Amateur Ballroom Championship 2018 Report by Christopher Hawkins
The 2018 Freedom To Dance Amateur Ballroom Championship was a spectacular affair with a rooftop draped in silken white, interspersed with sparkling lights giving the atmosphere of a night sky over a luxury yacht in the moonlight. The spectacle that you saw when you looked down was in no way overshadowed by the view above, as the high technology large screen display constantly kept the audience informed of proceedings through crimson red curtains which opened to reveal the Freedom to Dance logo in luxurious gold.
The competitors in the final were not about to be outperformed by the elegance of the backdrop around them, and what follows is a report of the graceful style of all the couples that reached the final of this prestigious event.
1st Fedor Isaev & Anna Zudilina (Russia) (1211)
were placed 1st in three dances, being placed second only in Tango. Following from the World Championships in Disneyland Paris and the United Kingdom Championships, where Fedor and Anna became champions, this is their first meeting with Chong He and Jing Sian in a competitive event. As can be seen from the dance breakdown, they did not have things all their own way. However, they notched up another successful victory in this strongly contested competition.
Fedor and Anna have made incredible strides forward in recent months, as Anna has improved the support and shape in her back beyond recognition. They have also established a much more dynamic space inside the couple, and therefore create a dominating aura on the floor. Occasionally, it appears that Fedor could release his body weight through his swing to attain a greater fullness. There could also be more completion in the rotation through the back at times. However, the overall effect of their attitude towards the competition is that they exude the aura of champions. This is a magnificent asset to have in a competition, because it draws the audience and the adjudicators towards your performance before you even start to dance. With this natural skill, and an increased range in their motion, they are going to prove very difficult to overcome in future competitions.
2nd Chong He & Jing Shan (China) (2122)
were placed second in all dances, except for Tango in which they were placed first. Chong He and Jing Shan have responded to their recent disappointments by increasing the output of energy and the complexity of their choreography. In general, there is nothing wrong with this concept, as they were previously appearing to be underpowered relative to their opposition. However, in this event, they appeared to be not yet settled with the new power level, and it was leading to other troubles within their usually smooth performance. They became a little bumpy through the centre, and their connection was inconsistent as a result. Also, they portrayed the aura of working too hard to achieve this newfound energy.
They should now continue to work with this new development, but learn to mask the effort involved with an easy and natural atmosphere. This policy could have the
desired effect of attracting people’s attention to watch them without feeling the stress that they are experiencing within.
They have always been one of the best technicians in the final. It is certainly the case that there is a technique to the application of power. A greater study of this skill would undoubtedly help them to re-establish their challenge for the champion spot.
3rd Kyle Taylor & Izabela Skierska (England) (3333)
were placed 3rd in all four dances. Kyle and Izabela have improved beyond recognition in recent months. Izabela appears to be more settled on her feet, and Kyle has developed a much more consistent angle through his left side in comparison with former competitions. This makes the adjudicator much more able to watch the positive aspects of what they are doing without focus being drawn away by unnecessary cosmetic weaknesses.
In this event, their overall placing seems a little underwhelming, since they clearly had a focused and challenging attack on the two couples above them.
However, there is still a little work to do on the cosmetic side of things that would make them appear more comparable. There was a slight bracing in the left shoulder blade from Kyle, especially when approaching a right turn from outside partner. There was also the appearance that Izabela was too open in her right side in the Promenade Position. Releasing the left shoulder would allow the couple to flow more naturally into the right turn, and avoid any awkward head-lines. Redirecting the open side in promenade would allow their weights to be much more unified in their trajectory as they release their swing.
Other than these small points, Kyle and Izabela continue to threaten from a position of attack, and can certainly not be underestimated when it comes to consideration for higher positions.
