US Congress at the Embassy – 2016


Chairman of the BDFI Greg Smith opened the BDFI congress held in the Ballroom during a break between competitions on the second day of the 5 day festival at the Embassy Championships, Irvine, California. The format was 4 lectures in Ballroom, Latin, Smooth and Rhythm.


Text by Hazel Fletcher

First on was former American Rhythm Champion EMMANUEL PIERRE-ANTOINE lecturing on AMERICAN RHYTHM.
Emanuele is originally from Haiti and now lives in New York. He retired recently after a successful career with several different partners, the last one being Liana Churilova.
Emmanuel’s credits are =


Emmanuel started with explaining that as a rhythm dancer, he thinks it is all about bones, joints and muscles. He asks himself what “What makes me move?” “What is the first thing people see when you walk on to the floor?” The answer is posture which is all about bones, and then to create balance the connectivity of joints comes in. Muscles are when you want to move. He used a couple of analogies – “The bottom of a tree is solid and the branches can always sway in the wind.” “The key of the car is his brain to tell the engine to move the wheels.”
A dancer who is not connected to the floor with his feet does not really understand. He explained what he feels is the difference between contact with the floor and actually “feeling” the floor. Next one needs to be “Present” in the body, connecting with the music and then the partner.


Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine

The importance of understanding the difference between tension and tone. Emmanuel believes too many dancers are over tense in the upper body, and also not toned enough in the feet. It is important to know the difference between relax and release! Tension should come from the bones in the feet.Tense connection through the feet from the floor then toned muscles in the body is the correct preparation.
Rhythm of the body must always precede the timing of the moving foot and there should always be a difference of tension in the standing foot and the free foot.
“Parity of opposites” – If the free foot needs to move forward you need to understand what moves back first.
Feet should always stay under the hips to be able to create rhythm.
Emmanuel believes the pressure of truly understanding your body and the mechanics of moving the body takes a long time to really understand. – Dancing is internal – What you see is only a projection of what is actually going on inside the body.
He feels there are 3 centres of the body, the centre of the emotion, the acceptance to the music and the centre of the silence.
Every time you dance with the partner you should be aware of the difference between connection and contact relating to hold. Then what kind of relation does one want make with the partner, then with the floor, and then with the the music.
This is just a summary of so many excellent tips that could also be applied to Latin. 



Mazen Hamza & Izabella Jundzill

Mazen was born in Lebanon. He moved to America at the age of 4. He grew up mainly in Dallas, Texas, where he began his dancing in the collegiate ballroom dance team. He has danced for 20 years in American Smooth, International Ballroom and International Latin. His best achievement was winning the World Professional Smooth Showdance Championship in 2007. Izabella commenced dancing at the age of 6 in her home country of Poland. During her dancing career in Poland she won many prestigious competitions in International Latin and International Ballroom. In 2004 Izabella moved to the U.S.A. She won numerous Showdance competitions and was an Open International Latin finalist on many competitions. In 2009 Izabella began her professional partnership with Mazen Hamza in the American Smooth style of dance. Since the beginning of their dance partnership, they have ranked in the top three at the national and World level. Currently they rank 2nd in the Nation and in the World. They were one of the U.S couples that danced in Blackpool in May 2015 and 2016 bringing Smooth for the first time to Blackpool during the British Open festival.

“BEYOND STEPS” was their title.

Mazen commenced with a thought provoking quote from Michael Barishnikov = “The body does not lie, you cannot be somebody else onstage no matter how good of an actor or dancer or singer you are. When you open your arms, move your finger, the audience knows who you are.”

He stated dancers need to train themselves to work on the techniques learned for years and all the physical aspects of dancing. The clarity of action practiced for hours can then allow the performance aspect to develop.
Mazen and Izabella believe in telling a story through what they choose to do. It is a priority to “touch” people emotionally in specific ways.
He suggested first determine a set of steps, a routine and then ask yourself what is the meaning of what you want to show In order to produce a real performance. You have to work on the Man/Woman aspect and need to show on each step your individual roles.

They used a piece of their Waltz choreography repeatedly showing four different thoughts under the headings = Me, You, Us, and the World around us.
“ME” Firstly danced with Mazen dominating but also understanding the difference between the lady being the supporter and not just being inferior.
“YOU” Then with the Izabella being the main feature.
“US” where they met in the middle and related more to one another.
“WORLD AROUND US” They then danced as a unit sensing all around.

Too much of one thing becomes monochromatic. It is about using different texts, the couple should decide before on which steps they use the above story lines. The illustration was then danced with Mazen calling out “me, world, us, her, us, etc. The combination of the ideas creates more interest leaving the audience wanting more, wondering what happens next and also keeps the dancers on their toes!
A quote from Don Miguel Ruiz “Relationship is an art. The dream that two people create is more difficult to master than one” was the final piece of advice before they finished their lecture with a Smooth Waltz demonstration highlighting all the facets they had lectured on.

