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Ballroom Dancing Is 'Hopping' : Top-Notch Couples Will Compete in 3-Day Event

April 10, 1986|EILEEN SONDAK

Even though the expense of competing (with travel and costumes) is "phenomenal" and the prize money far from adequate, Meredith and La Patin have no intention of stopping short of their goal--which is to snare the world championship . . . or at least become world finalists.

"We're hoping that by the time we peak," Meredith said, "the prize money will be very good."

"The problem is, it's like a secret world," La Patin said. "We're hoping to let the secret out. Once a year (the national tournament) is televised. Otherwise, there's very little publicity for what we do. If we got the coverage, we'd be as big as ice skating."

Although they describe competitive ballroom dancing as highly physical--an endurance contest--athletic prowess is no substitute for artistry in the critical eyes of the tournament judges.

"You can't just do steps," Meredith said. "You must have style--and styling involves the expressiveness of your body, arms, face and even your feet. It involves emotions. Technique is only part of it, and even champions continue to work on their technique. You never stop perfecting it."

Marlyn McDonald, a professional modern ballroom dancer who will be competing with Janet Meyer in this weekend's event, has made a career of his hobby by teaching to support his dancing habit.

"Actually, it's so much work," he said, "that I shouldn't call it a hobby. It's really a sport and an art form. You have to be totally on the ball, and you have to work with the same partner for a long time so you learn to work as one."

In modern ballroom dancing, close body contact and clockwork precision in the unison work are essential, he said. "That's why even top-level dancers don't do well if they have to change partners," McDonald said. "They lose an aspect that enhances their performance."

Talone is an amateur, by definition. But as she was quick to explain, that doesn't mean she can't compete with the best of them.

"Amateur status just means you don't get paid for what you do," she said. "It's like in the Olympics. You can't tell the difference between an amateur and a professional based on the ranking.

"Right now, I'd rather maintain my amateur status. That means I get to dance with the best," she said, casting a glance at her partner. "If I changed to pro, I'd have to start the hard road up--and there's a lack of partners."

Eileen Schaefer, a tournament organizer, described some of the activity in store for San Diego aficionados this weekend in a telephone interview from Arizona.

"Every evening, there will be competition among different professionals," she said. "And each evening, we'll award prizes for the winners. The students will compete during the day, and they will receive their awards at a banquet on Sunday evening."

There also will be team matches that pit studio against studio in all levels, which makes for particularly intense competition.

But one of the most exciting items on the agenda for the three-day tournament is not a competitive event.

Ron Montez and Liz Curtis, and Rufus Dustin and Sharon Savoy will entertain Sunday night. "And, they're some of the top ballroom dancers in the world," Schaefer said. The Savoys are two-time world champions.

"We're hoping to get permission to do some choreography from our new company," Curtis said. That company is Peter Maxwell's Ballroom Dance Theater, and Maxwell is a world champion ballroom dancer with credits in several other areas of the dance world as well.

"We've already got four weeks in Japan lined up--at nine shows a week," Curtis said. "But we'd be so happy to show it off here in San Diego Sunday night."

The tournament will feature at least one throwback to the glitz and glitter age that spawned ballroom dancing.

"All the competing dancers wear elaborate costumes or elegant formal wear," Meredith said. "In fact everyone gets all dressed up for these tournaments. The women get out their evening dresses and fanciest jewelry. There's a return to the glamour of ballroom dancing--when it was in its heyday. The whole thing is really a lot of fun."

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