My heart is full, my body is alive, and my soul is inspired. All of these feelings and so many more are prevalent after this fabulous weekend of competing at the Millenium Dancesport Championships in Orlando, FL.  I was so lucky and blessed to get the chance to participate in one of the biggest competitions of the year; this event was massive you guys. Thousands of entries from people all over the world! The energy that bounced off the walls of the ballroom was pretty amazing, and unlike any competition I’ve attended before. You felt it as soon as you walked through the front doors. So many dancers coming together and pouring everything they have onto the floor….that’s pretty magical.

Getting to attend this competition was a last-minute opportunity that I am so grateful for. I had some support from a very special person who believes in me and my dance career, and wanted to make this chance available to me.  Needless to say, I was through-the-roof ecstatic. It all happened so fast, and I only had a week to really get into competition mode, but that may have been a good thing for me. I didn’t have too much time to overthink things and stress like I normally do. Instead, I focused my energy on grinding and working really hard in the week that I had to get prepared.

One of my really good friends Glau was sweet enough to go with me to the competition and be my right-hand-man. She is a strong person; helping someone prepare and get ready for a dance competition is no easy task and she was such a trooper. I can get a little antsy and nervous on competition day, but she really kept me calm and was so supportive. The amazing thing is, I wasn’t even insanely nervous or worried about this event like I normally am. Usually the day of a competition, I get incredibly sick and anxious. I felt a greater sense of calm this time because I was actually confident! Crazy right?! But I felt so much more prepared for this competition than I ever have, thanks to my incredible coach Clement who pushed me every practice and believes in my abilities. Also, working hard on my own outside of the normal practices has really helped me feel more solid in my technique and comfortable on the floor; this makes the WORLD of a difference.

We arrived in Orlando on Friday afternoon, and my first heat was at 7:30 AM on Saturday, meaning my hair and makeup appointments were at 5AM….no time for sleep right?! So after our long drive I tried to get in the bed as early as possible, but first I wanted to check out the ballroom and get a feel for this competition atmosphere. The ballroom was INCREDIBLE! The theme for this year was “Addicted to Love” so everything was red, pink, and white, decked out with chandeliers, an Eiffel tower, gorgeous props with a Moulin Rouge vibe…I loved it! I really like getting a feel for the competition space at least a day before I compete. This gives me the time to feel comfortable, know how the ballroom and floor are set up, and just picture myself absolutely killing it on the dance floor the following day! It’s so important to really make ourselves believe that we can really achieve the things we want.

The following morning, I got up at 3 AM (I know right….) and did a 20-minute relaxation yoga practice from Boho Beautiful. This helps calm my nerves and let my mind rest for just a few minutes before I turn it on full-force. I had my hair and makeup done by Jenya Shatilova, and I absolutely loved it! I haven’t had good hair experiences lately, so I was really happy with it. After this, I had about an hour to prepare mentally and physically. Sipping on my decaf almond milk latte, I headed down to the ballroom to really get in the zone. I think the earlier I can get in the ballroom the better so that I can start warming up my muscles. There was also a practice room which is always incredibly helpful. My coach was very supportive and helped to keep my nerves in check (for the most part) which allowed me to focus on what I needed to do.

The first 5 rounds were not as solid as I would like, but usually it takes 1 round of dances to really get warmed up. So during the second round I felt much more confident and solid. After our second round, we had several hours before the Championship and Scholarship. I’m not a huge fan of having such a long break, and I was pretty nervous for the following events because the ballroom was filling up with people quickly, but it ended up going really well and we placed in the top 3 for both of our events! My coach was incredibly happy and I was excited as well; this was such a big competition and I felt like this was a great accomplishment for me.

Even though we placed very well, of course I felt I could have done so much better. But, I know this comes with time and practice on the competition floor. It’s so hard to focus on every single thing you need to do like performing, keeping your legs strong, core tight, eyes up, connection with your partner, technique…so many things! I have to be patient with myself and keep working hard, because these things just become ingrained to our brains after a LOT of practice and competition experience. But aside from all the technicalities, there really is no greater joy than feeling the energy and passion that dance brings to my heart and soul. It’s this incredible rush and overwhelming joy that I am so grateful for and can really never get enough of. 

Watching other amazing dancers is sometimes intimidating…especially some of the younger dancers that were there. They are SO AMAZING and sometimes it is easy to get frustrated with myself and wish I had started younger or was able to compete more often…but this is such a lame thing to do. I have to accept my situation and really push through it. Just gotta work harder right? I definitely took some notes from their spunk, energy, and confidence though…unbelievable really. They aren’t afraid to just give it their all and really KILL IT. I loved being around my coach’s daughter because she has this obvious love and passion for dance, and isn’t worried about anything else but just showing what she’s capable of and having a blast doing it! Her energy is so contagious and that’s how all dancers should be.

After the competition, we had a little break so we grabbed a treat at this adorable little café called Market on South. They are known for their amazing comfort Vegan food and Donuts (Glau is vegan, so she was so excited about this). OMG was this place amazing. I had the Carolina BBQ Pulled JackFruit with a side of their Garlic Mac-N-Cheese. It was insanely delicious….I could have had an entire plate of the Mac-N-Cheese because I was seriously STARVING after the competition. I also enjoyed one of their Kiwi Strawberry Donuts which were insane, and Glau had the Chocolate Raspberry. YUM. I highly recommend stopping here if you ever go to Orlando. But let me tell you, if you go in a ballroom dress, be prepared to get some funny looks…

That night was the professional showcase featuring two of my favorite dance Champion couples: Michael Malitowski/Joanna Leunis, and Karina Smirnoff /Slavik Kryklyvyy. The production of the show itself was incredible, and so many beautiful dancers. But when Michael and Joanna dance…there is really nothing that compares. They performed one of my favorite Samba routines of theirs, and MAN, did they perform. Their technique is so precise, their moves so sharp, and their connection is so intense; that is the ULTIMATE goal. They inspire me so much, and I just wanted to get up and start dancing with them. (How fun would that be?!

Check out this awesome video that my coach Clement put together of the event. It’s pretty incredible!

Leaving a competition is always kind of a bummer, but at least you get to look forward to getting back in the studio and working on what you learned. Also, we stopped in the beautiful Savannah, GA on our way back home and that was really a highlight of the trip and helped lighten the mood of leaving. Savannah is absolutely beautiful, with its old architecture, lovely trees, and cute restaurants and shops. We had brunch at The Collins Quarter which is a café that is absolutely adorable on the inside, and the food is fabulous! I had some Avo Toast and a Lavender Mocha Latte (decaf and almond milk) that was soooo good. It started to rain as we were leaving, and it was pretty magical to be honest. The street lights glowed, almost like a night in Paris, and the whole town had this sweet and peaceful vibe. I REALLY didn’t want to leave.

The guys in the background were dying to be in the pictures….

I am so thankful to have had such an amazing weekend, and get some great results from this competition. I have been hearing some good feedback from others about my dancing, and that is always such a good source of encouragement. I am so INSPIRED and EXCITED to keep working hard and pushing towards my goals. A huge thank you to Michael Chapman for creating such an amazing competition space that dancers can really come alive, pour our hearts onto the dance floor, and walk away feeling excited and confident. I’m already back in the studio and working on the things I felt needed improvement, and preparing for my next competition…whatever that may be. I really love this dance world and feel so alive every time I get to immerse myself in it.

Addicted to the LOVE of dance,

Ashlyn Tori