It was a great pleasure to be judging Embassy Ball! Well done McDonald family: Brian, Kristi, Gary and Jason - superbly organized competition, beautiful venue Hotel Irvine, very friendly atmosphere, lots of fun for all participating and most importantly some very lovely dancing in all three categories: Professional, Amateur and Pro-Am. Congratulations to all winners and to all those who are happy with their result. To those who didn't win - this competition will go under your belt as irreplaceable experience and will help you achieve your goal in a future. Remember you can not succeed if you haven't failed!

Professional Ballroom competition was represented by couples from many countries: England, Italy, China, Azerbaijan, Canada and of course The United States of America. Lots of good quality dancing and fascinating to watch! Throughout the first rounds I could clearly see that there were some young very promising couples who danced well and pushed the boundaries of shape and movement but unfortunately didn’t go far just yet, there were couples who had showed a steady improvement in last year or so and got acknowledged for that; and there were couples who seemed quite settled and comfortable in the position they have been in for awhile and gave me impression of just cruising on their previous merits. This situation of course cleared up towards the last round. There were no “accidental” couple in the Final.

Onto 6 place a young relatively new partnership Yaroslav Bielei and Liliia

Gladiuk. Tall, beautiful couple with lots of potential. I like how calm and commanding Yaro looks on the floor. Classical demeanor and not trying to do any overshaping, he understands what his strength is and keeps on it! A couple their size could experiment more with use of body weight and risk some more to “throw” it across the floor to then counterbalance it with bigger shape. This will make them “devastating” to their rivals and will give them competitive edge. Liliia is staying beautifully with her man wherever he goes. While her footwork is very precise (good job!) I would like to see softer legs and more release of weight in the hips. This would add more power and momentum to the whole couple. Activity in the upper body is a little hectic at times (though I really appreciate her trying to be active and contribute to the partnership 100 percent). Clearer understanding of body torsion, upper body actions and their timing with gentleman's lead is needed in order to achieve consistency in look and flexibility. Well done and congratulations on making this prestigious final!

5th place went to Alexander Voskalchuk and Veronica Egorova. Another extremely good looking tall couple. "Barbie and Ken" of American Ballroom Dancing! Beautiful dress on Veronika! I love their look on the floor, their lines. The quality of movement is pretty good however it doesn't look enough for the couple of their size. In my opinion they need to research more into dancing to the MAXIMUM. I would love to see them get more risky and “play” with their weight and momentum. I sense there is a concern of always looking good which does not allow them to dare and dance what they really feel. I think showing more personality through activating their bodies more will give them competitive edge against the couples ahead.

Placed 4th - our guests from Azerbaijan Eldar Dzhafarov and Anna Sazhina. Very well matched partnership which had improved a lot in last few years! Very bold flavorful personality from Anna. My wish for them is to research more into flexibility of the upper bodies so they can create a bigger more dynamic look. With their Latin experience, flexibility should not be an issue 😉 but somehow I feel they hold back in Ballroom and try to show clean lines. Cleanliness of lines will come from body activity and from coordination (timing) of this activity with each other.

3rd Place - Marat Gimaev and Alina Basyuk. Very consistent and well gelled together couple. I was always mesmerized with how well these two manage their height difference and often mention them as an example to my students with similar situation. They have been dancing together for a long time, their image as a couple is so strong that at this point I can not even imagine either of them dancing with different partner. They have their unique look and charisma. No doubt their quality is that of a top class otherwise they would not be able to show such smoothness of movement and shape. At this point looking into characterization of each dance especially Tango would be helpful. That will make them more exciting and interesting to watch not only for dance connoisseurs but for anybody in the audience.

Placed 2nd - Victor Fung and Anastasia. I have obviously very special feelings towards this couple. Since I know Victor so well after our 6-year partnership I am always very interested and watching closely their dance progress. I was very happy to witness their great improvement recently which is a very hard thing to do being already so good and Top Class World couple. Their lines now immaculate at all times, their tremendous shift across the floor which was always their strong point and their incredible aura in Tango and Quickstep made them my winners in those dances. And even though tonight was not their absolutely best dancing I so enjoyed watching them and feel the love and passion for what they do!

The winners - Arunas Bizokas and Katusha Demidova. As always delivering consistent pretty much perfect performance which keeps everyone else away from taking the first place from them. Beautiful Waltz, light and easy Viennese Waltz and impeccable Foxtrot.  To me tonight was not their strongest performance but good enough to win majority of first places and keep their winners tittle. I often bring this Arunas and Katusha as example to my students of how to deliver a great performance no matter what, at any time of day or night, after a long flight or with high fever. That’s what it means to have a strong fundamental knowledge and have drilled it “to the bones”! And on top of this - incredible mental strength and calmness. That is why they are World Champions!

I am so pleased to see that the quality of Ballroom Style keeps improving from year to year. And the number of high level couples from the US in particular is growing rapidly. America is now the biggest and the most powerful ballroom nation in the world and I am so proud!