<NEW CHAPTER BREAK> 1989, summer after a rough week in Cervia for the Italian Open.

I was looking forward to my holiday in Benidorm, Spain with my closest friends. Before I could head out on my excursion, I would finally meet with Julie Fryer to have a tryout, since I blew her off a month ago. A few days before my Spain vacation, Julie had flown to Amsterdam to meet with Ruud, Peter, and Myself (and of course my parents). The tryout went very smooth. Everybody loved Julie’s personality from the get go and we started our new partnership. I was still a bit star struck that I was dancing with one of the best girls in the industry of ballroom dancing at the time. It seemed like an odd pairing because at the time I had a rather reserved and quiet personality. Who would ever in a million years have thought what kind of adventure we were about to undertake or how successful we had become. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> We hit the ground running as Julie and I got ready for a four week performance trip to Istrie, which was then still Yugoslavia. This trip would be a great way for Julie and I to get used to each other physically as a dance partnership and to get to know each other better. We hit it off right away and it felt like she was the sister I never had. The shows went well, people loved us together. After a month of being with the same couples for the shows, we created many new contacts. I felt I was growing as a dancer each day. I loved doing the shows because of their entertainment value and it was a chance to use a lot of my dance training. Julie was so far ahead of me at the time and had a lot more experience than I did. Despite that she was very patient with me so that I could process everything faster and in my own way. I have always appreciated that in her and it was one of the key elements as to why our partnership flourished. We rarely fought and agreed on most points. Upon our return to Holland, we started preparing for competition season which kind of was nerve racking, since we had still only been dancing roughly two months. We would now have to finish choreographing our five competitive routines and say goodbye to all of the show routines we had performed with in Yugoslavia. Julie and I both picked up the new material very quickly and everything Ruud wanted from us we could pretty much do right away. The enthusiasm started to build and our little team headed for the first competition. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> The first competitions were domestic and we won basically most of them, but there was really no high level competition except from one couple who lived in London, England. They were the Dutch national champions to beat and they were in the top 24 of every

major championship in England and semi-finalists in the European and World Championships. To beat them was not going to be an easy task. After a few domestic competitions, we prepared ourselves for our first international competition in London at Royal Albert Hall. During the competition, Julie and I got to the same round as the other Dutch couple which we were pleased with. Julie had already been in the semi-finals, but it was a tremendous jump in ranking for me. I had skipped three rounds altogether from being in the last 125 to the quarter final. It was overwhelming at first, but I also felt my competitiveness grow. Due to Julie’s patience and nurturing, I felt my confidence and exhilaration for the sport growing fast. From October to about March we competed in so many national and international competitions. The domestic ones we pretty much won and wound up in the quarter finals of most international competitions we attended. During our competitive run, Ruud had been working a few things out in assessing our dancing. His analysis led him to believe that I was not really achieving my greatest potential. That being the case, Ruud set out to mold me into a top flight competitor. Everything always came easy to me when it came to dance. I never really had to work for results, and Ruud was committed to changing that practice. It was about a month away from the Dutch National Championships and a month and a half from the biggest competition in the world. The Open British in Blackpool. (The Wimbledon of the Ballroom Dance Industry). Ruud had a plan of action to get us prepared for the competition, and we were soon about to find out what he had in mind. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> 7 AM was the wake up call every morning to prepare for a full days practice at the studio starting at 9 AM. A typical day began with a full warm up followed by a full run through of all five dances with a little extra time tacked onto each in an effort to build stamina. Ruud would then go through various points that he felt we could improve on. One thing in particular that Ruud focused on was regarding entrance and exit possibilities. Typically couples would walk onto the floor, stand in place and wait for the music to begin dancing and cease movement at the conclusion of the music. Ruud basically suggested that Julie and I experiment with different options such as starting to dance just before the music would start or finish off our choreography slightly later than all the other couples.

At the conclusion of our session, we would dance another full round of all five dances to music and incorporate the options Ruud had discussed, such as the entrance and exit discussions. After we were done with the 2nd round, Ruud would tell us we took it too easy, we were lazy and couldn’t do it on talent alone. I still remember he would always tell me that, “I only liked to watch TV and eat French fries instead of acting like a hungry top athlete” We would leave the dance studio totally broken down, but for some odd reason, as much as I wanted to give up, I pulled through. I had such a hard time since I was a listener and rarely displayed my emotions, at least not with the outside world. Inside though I was burning of frustration, confusion and excitement. The next day, Julie and I walked in the studio, got changed, warmed-up and did the first round with much less stamina problems and a fresh outlook. We tried not to find any excuses and just work hard and no cutting corners. The work relationship became better and better. We were building stamina, confidence, and a belief in our work. After about two weeks, we had only a few days left before our first major competition, the National Championships. The National Championships was important for us because only the first two couples would qualify to go on to represent Holland at the European and World Championships. On the day of the Nationals, Julie and I were so prepared that we made quick work of all the preliminary rounds. By the time we got to the final round, we both felt like it was our first round and we were enjoying the fact we were in our own world. All the other couples seemed tired by the final round while we looked refreshed. I guess we had our share of being tired and in physical pain a few weeks prior during training. By the end of the final we were so excited and felt like the weeks of building up to this moment, the pain and agony, had just disappeared. In this particular competition, the MC would announce the National champions before giving the results of all the different classes. This was the most nerve racking moment of the competition; waiting for the result. It’s the only thing that is really out of your personal control and minutes feel like hours. The results were finally announced and we basically blew past the London based couples and won all five dances. The audience was so enthusiastic and we felt such a relief and excitement that we were both in tears. Hearing your national anthem is quite a thing. Nobody had ever trained us for a competition in the way that Ruud had prepared us for Nationals. We were so focused on the work and getting involved with what we had to do, that without consciously knowing it, we were totally relating with the audience. It truly was a great moment for Julie and I.

<NEW CHAPTER BREAK> After coming home and a little celebration on our recent victory, it was time to focus on the Open-British in Blackpool. Since Julie and I were officially still in the Youth Under 21 category we decided to focus our first Open-British on the youth and simply enjoy the Amateurs. My first Blackpool was two years prior and I didn’t make it out of the first round with my Dutch partner, Natasja. Walking on the floor for the first round of the youth was kind of humbling since nobody knew me and we did not perform well. The following year at Blackpool yielded much of the same. This time I was competing with my first English dance partner Joanne and we didn’t make it out of the last 125 couples ranking. In the weeks leading up this Blackpool, we did the same ritual that Ruud had us doing in preparation for the National Championships. We got so used to it that I started to get more invested and learned about the emotional aspects of the dance. Julie and I really got involved in our creative work and the rounds went by quickly. Our excitement began to show pretty much from the start. Because we were so involved with what we did, we were noticed and along the way and the audience was really swinging in our favor. By the time we got towards the quarter final we had the audience totally eating out of the palm of our hands. When they announced us for the semi final I was ecstatic and apparently so was the audience who was screaming their lungs out. We had quickly become the fan favorite among the hundreds of couples competing and that made it easier. We had reached the final and we already had a better result than ever before. What made it more poignant was the fact that up to this point I was a virtual unknown in my industry. When we were called for the final something unique happened, we got a standing ovation from the audience which was so overwhelming that we danced the whole final feeling like we were on some form of narcotic. Nothing could go wrong anymore and after we came off the floor. Both of our families and Ruud (who had become family) were crying and screaming. I didn’t care anymore what placement we would end up getting. We made the final which I never thought would happen and on top of that we had the audience in frenzy. At times I remember being so happy that I forgot where I was. It was such an exhilarating feeling that I never wanted to end. I don’t think there is a more rewarding feeling in the world than the appreciation of the audience. We finished that competition in 2nd place which drew some criticism from the audience who felt we should have won the whole thing. I personally think that result was just fine. Thanks to a strong performance and overwhelming support from the audience, we became visible to the judges. We competed in the Amateurs Division at Blackpool a few days later and this time we were not unknown anymore. Even though all the top couples were competing in this division, we got most of the audience on our side again. Normally, a placement of 2 nd or 3rd place in the Youth Under 21 division would generally place you in the top 24 of the Amateur division, but no further. It was thrilling to break through in an unprecedented ascent immediately to the top 12 right away along with the first placed couple.

