applaud Andrea, the organization, the volunteers, and all the judges!” said Carmine in summary. “It was challenging, but somebody had to start and Zaramella was the one.”
“We pushed through a lot of adversities and were able to do it,” said Zaramella. “We wanted to show that the dancers are here, the community is here and is ready, the adjudicators are ready to travel, organizers are ready to organize, and sponsors are ready to sponsor again.”
More dancers will soon be trying out their fancy footwork and patterns as studios and competitions continue to reopen in the United States. But those who attended will never forget the pleasure and excitement of taking the floor with their fellow dancers at the 2021 CSB.
“I was very honored that the first NQE was Charlotte Star Ball,” added Zaramella. “We are ready to dance!”
Interviews from Charlotte Star Ball
BY ALLA ZEMLYAK
Charlotte Star Ball was the first competition for a new couple — Peter See and Carolann Arthur. For Carolann it was the first USA dance competition ever. Their partnership started shortly before the pandemic. They were originally introduced to each other by their coach, and quickly found connection with each other as well as their shared passion for the International Standard. They did have to take some breaks due to COVID restrictions, but were able to eventually get back to practicing regularly together. For Carolann, finding a partner and being able to compete was a dream come true. They both were very excited to be able to dance and show off their work. Although both believe there is a lot of work to do, they felt great about their dancing at the Charlotte Star Ball. They commented on the positive atmosphere and the supportive attitude from their fellow competitors, which is what made Charlotte Star Ball so special to them. They are looking forward to more events in the near future.
Igor Golovach and Michelle-Angela Blank, the winners of the Adult International Latin division, had a great time at the Charlotte Star Ball. Despite this being the first National Qualifying Event since the start of the pandemic, Michelle actually felt this was the best they have performed in a while. Igor believes that the excitement of this being the first NQE in such a long time is what added to their dancing, and even though he was a touch nervous, the great atmosphere at the competition helped them put out a great performance. They share that they were lucky enough to only take a break from their dancing for a couple of weeks at the start of the pandemic, and after that they were able to keep their studio open. Even though they were separated from their main coach for a few months, they were able to take online lessons and kept practicing to maintain their competitive shape. “Lots of things to improve, but we started the journey!” commented Igor.
Introducing New Judges at Charlotte Star Ball
BY ALLA ZEMLYAK
Liene started dancing at the age of four in Latvia. She moved to Lithuania once she graduated high school to attend the dance program at the Lithuanian University, where she met her partner, Martin. Together, they had a long competitive career in the International Standard. They moved to the United States in 2009. Liene’s judging career started in Europe where she was a national judge for Latvia. She shares that they are practicing and taking lessons up to this day, even though they stopped competing, to make sure they stay in shape and current in their knowledge. “As long as you dance, you are alive”, cites Liene her favorite coach. Liene and Martin opened their Atlanta-based studio in 2017, and soon started teaching a lot of amateur couples of all ages, which is what got Liene interested in the USA Dance. Charlotte Star Ball was the first National Qualifying Event that she judged. Liene is happy to see a brand new team at work in the USA Dance, and she sees a lot of potential for building a strong organization with a bright future, even though at the moment there does not seem to be a large amount of strong competition. Liene feels that the USA Dance athletes deserve the help and guidance from the leaders, coaches, and officials within the USA Dance. She was fairly impressed with the level of dancing that she saw, especially considering that this was the first major competition since the start of the pandemic. She commented that overall, performance improved on the second day of the competition for almost everyone who competed both days, which is very understandable considering the stress associated with the first event in a long tim
Slava Visnakovs is an accomplished International Latin dancer originally from Latvia. He won multiple WDSF and WDC international competitions in Junior 2, Youth and Adult divisions, including Youth German Open and Under 21 Blackpool Championships. He finished his competitive career in 2016, and since has had a very successful coaching career, raising the World and European Junior WDSF finalists. He came to the United States in 2019, and continues coaching dancers of all ages. He made the decision to become a USA Dance judge mostly because of its ties with the WDSF, which is the organization most in line with his coaching background and experience. Slava says that the atmosphere at the Charlotte Star Ball pleasantly reminded him of the European invitational competitions because of its nice and cozy feel. However, he feels that the field was a bit too small for the National Qualifying Event, and he definitely hopes to see bigger competitions now that the pandemic is subsiding. He was rather impressed with the level of the Senior dancers attending this competition, although a bit disappointed that the Seniors were underrepresented in the Latin division compared with the International Standard. He comments that his goal as a coach is to bring more Senior athletes into USA Dance’s competitive Latin division. He immensely enjoyed the energy, talent, and enthusiasm of the Youth and Junior dancers. However, he did comment on the frequent lack of technical knowledge and skills, which he is hoping will improve with the advent of junior training camps and educational programs.