Jacob Blank and Cambria Stetson compete in the 2018 USA Dance National DanceSport Championships.
Late on a Saturday afternoon, Jacob Blank and Cambria Stetson are doing what they do just about every weekend — finishing up dance practice.
They weren't practicing the first weekend in April, however. The pair spent April 6-8 in Baltimore at the 2018 USA Dance National DanceSport Championships, where they took first place in the Youth Division Gold Standard and Novice Standard competitions. They also placed eighth in the Adult Gold Standard division.
This was a national competition, the end goal of a year full of qualifying competitions for the 16-year-old Stetson and the 17-year-old Blank. It was an all-day event, spent on the floor with 11 or 12 other couples at a time as they tried to stand out to the judges.
Ballroom is a small world, and when it came time to announce winners of the competition, many of the other couples in the running were familiar faces.
"The competitiveness in me was more than it's ever been," Stetson said laughing. "I said to Jake, 'We've beat all of these couples individually. We could win and beat them all at once.' "
"It helps us have the grace and the quality on the floor — to be light and move," Blank said.
To prepare for a large competition means more time in the studio on top of an already full schedule.
"Whenever we prepare for a competition, we just try to find whatever time we have," Blank said. "We'll wait till we're done with the classes here and practice afterwards. And sometimes we won't be done till like —"
"Ten," Stetson said, completing his sentence.
"It's just getting it in muscle memory," she continued. "That's really the most important thing."
Artistic Director for Carroll County Dance Center Megan Logee said Blank and Stetson are the first dancers from the center to do ballroom.
"Their success is really a result of their dedication. Not everybody is willing to put in that level of commitment. They have been so successful because they have been willing to put that time … often here several hours after class ends," she said.
"Dance helps with so many things," Logee said, including teaching a student discipline, kindness, expression and working in a group. The classes at the center focus on ballet technique, but students are encouraged to expand into many other styles to become well-rounded dancers.
Ballroom is unique from other dance styles because a routine can be performed to any piece of music as long as the time signature is right. So a waltz that the pair have been practicing can go along with any song in 3/4 time.
The routines are broken into sections that can be changed out for one another.
"We could take out a certain group of steps and insert something else that would be harder or that might actually be easier, but we look a lot better doing," Stetson said.
What advice do they have for younger dancers looking to break into the ballroom world?
"Don't get discouraged if you don't place how you were hoping," Stetson said. "Just keep at it. It'll take time. It's a lot of work. There's a learning curve."
"In Carroll County, being a ballroom dancer isn't a common thing," she continued. "Some people are like, 'You do what?' But I like it. It's fun. I don't really care that people think it's strange. … Also make sure that you have a partner you can get along with when you need to."
Said Blank: "It's not like other styles of dance. … You have to work with another person and you have to be able to spend a lot of time with them and work out any issues that you may have. We argue a lot. And we get on each other's nerves, but when it boils down to it, we know what we have to do."