If the Nationals and Blackpool results were not enough, the European 10-Dance Championships had another surprise for us in store. Julie and I did not only compete in the Latin division (which we won), but we also competed in the Standard division as well. Ruud was never in favor of us doing Standard, he thought it took away from Latin and he simply thought we weren’t Championship material in the Standard division. During the Nationals, we had secured 5th place in the Standard division which was good considering we did this style a lot less than Latin and paid a lot less attention to it overall before Nationals. What none of us knew was that to qualify for the European and World 10-Dance Championships, the powers that be at Nationals would combine the best results of the individual divisions. We didn’t even think about the possibility of ever going to a 10-Dance Championship, but after we received the official invitation we realized we had the best overall result and we were the official Dutch 10-Dance and Latin Champions. The actual European 10 Dance Championships held in Eastern Europe was another interesting experience. Similar to Blackpool, we started as an unknown couple to the audience. Just like Blackpool, we managed to sway the audience to our side, especially with our Latin performance. This audience was louder than Blackpool so it was definitely inspiring. This Championship competition confirmed our ability to connect with the audience because it was held quite a long way from home. We had no supporters and nobody came along with us. We had only just finished Blackpool and were in a semi-recuperative state. It all went so quick and the invitation came so last minute that we hardly had time to prepare. I didn’t expect anything results wise in the Standard division. When we were called out for the semi-final, I thought it was a mistake. I didn’t expect to get into the semi-finals at all. Julie and I were in heaven by the end of the semi-final and the energy in the building was crazy. We felt on top of the world…just the two of us. We were in for a big surprise as well as the audience when we made the final. We ended up finishing 6 th in the final of the Standard and that’s exactly what we expected, nothing more. This was the European Championship 10 Dance and we made the final in the Standard division; it was perfect. Starting the Latin Final, Julie and I felt a lot more confident and it showed in the marks. Seeing our dance marks was very shocking because we ended up winning all five dances in the Latin division with the majority of the scores placing us into 1st place. It would be interesting to see what the overall placement would end up being. We had 6th place in the Standard and 1st in the Latin. As they announced the winners, we were thrilled every time our name was not called. Ultimately we placed 3rd overall which was a total shocker to us, but not to the judges or the audience. Judges and spectators alike came up to us and told us we would be the next world champions. They loved what we did. It was fresh, new and exciting to watch.

It was very overwhelming and humbling. Being one of the youngest dancers there and with no real experience, it was hard to take in everything that was going on. It felt great to be doing so well and to be appreciated by the audience, but we didn’t really know how to react to all of it. All I knew is that I wanted more, it had become an addiction. What a year it has been coming from absolute nowhere to being the new sensation. Julie and I became known as the young new couple to watch. With a new season ahead of us, we had a lot to look forward to such as the season opener; The World Latin Championship and our first Worlds. The past two and a half years had been life-changing and although the initial weeks were not pleasant, I came to show that if I really wanted something bad enough, and was willing to go the distance, that results would come my way. God, it was amazing how quickly we got results. I started to believe that I could reach further and I loved connecting with the audience. On top of that, who better to do that with than with the partner who I truly started loving as a person and as a sister. Julie and I were on a journey together, a reality created by us, guided by our mentor, father and friend Ruud. For the foreseeable future, everything looked right. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> Since summer was a little slower, we had time to focus more on developing our skills. The name of the game was change and we did a lot of it. We changed and added choreography while experimenting more with different approaches and new possibilities. Ruud was a veritable magician and he knew exactly how to tap into our potential. I never really knew what he had in store for us, but it didn’t matter because whatever it was, it always worked. The Ballroom dance industry in the late eighties early nineties wasn’t all that exciting. Nobody really stood out and tried to be progressive or push the envelope. That was far from the case with Julie and I. Ruud had every intention of positioning us to be pioneers and create a whole new look and approach to competitive ballroom dancing. Dancing for us became so much more about the depth of movement, understanding the physical, mental and emotional behavior of the psyche and the world possibilities while performing. It was so much more than steps and pretty costumes alone. Ruud lived half the time in London to start his studies of Laban. Rudolf von Laban was a gentleman that had studied human behavior for decades in the early nineteen hundreds and now had several universities around the world where people could earn degrees on human movement dynamics. Ruud traveled back and forth between London and Amsterdam to apply what he learned into to ballroom dancing. At the time I’m sure he didn’t realize in doing so he would become one of the most successful coached within the industry. Even today, I think I am one of the closest followers of Laban’s work and totally owe all my success and philosophy to Ruud.

<NEW CHAPTER BREAK> Before we would go to our first World Championships in Denmark, Julie and I would first compete in the German Open held in Stuttgart, Germany. This competition was more of an experimental one to try out new chorographical ideas and tactics in between dances. Whatever worked here we would keep for the Worlds and whatever didn’t was removed. We were so occupied with our experiments we didn’t really place much stock in the magnitude of this competition. It’s worth mentioning also that during that time England and Western Europe had a lot of exposure to ballroom dancing while Eastern European audiences languished in the absence of ballroom under Communist sentiment. Germany was closer to Eastern Europe and so gave Eastern European audiences a chance to see a world class competition. Hundreds of audience members from the eastern block countries were in attendance. The Eastern European audience was even more raucous than their western counterparts. They seemed to be our biggest fans. It almost felt like our dancing gave an outlet for inspiration to a people who limited creative or personal freedoms. We were enjoying the fact that we were noticed and getting a great reaction from this new audience. It was inspirational to me and it worked well. During the semifinals, we were dancing the Paso Doble and one of the chorographical choices we had made was that after the last musical hit in the music, we would continue on for a few seconds while other couples would stop. So while other couples stopped, Julie was still hanging and almost in slow motion, slid down the floor. The audience was in shock and in suspense in anticipation of what would happen next while the other semifinalists simply strolled off the floor. When I finally let go of Julie and she intentionally dropped to the floor, the audience went absolutely crazy for what seemed like forever. Julie and I were shocked at the reactions and almost didn’t know what to do, because by that time all couples were already off the floor. We wondered whether we should soak in the applause or exit the floor quickly. Well, we chose the former and the audience just kept sustaining for a long time. I’m sure the other couples were probably thinking to themselves, “Just who the hell are these people and what did they do to deserve such applause?” By the end of Jive, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind, even the judges, that we were the audience favorite. Yet, we had to see if we would break through to the Final. It was only two and a half months after Blackpool and almost all the top couples were competing at this Championship. Since we were in the top twelve at Blackpool we would have to beat a lot of couples to make it into the top six. When our number was called out for the top 6 we were ecstatic. We didn’t expect to make it to the finals that soon. Looking at the judges marks, Julie and I had received 3rd and 4th place markings which was tremendous.

