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Carroll students take top honors in ballroom

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.

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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.

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"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.' "

The competition is long and tiring.

"You'll have to do the same routine over and over again until you make it to the final round." Blank said.

"Or until you get cut." Stetson added.

But they didn't get cut.

"We just stood there in shock," Blank said. "And then our parents were like, 'Whoooo,' shouting and everything.

The two sound like people who have spent a lot of time working with each other and often are in sync enough to fill in each other's thoughts.

Both started dancing at the age of 3, Blank in Mount Airy and Stetson in Sykesville until Blank transferred to Sykesville at age 10 and the two began having class together.

"Then, I guess four years ago, his mom came to me and asked me 'Hey, do you want to do ballroom with Jake?' " And not knowing what I was getting into, I said 'Sure, why not.' "

"Since then, we've gotten a lot more serious with it," she added.

Unlike many they compete with, the two do not exclusively do ballroom dance, supplementing with classes in ballet, modern, tap, jazz, hip-hop and contemporary.

"It helps us have the grace and the quality on the floor — to be light and move," Blank said.

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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."

Things will change next year when Blank goes to college, and turns 18, making the pair no longer eligible for the youth competition.

"We'll still definitely find a way," Stetson said. "We may have to do it a lot less often, maybe meet somewhere in the middle, but I'm sure we'll keep it up."

"I hope so," Blank said, reflecting on their latest win, "after that competition."



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