With noteworthy alumni that includes Julianne Hough, Chelsie Hightower, Jared Murillo, Derek Hough and Ashly DelGrosso, Orem’s Center Stage Performing Arts Center has been the incubator for young talent for near;y two decades, and the next wave of young students from the nationally recognized studio are dancing their way to the pinnacle of their nascent careers.
Two pairs of Latin Ballroom dancers from Center Stage will be traveling across the Pond at the end of March to compete at the prestigious Blackpool Ballroom Dance Festival in England.
What makes the selection so extraordinary is that they are in a very exclusive company.
The two pairs — Anika Baker, 10, and Carter Williams, 11; and Jacob Murillo, 14, and Sydney Tormey, 14 — make up 50 percent of their respective national teams.
Each couple will compete in the five styles of International Latin Ballroom, which consists of the Samba, Cha Cha, Rumba, Paso Doblé and Jive.
The eight-day Blackpool Dance Festival is the world’s first-and-foremost annual ballroom dance competition of international significance, held in the Empress Ballroom at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, England since 1920.
It is also the largest ballroom competition: in 2012, 400 couples from 34 countries took part in the junior festival alone.
The four dancers credited both their partners and the studio for getting them to this point.
"She’s the best," Jacob said of Sydney, who he has been dancing with for seven years. "There’s no one close."
"I feel the same way," Sydney said. "We’ve come so far from where we were."
This close to the competition, the two are spending most of their non-sleeping hours with each other on the dance floor, but they have always been extraordinarily close. For example, they even go to the orthodontist together.
The two Mapleton Junior High students have been trained by a cadre of internationally acclaimed dance instructors at Center Stage, but their primary coach is Sasha Altukhov, a Ukraine native who has won the International Dance Union World Cup in Moscow and is the current title holder of the Amateur Latin Rising Star Championships in Paris, among many other accomplishments. In addition, he has been at Blackpool before: he competed two years ago and he and his partner were in the top 30 out of 500 of the world’s best couples.
Altukhov also trains Anika and Carter, who had trained together for just four months when they were selected last fall to represent the U.S. in the pre-teen division for the Latin dances at Blackpool. Their coaching staff also includes Louis Van Amstel of ABC’s "Dancing with the Stars."
"Anika and Carter are great," Van Amstel said in a statement. "What I love about this young couple is that they are completely focused on ballroom. That’s why they have a strong chance to do extremely well at a world championship title. They’re every coach’s dream couple. Amazingly talented kids."
Anika, who lives in Orem, and Carter, a Sandy resident, were complimentary of each other.
"He has lots of energy and is always positive," Anika said.
"She doesn’t forget her routines," Carter said.
"They are really hard-working dancers," Altukhov said of the four dancers under his tutelage. "They train nine to ten hours a day."
All four youngsters are evidence that being strong in extracurriculars can translate to academic and other success. All are straight-A students, Jacob is a football player, and Anika has been classically trained as a concert pianist since age 5, recently winning a concerto competition that included a performance with the Timpanogos Symphony.
Anika was confident of her chances at Blackpool. "If you’re having a good day, all the dances are good," he said.
She quickly added that she and Carter don’t have bad days.
"Not anymore," Carter said.
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