Together, they are Latin dance champions, but Jack Tai (戴士峻) and Vivian Kuo (郭子微) are not best friends in real life.
“He is a stinky boy,” says Kuo, 11, of her 13-year-old dance partner.
On the dance floor, though, they have a partnership that appears effortless. Tai exudes confidence as he leads her into a series of acrobatic turns on high heels. She ends the routine with arms outstretched, creating a visual flourish that extends down to her fingertips.
They are good — two of the best — and have represented Taiwan on the ballroom dance competition circuit around the world, most recently at the 2013 World Dancesport Federation’s Kings Cup International Open in Thailand. At home, they are currently ranked No. 1 in the four-dance Latin category for pairs under-16.
They are now training for one of their biggest competitions to date — the novice Latin championship at the Asian Dance Tour Taipei Open.
The Taipei Open is a major ballroom dancing competition overseen by the World Dance Council (WDC) and organized by the Taiwan International Sport Dance Development Association (中華民國舞蹈發展協會).
This year’s event will host a record-topping 250 pairs from Taiwan, plus 141 pairs from 31 countries, vying for a total of US$102,400 (NT$3.3 million) in rounds judged by the WDC.
Contestants are big names including the globe’s top 24 professional ballroom dancers, but also seniors and children as young as 10.
DANCER TODAY, DOCTOR TOMORROW
Joanna Liu (劉怡微), 13, is a local favorite to win in this year’s novice competition in the modern category.
International ballroom dance is broken down into two categories: modern and Latin. Latin is feistier, comprising samba, rumba, cha-cha, paso doble and jive. Modern has waltz, the Viennese waltz, tango, foxtrot, and quickstep.
What: 2014 Asian Dance Tour Taipei Open Championships (職業國標舞世界大賽亞巡賽台北站)
When: Feb. 28 from 9am to 9:30pm
Where: Taipei Arena (臺北小巨蛋), 2, Nanjing E Rd Sec 4, Taipei (台北市南京東路四段2號)
Admission: From NT$500 to NT$1,000, available at www.ticket.com.tw
On the Net: www.tisdda.org
“I’m doing modern, which I really prefer. See, I have these flat duck feet so I despise high heels — you need major heels for Latin,” Liu says.
At a photo shoot on Tuesday for Taipei Open, she strikes some poses for the camera and then retreats to a table with her lesson book. She wants to become a doctor, she says, because she wants to have the know-how to diagnose her own ailments.
“I have this problem,” Liu says. “I research diseases and think that they apply to me, but some of that information is fake. I want to be a doctor because then I would have the correct data.”
Liu also wants to perfect the waltz, an atypical pick for a young ballroom dancer. Among the youth set, waltzes are a bit unpopular, considered old-fashioned, tiring and uncool.
“Still, I like it because the tempo is slower and so familiar,” she says. “Most beginners in ballroom start with waltzes, so I have been doing it for nine years.”
The teen took her first ballroom dancing class when she was four years old. She’s currently Taipei Open’s secondary school division champion in the modern category, but she wasn’t always serious about dance.
“My parents are ballroom dancing instructors and my grandfather also did ballroom dance, so when I was little I saw everybody dancing. When I started, I had one class a week with a lot of other kids and it was just fun and I didn’t care about the results. After a while, however, I realized that I have my reputation to protect and I should apply myself,” she says.
LONG LONELY HOURS
For the past few years, she has been sticking to a strict regimen.