The final round went by quickly and we had another tremendous performance. During the Paso Doble, we repeated what we had done in the previous round to even greater success. We received mostly 3rd places, which we were so happy about, but one judge decided to give us a first place. The audience went totally nuts and the judge held up the mark as if to say, “It’s time for a change, and that time is now.” You can imagine how excited and emotional we were. Audiences and judges came up to us to congratulate us on our performance. Competition organizers gave us invitations to attend other world competitions. It was pretty clear now we were on the rise and it was all due to the fact that we dared to be different. This all just solidified my belief that if you committed yourself, even something unknown or scary, if you believe it, it will work and you will be successful. From that point we had less than a week to continue and sharpen our regimen for the World Latin Championships in Denmark. We had a great performance and Julie and I became the youngest couple to make it into the Final of a world class competition. We were so happy to break though and although it was immensely quick, we were starting to secure a solid position for ourselves among the top couples that we competed against. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> Julie and I had now set our standards very high and wanted to be included in all finals in England as well. In the meantime after the Worlds we traveled the world to compete in various competitions worldwide sometimes Latin, other times 10 Dance. From Asia to Europe we spanned the globe. In between trips we had lessons and focused on growing as dancers with Ruud. If I could on days off, I would go clubbing in Amsterdam though there was hardly any time because of all the traveling and training. I didn’t like the fact that I had less and less time for anything other than dance, but I didn’t see any other way around it. That being the case, I never said anything even though the pressure was starting to build. After the New Year Rudd, Julie and I were going into a more intense regimen than ever and focused our efforts in order to make a big statement at the UK Championships which would be televised by BBC…a HUGE deal. We were more experienced with all the facets of performing and Ruud had designed very interesting and daring choreography. Each couple making it to the Final would have to do a solo and an interview. Right from the start of the competition, we hit the ground running from the moment we stepped foot on the floor from Round 1 until the semi-finals. We never took a single round easy. After that, we had to wait for word on our “fate”. when the MC announced the six finalists and our number was included in the coveted six, a feeling of exhilaration came over us. This was a MAJOR breakthrough in England. England was the Mecca of ballroom dancing and held the most prestigious championships in the world. Though we did not

end up winning it, making this final meant more to us than any other final we had ever experienced. Julie and I were so excited and inspired because we came in with our controversial but innovative routines and still managed to defeat the majority of the other couples who came in with their standard routines. The audience was with us because we gave them something different and unexpected. A year and a half prior, Julie and I had first met. Now in a matter of 18 months we were considered one of the top couples in the world. What a great start to the New Year. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> More invitations came in and as a result we attended more competitions. Because of our heavy travel schedule, we had less quality time with Ruud to develop and continue growing. We gained a lot of experience as performers, which was good but our development curve as far as being dancers was leveling off. Another downside was that I hardly had any social life which had been bothering me for some time, but it was getting worse. I started losing enthusiasm for everything. Too much traveling, too many competitions and not enough practice time. Although seeing the world and staying at 5 star hotels with great competition results to boot was fun, the excitement was slowly fading. To show our face as much as possible on the competitive circuit would make us politically stronger. But the constant need to press on competing created a lot of pressure. This pressure was so great, that I started to really dislike practices so at times we would cut our sessions short. Around this time, we also were getting a lot of criticism, especially from the British judges that we were not technical enough and too “different” at times. They made us doubt ourselves which was the biggest mistake we could have made. With World Championships ahead of us, we started concentrating on working our technical skills. Things became routine and it started to feel like I was doing it more for everybody else rather than myself. It was just too much of the same shit over and over again. My performance reflected my emotional state and I was without a doubt losing interest. At that point, I would never dare say anything because I was quiet back then. I did not share my thoughts with my family or Ruud, especially my dad, because he thought what I was doing was so important. Even though I said I didn’t want to compete so, my parents constantly fought about it. We ended up going and I always had to hear how much money and time was spent on me and how I was not showing any appreciation for it. I was getting criticism from all angles. Even Ruud said that I was lazy and wanted to do nothing but sit around and watch TV and eat French fries. The optimist became the pessimist and the glass started looking half empty versus half full. My parents, Julie and Ruud might have perceived my lack of interest as laziness, but really it was just that I felt I was not in control of my own life. I started feeling a bit guilty because I felt bad for Ruud and Julie. They weren’t the main causes of all this, yet

it was affecting them. So I tried to put my feelings aside and we pressed on. I could cope with inner anger and loneliness, but I had to come to terms with my secret hell sooner or later. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> After an unending series of competitions, our second Blackpool was already on the horizon. For our second Blackpool, we dropped out of the Youth Under 21 competition and decided to focus on the Amateur division. We made the final, but all the issues that had been affecting our performances leading up to Blackpool also surfaced. Everyone took notice and as a result, we did lose a majority of the fan base in that competition. I was spent. I couldn’t give anymore and our performance was too “matter of fact” and too mechanical. I felt like I was losing my personal spirit and had no outlet to share my frustrations. Even if I did I couldn’t even form the words to do it. On one hand I really felt we needed to slow down and also take some time off, but on the other hand, I’d end up feeling guilty because it would be perceived as laziness and misdirected priorities. All I wanted was a balance between a career and time at home with my friends. Even between Julie and I sometimes things would heat up and the frequencies of misunderstandings increased. The summer following Blackpool had a lighter competition schedule, so I had hoped things would smooth over. But things pretty much remained status quo. I felt Ruud was growing irritated even if he couldn’t quite put his finger on exactly what was going on. I just kept my mouth shut and pressed on one competition at a time. The pressure at home was very restricting, fighting with my mom about anything and my dad fighting with my mom constantly about how to support my dancing. My dad always seemed to be a bit more carefree and respectful of my wishes though many years later the perception would prove false. If there was ever a good side to all this, I would say that all this traveling at the time meant that I was hardly ever home, which almost made me forget my domestic problems for the past few years. I had not confronted my personal problems with my parents’ marriage and alcohol issues, so I could never really express myself. I didn’t want to be home so traveling helped but I was also away from close friends and that wasn’t good. Even when I was with my friends, I couldn’t really open up because none of them really knew what I had been going through all these years nor did I think they could relate or offer me comfort. Everyone assumed I had given everything, so how could I possibly complain? I had everything I wanted (no expenses, no work, family support) and all I really needed to do was dance. But perception is far from reality and it was very difficult. No one knew of the mental and physical abuse that I had witnessed between my mother and father or the heated exchanges that kept me up at night. I had tried to muster the strength at times to try and stop them but I faltered and lost my nerve. The sight and images of my mother crying with makeup running all across her face, and my drunken father enraged and furious are

images I’ll never forget. The fact we had a professional bar in every house we’ve lived in didn’t help since it felt like I was living in a pub and my father was the star patron. My parents didn’t realize that I had witnessed them fight all those years. They thought I didn’t know anything that went on in their marriage. They would both get so wasted that they didn’t even remember anything that happened the next morning and life went on as if nothing happened at all. But I knew it was like walking on thin ice because though things seemed normal during the day, the evening always brought along the complete opposite. I had nightmares as a result of years of witnessing this exchange between my parents. My mom thought my episodes at night were the result of watching the Hulk on TV, but she had no idea that it was in fact their fighting that was the true source. Looking back on those years, it’s amazing that they did not pickup that I was an eyewitness to some of their most embarrassing moments. I became lonely and didn’t know if I should speak to anyone. I felt if I did it would almost be betraying my parents in a way. Thank God for dancing because it kept me away from all of that. By the time we got to the end of the year we were set to compete at the World Championship 10 dance in Belgium. We had a lot of friends and family with us, which certainly helped and made it a lot more fun. Coming into this match we were already bronze medalists from the previous year. The match went well but nothing significant occurred and it was a rather muted statement to end the rough year. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> After a fun holiday season, it was back to the same routine and prepping for the second UK Championships in England. Julie and I had made all finals without any issues and were just three or four placements away from becoming the next world champions. Being a regular couple in the final didn’t help inspire us a whole lot. The excitement and the uncertainty that we felt when we first started was now lost. With everything that was going on inside my head, I found it extremely hard to find the energy to make the important “IT” factor happen. Sometimes it was there, often times it wasn’t and I felt like a light switch with a mind of its own that would periodically switch on and off depending on my mood. After the UK, we had Nationals which by now was routine and quite fun, zero stress. I enjoyed our Nationals more because the audience loved us, as we were the couple destined to bring Holland to the top. I loved dancing on home ground after a few weeks non-stop traveling. It was also good to be home with friends and enjoy some free time. I felt I had already skipped most of my teenage years through competitions and travel, and I was determined not to waste the rest of my youth away.

