The Emerald Ball Has It All!

At 10,700 entries Wayne and Donna Eng’s Emerald Ball is one of the largest and most important competitions in the United States. But it is more than size that makes The Emerald Ball special.

Participation at this Los Angeles event is huge and attracts top quality competitors. Where some large competitions have relatively few teachers and studios doing hundreds and hundreds of entries, The Emerald Ball is huge with numerous competitors and studios. This year there were 1200 competitors – many of whom danced only two levels of freestyles and one scholarship. There was a lot of competition in each style and each level. The quality level was so high that even with judges doing three panels a day for the daytime session, we still looked forward to going into the ballroom.

If you are a serious pro-am, amateur, or professional competitor— the Emerald Ball is a ‘must do’ competition.

The entire event was extremely well organized, with long, packed days, that ran like clockwork under the expert Chairmanship of Brian Puttock.

You couldn’t ask for more class, glitz and glamour. The main ballroom was beautiful with glimmering light fixtures, elegant white draping and a white entry stairway for finalists. Over 50 live white and green floral arrangements decorated the ballroom tables. The banquet tables at dinner even had live floral arrangements, and the buffet tables were decorated with little emerald green lights. Attention to every detail is standard at The Emerald Ball.

Celebrity dancers from Dancing With The Stars were on hand with both Elena Grinenko and Tony Dovolani judging. Tony also did a video segment highlighting the pro Latin event for the TV show Extra!

Jonathan Roberts was competing and Anna Trebunskaya was there to cheer her husband on, and Dimitri Chaplin, Cheryl Burke and Louis Van Amstel turned up as spectators during the evening.

Leading up to the event there was a lot of buzz about top new couples that would be dancing in the Pro Smooth and Standard events.

The Pro Smooth started with a 34 couple first round and attracted almost every top couple. There was very good quality dancing throughout. Rising Star Smooth winners Kris Suakjian and Melania Larson are on the cusp of making this final.

Slavik Sochacki and Marzena Stachura won the Open Smooth by placing first in every dance. Their experience together and consistency of movement placed them ahead of closest competitors Mayo Alanen and Michelle Officer 2/2/3/2 and Mazen Hamza and Izabela Jundzill 3/3/2/3. As the year progresses I anticipate some pretty exciting battles among these three very talented and stylistically different couples.

The bottom half of the final constituted of Mikhail Zharinov and Galina Detkina 4/4/4/4, Peter and Alexandra Perzhu who placed fifth with a Rule 11, 5/6/5/6 and Eric and Michelle Hudson, 6/5/6/5.

I think the judges were so focused on the new couples and Slavik and Marzena that perhaps as the summer competition season heats up, Mikhail and Galina will be considered with the three couples placing above them. It is wonderful to have so many great choices!

The Pro Standard was also riveting due to both the great dancing from the quarterfinal on– and the debut of two top couples; Giampiero Giannico and Anna Mikhed, and Mikhail Avdeev and Olga Blinova.

Wow! This was a superb event with so many high quality couples – and many much improved couples.

Giampiero and Anna won by winning all dances. They were a bit rough in the first round, but by the final they danced with so much passion and abandon that it was very exciting. Igor Litvinov and Julia Ivleva were second with a performance that was not as good as what they can produce. Artem Plakhotnyi and Inna Berlizyeva were third and Mikhail Avdeev and Olga Blinova were fourth. I liked Mikhail and Olga and felt that they have a good future together.

The fifth and sixth place couples were also very, very strong with Andrea Faraci and Iveta Pauryte placing fifth and Anton and Lena Koukareko placing sixth. I was very impressed with Anton and Lena throughout this event and thought that they should have placed quite a bit higher.

The Rising Star Rhythm, which started with a quarterfinal was also surprisingly good. Aleksander Nashev and Brittany Bartler won the event with a challenge from studio-mates Aaron DeSoto and Jaana Lillemagi. Third place finishers Dimitrios and Maria Damalas were also quite interesting to watch.

The Pro Rhythm also started with a quarterfinal -- and winning all five dances was Decho Kraev and Bree Watson. Emanuel Pierre Antoine and liana Churilova danced well placing second, and Ricky Bentzen and Albina were very dramatic, placing third over close rivals Ilya and Amanda Reyzen who were fourth. Jason Daly and Sveta Zlochevskaya were fifth – and much improved since I had last seen them, and Jeremy Gatlin and Anna Harwood placed sixth.

