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To them, it's more than sport

Competitors of all skill levels and ages are showing off their best footwork.

Published June 22, 2007

Volvick Denis and Samantha Nerette from Ft. Lauderdale, practice their Mambo moves outside the restrooms at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Spa before competing in the Millenium Dancesport Championships on Thursday.
[Times photo: John Pendygraft]

ST. PETERSBURG -- To these competitors, dancing is a sport, an escape, a metaphor for living. Before long, someone inevitably declares, "Dancing is life."

Alison Allan is 55, a mother of three teenage boys, a survivor of breast cancer. A year and half ago, cancer free, she turned to ballroom dancing, and now she's obsessed. Her routine: two hours of instruction a day, five days a week, plus 90 minutes on her own at home.

"I wanted to jump-start my life again," Allan said Thursday during a break at the Millennium Dancesport Championships, which are being held this week at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort.

"At 55, I've become a dancer," she said, her cheeks glittering and eyes framed by mile-long lashes. "I feel like a dancer, and it's so fun."

The competition, in its 10th year, has drawn about 1,000 dancers from several countries, making it one of the largest dance competitions in the United States, organizer Michael Chapman said.

Dancers of all levels and ages are competing for nearly $100,000 in prizes, but the bigger draw, Chapman said, is the opportunity for the competitors to show their best.

"It's a creative outlet to show, to express your passion for life and for music," said Chapman, 39, a former dancer who lives in Tampa.

"Being able to time your body with another is incredible."

Larry Silverberg, a 62-year-old computer consultant with a graying mustache, waited with his instructor for his next dance, counting the first-place gold stars he had already won.

His all-black outfit, he explained, was specially made: "Latin shoes with Cuban heels. Custom-made Latin pants. Custom-made Latin shirt. ... Only the underwear is mine."

Silverberg, who lives in Palm Coast, said he had been infatuated with dancing since the 1987 film Dirty Dancing starring Patrick Swayze. But it wasn't until four years ago that he started investing in regular lessons.

Now he uses competitions like this one to measure his progress. He said his fellow dancers were more nurturing than competitive.

"It's very joyful," he said. "It's very hard, if not impossible, to feel sad when I'm dancing."

Moments later, with Silverberg still waiting for his chance, Allan stepped onto the floor. She looked into her instructor's eyes, the music began and the two twirled back and forth, matching each other's movements.

Allan beamed and afterward, out of breath, said, "Dancing is like breathing."

Jacob H. Fries can be reached at or (727) 893-8872.

[Last modified June 22, 2007, 03:41:13]

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