This constant barrage of pressure took it’s toll on my partnership with Julie and I felt our relationship begin to stagnate, perhaps even drift apart. There was a fundamental lack of communication between us and she had no idea what was going on with me personally. I was at fault for this because I guess I just didn’t have the courage to share and be honest with my feelings. A few months prior, Julie and I had a competition together in Japan. I met up with another dancer that I had gotten involved with in a long distance relationship at the time. We casually joked about the possibility of about just leaving it all behind to enjoy life, but that was fantasy, I had to get back to reality. Julie and I were on our way to becoming world champions so how could I possibly leave now? I didn’t have a good answer. After a series of championships, it was time again for Blackpool. The pressure was so intense that I sometimes wanted to break down and just give up, but I knew I needed to press on. The European final was in two weeks and Blackpool was in three. I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. All I could think about was my desire to quit. I couldn’t handle it. I was hurt with no time to heal. Everyone was constantly pulling at me for something and my life became a picture of happiness when in reality everything contradicted what I was presenting on the outside. I needed an outlet to express myself and I found it in my first dance teacher, Marcella. Marcella was a best friend and like an older sister to me in a way because she could easily discern what I was feeling. She had known what was going on all these years and could see past the façade of a happy family portrait and the perfect dance career. When Julie and I arrived back in Amsterdam, I went to the dance studio to see Marcella. The sight of her made me well up immediately, as if she was the beacon of relief from my burdens that I had so desperately sought. Even Marcella was taken aback by my sudden burst of emotion and asked me what I was so distraught over. I told Marcella that I didn’t feel I could cut it anymore. I couldn’t keep up appearances any longer even though I tried so hard to do it. I had grown numb to everything and I felt like a puppet in someone else’s play and I need to cut the strings and find my own path. All Marcella said was, “You have to make sure you do what’s right for you and nobody else”. It felt good to hear that and I held it close to me determined to summon some action from that sage advice as soon as possible. Julie and I began our preparation for the European championships and Blackpool. Though we hardly spoke, we still managed to do our warm-ups and lessons with Ruud. I didn’t say anything, hoping that I could just get through all of this with minimal drama. While I was watching TV a few weeks prior, I saw an interview on the Oprah Winfrey show with Michael Jackson. It was pretty clear that Michael had had an unhappy

childhood or lack thereof. His adolescence had been sacrificed for fame and fortune. I thought that here was a guy who really had everything he could ever wish for in the world yet he looked so sad and helpless. Even though Michael was a much bigger celebrity than I was, I kind of felt like I could relate to his experiences; even if it was within the tiny microcosm of the ballroom dance world. All I thought to myself was that I didn’t want to end up like him and I needed to do something about it. Michael didn’t stop and look where he ended up. I started believing that maybe I needed to on grounds of sanity and quality of life. Maybe being world champion would make me happy after all and all of this was just an illusion. Somehow, my intuition told me otherwise. During a pivotal instructional session, I tried to be focused and was present both mentally and physically. Rudd was trying to get me to evoke emotion and include Julie in the process. That part did not go so well and Ruud immediately sensed something was wrong and pulled me aside to address the issue. His confrontation was too much for me to handle and I just broke down. Julie was on the other side of the studio watching on as her partner totally lost emotional control and looked concerned over what was developing. I think deep down Julie knew something was always amiss, but didn’t know how to approach the situation. Julie tried to inch closer to the situation and piece together what was being said in the flurry of dialogue that ensued. Though she couldn’t hear what was going on in detail, she could certainly read in between the lines. It was over… I felt bad for her and even a bit selfish, but I just couldn’t cut it anymore. Ruud took us to his home where he and his life partner Peter sat us down and tried to calm us down. Ruud asked me why I hadn’t said something earlier. Though he tried to make us feel better, Ruud also had the responsibility to let me know the repercussions of my actions. He tried as best he could to be calm, but he was upset and justifiably so. Ruud stressed that my decision at this juncture would jeopardize not only my career, but also Julie’s. I hated myself for doing this and Ruud’s statements only made me feel guiltier. We were supposed to be a team and I hadn’t included Julie or him in any of my internal discussions and feelings. In the end I just simply froze. I had no experience dealing with such powerful emotion and I was ill equipped to share much of anything to anyone. When my parents got the news, the shit hit the fan. Although I understood their disappointment over the situation, I was numbed to feeling with their hateful remarks. “We’re not paying for anything anymore”, “You’ll never make it again”, “How could you do this to us”, “What you are doing to Julie ”,“How could you be so selfish”, and “Your career is over” are just SOME of the many wonderful things I had to listen to from my parents. I told Marcella the news and it was refreshing to see how she didn’t make a judgment on my action. She stuck with her advice from before and told me if this is what I needed to do for myself to gain balance again, then I needed to do it and it was ok.

I woke up the next day exhausted and emotionally empty. Did I make the right decision? When news broke publicly about our cancellation out of the European Championships, ill sentiment came from every part of the globe. One moment you’re the hero, next moment you’re the villain. All I heard was the same old story of how I was so selfish and how I made the worst choice of my life. My parents wouldn’t talk to me, and I truly felt for Julie. I hoped one day that both Ruud and Julie understood why I did what I did. For days I wondered if I made the right decision and I never felt more lost and alone than I did then. Few weeks past and things calmed down a bit, my parents started supporting me a bit more and I also had time to reflect on my quest to become world champion. What I found was that for me personally, it just wasn’t worth it. It all went by too quickly and I missed out on a world of knowledge and experience because of all the traveling and competing. It was a vicious circle that I needed to stop. I needed to do things, but it needed to be on my terms. And if I ever would try to become a world champion again, it would have to be on my terms. As Ruud had always told me, “The Best Way is Your Own Way”. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> My friend had told me of a college that had training for the arts five days a week 8 hours a day. Because I had training in classical dance, I was interested. The only problem was you needed a high school diploma and I had stopped schooling at age 15 to start competing. My principal at the time sorted the paperwork so that it reflected I was in school until 16. My friend’s father convinced the Director of the college to audition me. The Director told me to show up for ballet class the following Friday morning followed by a modern class. I had always hated ballet and had no experience in modern, but I wanted to get in so badly that I mustered the courage to audition. During the audition, my head was spinning. I was excited because I felt this might be a chance to show the world that I could do things my way and still be successful. When I came out of the audition, I had no idea what the teachers thought and had not yet received word of my fate from the Director. All I was told was to wait a few days. So during this time, I spent some quality time with my mother at the beach. It had been a rare moment in time where I was not fighting with my mother and she could tell I was much happier than I had been in months past. I had no expectations regarding my acceptance into the college. With no high school diploma and an audition in Ballet and Modern, I had the cards stacked against me. I decided I couldn’t wait and during my beach excursion with my mom, I excused myself to place a call to the college to see whether a decision had been made. I made the call from the beach restaurant’s phone and I was so nervous, almost as if I was prepping for a big competition. When I had heard the response that I had been accepted, I had a calm

