BRHS couple to compete in local DanceSport event
The couple swirled across the dance floor with elegant ease.
Despite their casual dress for rehearsal, it was easy to imagine the sweep of a chiffon skirt, the crisp outline of a tux.
Jessica Smith, 16, and Nelson Williams, 17, have that intrinsic ability to capture an audience, even though they’ve been ballroom dancing for only a few years.
They both simply love to dance.
Couples’ ballroom dancing and pas de deux dancing in ballet — which both Smith and Williams also enjoy — require a partnership, “two of us working together to give one element or one story to the audience,” Williams said.
Williams and Smith will be among the dancers competing through the weekend at a regional ballroom dancing competition, a national qualifying event called the USA Dance Gumbo DanceSport Championships.
It’s the 13th year for the championship held locally that gives dancers from all over the country a shot at going on to national championships sponsored by the dance organization USA Dance. The national dance event will be in April 2013 in Los Angeles.
The Baton Rouge qualifying event generally draws dancers from 19 to 20 states each year.
This year, though, more than 340 dancers from 35 states will be in Baton Rouge to waltz, cha cha and tango at the championships to be held Friday through Sunday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
“The USA Dance officials have been very complimentary (about the Baton Rouge event) ... the national-level dancers hear about it, word of mouth,” said Cecil Phillips, who serves on the board of directors of Louisiana DanceSport.
That organization, headed by Ann Durocher of Houma, was formed to put on the local Gumbo DanceSport Championships.
The whole thing came about through the efforts of two longtime dance groups: the local “Gumbo” chapter of USA Dance, which promotes exhibition dance and social dance, and the Saturday Night Ballroom Club that holds a dance the first Saturday night of each month at the American Legion Hall on Wooddale Boulevard.
“We have had an active ballroom dancing community in Baton Rouge and New Orleans for almost 20 years,” Phillips said.
For the last four years, Phillips has volunteered to teach ballroom dancing as a weekly, extracurricular activity for students at Baton Rouge Magnet High School.
“They’re doing it entirely voluntarily, for no academic credit. They just want to come because they want to learn ballroom dancing,” Phillips said.
Smith and Williams are among Phillips’ students, and Williams will serve as president of Baton Rouge Magnet High’s Ballroom Dance Club next school year, his senior year.
The two students are the first to decide to compete in the championships held here in a few years, Phillips said.
They and their peers appear to be another up-and-coming generation of ballroom dancing devotees.
Smith and Williams, and their classmates, as well as dancers from ballroom dance clubs at Parkview Baptist, LSU and Tulane come regularly to the monthly dance nights at the American Legion Hall, Phillips said.
“We often have 40, 50 or 60 kids dancing on a Saturday night,” he said.
As the championship approached this summer, Smith and Williams put in regular, three-hour rehearsals in a large room made available to them at the Catholic Youth Organization Aquatic Club on Mollylea Drive.
They will be performing not just one style of dance, but six: the waltz, tango, fox trot, East Coast swing, rumba and the cha cha, Smith said.
Smith, who’s taken ballet since she was a little girl, said she just finished her second year in the ballroom dancing club at Baton Rouge Magnet High School and loves it.
“Every girl’s dream is to meet their prince and do a waltz,” she said.
The Gumbo DanceSport Championships will begin at 10:30 a.m. Friday and continue all day and evening Saturday and on Sunday morning at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 4728 Constitution Ave.
For information, visit http://www.gumboofballroom.org.