Open Professional American Smooth

Jim Maranto
Jul 15, 2002
Thirty-seven marks from the panel of 13 judges were required to reach the semi-final round and not This year's Professional American Smooth Championship at the Emerald Ball once again demonstrated the incredible parity amongst the best American Style dancers in the country.

All twenty-three couples were well costumed and well rehearsed with a nice combination of slick, stylish choreography, great musical expression and solid ballroom dance technique. Every cut was difficult and any number of the couples could have easily advanced to the next round.

Not making the semifinal, but catching my attention were Chang Ching Yeh & Tonja Martin. This couple has really improved over the last year. The man has developed a strong, solid shape and the girl is dancing aggressively and with nice musical expression. Better awareness of vertical balance and depth could remove some of the tight and "steppy" areas and give this couple a much more grounded and stable appearance.

Also of note were Jonathan & Melissa Atkinson. I liked the softness and lightness of this couple, especially the ease and flexibility of the lady. Jonathan needs to stabilize his body weight and position to allow their very well constructed choreography to show their strengths.

Dancing in the semifinal but not advancing were some very good couples that could easily have been in the final on another day. One such couple is the new partnership of Hunter Johnson & Maria Zee. Both are excellent dancers and Maria's strength and flexibility are unmatched. They could easily have been in the final, but they still looked a little unrehearsed and are still settling into the partnership. Hunter seems still to be searching for stability in the top line and the proper counterbalance for a much smaller and lighter partner - but the look is promising.

Although not really in contention for the final, but showing a lot of promise and noticeable improvement were Mark Short & Heather Conyer. Mark is very tall and has an imposing appearance that works well with Heather's cute, playful style. I could see some basic foot position and movement errors as well as some connection imbalances that should easily be cleared up and make this couple very competitive.

This year's Rising Star Champions, Kostadin Bidjourov & Carrie Babcock looked very good tonight but lacked the clarity, form and togetherness that could take them to the next level. They often looked like they were dancing separately, unlike all our finalists.

Andrie & Anastasia Abrashin show great promise as well, but lack the depth and power of U.S. Finalists. The look is often high, light and small lacking togetherness and weight connections.

Christian Clayton & Catherine Vaughan produce nice pictures and dance beautiful, easily read choreography that suits their long, slender frames, but they lack the impact and strength that could bring better results.

F.J. Abayer & Natasha Thayer always look well put together. Although well rehearsed and well costumed, their look is too bulky and the movement is sometimes heavy and unrefined. The performance quality is excellent, but the basic action must be improved.

This year's final had great diversity. Each couple was stylish and clever, showing great individuality without overshadowing their basic actions, strong movement, partnership and balance.

In sixth position were Stephen Hevenor & Larinda McRaven. This couple had a long lay off from the professional circuit, but seem to back in full swing. They are easy to watch with a nice combination of powerful movement and softness. Stephen is a strong, solid man who beautifully compliments the light and soft movement of Larinda. Stephen could use more stillness in the upper body - allowing his girl to dance rather than dancing her. This would define their strengths even more. I'm glad to see them back.

In fifth position were David Weise & Valentina Kostenko. This couple presents a very attractive picture on the floor. David has really improved his topline over the past year and may have the best upper body stillness in the field. Valentina is light and fluid but can often look too careful. I'd like to see more weight opposition and a more aggressive approach from this lady. With this addition, this couple would be tough competition.

Fourth position went to Gleb & Tatiana Makarov. I had trouble finding this couple on the floor tonight. Although they did not reach out and grab my attention, they are very clean and accurate dancers with a consistency in their performance worthy of the placement. More traditional ballroom work and greater use of body weight could easily improve them.

In third place were David Rosario & Larissa Trebunskaya. It was hard to place this couple tonight. They are both great dancers and I usually like their classic, easily read style. The girl has beautiful fluidity and David is usually stable and secure. Tonight however, the picture was small and the lines unclear. They did not seem as together as I would have expected. They did, however, produce enough to warrant this high placing.

The runners-up were Ben Ermis & Shalene Archer-Ermis. I thought they were great tonight. They had big, impressive movement, dynamic use of body weight opposition and power and flexibility that just kept coming. Ben could still pay more attention to his upper body position and stillness and his support of the lady. Shalene could temper her beautifully aggressive style with moments of inactivity and extra softness. Still, they gave a great performance tonight.

Tonight's champions were Michael Mead & Toni Redpath. They put in their usual strong performance with the accent on big, sweeping movement, great use of body weight and slick choreography. Toni is the premier lady in this style and rarely falters. Michael provides great support for her and really cover ground when it's time to move. They fully characterize this category.

Congratulations to all the couples and thanks for making the American Smooth a great event to watch.

Jim Maranto is a former U.S. Professional American Smooth Champion. He lives in Phoenix and is an active coach and teacher.