victorious feeling flow over my body. I dropped the phone with tear of excitement in my eyes. It was the first time I had successfully achieved something on my own without anyone else’s input. I felt like a winner again and it felt like the world’s doors were suddenly opening again. When I came back down to the beach, I sat quietly down next to my mother and said three words, “I am in”. My mother was so happy and she started to cry which made me well up as well. She hugged me and I swear it felt like the first hug I had received in my life. It felt so good because it was sincere. From then on, things were much better with my mother and me. I really enjoyed that summer making up for lost time. I rekindled ties with family, and really started enjoying my social life. It was perfect timing before I started my new life at the college. Although I did not know what to really expect down the road, I was really looking forward to learning new dances and experiencing new things. I moved into the city of Amsterdam with two friends for life at the college. I loved every minute of it…even if it only lasted for a few months. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> For a long time after, I stopped competing with Julie and I was told I would never get to the same point in my career again. Day after day I would think back and wonder if I made the decision in leaving my world class career with Julie. That made me even more unhappy, lonely and more insecure. But I was so much happier now and things at the University were going well. The days of wondering became less and less as I grew more engrossed in my college activities. I loved all the classes and the diversity; I even started appreciating ballet. It felt like years had passed in my training but really you learn everything in the first few months and after that it is all about repetition and application. I guess I’m grateful for my good memory that I could absorb everything I learned efficiently. I felt more confident about my progression as a well rounded dancer having developed poise, control and flexibility. I was glad that I wasn’t missing out on any steps in my dance education and life for that matter. I knew this was what I wanted to do and I felt great about it. After a few months into intensive training I had a very important meeting with the Artistic Director. In the conversation, she told me that I had the talent to be in any dance company and even get on Broadway if I wanted to. All I needed to do was finish my four years at the college, but she also said that if I wanted to make good money and not live paycheck to paycheck, audition to audition, I should consider returning to the world of ballroom dancing. At first I didn’t like what she was saying. I didn’t want to hear it because I was happy with where I was at this point in my life. I did allow myself for a moment to consider the possibility of returning to ballroom, but as soon as I entertained that possibility, a voice echoed in my mind that reminded me that I may not actually be able to recapture my former glory.

I wondered what my parents, Ruud, and Julie were going to say. Even though I had finally regained some support from my parents, I figured they would never support me like they had in the past. Certainly Ruud would never want to teach me again after what I did to him. I just pulled the plug on everything right in the middle of it all and Ruud had poured all his energy into me, even while he was exceedingly busy with his own studies at his University in London. The possibility of him ever mentoring me again seemed slim. I became scared and insecure at the thought of approaching him, but I knew if I was ever to make a comeback, I would have to face him sooner or later. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> Every second weekend of November, the Dutch Open is held. It is highly regarded among the world’s championship events and is known for its atmosphere, great music, and the best audience anywhere hands down. I attended this competition just to check it out not really knowing what to expect. I was a bit nervous because I knew I would inevitably run into Ruud, Julie, and pretty much everyone in the business at that competition; there really was just no way around it. Julie had decided to turn professional and was dancing with a new professional status partner. This was to be Julie’s first competition since our split. I was nervous entering the ballroom because I didn’t know what kind of reaction I would get. It had been at least half a year since I had been to a competition or pretty much spoken to anyone from the industry. It felt like it had been years but I felt excited to be there and to watch the competition. When I went up to Ruud I expected a colder reaction during the encounter but he was much more cordial than I anticipated and asked how I had been doing. During our conversation, Ruud admitted that he understood why I had decided to stop dancing and actually thought that my decision was not necessarily a bad one. I think he realized that you just simply cannot produce your best if you’re unhappy doing what you’re doing. A philosophy he has always preached has been that you have to mentally, physically, and emotionally involved in what you are doing, or else it just won’t be the best you can do. Ruud told me admired the fact that I had gone out on my own and gained experience in other forms of dance and made a point to educate myself in movement. It felt good to receive praise from him regarding my decision because I held an enormous amount of respect for the man. The conversation with Ruud made me rest assured that everything would be fine and that I had in fact made the right choice in leaving competitive ballroom dance. While Ruud and I watched the Amateur Latin round, Ruud could sense that my excitement and curiosity for ballroom had not diminished despite my departure from it. Seizing on the moment, Ruud casually offered an unsolicited opinion that perhaps I should consider coming back to compete. Ruud made it so easy to feel like nothing had happened and that made everything easier.

Ruud and I talked for a long time after and reflected on what had happened in the past two years. He agreed it had gone quick, something we didn’t expect because we were completely wrapped up in the whole mess. Further capitalizing on the moment, Ruud pointed at two girls during the competition that he felt might be a good fit for me. I liked both, but the one girl, from Germany, I thought would be too tall for me. The other girl was perfect in terms of height and I loved the way she moved, but there were two rather glaring problems: 1) She had a partner 2) Her partner was Julie’s boyfriend. I had already caused enough chaos in Julie’s world. To ask this girl of all girls, and inconvenience her boyfriend’s dancing career, it just seemed inappropriate. God, and what would Julie think about all this? I had so quickly left the limelight and all of sudden here I was again. I just felt bad about the whole situation. Ruud, knowing the situation at hand, suggested that he would talk to the girl on my behalf to see if she was even interested. No one would question Ruud’s inquiry. Turns out she was extremely interested in Ruud’s proposition and within two weeks I left the University to start a new journey with a new partner in the ballroom world, with a renewed sense of vigor. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> I made a promise to myself that this time I was going to do it my way and not be pushed around by anyone. I would express my feelings so everyone involved would know how I was doing emotionally. This would allow me to have the balance I needed. I had not spoken to Julie or her boyfriend, but I’m pretty sure they were pissed off at me during that time and I can’t say I blamed them. This new partnership was very interesting and I was intrigued by my partner’s beautiful and mature movements. She was only 19, but danced like a woman well beyond her years. I liked how we had such a good internal connection. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was also a very spiritual connection. The choreography Ruud gave us was very different and experimental. At our first major competition, we didn’t make it to the finals but we didn’t exactly get bad results either. But after a few months of this, it started getting old fast and I was actually starting to get irritated by this. Maybe I was more competitive than I had let on even though I had said initially professed that it didn’t matter to me. I guess seeing other couples make the finals and leave us in the dust, that a year ago couldn’t even touch Julie and I, stung a bit. Since I was becoming increasingly bothered by it, I decided that I was going to talk to my partner about changing our approach in order for us to have a chance at winning it all. Ruud witnessed this dynamic happening and devised his own solution to the issue…he suggested perhaps I should reunite with Julie

<NEW CHAPTER BREAK> I guess for sometime Ruud had been operating stealthily in the background and had took the liberty of speaking with Julie. Somehow he managed to persuade her to consider the proposition which was shocking since I was all but positive Julie probably wanted nothing to do with me ever again. Turns out that although Julie had turned professional in order to dance with a former world champion, she hated the partnership which I guess worked to my advantage. So while Julie and I still had our “partnerships”, Ruud, Julie, and I met up in private to discuss the possibility of reunification. It was strange seeing Julie after not seeing her for so long and the initial meeting was rather tense. Ruud had us both talk about what happened from each of our perspectives. Julie really let it all out and told me how much I had hurt her and that her career was over in a flash. I also had the chance to share my own thoughts regarding the unending pressure and the lack of control in my own life because of the competitive dancing. Before she would agree to anything, Julie asked why things would be different this time around because she did not want this to happen to her again a second time. I told her that it had been a year since we had been together and that we’ve both grown as individuals and as dancers. We both learned a lot about ourselves in that time and how we each do things. Julie seemed to accept that explanation. As a gesture of goodwill, Ruud made me get on my knees and beg Julie to take me back as her partner which I did, which Julie enjoyed very much. Julie had grown a lot more assertive in the past year and was much more forward with what she wanted. She made me promise to always be open with her and to never act like I had acted in years pass. I gave her my word and she gave me hers. Though it is hard to imagine, by the end of the conversation, all three in the room believed that perhaps our separation at the time was the best thing for us. By now the atmosphere of the room had lightened up a bit and we were joking around with each other towards the end of the conversation. We had decided to reunite and our partnership was born again. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> This would be a difficult road and we would certainly have all odds against us. I had stopped dancing for a year and Julie had turned pro. In some countries, there are loose stipulations about professionals returning back to amateur status and often require a 12 month waiting period before allowing such transition. Julie and I dancing together in Amateurs would no doubt upset quite a few people in the industry. Julie had split with her partner and I had to tell mine. I setup a meeting between Ruud, her and I. I was not looking forward to this meeting but I needed to let her know what