4th Igor Reznik & Mariia Polishchuk (Ukraine) (4545) were placed 4th in the Waltz and Foxtrot and 5th in the Tango and Quickstep. Igor and Mariia are possibly the simplest couple in terms of their approach to the competition. Their attack concept seems to mainly focus around holding a clean frame and creating frontal weight shift across the floor. Within this particular event, this strategy created a slight ‘Marmite’ effect. They were either appealing due to their relatively simplistic approach, or on another occasion, they came across as under-developed in comparison to the more intricate styles around them.
In general, one cannot help feeling that they do not possess the natural body weight to make this a good long term strategy. Whilst they maximise the stretches in their impressive frames, they have a relatively small physique, and as a consequence, sometimes appear to force as much power as possible out of their small statures. On a good day, they appear to be at ease with this power. On this occasion, they seemed to be working too hard to produce it, causing disturbances in the frame, especially in Tango.
As a strategy, there will always be larger couples who are able to create more natural power, simply by virtue of their comparative physicality. Therefore, they could find themselves being outgunned by the raw power level of certain couples, and losing out in terms of detail to the other more artistic members of the final.
Their best course of development is to strike a middle ground, and thus neutralise the skill sets of both of these types of couples. This way, they will also give their fans the best of both worlds.
5th Sicheng Li & Manni Zhou (China) (5454)
were placed 4th in the Tango and Quickstep, and 5th in the Waltz and Foxtrot. ‘Eric and Anna’, as they are affectionately known in the UK, have such a unique styling on the floor that you could get lost in their artistic designs. They have such a panache for sudden speed changes, swirling leg hooks, and swivelling frenzies, that you have to stop and watch the detail of what they are doing in order to do them justice. It is admirable that they are able to achieve this artistic style within the context of a competition.
Unfortunately, this also leads to a slight question in terms of their competitive style. If it takes too long to appreciate the content that they are producing, and the judges do not have enough time to absorb this material, then perhaps they can afford to redress the balance in the other direction. Indeed, it would appear that they are the polar opposite to the simplistic style of Igor and Mariia, and as such, they could afford to employ some simplicity of approach at times in order to adjust this balance.
6th Philip Peng Jianan & Joanne Zhong Jiaci (China) (6666)
were placed 6th in all four dances. Philip and Joanne were the third of the three Chinese couples in this ultra-talented final. It is amazing to witness the complexity of their choreographic content, and the apparent ease with which they achieve this. It should not be underestimated that they are able to attain such skilful work at this stage in their career, because it is indicative of the work ethic that they are prepared to commit in order to achieve their goals.
A secret weapon in their armoury is the charming personality that Philip has established over the last few years. This helps them to disguise the difficulty factor. Indeed, Joanne, who previously came across as slightly timid, has developed a much more fresh and open personality. This expression is so refreshing in a competitive scene which has become so serious in recent years. Couples have tended to forget that the inherent nature of what they are doing is to entertain through movement to music. The competitive arena is simply the medium by which they can achieve this. Philip and Joanne are one step ahead of the came when it comes to a natural ability to perform. It gives them a distinctly likeable quality, which can never be underestimated when you are being adjudicated.
In summary, the organisers should be congratulated for yet another spectacular event. It is fortunate that they are blessed with very generous sponsors, and because of this, they are able to display a ‘no expense spared’ luxurious backdrop to their event, which will undoubtedly leave competitors with fabulous memories for years to come. Moreover, it is a vision and an attention to the little details that brings this
event together, and creates such a fine environment for the couples. It is this focus on the small details that makes a competition into a great event. Perhaps, when you gain a little more maturity and wisdom, you can learn to appreciate just how fortunate these couples are in having these beautiful experiences simply provided for them. Hopefully, in the future, it will encourage them to become organisers themselves, and to carry this responsibility to inspire forward for years to come.
The Amateur Ballroom itself was a feast of talent, and it was a delight to see some of the younger talented couples making a breakthrough. The next generation is learning fast, and they are already mounting strong challenges on those experienced couples above. Once they gain a little more confidence, they will surely lead a new breed of dancer to succeed for years to come.