U.S. National Professional Rising Star Rhythm

Diana McDonald
Jul 22, 2004
Reprinted with permission from Dance Beat Magazine.

18 couples started this event on an exciting Friday night at the Emerald Ball. As a Rising Star Competition comes up, you normally have some idea of who the finalists will, be if not where they might place, based on the prior year's results. This was not the case in this particular division because at some point during this competitive season, couples from this semifinal have been placed ahead of some who reached the final. We also can't discount the absence of Gunnar and Darryl from Connecticut who have been very competitive in this category all year.

The judges clearly had different ideas about who would win this event. Out of a possible 65 1st place marks, the most any couple received was 17 and that was the fifth place couple. Weird huh?

The semi final: 7th place was Lucas Jaime and Yanna from New York. This couple has a striking look on the floor so at first glance they are easy to find. However, they don't work off of one another at all and often have timing problems together. Lucas has a rigid approach when he dances; this makes the partnership look slow and lost compared to many of the other couples. 8th place was Danny Pugh and Anna Harwood from Tennessee. I enjoy this couple's dancing. Compact and simple is what they do and they do it quite well. I'd like to see more characterization from this couple to better separate the dances both through emotion and intensity. This couple could easily have made it to the final. 9th place was John Vilardo and Pamela Licht from New Jersey. This couple has been together for about a year and really showed improvement in their dancing. They still need to develop a more mature approach to what they are doing but also easily could have made this final.

The final: 6th place FJ and Catherine Abaya from California. I?m sure they were happy to be in this final. Congratulations! I?ve recently seen FJ and Catherine quite a bit and I have two thoughts. The first is that the action they do through their centers has little or no correlation with their leg and foot actions. My second thought is that I don?t think what they are dancing is real to them, it's just choreography. Don?t get me wrong; lots of couples never do more than that. Being such a masculine and feminine partnership, I believe they could find a style that plays on what they already naturally are. I am certain it would be more for them and therefore better to watch. I'm looking forward to watching them develop.

In 5th place were Hayk Arshakian and Albina Basharian from Wisconsin. 17 first place marks out of a possible 65 went to this couple!! This couple has a great look, period. They are tall, tan, in shape and well dressed. Before they even move, its looking good for them. What I feel they lack is rhythmical substance. Not so good when you are dancing any style but particularly American Rhythm. They are a tall couple and that alone can tend to make them look high but I think they haven?t focused on that part of the style enough yet and once they do, those couples in front of them better watch it. Well done, keep working!

In 4th place, also from Wisconsin were Jessie DeSoto and Jackie Josephs. What a bright and futuristic young couple! It?s a pleasure to have watched this young lady go through our system as a child and grow into such an impressive dancer. Okay, I feel old! Anyway, I enjoyed the energy, rhythmicality, and rawness they have. They just have to clean it up and be more clear about how they really want to show themselves to us. For example, I don?t feel that the costuming fit the style they were dancing. So you have to watch as developments rise in the dancing, the emotions and grooming have to follow along with it. It will be exciting to see what they can become!!! Congrats!

In 3rd place from California were Juan De Dios Garcia and Carrie Jo Melgoza. They are quick and make a good first impression. As I watch further, I realize they are often too fast on the music (adrenaline maybe?) and fail to complete many of the leg and foot actions they start. A couple at this level really needs to focus on these things more especially because they are so talented and perform with such charisma together.

Second place for me would have been my winners, Edgar Osorio and Lori Putnins from New Jersey. Yes, I do teach them, but I don?t ever just mark someone because they work with me, they?ll tell you the same. They put a great package on the floor on the night. Dancing, characterization, grooming, and athletically very up to the task. The weaknesses, which occasionally appear in this couple, are their lack of focus on each other and truly being inside of their work. Similar to Juan and Carrie Jo they also tend to push the music at times. Congratulations on dancing well, keep going at it!

Finally in 1st place were John King and Anna Chacon from Florida. Obviously based on the rest of my review, you realize this couple wasn?t my favored winner. I find them slow and unreadable for my taste. Their energy is very inflated through their upper bodies so they are unable to properly use their feet. They focus well on each other and she particularly connects well with the audience. I just feel that they need to work on their technique so they can create better speed and energy changes and perhaps re-vamp some of their work so it is easier to read. Congratulations on your United States Title, there are only a few of those to go around each year, treasure it!!!

Diana McDonald is a former World Professional 10-Dance Champion and U.S. Professional Latin, 10-Dance and Classic Showdance Champion. She is a co-organizer of the Manhattan DanceSport Championships.

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