was going on. Once I told her, I was very surprised by her reaction. She told me that she understood what was happening and was happy that Julie and I were getting back together. She told me that we needed to dance together. I was so amazed by her character and her maturity. It was very admirable and we gave each other a big hug at the end of the conversation. Truth is, I did enjoy dancing with her but I was just way too competitive for her. Once we Julie and I started, the pace picked up quickly. This time though, I felt better prepared to handle the pressure, because we were doing things our way and not letting too many outside forces influence us. As we enjoyed our reformed partnership, Julie and I came upon a lot of obstacles especially with the whole amateur/professional status issue. There were many couples and dance community individuals that tried to bar us from competing and many demanded for us to wait a full year before competing. Not wanting to just sit there and take this, Julie and I decided to fight the outcry. Searching for aid in this matter, we went to our dance association in Holland to seek guidance. Unlike the UK or other European countries, we were happy to discover that our dance association had no rule regarding professionals returning to amateur status. We were able to bypass the stipulation because we represented the Netherlands and so Dutch rules superceded English law even though Julie was British. In order to appease ever growing complaints from international dance associations, the Dutch dance association created a less stringent rule about status transition calling for only a three month probationary period. No one could say anything because there wasn’t any other law currently in existence in regards to that matter. During our three month “probationary period” we were allowed to compete in smaller competitions. Interestingly enough, the association passed the motion just a little over three months before the Dutch national championships, therefore allowing us to compete in the major competition just in the nick of time. It was a curious coincidence but one that worked in our favor. I guess in the end the Dutch dance association was happy that we were able to get back together. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> During this entire time, we competed in a series of competitions that would slowly begin changing people’s perceptions once again. Some people were skeptical, some were happy. Most of the judges didn’t really look at our dancing objectively because they looked down on Julie returning to amateur and my hiatus from dancing. They tried to send a message through their judging marks that we couldn’t just waltz in here (pun intended) and get everything back that we once had. To add fuel to the fire, the judges also disliked the new look that I was sporting; a ponytail. Back then, no competitor wore their hair in a ponytail and I certainly didn’t do it to be rebellious. Nevertheless, it was frowned upon as was most everything else we did.

When we came out onto the floor of our first minor competition there was more excitement from the audience than we expected. I guess the audience was more forgiving of what happened in the past than I had anticipated. The judges were less forgiving. In rapid succession we received 51 second places and 4 firsts. That basically meant that all judges except one put us in second. This also meant that we had now been beaten by a Dutch couple that 2 years prior wouldn’t have been able to touch us. This Dutch couple was now the current champions and had taken our spot at the top. Even though we were disappointed, it actually made us stronger and more inspired to continue fighting for our way of dancing. After the New Year, we prepared for the UK Championships. It was our first International competition since we reunited and the flak over Julie’s amateur return and my new “look” did not cease. I had since added an additional aspect to my new “look”; rolled up sleeves. None of these choices mind you were meant to purposely defy the “system”, but it was more for functionality. The judges unfortunately viewed my choice more as defiance than anything else. To make matters worse our choreography at the time was quite different from the typical routines of the day. I had included many flexible and dynamic elements within our routine, but none of what we produced was completely appreciated. We did not make the final and even received comments suggesting that maybe we should consider toning down our choreography as a way towards improving our results. We were disappointed, but again our resolve would not be swayed and only made us want to go further with what we were doing. We in a sense became rebels within the ballroom community. The criticism never stopped regarding Julie’s professional status, our choreography or my choices in grooming/fashion. But together with Ruud and Julie, we just didn’t care. Our mission was to deliberately force the judges to look at our dancing rather than anything else. Slowly but surely the results came. Competition by competition we became stronger and stronger and eroded the wall of criticism that had greeted us at the start of our journey. A month after the UK Championships, the Dutch National Championships was upon us. The other Dutch couple who had beaten us prior in the smaller competition was in attendance and had made the final along with us. We were determined to overcome them and it was almost as if it was like some western movie showdown. Half the audience was for them, the other half was for us. Both families even handed out balloons to the audience in the colors of our respective costumes to garner additional support. The competition was fierce and though our Dutch competitors fell during their Rumba, they ended up winning the competition, having won three dances to our two. It was already very promising because the gap was narrowing and we were happy about the result going into the French, European and World Championships that were coming up.

Three weeks later we had the French Open in Paris with some major international couples and our main Dutch rivals. It was still kind of weird being beaten by many of these couples who we had easily bested in years past, but we did ultimately manage to secure third place behind our Dutch rivals in second place and a German couple who were slated to become the next world champions in first. This result was even closer than our previous competition. We had both ended up winning two dances and shared one. Our rivals won narrowly by securing more second places than we did but the result was very encouraging. Things were going well and Julie and I seemed to be making a lot of progress. Finally we were on the path back to our glory days. When I returned from Paris, I was ready to take on the remaining competitions and prove that we were in top form. But before I could continue this journey, I received some devastating news that would affect me greatly. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> Right after the Dutch National Championships, I went on a skiing vacation with students and friends from Marcella’s studio. It was a trip I insisted upon and it was part of my new plan to keep my social life intact. I figured having occasional breaks would make me hunger more for excellence when I returned. During the trip, my good friend Marcella had fallen ill. She did not know what was wrong exactly, but she knew deep down it wasn’t good. It turns out for a year and a half she had a cancerous growth internally. She was told to give up dancing for her health, but she proved everyone wrong but maintaining her dancing. For a time, the cancerous growth even seemed to be in remission. Her illness during the ski trip renewed her fear in the worst and she decided to undergo tests upon her return which took several weeks to process. I felt uneasy the entire car ride back from the trip and couldn’t shake the feeling that something about the situation felt more grave than it let on. Unfortunately my worries proved well founded as it was discovered that Marcella had an aggressive terminal liver cancer in a progressed stage. Marcella was told she had at most three months to live. I cried as I was devastated. This woman was an icon of healthy living. Marcella never drank, never smoked, ate right and in general lived a healthy lifestyle. At the tender age of 34, it was too early for her to go. Since the age of 10 Marcella had been my great supporter and one of the most important people in my life. Now we were at a point of no return and I needed to find a way to physically say goodbye within three months to the woman who had meant so much to me.

Though she faced her own fate, Marcella remained upbeat and strong. She wanted as few people to know as possible. For those that did know, Marcella wanted everyone to be happy and not to be worried about her condition. She would rather enjoy her time left and wanted to be as active as possible. She even judged the largest National Competition that was organized by Ruud. She went shopping for a very expensive dress for the event and looked absolutely stunning in her “last dress”. It was both happy and sad to see Marcella judging that competition. On one hand I was happy she was so strong and looking so stunning. On the other hand, I knew that it was a façade and that Marcella was dying inside. Each passing day things became more emotional. Marcella’s liver cancer had spread throughout her body. My thoughts were always with her no matter what I was doing, competing, or otherwise. It didn’t help that I was one of the few people who kept her tragic secret hidden from the world. At times I just wanted to scream out and let the world know my anger and sadness. It just wasn’t fair that the good ones always seemed like the first to go. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> All this emotion in an odd way gave Julie and I an edge. When we danced the German Master Gala, we surprisingly came in second behind the world champion German couple, ahead of our Dutch rivals. Although we were happy with the result, my mind was really on Marcella’s condition back home. It had been two months since her fatal diagnosis and it was clear that she was deteriorating quickly. Blackpool was on the horizon and we were worried that Marcella might pass on while we were competing in England. Marcella knew of our concern and urged us to continue onto Blackpool even though she knew we were worried. It was the way she always wanted things to be and so we did end up deciding to compete in Blackpool. I remember my last conversation with Marcella. It was three days prior to her passing and by now Marcella looked almost unrecognizable due to her condition. Her stomach had protruded out to gross proportions due to the cancerous growth, looking as if she was pregnant. I collapsed in her arms and told her how she could not leave and I guess my flood of emotion caused Marcella to well up as well. We spent quite a time in each others arms just appreciating each other’s company. It was a bittersweet moment, so painful but happy that Marcella seemed ready to face her fate. Many close friends dropped by during this time to spend what little quality time they had left with her. It was uncertain when she would pass but we knew it was coming soon. It was on a Sunday night around 8 PM that I received the call from Marcella’s brother. He told me that Marcella had passed on. I can’t remember ever crying so hard. I just could not fathom a world without my best friend. The idea of not seeing her or to hear her voice gently offering kind words or sage

