Displaying all the right moves

“You can’t practice something until you get it right. You practice it until you can’t get it wrong.”

Apparently that discipline works for Sarah Williams.

Western Engineering’s coordinator of faculty and staff relations, along with her partner, recently placed first in their division – Adult Amateur Silver Standard – at the 57th Annual Canadian Dancesport Championship in Halifax.

“That was a huge deal for us,” Williams said smiling. “It felt like all of our hard work had paid off.”

Since 2009, Williams has been travelling every weekend to Toronto for lessons coached by dancers who are five-time Canadian amateur champions. Whether in Toronto or London, at home on their own, in gymnasiums or centres, there’s one theme: Practising layer upon layer until, as Williams put it, “there’s muscle memory.”

When she was young, Williams tried ballet, followed by figure skating and some hip-hop. But it wasn’t until late 2007 when she took her first lesson at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio. Meeting her partner the next year, and after two years dancing at studios in London, the pair decided to move on.

“In order to improve we needed to move to Toronto to take lessons with world-class dancers,” she said. “Every day of the week I do some form of dancing. You work from your head all the way down to your feet. Every single muscle is worked. Dancing is my passion. I’m a driven person. I like to show results.”

Today, the pair usually competes once a month.

Competitions have a pecking order – starting at pre-bronze, then bronze, silver, gold, pre-champ and championship. Right now, Williams and her partner are silver.

In order to move to the next level, you must win three competitions with six couples on the floor.  Couples need to be in the same age category. With an 18-year age difference between Williams and her partner, she competes in the younger age bracket.

Not a problem. Williams and her partner dance three dances, back-to-back. They waltz, tango and display their quickstep, each for a minute and a half. “And you don’t know what music you’re getting,” she added. They’re judged on frame, technique and presentation.

Her costumes – one Latin (for samba, cha-cha, rumba and jive) and one standard (waltz, foxtrot, tango, Viennese waltz and quickstep) – last only a year to keep them fresh.

Her standard dress was bought used from a Canadian Professional Champion, glittering new at a price of $5,000. Loose Swarovski crystals affixed to the dress pick up the light and provide an excellent effect.

“The more crystals you can put in your hair, glue to your face, put anywhere, really helps,” she said.

Latin shoes have a three-inch heel to enhance a sexy leg line, but standard heels run two-and-a-half inches. There’s a reason for that. While the male partner goes forward a lot, she does everything he does – “and backwards.”

Injuries are few, but not unheard of.

“I stepped on my own foot in the cha-cha and took my baby toenail right off my foot,” she said.  Williams once had to hold her partner’s arm up with her hand to maintain his frame. He had a popped rib. “We’ve definitely danced injured and we’ve actually even done well sometimes.”

Would Williams like to perform on Dancing with the Stars? Not really.

Although she says it’s lovely dancing, it’s more about choreography. Her dance is international style. “We have to follow all the steps of the syllabus, so it’s more strict, more rigid,” she said.

And having all the technique, proper partnership, movement and framing, Williams hopes to become a dance instructor – maybe even an adjudicator – someday after achieving championship levels.

Medal cases bursting, Williams and her partner are gearing up to move to gold.

She loves dance as one loves children.

“I love them all for different reasons because they all have a different character,” she said.

She loves the waltz because “it has such a lovely softness about it.” As Williams extended her arm and snapped her fingers, she described the tango as having “a sharpness to it … it’s more quick.” The rumba is sensual and the Cha-Cha fun.

“I lose myself, I guess, if you want to put it that way,” Williams said. “I forget all the stresses. I go home, we practice and it’s all gone. I just lose myself in the dance, which is wonderful.”

Leslie Kostal, web administrative assistant, Department of Economics, writes periodic pieces profiling Western staff members. If you, or someone you know, has an interesting story to tell, please email her at Leslie.Kostal@uwo.ca.