Ballroom

Daniella Karagach and Pasha Pashkov at the U.S. National Amateur Dancesport Nationals in March (courtesy Karagach)

When a 15-year-old Daniella Karagach was first paired up with a 22-year-old Pasha Pashkov, she had her doubts. “My coaches warned me that because I was so young and he was a top dancer in the finals already, people might not respect us as a compatible pair,” she recalls. But she stuck with Pasha, and after a month of hard work, the pair hit the competition scene together, where it was clear their age difference was a non-issue. The two went on to rack up titles, becoming 2012 Blackpool Dance Festival semifinalists, 2012 United States National Latin Champions and three-time United States 10 Dance National Champions.

In the ballroom world, a bad match can keep you from dancing at your full potential. As a student, you may not be able to choose who you’re paired with, so here’s what you can do if you’re stuck with a partner who’s less than ideal.

Talk It Out 

“Teaching dancers how to communicate is difficult,” says Sasha Altukhov, a ballroom teacher at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem, UT. “Each dancer has his or her own opinion, and the two have to learn to listen to each other.”

If you’re not feeling the chemistry, be honest. Let your partner know it’s important to you to work toward a better connection. It can take time to develop a comfort with and respect for each other, so don’t give up if there’s not an immediate click. “Just like anything new, you have to adjust to a new partner,” says Karagach. “When you stick together for a long time, you get to really understand each other.”

When a 16-year-old Dmytry Dmytrenko moved from Ukraine to Utah last December, Altukhov paired him with a 17-year-old Cheyenne Murillo. The two had strong, conflicting personalities—not to mention the fact that they spoke different languages. But after planning fun activities together outside the studio, they started to argue less frequently. “We spent time with our coach, getting to know each other and getting over the language barrier,” Murillo says. “We were Dmytry’s first friends in America.”

If your personalities really clash, focus on what you have in common with your partner: a passion for dance. “You and your partner need to be committed to the same goal, whether it’s performing in a show or winning a competition,” Altukhov says. Set these goals from the beginning of your partnership, and remind each other of what you’re aiming for whenever things get rocky.

Train Together—and Apart

Practice makes perfect for Kym Johnson and “Dancing with the Stars” Season 16 partner, Ingo Rademacher. (Rick Rowell/ABC)

Being more or less technically advanced than your partner can throw both of you off. But if you’re paired with someone who’s not on par with your training level and physical strength, there are some tricks that will help close the gap.

To start, take a break from rehearsing choreography to work on your technique together. Even if you’re more advanced, reviewing the basics is always helpful. You’ll show your partner you support him, and that can help you develop a better connection onstage.

If your partner has been dancing longer than you have, put in the extra time and practice on your own. “Dmytry was more experienced than I was when we started dancing together,” Murillo says. “So I started taking two private classes a day to develop my technique.”

“Dancing with the Stars” professional Kym Johnson has mastered working with partners who have little to no training. “Most of the celebrities I dance with will go home and practice on their own with a pillow,” she says. Johnson also suggests taking ballet or Pilates in addition to your ballroom training: “I started with ballet. That’s the best foundation for any form of dance.”

Get on the Same Level

In an ideal match the male is slightly taller than the female. “It looks funny if there’s a big height difference,” Karagach says. “You want to dance with someone who’s a good fit for you.” Height disparities are more apparent in standard styles than in Latin styles, since the dancers’ bodies have to be closer together.

If your heights are mismatched—a common issue with juniors, since girls often grow faster than boys—try experimenting with different heel heights (available for both women and men). Karagach also advises using levels in your routine to fool the audience. Altukhov suggests using costumes to balance a height difference. “A shorter boy can wear pants with a higher waist, so his legs appear longer,” he says.

 

If all else fails, talk to your teachers. “Even if you feel nervous or embarrassed, just be honest, and it’ll all work out,” says Johnson, who has changed partners several times in her competitive professional career. Pull them aside, and let them know exactly why you’re unhappy. Chances are, this isn’t the first time they’ve dealt with a conflict between partners. “Teachers are there to guide you, and they can do a much better job of that if they have insight into how you feel about your relationship with your partner,” Johnson says. If there comes a point when you’re not happy dancing anymore because of your partner, it’s time to switch.

The season of sequined fringe is upon us.