advice was unbearable. We all knew this moment would come but it’s just not something anyone is ever prepared for. All the people that knew of Marcella’s condition showed up immediately at Marcella’s house to pay their respects. It was going to be hard to break the news to all of Marcella’s students and employees of the dance studio she ran. After spending sometime discussing how the matter should best be handled, we decided that a group should go to the studio to collectively offer the sad news. The students and employees knew something was wrong, but didn’t know things were this serious. There had been inklings on and off that something was going on such as when Marcella’s husband Oos suddenly left mid-lesson to attend to Marcella during her final minutes of life. Everyone at the studio was visibly concerned with the sudden departure but no one really knew what was going on. We brought everyone into the studio office and I was the one to break the news officially. I found it hard to summon the strength to relay such a sad development but managed to get through it. Once I delivered the news, a torrent of emotion swept through the room. On one hand I felt bad that the members of the studio had to hear about the news this way and were denied the opportunity to personally say their goodbyes. On the other hand, this was Marcella’s wish and so I had to respect that. Marcella died two weeks prior to Blackpool and funeral services were held a week prior. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> I was an emotional wreck and was considering not dancing Blackpool. Julie and I had been closer than we ever were to regaining our former glory, but Marcella’s passing weighed heavily on our decision. Julie knew what Marcella meant to me and even to her. Marcella was the bedrock when our foundations were shaky and we spent so much time with her sometimes even staying at her home when things were rough on the home front. Marcella was a guide, a friend, and a colleague of the highest form. Even with all this going on, in the end we knew that we had to do Blackpool. Marcella would have wanted it that way. During our preparations for Blackpool, I was also involved in the funeral services. It was very cathartic to grieve but also to heal at the same time. Marcella was to be buried in the final blue dress that she had bought for herself when she learned of her diagnosis. The music selected, “Without You” by Mariah Carey, was very emotional because it was one of Marcella’s favorite songs. We were asked to dance a Rumba at the funeral to the song which we willingly obliged. The funeral played host to hundreds of people that came to pay their respects. So many people that attended that the room could not contain everyone; a first for the funeral home. This was visual proof of the kind of effect Marcella had on people. This was the last time that we would ever see Marcella. It was a beautiful ceremony and Marcella’s father gave a moving speech. Julie and I were in the first row and were

moved to tears. When the song started playing in quiet salute, Julie and I stood up and approached the coffin. Once we arrived at Marcella’s side, we let the music flow into our bodies and began to dance our Rumba. It felt like an out of body experience because we were really just listening and sensing, as if Marcella was taking us on a ride. There was no choreography just pure inspiration and we danced like we’ve never danced before. After we concluded our performance, we sat back down and the well of emotion returned. Julie and I had offered up our special way of saying goodbye to Marcella. 1500 people marched in procession as Marcella was carried to her final resting place. Everyone offered green and yellow flowers (her favorite colors) at her burial site. It was a painful yet beautiful site. After all services had concluded, we gathered along with some close friends at Marcella’s house to socialize and remember the lady that had so touched our hearts. In a way it was sort of a good therapy session for everyone in attendance. Everyone was sad but comforted by the fact that they all had the privilege of knowing such a remarkable woman. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> 2 days later, Julie and I were off to Blackpool. During our performance, we kept Marcella in our hearts. We decided to dedicate our performance to Marcella. Julie had selected a dress that was yellow; Marcella’s favorite color. Sometimes the emotion would almost get the better of the both of us and it was clear we were here on a different plane versus every other couple there, a more spiritual one. What we were competing for was so much greater than any trophy. We never had any thoughts set on making the final yet somehow, we ended up doing so. We were elated at making the finals once more but somber from the very recent and very real loss of someone so close. The audience couldn’t really tell what was going on with us but they appreciated the performance. Though there were times I felt guilty about enjoying this moment, I know this is exactly what Marcella would have wanted. I knew deep inside Marcella was watching from above and I looked up to acknowledge her gaze. I wanted her to know that this performance was completely for her. In this one performance for Marcella, we had secured our best result ever, 3rd in all dances. I guess that is one of the beauties of dance is that you can convey any emotion without limitation. Coming back home from Blackpool, Julie and I collectively agreed to take it easier for a little while so that we could take time for ourselves and also to grieve. I spent lots of time with friend and Marcella’s husband Oos. We talked about Marcella and reminisced which proved to be very therapeutic.

I’ve never been spiritual and generally have been skeptical to all things religious. I did however, allow myself to consider the possibility of life beyond this one. My curiosity grew especially after I received a book from a friend of mine entitled, “The Earth is just a Learning School”. My friend recommended that I read it to hopefully help me get through this difficult time. She believed that the book explained a bit about the Afterlife and it could help answer some of my burning questions. Though I entered very doubtful of the whole situation, the book was fascinating and I devoured it in two days. Even though I was still skeptical, the book did paint a pretty vision of what heaven could be like and it was great to picture Marcella there. I started looking into other books on spirituality as a means of dealing with tough issues in life such as Marcella’s passing and even the conflicts that I had with my parents. Another book James Redfield’s, “Celestine Prophecy” had a profound impact on me. It made me feel good about my past decisions and that perhaps everything had its place in life. The greatest thing I took away from this literature was that I should always follow my instincts. You can be smart and intellectual but it’s your intuition that advances you in life and helps you find your true self and happiness. I shared my thoughts and impressions with my friends and it was a good way for me to deal with my problems. I used Marcella’s passing as inspiration to live life to the fullest. I felt like a different person. Though I was competitive in my dancing, I started to see a shift in my priority more towards achieving quality of life. This would have a profound impact of my dancing even if it was to come later on. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> You only regret things you didn’t do and not things you did. I never really appreciated the depth of this idea until I started making goals for accomplishment in my life. I did not want to be on my death bed wondering about things that I did not get a chance to do in life or was too scared to move on. I had in times past, I had expressed my wish to move to New York City to study dance and theater in the greatest city in the world. I still wanted to go after all this time though Julie was a bit hesitant and took some convincing. After a bit of discussion, Ruud thought it would be an excellent idea as long as we maintained our practicing and took authentic Latin dance classes in New York. Julie agreed to go for the summer (which ended up being only two months). During the end of June beginning of July we flew to New York and stayed in a downtown loft which was an amazing experience. We took so many classes in Swing, Hustle, Salsa, Jazz, Dance Theatre and the list went on and on. When we were not in class, we practiced at my friend’s dance studio. We had a lot of fun that summer and I fell in love with New York City. During the summer we even had visitors including Marcella’s husband and a girl friend of mine that came into New York City for vacation.

