Orem teens compete in international ballroom dance competition
Orem's Center Stage Performing Arts Center has been an incubator for young talent for nearly two decades, with noteworthy alumni who include Chelsie Hightower, Jared Murillo, Ashly DelGrosso and the brother-sister duo of Julianne and Derek Hough.
Now a new wave of young students from the nationally recognized studio specifically two pairs of Latin Ballroom dancers are making their way into the spotlight.
Anika Baker, 10, and Carter Williams, 11; and Jacob Murillo and Sydney Tormey, both 14, will travel to England this week to compete in the prestigious Blackpool Dance Festival. The eight-day festival, considered the world's most significant international ballroom dance competition, has been held in the Empress Ballroom at the Winter Gardens since 1920.
It is also the world's largest ballroom competition. In 2012, 400 couples from 34 countries took part in the junior festival alone.
Each couple will compete in the five styles of International Latin Ballroom: Samba, Cha Cha, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive.
The four Utah dancers credit their partners and the studio for getting them to this point.
Jacob Murillo younger brother to Jared and son of the Orem center's owners has been dancing with Tormey for seven years. "She's the best," Murillo said of his partner "There's no one close."
Tormey has the same kind of admiration. "We've come so far from where we were."
As the competition nears, the two Mapleton Junior High students are spending most of their non-sleeping hours practicing. But they have always been extraordinarily close even going to the orthodontist together.
They 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. He also is the current title holder of the Amateur Latin Rising Star Championships in Paris. He and his partner competed at Blackpool two years ago and had a top 30 finish.
Baker and Williams trained for just four months before being selected last fall to represent the U.S. in the preteen division at Blackpool. Their coaching staff includes Altukhov and Louis Van Amstel of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars."
"What I love about this young couple is that they are completely focused on ballroom," Van Amstel said in a statement. "That's why they have a strong chance to do extremely well at a world championship title."
All four dancers under are hardworking. "They train nine to 10 hours a day," Altukhov said.
Baker, who lives in Orem, and Williams, a Sandy resident, also were complimentary of each other.
"He has lots of energy and is always positive," Anika said.
Added Carter, "She doesn't forget her routines."
All four youngsters are straight-A students, Murillo is a football player and Baker has been classically trained as a concert pianist since age 5, recently winning a concerto competition that included a performance with the Timpanogos Symphony.
Baker was confident of the team's chances at Blackpool. "If you're having a good day, all the dances are good," she said.
She quickly added that she and Carter don't have bad days.
"Not anymore," Carter said.