The season 16 cast of "Dancing with the Stars" was announced today on "Good Morning America." Yay?

Sorry. I'm sure the latest season of this weirdly fascinating cultural phenomenon will be just as entertaining as the last 15. I'm just feeling a little sad that one Chelsie Hightower isn't involved in the proceedings this time around. Chelsie! We'll miss you!

The happier news is that Aly Raisman, the awesome surprise hero of last year's U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team, will be competing for the mirrorball trophy. And there are some newbie pros—including "So You Think You Can Dance" alum Lindsay Arnold—on the list who might spice things up a little. Real yay!

Here's the lineup:

Wynonna Judd and Tony Dovolani


D.L. Hughley and Cheryl Burke


Jacoby Jones and Karina Smirnoff

Lisa Vanderpump and new dancer Gleb Savchenko

Andy Dick and new dancer Sharna Burgess

Victor Ortiz and new dancer Lindsay Arnold


Zendaya Coleman and Val Chmerkovskiy


Aly Raisman and Mark Ballas


Ingo Rademache and Kym Johnson

Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough


Dorothy Hamill and Tristan MacManus

Tune in for the premiere of "DWTS" on March 28 at 8/7 central on ABC.

A few weeks ago, we told you about the All Star cast for Season 15 of "Dancing with the Stars." Well, there's more news from the Land of the Mirrorball Trophy: The star/pro pairings have been announced!

And the list has raised a few eyebrows. Interestingly, five of the 12 All Star contestants are going to take the floor with their original partners. Does that give them a bit of an edge over their freshly-paired competitors? What do you think?

Here's the full list:

Kelly Monaco and Valentin Chmerkovskiy


Emmitt Smith and Cheryl Burke


Joey Fatone and Kym Johnson

Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy


Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas


Pamela Anderson and Tristan McManus


Apolo Anton Ohno and Karina Smirnoff


Gilles Marini and Peta Murgatroyd


Drew Lachey and Anna Trebunskaya


Helio Castroneves and Chelsie Hightower


Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani


Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough

(As we mentioned in our last "DWTS" post, the 13th cast member—either Carson Kressley, Sabrina Bryan or Kyle Massey—is being chosen in an online vote, which ends August 24.)

See how this all plays out when "DWTS" premieres on Monday, September 24!

Dance News

It’s "Dancing with the Stars" day! Season 14 premieres tonight, and—with some studly stars and our favorite ballroom ladies and gents fighting for that Mirror Ball Trophy—it’s definitely going to be a good one. To start off the season right, DS got the inside scoop from "DWTS" pro Kym Johnson about her expectations for partner Jaleel White and who she thinks is her biggest competition:

Dance Spirit: How has Jaleel’s dancing been in rehearsals? Is it different than you expected?

Kym Johnson: I really didn’t know what to expect from him, but it’s going really well. There are things that we still have to work on, like his frame, but he’s definitely got rhythm. Now we’re at the point where we’re just ready to dance for an audience.

DS: Were you a fan of Jaleel’s character, Steve Urkel, on "Family Matters"?

KJ: "Family Matters" was very popular in Australia, but I actually didn’t watch it.  I felt a bit bad about that when I met him. Obviously, I knew the character of Steve Urkel, since he made that very famous. But he’ll play more of a smooth character when he’s on the dance floor.

DS: We won’t see any of Urkel’s signature moves?

KJ: I don't think so. Jaleel says he doesn’t think the judges are ready for The Urkel.

DS: So what’s your strategy for this season?

KJ: I think the best way to approach this competition is to enjoy it as much as possible, and just take it week by week. The first show is always really fun. That’s when we’ll see what the other couples are bringing to the dance floor, and we’ll figure out where we stand in the competition and what we can work on. Hopefully we’ll connect with people.

DS: Who do you think will be your biggest competition?

KJ: I have to say it’s going to be a really strong dance season. I think William [Levy] and Cheryl [Burke], plus Donald Driver and Peta [Murgatroyd], are really good. Plus, I saw Katherine Jenkins rehearse the other day, and she’s beautiful, so she’s going to be a tough one. It seems like everyone is big competition right now. There are going to be some amazing performances.

We can't wait! And if you’re like Kym, and "Family Matters" wasn’t a part of your regular TGIF lineup, here’s a little insight to why this team will most likely kill it on the dance floor. I give you The Urkel:

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