FALLBROOK – Local residents Robyn Custer and James Ungricht were among hundreds of couples who competed at the 26th annual UCSD "Dance by the Shores" Ballroom Dancesport competition, March 4.
Even with only a few days preparation, they did quite well in their division. Custer and Ungricht competed in 19 events and reached the finals in almost half of them. "While I'm glad we made it to the final round in so many dances, I was a little sad we couldn't crack the top three in any event. I wasn't surprised though, considering there are some incredibly talented dancers here," Ungricht commented.
"In the more popular dances, around 50 couples competed. Each round they whittled down competitors until they're left with the top six finalists. Just to get to the finals you had to dance and impress enough judges to get called back for three or four qualifying rounds, so placing in the top 10% is quite an accomplishment," he said.
"If you've never been to a Ballroom Dancesport competition it's quite a spectacle," said Sonky Ung from Rainbow, who came to watch his friends compete. "I was impressed by the style and flow of movement from the talented dancers. They were incredible and they inspired me to want to be a better dancer."
The UCSD competition is one of the largest Dancesport events on the West Coast. Unlike the National Dance Council of America sponsored events, it's part of the collegiate circuit. Several teams from universities came to compete, including Arizona State, UCLA and UCSB to name a few.
Although the majority of dancers are college students, the event is open to all ages and levels of dancing. "Compared to some of the pro-sponsored events, I prefer the collegiate circuit," Custer noted. "It is definitely more affordable than other Dancesports. And more importantly, I feel more comfortable since it attracts more Amateur couples, as opposed to Pro-Am, where one person in the partnership is a professional, usually an instructor from a studio. Last year we competed at a Pro-Am event; we were the only couple in our division, and everything and everyone was very formal."
Ungricht and Custer have only danced together for a year now, although each of them started ballroom over 20 years ago. "Robyn is such an incredible follower," said her partner, Ungricht. "What's amazing is that there were literally a few moves that we've never danced together before, but because she follows so well, it still turned out great. I kind of thought it funny, but understandable, that because we competed in so many different dances, often one right after the other, that oftentimes moments before the music started, Robyn would look at me on the stage and ask, 'what dance are we doing again?'"
Besides Ungricht and Custer, there were tons of couples exhausted by the end of the day. There are a total of 19 different codified ballroom dances, and that doesn't include the nightclub or more traditional Latin dances like Salsa and Bachata.
Within each dance they also have skill levels of Newcomer, Bronze, Silver and Gold. Ungricht's best dance was the Viennese Waltz and his favorite was the Samba. Custer's best was American Waltz and her favorites were the Foxtrot and Tango. They look forward to competing again next year where they hope to place in the top 3.
Submitted by James Ungricht and Robyn Custer.