US Open 2013 – Update #14 Dancers Behaving Badly

It’s February.

Christmas is a dim memory. New Years events come and gone. Budapest, Brasil, Australia, Scotland, ACC, “Shag Keepers” last weekend …

Capital next week.  Spring is somewhere out there beyond the snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures …

Everyone still muttering about the Open, though. Everyone’s got an opinion.

Maybe because the community is big.  So now we have my team and your team, every competing couple with a fan base big enough to make a ruckus in ballrooms around the world.

And on Facebook.

On Sunday at the Open, end of Awards,  when they said “And now, Classic!”  —  it went silent in the ballroom.

All you heard was crickets.

“Fifth Place!

“Kyle Redd! and Sarah Vann Drake!”

A roar went up. Half the ballroom cheering, the other half outraged.

“Fourth Place!

“Ronnie Debenedetta and Brandi Tobias!”

More clamor, more chaotic.

Then they said, “Third Place! Ben Morris and Jennifer Deluca!” and all hell broke loose.

Ben and Jen in tears come down to the floor amidst an outcry of cheering and a standing ovation that won’t stop.  In celebration, in protest – you thought you were in an East London football pub during World Cup, a brawl about to break out.

Then silence.

Not a sound, no one moved, not even the crickets.

“And in Second Place …”

Papers shuffling against a nervous microphone.

“Gary McIntyre and Susan Kirklin!”

EXPLOSION!  Tears, hugging, triumph, indignation, the din, couldn’t hear your own shouting …

“And in First Place!

“Jordan Frisbee! and Tatiana Mollmann!”

Everyone yelling at once, running down the aisles, wild riot of emotion.

Funny watching the recorded video afterwards. You can’t tell what the ballroom was like.  Seems almost quiet in there, polite.  You might think the audience was bored.

Yeah, no, it wasn’t like that. It was crazy in there. Tense, volatile. It had been a long exhausting weekend and by this point everyone’s nerves were fried.

And they announced Showcase –

“Fifth Place! Ronnie and Laureen! Fourth –  Lionel and Amandine! Third – Greg and Lemery! Second – Myles and Tessa!

“First Place – Benji and Torri!”

And it really did turn to bedlam, mobs pouring out the front doors, charging through the halls, scattering to the scoring room, the bar, restaurant, courtyard, lobby. Suddenly the entire property brimming with crowds in corners, everyone talking at once ….

Lot of fallout from the Open this year. A lot of repercussions.

Lot of Facebook.

A lot of Dancers Behaving Badly.

You saw those Facebook shoe Profile Pictures, right? Ben and Jen’s routine sneakers posted by people who think Ben and Jen should have won.

There were furious diatribes about Ronnie and Brandi getting robbed, how they’ve been robbed year after year – they should have won.

How Kyle and Sarah are consistently chastised for doing swing – too much swing. They should have won.

How Gary and Susan gave the most dramatic routine ever performed in the galactic habitable zone and they should have won.

How Jordan and Tatiana are in a different league entirely and proved themselves, earned their Champion title, once again.  They should have won.

And not just the top five. Facebook shook with indignation about travesties against every other couple in Classic finals, each seeming to have their own vociferous fan base.

And not just Classic. People were beyond incensed that Myles and Tessa didn’t win. Or Greg and Lemery.  Or that Lionel and Amandine placed as low as fourth, Ronnie and Laureen fifth. As if fourth and fifth in a field of 21 routines is a disgrace.

It got ugly.

Crying foul, crying politics, name-calling, insults, hurting feelings, taking sides, defending, attacking on and on.

Not to mention some “noteworthy” (that’s the nice word for &$*&^%*$) behavior by a few competitors and a few, well, other people.

Check your local grapevine. We have the best grapevine in the world.  Fast! Immediate! World-wide delivery! We put FedEx to shame.  Ask around – you won’t be sorry. The stories are epic this year. Shakespearean.

Wild ride these last few months since the Open.  The community is only now simmering down to our usual level of drama.

Maybe it’s a sign we’ve turned a corner?

We must have turned a corner because now we’re hollering like every other dance community since caveman dance teams battled around a bonfire.

Who knows, maybe the days are gone when West Coast was a hobby for amateurs. We do have a large body of well-trained pros now.  And the stakes are high – visibility on the world stage is high. Maybe the community is more invested than in the past. Which I guess is a good thing? We now have continent rivalries, country rivalries, regional rivalries; we have “our” couples and feel ownership of their routines and placements. Maybe all this is what goes with being recognized as a “legitimate” form of dance.

And yeah, dancers are “passionate.”

But we’re nowhere near as “passionate” as the larger, older dance communities like ballet or ballroom. Or SYTYCD.

“Passion” (the nice word for “homicidal”) seems to be part of our art form.

As for judging at the Open …

“It’s all politics! It’s who you know. You thought it was about dancing? Riiiiiiight. Like how you dance has anything to do with it. The judges? They don’t know what they’re looking at. They’re clueless, lame,  anyway they know beforehand who they’re putting last and first. They don’t even look at the routines. Because they don’t care.  They’re all in somebody’s pocket anyway. They’re biased they’re all biased.”