KLAUS KONGSDAL was next with a Latin lecture.


Klaus Kongsdal

Klaus hails from Denmark. He started dancing at the age of 2 as his grandmother told his mother it was time to enrol him! He moved to London in 1995. He danced with Mette Georgio for 4 years and they won the Worlds under 19 Latin, and then he danced with Viktoria Franova for 13 years. He has lived in Denmark, London and Hong Kong and now resides in London.

Klaus’s credits include =
Finalist in all major LATIN championships as amateur and professional.
European Champion and 6 times undefeated Danish champion.
Serving on the board of WDC education department.

His lecture title was “WHAT, WHEN, HOW and WHY”

Klaus explained his background. He originates from a small country with only 5.5 million people. He acknowledged that a considerable number of Danes have become Champions at the highest level. He explained that is partly due to as a nation they are a very organised people. Debatably they are rated as No 1 of the happiest people in the World! Klaus said they like to have organised fun and always search for creating a system out of everything. Striving for depth is what he believes has produced so many great dancers from Denmark.

“What” relates to what we do which is an action – stretch, bend, twist, travel etc.
What we do should take for 90% of the practice time.
“When” relates to timing – Mans body timing, woman’s timing and how to fit that together.
Changing direction. He used a couple to showed a simple back basic, never really move at the same time is his teaching. The man moves first, the lady moves later and yet they should arrive together. He thinks many of the arguments between a couple of “too heavy or too light, pulling or pushing” can be fixed with relating to understanding each persons timing.
“How” is to do with the energy of the step…. Every movement has a sense of energy and dynamic.
Slow/quick, sustained/sudden, bound/free, direct/flexible, light/strong.
Klaus then reintroduced the couple to demonstrate the same mechanics but with varying energies.
“What and When” has no style, it is always mechanics. Studying mechanics feels like setting up boundaries.
He thinks freedom with boundaries works, and freedom with no boundaries creates chaos.
“WHY” is about something to say…. Intention, the more choices you make the more personal your style becomes.

Rather than counting simply numerically it is best to sing the rhythm.
What is the story between man and woman – Idiosyncratic, (unique to the individual).
Closeness, touch, the passing, the following. Klaus talked story lines, very similar to the previous Smooth lecture.
Study first over and over. If your What and When are not truly in place you cannot get to How and Why.
Knowledge creates freedom. The more you know the more you have the possibility to create your own individual choices.



Arunas & Katusha

Arunas and Katusha both started dancing at the age of 7. Arunas was born in Lithuania and Katusha in Russia. They now reside in and dance for the USA. After previous successful partnerships they started dancing together in October 2007 and immediately became an unstoppable force. After only one month together, Arunas and Katusha swept the Ohio Star Ball Championships, and then two months later participated in the UK Open Championships where they placed second amongst all the best dancers in the world.

Arunas and Katusha won their first World Professional Ballroom Championship title in September 2009, after dancing together for less than two years. Arunas and Katusha are also reigning International, UK, and British Champions and have been undefeated for 7 years.


They shared the secrets of what they have done to culminate in their wonderful successful career. This was summarised into 3 points of view.
1. Ongoing development and the attempt to improve what they do on a daily basis.
2. In the lead up to a major competition the intense preparation which includes dancing “rounds” without stopping as necessary during a competition. Then analysing feedback from each other, plus receiving opinions from the experts. This is generally for a month before the majors.
3. The day of the competition their check list = visual aspect of how they look, then the quality of the movement and then how to connect it all to the music.

Arunas said their first priority is Balance. They need to feel flexible and comfortable together. They
danced a Foxtrot Feather and Reverse without music to show how they need to be balanced together and can pause between steps and must always be in perfect balance and harmony individually and as a couple.

Choreography – they explained they must not be slaves to their routines. They have structures that can change depending on other couples, and how they must always be available to change direction and timing at any given moment.

They explained it is important to them how the figures flow together. Also too many same speed figures merely create an impression of monotony.

Quickstep they found with too many syncopated chasses they felt they could not produce their best action, so they need to be flexible to change. With trial and error they find what suits them best.
Choreography – they explained it can change from when there are many couples on the floor and then how it may be different when only 6 or 12 couples are on the floor.

Floor craft. They asked 10 people to come onto the floor and move around. They danced Waltz constantly having to check and change their routine and direction without ever stopping and it was really an education for those aspiring dancers who are often slaves to their routines. They explained “It must still look good when others are in your way!”

Finally on the day of the competition they both have their own set of exercises. Katusha explained that they have no idea what each other does in that way as a preparation. An hour before they dance they will go through their routines, side by side, not in hold and simply visualise how it is going to look when they will compete together. Then just before going on the floor, they take hold and do just a few figures together.

Their excellent lecture was finished with their Tango demonstration which earned them an immediate standing ovation not only for the brilliant performance but also the gems of secrets they shared with those lucky enough to be present. It was most evident why they are such supreme Champions.


By  Mark Luftig

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