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A Preview of a New Top Latin Partnership and America's Number One Ballroom Couple Shine as a Veritable Fred and Ginger at Columbia University's Starry Night Winter Showcase

by Tonya Plank
December 6, 2008
Columbia University's Alfred Lerner Hall
2920 Broadway at 114th Street
New York, NY 10027
212.854.5800
On Saturday night, December 6, 2008, Columbia University Ballroom Dance Club held its third annual Starry Night Winter Showcase, the portion of their Big Apple Dancesport Challenge devoted to a set of showdances performed by a top professional couple. Unlike past years, however, this year, they showcased not one but two top couples: Arunas Bizokas and Katusha Demidova, currently the top U.S. couple in Standard and second in the world; and the new Latin partnership of Slavik Kryklyvyy and Hanna Karttunen, both former world champions with separate partners. With these two couples, very famous in the dancesport world, Columbia hit the jackpot, easily selling out the auditorium and providing, probably nationwide, the most spectacular night of ballroom dance this year.

The performance lasted about an hour, with each couple performing four different routines, with costume changes and short lectures in between.

Kryklyvyy, originally from Russia, is one of today's most beloved male Latin dancers, particularly in the United States, where he and his former partner, Karina Smirnoff, held the national title and placed second internationally before breaking up a couple years ago. After having ended another partnership (with Elena Khvorova, with whom he placed in the top three at international competitions), Kryklyvyy is now dancing with South African Hanna Karttunen, a Latin dancer turned top exhibition champion. The dancesport community has been excitedly predicting how this new partnership will fare in upcoming international competitions. Since Kryklyvyy and Karttunen haven't yet competed, the Ballroom Club, wonderfully, gave us a kind of preview.

It is evident from her exhibition dancing that Karttunen has a strong ballet background. She has a thin, lithe ballet body with long, lovely leg lines and she often raises one leg into a quick standing split, to stunning effect. The couple's Rumba was by far their strongest dance – the movement slow, richly controlled, romantic, and luscious, that utilized well Karttunen's gorgeously high extensions.

In the other dances, however – their Cha Cha, Paso Doble and Jive – dances requiring great speed and precision, Krykyvyy far outshone her. Kryklyvyy has charisma and stage presence of downright elephantine proportions and watching him undulate his pelvis, sway his hips, and flick his legs in Jive kicks, all practically at the speed of light, just boggles the mind; he moves so fast, he's almost a blur. It would be very difficult for any woman to keep up with him athletically, or to compete with his sex appeal. (At the beginning of his Jive, he slowly raised his suspender straps pulling them over and off his shoulders. Screams, moans, and giggles completely filled the large auditorium. Later he spoke of how he used to live in the U.S., saying that though he now dances for Russia, New York will forever inhabit a special place in his soul. Audience screams and cheers were so loud I couldn't hear the second part of his speech.) His most successful former partner, Smirnoff, seemed to find her own dance persona, her own artistry – muscly and powerful yet flirty and girlishly sexy. And their charm as a couple resulted from each bringing to the partnership his and her own character. Karttunen just needs to find that — her own artistry, her own essence as a dancer, and really bring that out. Otherwise, she'll constantly be trying to play catch-up with him, and will drown in his grandeur.

Bizokas and Demidova were a veritable Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Truly the best ballroom dance couple this country has ever seen. Each brings such spirit and character to the floor, even when dancing alone. At the beginning of one routine, Bizokas first came out onstage alone, skipping around happily, but missing something, he couldn't figure out what at first, then realized, oh, it was his better half. He looked lost. Yet his smile, his wonderment as he looked about the room for her, were infectious; he just oozed innocent, boyish charm. He was so sweetly funny. Then Demidova came sliding across the stage toward, him, her movement so rich and full of longing and passion. When she reached him, she completed him. Each on his and her own is spectacular. But when they come together, they are so much more than one; they are like magic. They swept each other away, whirling, skipping, pivoting, jumping, sliding, Charleston-ing, Tango-ing, encompassing the entire stage. I really hope this couple will go on to enjoy a performance career, beyond the limiting ballroom competition circuit, so that everyone will have the ability to experience that magic.
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