Thursday October 13, 2011.. 5pm... I am walking up the stairs approaching the beautiful, majestic circular building in the center of London where I used to come every October for 8 consecutive years. The Royal Albert Hall in London. I enter the Door 1... and here I am heading towards the downstairs changing rooms... But wait!.. This year is different... I am here to spectate and admire the beautiful dancing... I just had two full days of sightseeing and exciting memories of Westminster Abbey, Tower of London and National Gallery... And now, I am here at the magnificent Royal Albert Hall to witness one of the biggest Ballroom Dance events in the world. This time, I get to go upstairs into the nice red velvet logia... What a different feeling from being a competitor! I am looking forward to this new and exciting experience...

Here it is: the ballroom of the Royal Albert Hall... The floor is lit up, beautiful ladies and gentlemen in fancy gowns and tuxedos are taking their seats in the honorable chairs around the floor (those are the judges), orchestra seats are awaiting to be occupied by the musicians of Ross Mitchell’s Dance and Listen Orchestra. The feeling of glamour and sophistication is in the air and surrounds everyone who enters this place...

5.45pm the announcement sounds and the Ball begins!

Couples from all over the world have come to attend this years International Championships. The competitors in each category did the qualifying rounds in Brentwood on the earlier days. They competed for the right to dance at the Royal Albert Hall and only the top 48 couples from each division will come back to perform here tonight..

The International Ballroom Amateur competitors started the evening with Waltz.
I usually look forward to watching amateur divisions, as they in my opinion represent the future of our dancing. The general impression I got watching the first round in this category was stiffness of ladies shoulder line and rushing on the man’s part. As rounds went on it became less obvious but remained a common distinctive feature of this category on the night.
Two main candidates for the first place tonight stood out from the crowd immediately: Emanuel Valeri/Tania Kehlet from Denmark and Simone Segatori/Annette Sudol representing Germany. From the very beginning those two couples took the battle for the tittle into their hands. They were both focused, determined and absolutely clear in their intension to win. They clearly knew their strength and showed it off throughout the competition. Simone and Annette had such a purity, simplicity and sophistication in each move... Their dancing, their attitude and their grooming tonight, - everything was portraying “CLASS”. They were cool, calm, smooth and precise yet dynamic... they reminded me of what real ballroom dancing is and how easy and effortless it should look. Absolutely beautiful! Emanuel and Tania: strong, intricate, precise, passionate and intense yet soft when needed... They danced their hearts out and definitely won the hearts of the audience. In my opinion it was an extremely close battle and a beautiful rivalry between the two different styles...  It came up to the judges preferences to determine the winner... Emanuel and Tania took the trophy! Congratulations!
The third place went to couple from Poland Marek Kosaty and Paulina Glazik who danced well tonight and were excited to get this high well deserved placing. Forth was couple from China Yang Chao and Tan Yi Ling, 5th - another duet from Poland Andrew Sadecki and Karina Nawrot, and 6th - Salvatore Todaro and Violeta Yaneva representing Bulgaria.
For American couples the best result in this category was Quater Final. Oskar Wojciechowski and Karolina Holody are a strong promising partnership worth mentioning. They have all the potential and great look to make that Semi and Final in the future. Keep working hard!

International Amateur Latin division. 1. Neil Jones and Ekaterina Sokolova (England), 2. Martino Zanibellato and Michelle Abildtrup (Denmark), 3. Troels Bager and Ina Jeliazkova (Denmark), 4. Mirco Risi and Maria Ermatchkova (Italy), 5. Ferdinando Iannaccone and Yulia Musikhina (Italy), 6. Kirill Belorukov and Elvira Skrylnikova (Russia).
The leader in this division “sparkled” from the very first dance. Neil and Ekaterina had  great control of their own bodies and choreography as well as over the audience and other competitors. The aura around these two was so strong that my eyes kept coming back to them throughout the dances. Clearness of every line and attention to detail was outstanding! Ekaterina’s dress for earlier rounds was perfect!
In general I have to say this category was the most exciting to watch of all the first rounds. Couples danced to their maximum. They offered many different interpretations of the dancing and costumes. And this is always exciting. In the Final two more couples stood out for me: Martino and Michelle had put up a great fight for the first place and were obviously disappointed with the result... As well as Kirill and Elvira from Russia (who I thought should have been placed much higher). They are a very talented and promising couple, and the man is absolutely amazing to watch.
The US had 4 couples in the Quarter Final in this division, one couple continuing into the Semi. Ruslan Aydaev and Valeria Kozharinova were delighted to make this Semifinal. Congratulations!

