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The Ecuadorian Open
Report by: Didio Barrera
Although born in Colombia, South America, I have lived in the USA for most of my life and having been introduced to ballroom and Latin dancing at an early age in the United States, I often wondered why most Latin American countries did not participate in International Latin American Dancing as taught around the world. As a young child I remember that the music such as samba, cha cha, bolero and paso doble were always present at our parties and gatherings. They were never danced the way we do it in DanceSport, but this type of music has always been a part of South America. It is now great to see that finally after so many years Latin American Dancing has found it’s way home to where it all started.
Quito, Ecuador is located right in the middle of the Andes mountain chain. I landed Thursday the 13th of May at sunset and it was a beautiful sight to see - so many mountain peaks covered with snow! As the plane approached through this mountain labyrinth to land in the airport located in the middle of the city, I could not help but notice so much green. I was later told that the city of Quito has many areas that are protected by law and people are not allowed to just tear down the trees and build structures. As many of my English friends would say, “How civilized!” As I was driven through the city I also noticed how clean their streets were and this too is the norm in Quito I was told. Poverty is also not so much in evidence as it can be in South America. The Ecuadorians care for their environment and there were few homeless or impoverished people in the streets.
The main purpose of the trip was to attend the first IDSF Ecuadorian Championship being held in this beautiful city. The competition started Saturday morning the 15 of May at around 9:00 AM. It was held at a military university campus on the outskirts of Quito in a valley below one of the largest snow capped volcanoes that surround the city.
The sports arena where the competition took place was modestly decorated and we the judges were all shown to our green room and the area were we would sit during the competition. The first day was what I had expected, the arena was only half full and the standard competitions had a reasonable number of competitors but with the exception of a few, the level of dancing was very modest. You could see that this type of music and style of dancing was very new to the Latin American people. Some of the couples have tremendous power in their feet but lack the understanding of posture as well as how to use their bodies to communicate without so much effort. But like everything new in life, it will all come together one day and possibly faster than expected.
The thing that I think impressed us the most and when I say “us” I mean the US delegation, Pasha Pashkov & Daniella Karagach who were invited as guest competitors and myself, was that these people enjoy the art of DanceSport and have an innocence about it that is hardly ever found anywhere in the world. When a couple places third or first or fifth or anywhere, everyone from that country is so happy that you constantly have to look twice to make sure that is what you are seeing. How many times did we see a couple who came in fourth be given the flag of their country and everyone around them congratulating them as well as the people that came ahead of them? It was very touching for me as I mention on the blog this same day to see the Mexican contingent break down completely when they were announced the winners of one of the events. The entire Mexican delegation took to the floor and surrounded them with pride, taking pictures and congratulating each other and everyone.
The Opening ceremonies for the IDSF Standard was well rehearsed and members of the Ecuadorian armed forces carried the flag. The obvious couples made the final and as I said here on our blog, this was perhaps “one baby step for Ecuador but a leap for the IDSF!”
The main event was won easily by one of Canada’s best, Anton Belyaeve & Antoaneta Popova and the runner up position went also easily to the United States’ Pasha Pashkov & Daniela Karagach. Both couples danced honorably with style from beginning to end even though the altitude in the Andes was not very conducive to their unadjusted bodies.
In the Standard IDSF, third place went easily as well to possibly the best Standard couple I’ve ever seen from South America, Artem Smirnov & Nicole Duque from Ecuador. I awarded this couple all my third place marks. Their skill, although a little rough still, was good enough for them to be comfortable in this position.
Fourth went to Chile’s Afredo Araya & Viviana Diaz. The next day I mentioned that although they were quite deserving of this position I felt that they could have easily been challenged.
The South American couple with the best feeling for this style for me was Sergio Sanchez & Margarita Hinojosa from Ecuador who were awarded fifth overall. I was very impressed with their feeling for this style of music. Sixth went to another Ecuadorian couple, Luiz Munos & Camila Acosta.
The next day was the best day for dancing and for audience numbers. It was a packed house and you could hear it and feel it in the atmosphere. Latin music was playing and everyone was practicing, getting ready for the start of the IDSF Latin.
There were quite a few other interesting competitions running the same afternoon and as I said , Latin music runs through these peoples’ veins - they all have incredible natural rhythm and understanding of Latin music.
The IDSF Open Latin event was terrific. Once again Anton Belyaeve & Antoaneta Popova from Canada and Pasha Pashkov & Daniela Karagach from USA were the featured athletes at this competition and they were totally welcomed by the audience who were in admiration of their performances. Whenever they danced on a particular side the audience cheered and enthusiastically encouraged the couples. When they were presented singly in the final the audience liked them so much they gave both a huge round of applause. Third place as the day before in the Standard went to Artem Smirnov & Nicole Duque from Ecuador. In fourth position overall was Leonardo Fuentes & Isabel Collao from Chile. Sergio Sanchez & Margarita Hinojosa from Ecuador placed fifth overall.
Before I go on to the last couple I have to mention that the one thing I was very impressed with during the earlier competitions and with so many of the Latino American dancers was the way they interpret their music. However I found that the last three couples mentioned sometimes sacrificed natural musicality and interpretation of their music for the technique, speed and all the other benefits that Dancesport has to offer. The couple that placed sixth, Luis Avalos & Patricia Jofre from Ecuador.
Being a born Latin American I was very proud on how far Latin America has come in DanceSport. Before I conclude I want to congratulate all these beautiful dancers for the work done here in this competition and also the organizers and the people that first had the vision to make this event happen.
The first night after the competition a “chiba” was hired to take us around the town. This is a colorful open-air bus with an orchestra on top of the buss that played typical Ecuadorian songs while we saw the sights. One of the stops was in “La Plaza Major” were the presidential palace stands. That night in the plaza they had a celebration to the mistress of Simon Bolivar. At first I was not sure that is what the guide was saying so I asked, “did you say they are celebrating the life of the wife of Simon Bolivar?” To my surprise he said “no, the mistress!” That is totally civilized!
The dinner that night on the roof top of one of the historical buildings overlooking the old city and convent was breathtaking and so it was the next day when I was taken to see the Equator the place that gave the name to this country and as they say “the middle of the earth.” Some people say as you get closer to the equator you get lighter. I personally did not go on the scale for fear of believing and then eating too much of their fantastic food.
Finally, the best part of this country is not the Galapagos Islands with their untouched animal species, their geography, food, beaches or the fact that their indigenous tribes that live in the Amazon Jungle are still taking the law into their own hands when it comes to the foreign invaders destroying their land, but it is the people of this land that really stole my heart. From the moment I stepped off the plane everyone that I came in contact with were brilliant, their humility, unconditional and their friendliness that alone worth the trip back.
The reception the night before the competition started was well put together and very appropriate with terrific food and shows. Everyone dancing with one another in a social setting was very special and contagious to the point that I as well as the president of the IDSF Mr. Carlos Frietag had to give in and join the party.
To conclude, as you might have noticed this was a very special trip for me. I never imagined DanceSport dancing in South America to be at this stage and to see people so genuinely in love with this art form was fantastic. As Pasha & Danielle said earlier “they do not have to say anything, all you have to do is see it in their eyes!”