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Arts & Culture

Competitive Ballroom Dance Takes Center Stage, And Connecticut Teen Is A Winner

Back in the days of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, ballroom dancing was all the rage. Then came the 1960s, when partner-dancing moved off to the sidelines. But ballroom is back on the dance floor – both socially, and increasingly as a competitive sport.

A young ballroom dancer from Guilford is a national champion, despite a painful medical condition.

Ariel Mayer holds several national titles, including a U.S. Youth Dance Championship in the 16- to 18-year-old category, though she’s just 14 years old.

Instructor Amanda Pytlik described Ariel as “a very particular kind of student. She could really take this as far as she wanted to go.”

Ariel started ballroom dancing after being hospitalized for a condition called neurovascular muscular dystrophy disorder.

“I had had a ton of dance experience with ballet, jazz, tap, modern,” she said. “But my joints weren’t working correctly because of my disease and my pain.”

So she tried ballroom, and found she loved it. Pytlik said Ariel began by learning two styles, “a ballroom style which is the American Smooth, and Rhythm which is sort of the American version of Latin Dancing,” she said. “There are a lot of competitors out there who just focus on one style, so they just devote all of their time to five dances or four dances, but Miss Ariel over here is doing nine.”

Pytlik is a professional ballroom dancer who competes as an adult. She said the dancesport is a kind of underground industry that many people in the U.S. don’t know much about.

Ariel holds titles in the American category. “There’s patterns that you learn at each dance,” she said. “So for Smooth we have waltz, tango, foxtrot and Viennese waltz.”

The teen is homeschooled with a full schedule of online classes, private tutors, and weekly trips into New York City to train alongside many of the top ballroom dancers in the U.S.

She agreed her life is different from many of her peers, but said she’s happy to have found a creative outlet that she loves, helps her manage her medical condition, and teaches the value of hard work.

“It’s shown me how to create a plan, create a goal but also take a step back and realize that it’s a whole process to get to that goal, so you have to be able to be like – this is where I want to be, but I can’t judge myself if I’m not there yet," she said. "And just take it one step at a time.”

Mayer will compete at the Millennium Dancesport Championships in Louisiana in June.

Arts & Culture danceThe Daily
Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.

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