The Vegas Open Challenge 2022

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The Las Vegas Ballroom!

Las Vegas, “The sin City,” is a great place to get away, gamble, see shows, and why not put your best foot forward, and we mean on the ballroom floor!

The Vegas Open is organized by Mikal Watkins & Maria Hansen and was held once again at the Luxor Hotel & Casino on the Vegas Strip.

Last night at Las Vegas Open Dance Challenge the Open Professional Ballroom couples were for sure challenging, many of them going head to head from one dance to the other, until one took the Prize home.

The Open Ballroom event started with an 8-couple semifinal and 6 couples were recalled for the final. This was not just a final, but an excellent heat that for us totally stole the night and made us want to foxtrot. We could see that from the start two couples would be fighting it out for first place and they were Valeriu Ursache & Liana Bakhtiarova and Maksym Savytskyi & Polina Riabovil. Both these couples are super talented and are able to present the style in two very different lights or should we say interpretations. From both their scorecards one could almost say that either of the couples could have won and no questions would have been asked. However, on this night top placement by winning the W,T,F and placing second in the VW,Q went to Valeriu & Liana. We can also say that in the dances that they won, they nearly shared all the first place marks evenly with the couple that placed second, Maksym & Polina. The quickstep that Maksym & Polina won, was the only dance that any couple won with a majority of firsts. The rest, including their Viennese Waltz, they both had to share the firsts. Actually in the VW they both had 7 first places each, so the dance had to be decided by including “third or better marks.” What a closely contested event this was, in the end leaving Maksym & Polina holding second overall!

Third in all dances was awarded to Serhiy Averkov & Olena Barna and from looking at the scorecard we can for sure say that they were the only couple to take any first place marks from the other couples just mentioned. In the tango and Viennese Waltz they took one first place mark on each and that was from judge, Donna Edelstein. For us on this night we felt their dancing was solid for an easy third place win, although on this outing and at the moment they lack the impact and fluidity to challenge the top two. Perhaps they just need more confidence. Fourth in all dances went to Marek Klepadlo & Zhiting Yang, fifth place overall was awarded to Ruslan Kaliuzhnyi & Elena Babaeva and sixth were Jack & Nataliia Beale.

The Open Professional Rhythm was only a five-couple final but here for us was a wonderful challenge between Oleksiy Pigotskyy & Anastasia Zhuchenko and Andrew Escolme & Amy Baker. However, in the end we were a little shocked to learn that according to the judges’ log there was little or any challenge between them. Andrew & Amy won all dances with a majority of firsts in every dance. From our perspective, we did think Andrew & Amy had a slight advantage to their performance but we figured it would be as in the Ballroom a little closer. But their more authentic interpretation of the dances carried the day. We felt that Oleksiy & Anastasia gave a terrific performance even though they were always quite far away on the floor and not always easy to be seen, and in the dances they danced closer to us, they did tend to over-perform a little, making their dancing a little strong and harsh. We wonder if some of the judges might have been impacted by this over-dancing. The one thing that we possibly can all agree on is that both couples are super talented and we are very fortunate to have this kind of talent in the world of Rhythm dancing.

In this professional Rhythm final third place was awarded to Roman Zoto & Anna Zotova, in fourth place was John Bernal & Bailey Carrillo and fifth position went to Todd Munson & Ricci-Lee Hotz.

In the Open Professional Smooth Travis and Jaimee Tuft walked away with an almost perfect performance. They won three dances with a majority of firsts and the waltz with perfect scores from the judges. In the tango, foxtrot and Viennese Waltz they lacked two to three first place marks to also have perfect scoring; in the tango they lost 3 marks, and in both the foxtrot & Viennese Waltz they lost two first place marks. The couple to receive all the firsts that Travis & Jaimee lost was Oleksiy Pigotskyy & Anastasia Zhuchenko who placed second in all dances.

Third place in this excellent smooth heat that started with a full semifinal round was Mariusz Zakrzewski & Lynnsay Ray and they took third in all dances. The surprise for us here was the fact that they hardly stole any second place marks from Oleksiy & Anastasia, the most second place taken from them was in the foxtrot and here they took 4 second place marks. In our opinion, unlike on previous outings, Mariusz & Lynnsay had a wonderful night, perhaps their home crowd helped them but they seemed to have a nice flow to all their dancing making it very “smooth” to watch.

4th were Vladyslav & Brianna Nalyvaychuk 4,4,4,4. They were the winners of the Rising Star the night before. 5th Igor Dogoter & Natalia Gorshkova 5,5,5,5; 6th Stefan Badea & Whitney Myers 6,6,6,6.

The Professional Latin was also quite a surprise to us when we looked at the judges’ logs and you will know why in just a few seconds, but first winning all dances with a majority of firsts in all dances was Roman Italyankin & Alexandra Bokova. For us Roma & Alexandra were by far the best but this was not necessarily reflected in the judges’ scores. Their majorities were not as great as we would have expected, many of the first place marks went to the couple that placed second, Joseph & Alexandra Hopwood. We are not disputing their talent or the fact that they were clearly second, but we felt that this couple’s performance was not as solid as Roman & Alexandra’s performance. Yes, basically they were way ahead of the others in quality, but lack the power to overtake Roman & Aleksandra right now. Third in this challenging Latin heat went to Anton Silantev & Olga Akapova, fourth were Matiia Bielli & Taisiia Hughes, and fifth was awarded to Maxim Degtiarev & Camila Rojas.

Adding to Travis and Jaimee Tuft’s medal collection, the Professional Cabaret went to them with perfect scores from the judges on Friday night. Second in this three-couple challenge went to Matiia Bielli & Taisiia Hughes and third was awarded to Devan McClish & Brooke Mortimer.

A special tribute presentation was given by Maria Hansen to her ex-partner and co-organizer, Mr. Paul Holmes, during the Open Professional Ballroom when the foxtrot was played. “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra was played and the couples competed to it. It was a heartfelt memorial speech by Ms. Hansen who talked about his favorite town where he lived and why, all that knew him were very touched by this memorial tribute.

A favorite feature of the Vegas Open each year is the Nightclub division that is held in the Velvet Room of the Luxor Hotel.  This really is a "nightclub" and so the atmosphere is very special.  These heats are always well-attended.

Total entries were around 6,000 this year, a very respectable total as the ballroom industry finally emerges from the 2 years of pandemic. And now with the war in Ukraine also placing a shadow over our dance world here in the USA. The Vegas Open offered a dance in each style with the money raised going to benefit the Ukrainian dancers affected by this war.

The Vegas Open Dance Challenge concluded on a very high note leaving everyone wanting to come back for more!

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