U.S. National Rising Star Rhythm Competition

Didio Barrera
Jun 15, 2001
This year's United States Rising Star Rhythm proved to be a very exciting event at the Emerald Ball. What made it exciting for me was that nobody really knew who was going to take the trophy home and at least four of the six finalists had previously won rising star events recently. The form was certainly mixed so the judges had to put on their thinking caps and evaluate each dance as did I as a critic of this event. My conclusions and predictions did not match the judges' but anyway, here is what I felt.

The cut from the quarter final to the semi was relatively easy and all my selections did in fact make this round. There was actually an "extra" couple who are worth mentioning even though I did not actually select them for my semifinal. They were Danny Pugh & Ana Harwood. Overall they need to develop more speed especially in the swing, but with more power and precision, they can do well in this division.

Picking the six finalists was a little tougher. All but one of my six actually made the final. The one that didn't was Dana James & Elke Mischke. From where I stood, this couple seemed a sure thing for the final. I noticed them from the first round. Although I have seen them before, they have never impressed me as they did today. Their work was clean and powerful and most important of all, precise. I'm still puzzled that they were missed.

Another couple worthy of mention, even though I didn't have them on my call back list are Benito Garcia & Nonka Nedialkova. I enjoyed their dancing but their dancing was not quite mature enough to progress to the next round.

Placing sixth in the final were Fonzie Zapata & Kelly Bowser (TX) 6,6,6,6,5. I was very impressed with this couple in the first round and considered them strong challengers. Unfortunately, in the semi their dancing became more untidy and in the final I thought that they would place sixth. Had they maintained their form from the first round, I'm sure they would have placed much higher.

In fifth place were Tommy Rizzo & Lynn Kawamoto (FL) 5,5,5,5,6. With this couple I was really off on my prediction, in fact I had to look at the judges' scores to see what happened. I had this couple placing second. From my angle the man looked in complete control and the lady very fast. I also liked their musical interpretation of all the dances and their use of feet and legs. When I looked at the marks, I was pleased to see that I was not alone and that three of the judges had marked them very highly. I hope we see more of this very promising couple.

Fourth, with placements of 4,4,1,4,4, were Jay Larson & Julie Jacobson (MN). Although I had this couple coming in a notch higher, I was disappointed with their performance. I've seen them dance much better. Their first two rounds were really off form and even though they picked it up a bit for the final, it still wasn't enough to bring them seriously into contention. They needed more power and impact today.

In third place were F.J. Abayer & Natasha Thayer (WA) 3,2,4,2,3. This is another couple whose performance on the day was a little disappointing. Maybe it was the pressure of the national event, but to me they never really seemed to get going. I do like the precision of their programs and in fact I've never seen them fumble, but based on today's performance, I would say that they need more power and speed to really challenge.

In the runner-up spot were Vincent & Alicia Duhon (TX) 2,3,3,3,2. Maybe it was just me, but it also seems that I've seen this couple dance so much better than this. Normally I would have considered them strong challengers for first place in this field, but tonight they just didn't do it for me.

The winners were Gleb & Tatiyana Makarov (NJ) 1,1,2,1,1. This couple were my winners from the first round and although once again, I've seen them dance better, they had total control of the floor and their programs.

Congratulations to Wayne & Donna Eng on a well run competition. Even with the pressure of 10,000 entries, your qualified team kept the competition running smoothly.

Didio Barrera is a former competitor in International Latin and choreographer for TV shows. He is a popular coach and lives in Miami, FL.