New York City was so much fun that we became a bit lax in our practicing despite Ruud’s warnings. I seriously didn’t have practice on my mind and really was in vacation mode more than anything. Time went by so fast that before you knew it was already the beginning of September. Little did I know that we would be in for some bit of trouble when we got back to working on our routines again. But that was later on and Julie and were enjoying ourselves and on the same page. At the beginning of September, we competed in a world competition in Miami but we were totally unprepared. We figured no top couples would be there and that we would easily blow past any competition that was there. We were wrong. I guess the lesson in life would be to always be prepared. There was a couple there that came in fourth behind us in Blackpool. It was quite a shock and blow to our ego when we lost four out of five dances to them and ended up in second place behind them. We had assumed that we would easily overcome them given our skill and status from previous performances, but we were wrong. It was a humbling experience to go through but we knew deep down that it was our own fault and that we had no one to blame but ourselves. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> On the plane ride back to home, Julie and I didn’t speak a word because we were both upset at the result of the Miami competition. We made a silent vow that we would never allow this to happen again. And so in the coming days leading up to the 2nd Master Gala in Germany, we committed to working hard. No one needed to push us because we wanted it and we were hungry. New York had given us a summer to relax and enjoy, but we felt the edge of competitiveness creeping up. At the Master Gala in Germany we were so determined to put on our best performance ever. The couple that had trounced us in Miami was there along with the top German couple that earned 2nd place at the UK Championships. From the moment we stepped out onto the floor we knew that we were going to give it our all. So, as it turns out, not only did we beat the couple that defeated us in Miami, but we also defeated the German couple as well! It was a tremendous result, but we knew not to rest on our laurels again. The European Championships were just two weeks away and we had to focus in order to ensure a good performance there. We found ourselves excited, even more so than when we prepared for our first national competition ever. I saw this turn of events as a form of a one time spiritual gift (maybe from Marcella) designed to set our course straight after veering off slightly.

Although we came in second behind the German couple at the European Championships, we were very close to them taking two of the three dances from them. Julie and I were very content with our results and performance. On top of that the audience was the most receptive it had ever been and that was very gratifying. We had another British championship that followed shortly after but it was not very significant. Though we danced well, the placements were the same: Australian couple in 1st, German couple in 2nd and us in 3rd. But we were fine with 3rd place. It had been a good year for us and we had fought our way back into world champion contention and back into people’s hearts. Our industry made no more comments about Julie’s return to Amateur status and I was allowed to do whatever I wanted in terms of my grooming and fashion sense. Whether we would end up being world champions would be anyone’s guess. With the World Championships in Germany looming on the horizon, we were ready to make our presence felt. <NEW CHAPTER BREAK> At the championships in Stuttgart, Germany, the German couple that we had competed against all year was the clear favorite to win due to home-field advantage. The top Australian couple hardly ever competed on the European continent, but was present for this major championship. There was also a second German couple that was working their way up the ranks that was worth watching. Germany goes by a visual marking system in which marks are displayed after every dance so in effect everyone can follow the marking developments as they are judged. We had worked very hard for the two weeks leading up to this competition with Ruud. We really focused our attention on the dancing itself. Ruud was very much keen on getting us as far away from the pressure of competition as possible. He believed if we did not have competition on our minds but rather just on giving our best to the dance, we would be unstoppable. You can probably imagine how lonely it felt to be competing against the German couple that had home-field advantage. To add to that, we were coming into this competition as the 2nd overall placed national couple from Holland. We were somewhat worried that this fact would be a detriment on our overall perception. The rival Dutch couple that we had competed against so fiercely had recently just gone professional so they were not there to represent. At the competition we did not really have any supporters with us, ten in all to be exact. Mostly it was just our family members, but they were all part of our team. Each person had a role in contributing to the situation.

We made the final. With that, we were set to begin our run for the top in the finals competition. The Cha-Cha was first up and we danced well though the German couple received the majority of firsts, followed by the Australian couple and us rounding out the top three. Samba was next and we secured 2nd place on this dance with the German couple coming in 1st and the Australian couple coming in 3rd. The Rumba was up next and that is where the tide began to turn in our favor. The German couple received 3rd while the Australian couple received no first place markings. We had taken the Rumba and the audience arose in thunderous applause which was surprising considering that this was Germany. I tried not to get excited but I couldn’t help but feel exuberant. We had never ever beaten the German or Australian couples in anything…did we actually have a chance here at the Worlds? Only two dances to go. The Paso Doble was next and it was also my favorite dance. The audience was progressively swinging more in our favor and I started gaining some confidence which was good for the Paso. The performance went smoothly and once again the Germans only got a handful of top ranking marks. This meant that the Germans had once again had failed to take the dance. The Australians and the second German couple were poised to possibly overtake them. When the results were revealed for our marks, we discovered we had received the majority of the top ranking marks. Whatever ended up happening, based off of the way the marks came, we had secured a minimum of second place going into the final dance, the Jive. By this point Ruud was getting very animated and we could not figure out why. We had figured that since we took 3rd in the Cha-Cha there would be no way we could bounce back from it all. But we weren’t counting, Ruud was. When all marks were revealed for the Paso Doble, Ruud ran over to us and literally screamed at the top of his lungs, “How can you be so calm!? If you fucking win this Jive you will be the new World Champions!” Julie and I were both a bit bewildered by it all and didn’t know whether to believe Ruud or not. To go back now and do the calculations ourselves, would take too much time and we still had a Jive to do. Hearing Ruud’s final comment to us before we went onto the floor, I was nervous, confused, excited and determined.

The Jive went by so fast. It really was a blur because I danced that Jive like my life depended on it and I couldn’t even tell you what happened exactly. It was over before it began would probably be the best way to put it. Waiting for those final Jive scores was probably one of the most nerve-racking experiences of my life. Minutes ago we were already elated to be second in this competition. Now, the possibility of winning the entire thing was just too much to take in all at once. The German couple was the first to receive their marks and they received more second place markings than first. This meant that if any couple would get the top mark from any single judge, they would be the next world champions. The Australians were next and they received no top marks, mainly thirds and even some fourths. The other German couple got some second place and third place marks but once again no top marks. Our marks went up. The audience shook the floor with their screams. We did not even know yet what actually just happened. But when the cards turned to face us and Julie and me both saw four top marks we realized that we had won. I thought it was a dream but it wasn’t. We both made it to the center of the floor to take in the adulation from the audience. Both Julie and I broke out in tears. It was such an amazing moment for us. It was made even sweeter because we had managed to win over the German audience. The German couple came over to congratulate us and I felt a little guilty that we had just bested them in front of their fans. It was almost surreal and people were coming up to us to congratulate us from all parts of the dance floor. Julie and I barely registered what was actually happening because we were still in a bit of a shocked state. I still thought that maybe the count was wrong and at any moment they would make the announcement. The official scoreboard lit up places 1-6 starting with 6th place. As the scoreboard climbed to third place and revealed Australia in the placement, I got a bit nervous. It wasn’t until Germany appeared in 2nd place that I finally let go of my worry and let all the positive energy come in. We had won and there was no doubt remaining. When the announcement was made that Julie and I were the new World Champions I thought of all the times people had told me that I couldn’t do it and that my career as a competitive dancer was over. What I learned was that it isn’t over until YOU decide it’s over. It was such a long tough fight but we did it and overcame all odds doing it our way; ponytail and all.

I reflected back over the past 11 months and confirmed my beliefs that if you really wanted something and committed your mind to it, you could achieve it. Life may take you on a ride but you stay true to your goal and true to yourself, you will get it; probably when you least expect it. Before I had wanted to push so much and was controlled by outside forces impressing their version of what they envisioned success to be. When I didn’t force the situation, I really started getting somewhere. We were ourselves and stuck to one game plan with one coach and mentor, Ruud. As the national anthem played in the background, I felt as if the spirit of Marcella was watching from above and I knew she had not missed this moment. This result was a gift from heaven in a lot of ways and Julie and I looked at each other still with a mixture of happiness and disbelief in our eyes as we stood on the podium. Believe in what you do and see it through. Stay true to yourself and your goals. Persistence is what gives your career the stamina to go on. At that moment I felt that the year had brought about a sense of balance; complete with equal parts tragedy and achievement. For our honor dance, we performed the Rumba and I swear I was in another world again. I had just experienced a once in a lifetime moment that ended with the thunderous applause of an endlessly appreciative audience. Julie and I hugged each other as we exited the floor. The last thing I remember prior to leaving the floor was looking up to the ceiling and saying, “This was for you.”