Off to battle in tails & gowns

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By John & Penny DeFino | Special to the County Compass

BATON ROUGE, LA — You wouldn’t think so much of us as athletes. We are, after all, dressed in gowns and tail suits. But this is DanceSport, recognized by the Unites States Olympic Committee. We are at a National Qualifying Ballroom dance competition — lined up, ready to take the floor. This is the ‘On-Deck’ area. After many months of practice and working with our coaches, we are here, waiting to perform for the judges and audience.

We were up early and on the practice floor to make sure we were warmed up. We have already danced in quarter final and semi-final elimination rounds. This is the final round where we really need to impress. We have a rule, between ourselves, that we apply at this moment. We know that all the work, all the trials in footwork and movement, all the technique and styling experiments are over. We can’t fix anything right now. We agree that we just go out, have a good time and dance. Let the audience and judges see how much we honestly enjoy this.

The ballroom is buzzing with activity. The dais is just to our left. In the center, at a podium is the Emcee. It is their job to keep the competition running on time and announce the various events and awards. Also on the dais is the Chairman of Judges who overlooks all of the judges and settles any questions in procedure. There is also the Invigilator who makes sure dancers are dancing within their level. There is the Scrutineer who tallies the results, the Registrar who keeps track of the dancers and events, and the Music Director who selects, at random, the music for each event. With us in the on deck area is the Deck Captain — responsible for getting the dancers lined up and out on the floor in time. And, finally, in various places around the dance floor, are the Judges, who are certified adjudicators for the competition.


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Standing in line with us are six couples, who have also made it to the final round. We chat, a bit nervously, and give each other encouragement. This is a ladies’ and gentlemen’s sport. But we know that once we are on the dance floor, we are all competitors. We are lined up in numerical order. As we watch the current dance heat already in progress, we look to see where we might begin our dance once we are asked to take the floor. We stay loose and do some last minute stretches in place.

I have my partner’s left hand in my right. We notice the music wind down for the current heat as we hear the announcer call our event. The Deck Captain asks us all to take the floor. Out we go, hand in hand, searching for our starting point. Our smiling faces are met with grateful applause from the audience as we take our space. I place my partner in position. The Emcee calls for “Music Please.” We have no idea what the song will be. The music begins! It is a beautiful Waltz. I raise my left hand to invite my partner in to dance. She accepts, we get into frame, the adrenaline rush is already coursing through our bodies. We are off and moving. For the next several minutes the rest of the world disappears as we engage the audience and join in the spectacle of this ballroom competition performance.

Editor’s note: John and Penny DeFino of Oriental are National Ballroom competitors and just returned from the Gumbo Dancesport Championships in Baton Rouge, LA. They took First Place in seven of their 10 events, bringing home 14 gold medals and they are now qualified for the 2015 National Ballroom Championships.  John and Penny also teach dance in the area. See more information at www.DeFinoBallroom.com

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