The trashing and thrashing these judges take.

The eggs, the rotten tomatoes, the onslaught of insults. It’s so bad it’d make a great Saturday Night Live skit.

Yvonne was Chief Judge.

That’s Yvonne Antonacci, who told us at the Judging Seminar on Friday that at 5 years old her sister made her watch American Bandstand and dance in front of the TV and Yvonne had to be the leader. The start of her lifelong love affair with partner dancing.

In 1993 Yvonne happened to stumble into the Phoenix convention, saw west coast and that was it. Like the rest of us, one glimpse and she was hooked for life.

She became close friends with Skippy, Jack and Annie …

And Jack — dear Jack Carey whom we lost just before the Open — Jack was Yvonne’s mentor. They’d sit up for hours after an event dissecting every routine, pouring over the scoring sheets, analyzing why each judge scored the way he did.

For 20 years Yvonne had Jack by her side, guiding, advising, mentoring her judging.

2013 was her first Open without Jack.

Yvonne told us on Friday that at the Open (as in every other NASDE and “serious” wsdc event) the Judging Rules are made by the Event Director (Tyoni, at the Open.) Judges are picked by the Event Director, assignments (who judges which division, who judges leads/follows) made by the Event Director.

The Event Director is The Boss. The Chief Judge carries out orders, making sure Boss Rules are understood by the other judges. And breaking ties.

Here are the lucky US Open 2013 Judges:

Andy Bouman
Erica Berg
Chuck Brown
Dani Canziani
Jessica Cox
Michael Cross
Jim Minty
Mary Ann Nunez
Michael Kiehm
Carmen Passi
Jim Tigges
Manny Viarial
Sonny Watson
John Wheaton
Martin Parker
Bill Cameron
… and the “Referee” Stan Jaquish

So if you’re a judge, what do you do?

You determine Swing Content.

And you determine placement.

That’s it! Those are your two jobs.

You get a clipboard and a piece of paper which has a handy list of codes you can use for the different elements like “TM Teamwork” “MI Musical Interpretation” or “P Presentation.”

At the top of your paper it says:


  • 80% Swing Max
  • 5 Weight Support Moves
  • 8 Beat Breakaways OK
  • In the air NOT permitted

You judge according to your own standards. You might feel timing is the most important element.  Somebody else weights showmanship most heavily. Someone else puts difficulty of choreography above all else.

Where you’re sitting on the floor matters.

If you’re stage left and the couple is crouching to the audience downstage right, you don’t see that great moment of brilliance. You don’t see the gigantic whopping mistake, either.  A judge sitting at the other end of the floor has an entirely different take on this routine because of their vantage point.

So your scores are going to be different from every other sheet of scores turned in. They’re supposed to be.

Here is what you are not supposed to be looking at:

  • Length of the routine
  • Costuming Stuff
  • Move Restrictions/Requirements
  • Unapproved Props

All that is what the Referee is for. That’s all the Referee does – tries to catch dancers breaking rules.

He’s like your high school Vice Principal roaming the halls looking for culprits to drag by the ear to the Principal’s office.

That was Stan Jaquish this year.

If Stan caught you making a mistake he ran tattling to the Principal and a “Review Panel” (Yvonne and two other judges) convened to vote on your infraction.

And you received:

  • An Error (I don’t know what that is), or
  • A Warning (Worse than an error but doesn’t change your score), or
  • A Violation (Way worse – your score goes down 1 or 2 placements), or
  • A Detention (Way, waaaaay worse, the worst of all. You have to stay after Awards in Stan Jaquish’s office decorated with lace doilies and colored kittens on plates, etching “I must not use props I must not use props” into the back of your hand with blood.)*

This year seven Warnings and one Violation were given in Classic; six Warnings in Showcase.  But Stan didn’t give any of them. They were all given by judges, for Swing Content.

You know what? I think next Update I’ll tell a few tales of famous dance world rivalries and scandals.

That might make us feel better about ourselves. Or maybe worse.

* read Harry Potter


A last note:

Sad, sad news came just now, as I write this.

Lance Shermoen died today.

What a loss, what a sad loss of a beautiful man, a lover of our dance, brilliant Showcase dancer, US Open Champion, dear friend to so many people, kind, humble, a wise and generous soul, a pillar of the community for years and years.

What a loss.

Rest in peace my friend.


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3 responses to “US Open 2013 – Update #14 Dancers Behaving Badly

  1. I’m so sorry that I have to report that the audience reaction was not exactly as you stated. There was a much smaller response for one of the winners. Think about it!

      • I have no idea who/what/when you’re thinking of. I’m guessing maybe the din in there was louder or softer depending on which crowd you were sitting near in the ballroom? From where we were (right in the middle, scanning the whole room) it was like waves of increasing noise rising and falling with tense lulls in between to hear the names – until second place was announced and a monster tsunami of screaming crashed through the room, continuing right through the announcement of first place (for both showcase and classic.)

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