Deb Aspen, director of the In Step Dance Academy, recently returned from an Arthur Murray dance competition in Chicago, bringing home an impressive array of awards. Northstar Dance-O-Rama held its yearly event in the glamorous Westin Michigan Avenue Hotel on Aug. 18-21, and included dancers from 47 studios around the U.S. and Canada. The gala was an international dance competition that sported 25 amateur and 75 professional gentlemen, 49 amateur and 79 professional ladies, 13 judges, a master of ceremonies, two scrutineers, a music director, several events stewards and coordinators, countless waiters, kitchen staff, photographers and video recorders. Over 5,800 entries filtered through 681 heats and were performed in two 16-hour days while staying on schedule.
The atmosphere was one of stepping into a Cinderella world, glittering with rhinestones and floating dreams, an extraordinary extravagance, away from the everyday hubbub.
The early arrivers, were treated with a grand gourmet dining experience which included a spectacular view from the 95th floor of the Hancock Building, an incredibly painted sunset, and dancing to a live band.
Friday's events began at 8:30 a.m. with 27 solo routines. Aspen, who designed and fashioned her white satin ball gown, and her partner, Bentura Madrid, from Albuquerque, Viennese waltzed their way to winning the Top Gold and Above Solo Award to a gorgeous arrangement of "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
The solo events are different in that each couple performs a choreographed routine to music of their choice, and are the only ones on the dance floor. Three judges write critiques and scores according to technique, performance, poise and showmanship. Friday also hosted many closed freestyle categories, intermingled with some specialty events. Freestyles are where couples dance with several other couples on the floor at the same time, to a randomly selected song while the judges score each couple in comparison with other couples in the same age and level groups. "Closed" means that dancers must perform specific patterns; not unlike the compulsories in figure skating. The judges are looking for how well you know these universally known patterns. Winners in the closed division are given blue medallions for first place, red for second, yellow for third, and white for being finalists. At the end of the tally, Aspen and Madrid placed first in all 22 closed dances they entered.
At 5 p.m. all dancers took a break, changing into Fiesta Latina theme night costumes. Congregating outside the ballroom, they were entertained by an incredible mariachi band, who joined them into the redecorated ballroom as a warm up to another wonderful band who played for social dancing before competition resumed.
The specialty events that Aspen entered on Friday night were the scholarships and a two-dance event. In the smooth scholarship, the duo danced their way through waltz, foxtrot, tango and Viennese waltz to receive a bronze medal. The rhythm scholarships, after dancing cha cha, rumba, swing, mambo and bolero resulted in the same placement of bronze. Later that evening, the Aspen-Medina team competed in the open rhythm 2-dance: salsa and bachata, earning yet another bronze medal.
It seems that Aspen and Medina used Friday as their warm-up, because the results of Saturday's events earned them a gold medal in the open country western 2-dance event, which showcased the best CW 2-step and CW swing dancers. They also scored a gold medal in the All-Around Division, which highlighted tango, foxtrot, rumba and swing.
Saturday loosened up with the open freestyle categories, where couples get to add choreography and personal touches to compulsory patterns. Aspen and Medina took the gold in all 22 of their picks in the open categories. Placing first in all 44 of her freestyles gained Aspen the gold and Above Top Student trophy, and earned her a place on Albuquerque's Honor Wall, a privilege that only three other dancers have achieved in the history of that Arthur Murray studio.
Saturday evening's cocktail hour and formal gourmet dinner found everyone in the ballroom more relaxed and in the mood to do some social dancing before kicking back and watching the professional championships. Aspen says it was like watching Dancing with the Stars in person (without all the commercials!). The Cinderella theme continued well past midnight as everyone danced "happily ever after."
Aspen is an Arthur Murray certified dance instructor, and periodically teaches classes in Cedaredge, Delta, Montrose and Ridgway. She can cover over 35 different dances including smooth, Latin, country western, and swing style categories, a little jazz, hula, and a wide variety of line dancing, including cowboy cha cha.
Her vision, as she puts it, "is to help teach the little corner of her world how to dance and have some laughs doing it." This incredibly gifted lady absolutely lives her motto: "I get up, I walk, I fall down. In the meantime ... I keep dancing!