Emerald Ball Gives Preview of US Finals

Keith Todd
Jun 30, 2003
So strong was the professional field in three of the open professional events, that they offered a foretaste of the U.S. National finals. Only in the Latin were many of the key players missing. The Rhythm, Smooth, and Standard saw most, if not all, of the best couples battling it out. There were some surprises and some new additions to the finals. The Rhythm in particular saw a bit of a shake up. Although the title went easily to 10-times U.S. Champions Bob Powers & Julia Gorchakova, who never received less than ten of the possible fifteen first place marks in each dance, the new partnership of Tony Dovolani & Inna Ivanenko placed third overall and took the second place away from Dan Rutherford & Nicole Carrol in cha cha and rumba and the newly crowned U.S. Rising Star winners, Brian Jolly & Kristina were 5th. Felipe & Carolina Telona were also first -time finalists in an event of this magnitude and placed sixth. Michael Neil & Susie Thompson placed a comfortable fourth overall, but must have been disappointed to slip a place from current form.

Most surprising in the Smooth was the ascension to second spot for Nick Kosovich & Lena Bacheva who were not finalists in the 2002 U.S. Champs. Heirs apparent, Ben Ermis & Shalene Archer-Ermis were the comfortable winners, gaining clear majorities of first place marks in all dances. The marks in this division were extremely erratic proving how tight this final was. Most couples ran the gambit of first to sixth placements. I was personally surprised that Steven Hevenor & Larinda McRaven were not included in this final. I felt they deserved a place and I spoke with several judges after the event who also felt their inclusion would have been warranted.

The Standard was a phenomenal event. Giampiero Giannico & Ieva Pauksena gave a powerhouse performance and continued to snipe at 6-times U.S. Champions, Jonathan Wilkins & Katusha Demidova. Jonathan & Katusha won all dances, but Giampiero & Ieva snatched many first places away from them, four firsts in both the tango and quickstep were the most significant. Erminio Stefano & Luana Conte cemented their third place ranking by once again gaining that placement.

The Latin alone among the open professional events failed to draw the top players. It did, however, offer a very exciting match between the top three couples. The win went to Andrei Gavriline & Elena Kryuchkova who gave a great performance, dancing better than in many months, and in my view were the clear winners. The judges also seemed in agreement as Andrei & Elena gained a clear majority of first place marks in all dances. Maxim Kojevnikov and Eulia Zagorouitchenko, in second place, were not without their supporters. They had won the U.S. Rising Star Latin the night before, but for me their challenge never materialized in the Open. Despite their phenomenal speed, I often missed them on the floor suggesting perhaps that they need to work on creating more volume. Rumba was their best-marked dance. In third spot and also stealing a few first place marks, especially in paso doble, were Paul Richardson & Milana Pliner who I felt danced a terrific first round but lost some drive in the final.

The Emerald Ball also hosts the U.S. National Rising Star events in the Latin, Rhythm, and Smooth. I noted the winners in the Latin and Rhythm above. Troy Baeten and Irina Shalkevitch were the winners in the Smooth.

This year the Emerald Ball totaled almost 7,000 entries, a little less than the previous year but still within the top five of U.S. competitions. The pro-am divisions, of course, made up the bulk of these entries. The Open Scholarship divisions, as in the pro, I felt offered a possible glimpse of what we can anticipate for the U.S. Championships. Many of the top players were there. I especially enjoyed the Standard and Smooth divisions. Stand out performances were given by Barbara Moore in the 'A1' Standard and Ruthie Perkins who won the 'A1' Smooth and 'A2' Rhythm and Standard. Quite an accomplishment. I also enjoyed May Ling Hutchins in the 'A1' Standard who placed well in the freestyle divisions but was inexplicably (in my view) dropped to fourth in the Scholarship. May Ling, however was the winner of the 'A1' Latin. Mary Sue Schwartz pulled off a surprise victory in the 'A2' Smooth and placed an unlucky second in the 'A2' Rhythm. All Open 'A1' and 'A2' Scholarships will be reviewed in future editions. Another star player was Pam Butler who finished first in the 'A2' Latin and second in the 'A2' Smooth.

In the Amateur divisions, the Open Standard was a fine event with Victor Fung & Liene Apale once again proving they are far ahead of the field. The Open Latin, however, was a comparatively weak division. Alec Mazo & Edyta Sliwinska were easy winners but were not really challenged. Where were all the Amateur Latin dancers?

Forrest Vance danced his feet off to become this year's Top Teacher. Last year's Superbowl Top Teacher, John Moldthan, was second and Kelly Vuyovich was third.

Wayne & Donna Eng are to be congratulated once again on the level of organization of the Emerald Ball. It once again ran mostly on time and there was sufficient time to enjoy the dinner and dancing offered to package holders. Gone this year were the really early AM starts. We began one morning at 8:00 AM, but the remaining mornings were a little more civilized. While entries, following national trends this year, were a little down, I know that Wayne & Donna have some exciting plans for Emerald Ball 2004. The Emerald remains one of my very favorite competitions on the calendar. See you there in 2004!