The Rising Star Latin was won by Roman Italyankin and Olga Kordevich who won all five dances.

The Open Professional Latin was very exciting due to six wonderful couples – including one particularly amazing one – the winners, Riccardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoruychenko. Their coach, mega world champion Donnie Burns was on hand to cheer them on. California audiences are known for being blasé but they were on their feet with a standing ovation for Riccardo and Yulia.

Also dancing wonderfully were second place finishers, Roman Kutskyy and Anna Kovalova who gave a ‘personal best’ performance to place second in every dance. Dimitry Kurakin and Violetta Kurakina were third, Vadim Lyubushkin and Viktoriya Fadina fourth, Yegor Novikov and Ekaterina Zakharoff fifth, and Ivan Mulyavka and Loreta Krisciukaiyte sixth.

The Pro-Am events were of an awesome caliber. The International Standard in particular was truly impressive at every age level.

Jana Keplinger with Dariusz Michalski won the ‘A’ , Beverly Moore with Alain Doucet the ‘B’ and Rosie Tsai with Robert Nemiro won the ‘C’. The quality of the teachers and the students in the standard events – both syllabus and open was the finest that I have seen. The floorcraft was also amazing in the individual dances when six open couples shared half a floor and danced full out with no accidents or injuries.

The Pro-Am Rhythm Scholarships were all very good. Lauren Klaus with Jim Maranto won the ‘A’, Pamela Bolling with Ben Ermis the ‘B’, and Joan Goddard with Chris Johnston the ‘C’. Each of these ladies won all five dances to win their title.

The Pro-Am Smooth Scholarships saw Pamela Bolling with Ben Ermis win her second ‘A’ title. The ‘B’ was decided by a Rule 11 tiebreaker with Angus Sinclair dancing with Anna Shabazyan winning over Susan Sidman and Gleb Makarov. Beverly Moore with Alain Doucet won the ‘C’.

The Pro-Am Latin Scholarships also brought out the ‘big names’ in Pro-Am dancing with Hunter Stephens and Inna Berlizyeva talking all five dances to win the ‘A’, Susan Sidman with Gleb Makarov won the ‘B’, and an amazing Beverly Moore with Alain Doucet won the ‘C’ winning all dances over rival Joan Goddard. Beverly has improved so much in her standard, smooth and Latin that the change is pretty remarkable.

In addition to offering Pro-Am scholarships in three age divisions, The Emerald Ball is also a qualifier for the ‘Best of The Best’ competition that is danced at The Ohio Star Ball.

The Dance Vision Open Amateur Latin division was a tough fight between the top three couples. Andrey Tarasov and Laura Kveladze won all five dances – but did not have the majority of the first place marks. The judges were really split between the top three couples with Vitali Proskurin and Natia Kuprava placing second, and Tomaz Ster and Betty Attu third.

The Open Amateur Standard Championship was won by Leonid Burlo and Sasha Alekseeva who took all five dances. The second place finishers from China are the Blackpool Junior Standard Champions, Long Qi Yu and Audrey Siegel, 16 years old.

If there was a controversy at this years Emerald Ball it was that the competition was so big that the Amateur Pre-Teen and Junior Standard and Latin events were moved to the La Jolla Ballroom where they played to a packed house.

Organizers Wayne and Donna Eng didn’t charge admission to the ‘kids’ ballroom so the competitors could bring their families and friends for free. They were allowed to videotape, had a prestigious panel of judges, and received gift bags and a pizza ‘after’ party. Still, some of the young people were perturbed that they weren’t in the main ballroom with one commenting, “My living room is bigger than this ballroom.” One wonders what they will be like as adults….

The top teacher race was close with David Alvarez of the Santa Barbara Dance Center winning over Martha Pohl of The Idaho Ballroom Dance Center. The top studio was Edelweiss Studio.

All in all the Emerald Ball was a remarkable competition graced with many, many top-flight dancers, and two gracious and experienced organizers – Wayne and Donna Eng. It was a pleasure to judge this outstanding event.

Donna Edelstein is a coach, judge, Dance Beat correspondent and Co-Organizer of the Snow Ball Dancesport Competition.