The Professional Ballroom division. 1. Arunas Bizokas and Katusha Demidova (USA), 2. Mirko Gozzoli and Edita Daniute (Italy), 3. Victor Fung and Anastasia Muravyeva (USA), 4. Andrea Ghigiarelli and Sara Andracchio (England), 5. Domen Krapez and Monica Nigro (Slovenia), 6. Valerio Colantoni and Yulia Spesivtseva (Russia).
Let me start by saying: GO USA!! 5 couples in the Semi Final!! We definitely dominated that one! Mikhail Avdeev and Olga Blinova, Marat Gimaev and Alina Basyuk, Andrea Faraci and Iveta Pauryte as well as of course continuing into the Grand Final Arunas Bizokas and Katusha Demidova, and Victor Fung and Anastasia Muravyeva. Well done guys!
From the first round and through the announcement of the results I was convinced that tonight USA would be taking home Gold and Silver Medal. It did not happen to my disappointment... but I am sure many people felt this way... Arunas and Katusha danced very well: confident, light, free, with an unbelievable ease of motion! They had absolutely no competition from their often times rival Mirko Gozzoli and Edita Daniute who tonight did not touch me with their dancing. I had always considered Mirko one of the best competitors in the ballroom dance history and have a great respect for him as a dancer, but tonight I was very much disappointed with his performance. Victor and Anastasia on the other hand looked very strong, focused and stayed consistent throughout all the rounds. They produced some of the best dancing I had ever seen from them particularly impressing me with their Tango. Towards the very end of the competition, when Mirko and Edita finally decided to come out of their “cruising” mode and put up a fight, there was a hint of their former dynamics and power visible in Tango... but for me... it was too little too late. Victor and Anastasia had made their statement!
Over all it was a very strong final. Domen and Monica from Slovenia deservingly managed to keep their position in it. Two other finalists from the UK and Blackpool Championships this year Sascha and Natasha Karabey from Germany and Warren and Kristi Boyce from England had to give up their places as two new exciting finalists came into the picture: Valerio Colantoni/Julia Spesivtseva and Andrea Ghigiarelli/Sara Andracchio. I shall be looking forward to the next years UK Championships to see how those couples evolve in their dancing and establish themselves in the Grand Final!
Also I would like to mention a new partnership representing America at this competition: Wiktor Kiszka and Agnieszka Kazmierczak. They had only been dancing together for few months and immediately made the Quarter Final at this prestigious championship. They look wonderful and very comfortable dancing with each other which is always a good sign for a new partnership. I am convinced we will see some great dancing from this couple in the future and want to congratulate USA Professional division on acquiring another great representative!

In the Pro Latin the heat was on. The permanent rivalry between Riccardo Cocci/Yulia Zagoroujchenko representing the USA and Michael Malitowsky/Joanna Leunis representing England this time, had many of us spectators in suspense. Riccardo and Yulia were on tonight and dominated the competition from the first round. Dynamic and perfect in everything they do, very together, with their new exciting choreography they offered a wide range of merits for the audience to admire and for the judges to choose from. Towards the semifinal and particularly in the last round Michael and Joanna stepped up. They finally gifted the audience with what they do so well and what we all expect from them: their soul, genuine pleasure of dancing together and their musicality.. of course on top of immaculate execution of the details. Now the race got tighter. Either of the two couples deserved the trophy. It was only up to the judges taste to decide the fate of the first place. Michael and Joanna won. Congratulations guys! The other placements in the final were as follows: 3. Sergey Surkov and Melia (Russia), 4. Andrej Skufca and Melinda (Slovenia), 5. Maurizio Vescovo and Andra Vaidilaite (Canada), 6. Stefano Di Philippo and Olga Urumova (Italy). Amazing final that left the audience standing and clapping long after the last dance was over!! Everybody gave their best and we felt it. Another couple who had every right to be in the final but unfortunately did not make it: Justinas Duknauskas and Anna Melnikova-Duknauske. They captivated me with their pure enjoyment of dancing with each other. They did not push, they did not stress out.. they just danced.. It was precious. And Anna is an epitome of Femininity... Absolutely beautiful!
America’s Nikolay Voronovich and Maria Nikolishina were very happy to make the semi final! They danced impressive tonight. I have always liked their dancing but tonight I particularly saw how good and strong of competitors they are. Well done!

Another delightful event in the Ballroom Dance history, the 59th International Championships is over. It was a definite success and I am grateful I got to be in the audience and witness it!