Dancing For Fun And Sport

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Valentin Chmerkovsky,16, and Diana Olonetskaya, 15, are the World Junior Latin Dance Champions. In fact, when they won in Turin, Italy, in October, they became the first U.S. couple ever to win a Latin world championship title. They visited The Saturday Early Show to dance and chat.

Val and Diana, both sophomores in high school, were born in Russia. Val's family moved to the U.S. about seven years ago, and Diana has been in the States for three years.

Standard ballroom dancing includes the waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, fox trot and quickstep. Latin dancing is another category of ballroom dancing that includes Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive. Val and Diana specialize in Latin dancing, but they can do all of the ballroom styles. Some couples only do what is considered standard ballroom and other couples only perform Latin. Couples who can dance in both categories are called "ten dancers".

Competitive ballroom dancing is known as "dancesport". According to the USABDA, there is growing interest among young people in both social ballroom dancing and dancesport. This doesn't mean they are lining up to do the waltz or fox trot, although there are more kids doing standard ballroom too. They are primarily attracted to Latin dances and swing.

Serious dancers have to train just like athletes in other sports. Val and Diana train every day for two to three hours.

There is a movement to make ballroom dancing an Olympic sport and it's being considered. Val hopes to be able to compete in the Olympics in 2008.

Val has been dancing for eight years. He said, "My parents decided to bring my brother into dance. He's six years older than me. He got serious into it and my parents got serious in it and I kind of flowed into it." He said that when he started dancing in Russia that he wasn't really dancing Latin. He became interested in that style after moving to the U.S. His father owns a dance studio. Val said that his father isn't a dancer, but his brother is and he's his coach.

He said that he likes dancing because it's fun and let's you express your feelings in a poetic way. He said that this is a sport and that you have to work hard together with your partner. "We practice every day for two or three hours and I play violin in an orchestra and I'm in a private school in Hoboken, New Jersey."

He thinks it's true that more young people are becoming interested in ballroom dancing, but it's no where near the level that Americans have in other sports like baseball. "When I moved here, these competitions were only five to three couples," he said. "There were so many couples this last weekend, that the event finished two hours late." He said that a year ago no American couple was making the finals or the semi-finals in competition, but now that's changing. "We want this to become an Olympic sport and we want this to be another sport that America dominates like in track and field."

When aske if ballroom dancing is a great way to meet girls, he said, "It's a great way to meet anybody and interact with a lot of very different people and yes, a great way to meet girls."

He said that more kids should get involved with ballroom dance because it's fun and it helps you express your feelings and emotions in a physical way. "You get very close with your partner," he said. "My partner and I are very good friends and dancing is just another way to get out from everything else that you have in life to express your emotions."

He also has been playing the violin for 8 years.

Diana started dancing when she was 6.

"My mom saw a sign that was an invitation to kids to get involved in ballroom dancing," she explains. "It started out as a hobby and later it became more important, and now I'm doing it more professionally."

Diana says that she and Val love to do jive at a competition. She said that it's usually the last dance, and couples who are competing are really tired by then. "It shows how much stamina you have," she said.

"I definitely agree that ballroom dancing is becoming much more popular," she says. "There's more people that are starting to know and learn about it and participate. Of the regular audience that watches the dance competition, 95 percent do it themselves. It's not like I would watch baseball and not know what they are doing."

Diana said that she would encourage other kids to get into ballroom dancing because it's really fun. She said that there's interaction between boys and girls and you get to travel a lot if you get into competitive dancing.

"It's very interesting," she said. "You get to learn how to use your body, you have a sense of rhythm and music which helps you out in life and it helps your posture and how you carry yourself. It's a lot of fun."

Diana lives with her parents in Staten Island. She has two adult siblings who live in Russia.

For more information, go to the U.S. Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association's Web site at www.usabda.org.

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