Strictly ballroom

By Alice Phillips

The focal point of any ballroom dancing competition is the dance floor, but even more so at the world championships.

The ballroom, dimly lit except for the floor, is filled with spectators seated in one of the three audience levels that line the walls. They, along with the 38 judges (13 at the front and 25 on the side of the floor), will witness the crowning of the next world champions of ballroom dancing.

Eric Slotsve ’11, although not a competitor at those world championships, was in the audience watching and learning for future competitions.

Slotsve, as a “top ranked” ballroom dancer, is too young and currently too injured to compete at the world championships.

“I might want to go professional,” said Slotsve, but he has until he is 18 or older to make that decision.

Slotsve, plagued by a back injury sustained during a routine ballroom dancing practice, was not able to bend at the hips for 13 weeks. With his range of motion limited to lying down and standing up, Slotsve took notes standing up against the wall during class, lingered around tables in the quad while eating lunch, and stood up in the aisle of his bus on the way to school.

Slotsve even ate Thanksgiving dinner with his family while hovering against the side wall.

Ballroom dancing means too much to him to risk a permanent injury that could keep him away from dancing, he said. He had to swear off ballroom dancing and any unregulated physical activity for the time being.

Slotsve injured himself performing a death-drop: an advanced maneuver in which he throws his partner down into either the splits or so she slides on the floor through his legs. While practicing, Slotsve’s partner accidentally knocked his legs out from under him, causing the back injury.

The death-drop is one dance step of many in Slotsve’s favorite styles: International Standard and International Latin. Slotsve said he performs 10 dances at each competition including Standard’s Slow Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, and Quickstep and Latin’s Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble, and Jive.

“My favorite is foxtrot because it is a smooth, gliding, and fun dance,” said Slotsve.

He happened upon ballroom dancing while peering through the window of a dance studio from the sidewalk and decided to start just for fun, taking up dancing relatively late at 10 years old.

After hopping from studio to studio, Slotsve has landed with his private coaches Victor Fung, Victor Kernevsky, and Victor Veresset. He practiced almost daily with his coaches until injuring his back in September. Slotsve, after describing ballroom dancing as an art, admitted that dancers have been whacked in the head by stray arms and (rarely) sustained concussions during relatively light practices.

When Slotsve went to his first competition (complete with formal tails), he was up against many dancers who began at five or six years old.

“I saw the competitors and completely froze up,” said Slotsve, “but my partner convinced me to go through with the competition and I ended up winning. Since then, I’ve been pretty comfortable with what I’m able to do.”

Although Slotsve has had to halt training recently and has been adjusting to a new partner, he has been successful at several competitions in the past. At the Emerald Ball, Diamond Ball, and Embassy Ball (all held at hotels in Southern California) Slotsve placed high enough to earn trophies and, occasionally, money.

Ballroom dancing also takes Slotsve abroad. He entered (and often won) competitions in England, France, Italy, and China against other teens and young adults from around the world. As the same dancers regularly compete against each other in international competition, Slotsve keeps in touch with other dancers from Canada, Great Britain, France, and Italy, among others.

According to Slotsve, there are a lot of opportunities to hang out with other dancers because they usually stay at the same hotel and are all invited to a party after competitions.

Everyone dresses up (although tails are no longer required) to go to these affairs with “gliding waiters” and huge dance floors. And, as you might imagine at a party full of ballroom dancers, people are in fact dancing.

“The after-parties are the best part,” said Slotsve, “but that’s why I don’t like going to other dances: nobody is actually dancing.”