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Features: The Great Paso

January 28, 2008

(Starting this week, I’ll be reposting the work I do for my Feature Writing class on this blog. These are not strictly published pieces, but they certainly have the whiff of journalism about them. This week: choose a photo and write a short sketch about it)


Dennis Sendros was down on one knee, his hand extended upward and his face proud, but Dennis was not proposing to the girl of his dreams. On the receiving end of his hand was Hesham Zakaria, standing in the spotlight wearing socks and jeans. Music, reminiscent of a bullfight, began.

They danced, and without knowing a single move, placed in a national final for Paso Doble.

Ballroom competition – or dancesport, it’s official name – resembles a track and field meet more than an evening out dancing, though there’s certainly more feathers, self-tanner, and chest-bearing shirts than the 50-yard dash. Dancesport competitions are run in the United States by USABDA, an organization that includes a collegiate level of competition, and the rules are strict. Each dance leader must wear a number, stay within a set syllabus of steps, and to the anger of many partnerless female dancers, must be partnered with the opposite gender once moving beyond the newcomer level.

College teams however, are known for poking good-natured holes in the inflated seriousness of such competitions. When the officiator announced the two non-syllabus dances would be hustle and paso late on the last night of the two day national competition in 2005, Dennis and Hesh, sleep-deprived and natural jokesters, hatched a plan.

Paso Doble roots come far outside the dance floor. At bullfights, before the a bull comes charging out of the gate, during the first few moments where the bullfighter can parade around the arena without the dangerous creature following him around. The dance has no more than the basic two steps. One forward motion and one backward motion. The leader takes the role of the matador; the partner, the role of the cape or the bull themselves. The music demands sharp, often violent movement. Done right, the Paso is stunning; done wrong, the dance looks better placed in a sketch comedy show.

When the competitors for paso were called to the floor, certain couples who were already winners in the most advanced levels, had donned all black attire and were staring each other down.

“We hadn’t figured if they’d allow us out there, also, neither one of us could get our number off our backs in time, so we said ‘screw it’ and ran out onto the floor.” Dennis explained afterwards. “No plans, no choreography. We just danced our paso-loving hearts out there.”

As the driving music started, Hesh and Dennis made sure all eight judges situated around the dance floor were looking at them. Each clapped loudly and circled around the other, eventually becoming dizzy and falling down – dramatically as possible.

“You look absolutely ridiculous” Lee, a coach for the GW team yelled over the cat-calls. “But you just might win.”

Hesh and Dennis traversed across the floor in a tango maneuver and then began to do-si-do in front of the lead judge. Laughter from their own school’s cheering section spread to the entire ballroom. Dipping Dennis with two hands, Hesh jumped over him and the judge waived them on to dance again in the final round.

Team historian Ben Dills, who had the foresight to film the monumental dance partnership, still remembers the crowd reaction. “We were all on the floor dying of laughter. It was the best thing I’ve ever seen in dance. No exaggeration.”

Hesh and Dennis finished sixth in the final paso doble round, and were presented with a USABDA yellow ribbon. At such high levels of competition, dancers are not known for their willingness to be usurped by two men who’d never danced the paso before, but watching Hesh carry Dennis off the floor, clapping and waving the whole way, no one would deny they earned it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 11, 2010 6:04 am

    I wrote a similar blog about this subject but you did a better job 🙂

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