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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

World's Ballroom Dancers Meet Moscow Glitz

It may have been an international ballroom dancing competition, but the scenery at World Cup-95 was distinctly Russian.

Russia's Red Army orchestra performed the show's opening, and the highlight of the weekend competition came Saturday when a legend of the ballroom dance world, Scotland's Donnie Burns, took to the stage in a Red Army uniform rather than his standard American-style jive jacket.

"I like military uniforms," said Burns, who along with partner Gaynor Fairweather has captured 12 ballroom dancing world championships in the Latin American program.

"I decided to wear a Red Army solder's uniform instead of my special stage jacket, to show that the Cold War is finished."

Burns, 37, and Fairweather, 39, who say they will be wrapping up their competing career in a year or two, proved the high point for the Moscow contest.

As they warmed up, the crowd shouted "You are the best!" and children in the grandstands waved a banner reading "Donnie, we love you!" The pair went on to capture the Latin-American first place in the competition finals, held at the Luzhniki small sports arena.

The two-day contest, now counted among the most prestigious international ballroom dancing competitions, brought together over 40 couples, most of them from Russia but with representatives from Ukraine, Germany, Britain, Japan and the United States. Dancers competed for a total of $50,000 in prize money in two events, the standard and Latin American programs.

The weekend event was the fifth international ballroom tournament held in Russia, said the festival's organizer Stanislav Popov, president of the Russian Dance Club. But the regulating body of world ballroom dancing, the World Dance and Dance Sport Council, afforded the tournament the prestigious world cup designation only this year.

"The participation of the World and European champions in the Moscow tournament means the world has recognized professional ballroom dancing in Russia," said Lyudmila Popova, one of the jury members of the competition.

The distinctly Russian stamp on the event was indelible. With the Red Army orchestra performing the opening medley of Western oldies -- while simultaneously dancing the cha-cha-cha and samba to their own rhythms -- the Moscow World Cup-95 was show-biz glitz, Russian style.

Even Coca-Cola cans filled with coins were turned by the shrewd audience into noisy rattles.

"The audience here is marvelous," said Augusto Schiavo, 29, of Italy, who along with partner Caterina Arzenton, 28, captured first place in the standard program. "It's more composed than in Italy, where people get more crazy."

Amateur dancers Dmitry Sergunin, 15, and Olga Alyoshina, also 15 -- who were recently named champions of the Open St. Petersburg Championship -- said they were cheering for local favorites Sergei Duvanov and Svetlana Tveryanovich.

Duvanov, 30, and Tveryanovich, 25, were one of two Russian couples to make the finals of the Latin-American program.

"Their strong points are samba and passodoble, when Svetlana fills the whole melody with her movements," said Alyoshina.

Participants said they were very surprised at how well the show was prepared.

"The lighting and sound reproduction system were superb," said Burns. "The floor was a little bit slippery for Latin, but it's good for the ballroom dancing."

Contest organizer and master of ceremonies Popov said the dance floor was bought in Finland and brought in one day before the tournament.

Even though there was no official translation provided at the show, Popov gave a few off-the-cuff commentaries for the benefit of the English speakers in attendance. In general, the international competitors and guests appeared to feel quite comfortable.

"Every now and then there are one or two familiar words in English, and then the language of gesture speaks for itself," said Mary Edwards, a secretary of the World Dance and Dance Sport Council.

Edwards said most of the Russian participants were high-level dancers, remarkable for their elegance and artistry. She said the competition for the finals was very fierce.

"The audience is always hungry for bread and shows, and sudden surprises," said Larisa Davydova, 30, who with her partner Viktor Nikovsky, 32, rounded out Russia's representation in the finals of the Latin American program.

Perhaps one of those surprises was that the couple shuffled its way into the finals in spite of the fact that four-time Russian champion Davydova has a five-centimeter height advantage over her partner, Nikovsky.

"Russia has a great artistry, so for the future we will have to watch out," said Fairweather. "I think some day there will be a Russian world champion."

"The Russian race is a hungry race -- and the hungry countries produce the best dancers," added Burns. "You don't have great artists from the comfort zones.