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Spotlight On Seniors

By Christine Young – Senior Committee Member
Photos courtesy of Clunis Miller & Ruby Jackson-Duncan
Interview with Clunis Miller & Ruby Jackson-Duncan

I had a chance in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to catch up with some of my New York/New Jersey dance friends Ruby Jackson-Duncan and Clunis Miller. Ruby and Clunis danced Senior II and Senior III Silver Standard, and placed 2nd and 3rd respectively in their categories last March at Nationals! They sat down with me in the Steel City to talk about their dance journey and their experiences as competitive dancers within USA Dance.

Christine: So, tell me how each of your dance journeys started?

Ruby: I started at a dance school in Brooklyn, New York, where they taught more freestyle and a combination of dances, not classic International or Standard styles. Then, I went to Le Pari Studio in New Jersey for the first time and saw what ballroom dancing really was—and I really liked it! Once I went to Le Pari, I just jumped ship and took it on very seriously—I was all in!

Clunis: Calypso and Soca dance really are a part of me and were all around as I grew up in Trinidad, so I always loved dancing since I was a little boy. Seeing James Brown on the TV, I wanted to dance like that. Then, one day when I was about 13, I saw a competition on TV with a gentleman in a tail suit and a lady in a blue dress, and I’ll never forget that. I said, “I want to do that!”. As I got older, I decided to join an American-style class, and I learned the basics of Waltz, Swing, and Foxtrot. I came to the States in 1992 but I didn’t start dancing here until 2006.  I joined a dance club in Brooklyn, but what we were learning didn’t match what was being danced when I went out socially, so it was hard to try and practice what I was learning.  I knew I wanted to compete, so I began taking classes in Manhattan initially. Then one of my friends invited me to a social in NJ at Le Pari and ever since, that’s been home.

Christine: So, there is a Brooklyn connection here. Ruby how did you meet Clunis?

Ruby: I met him at Elegance Studio in Brooklyn, and we did a few showcases together back around 2014 to start, and I really loved the showcases!

Christine: Clunis what was the first ballroom competition you ever did?

Clunis: The MAC, back in 2010.

Christine: What I am hearing is…Clunis comes from the competition perspective, and Ruby comes from the artistry perspective. Is that right?

Ruby: Yes, and I still like doing showcases because I get some good material from learning the figures which helps build my foundation even further.

Christine: How did you start dancing competitively together and what was your first competition as a couple?

Clunis: We were both coming to Le Pari and Ruby was interested in learning the floor craft, and I was happy to help and pass on the knowledge. That led to us competing together.

Ruby: When I came to Le Pari, one of the instructors told us that in order get our feet wet, we should do a small local competition to get used to the floor, and the lights. We did it, and we came in first! I started taking ballroom really seriously after that. Our first major competition together was the MAC around 2016/2017.

Christine: What stands out the most to you from your first competition? Is there a feeling you remember from your first time on the competition floor together?

Clunis: There wasn’t much nerves, I was just thinking, “Remember the routines”. But dance is a very good stress reliever and such a beautiful thing that once I have the music, I’m good!

Ruby: Well, I was very surprised when we won because I felt like I didn’t know very much; and I was very grateful, especially for my initial coach. He really broke me out into the competition world, and he said “Ruby, I’m going to make you Champions!” He drilled us and drilled us, and we came in first. I was overjoyed and it felt really good!

Christine: What is your favorite part about competing with USA Dance and what keeps you coming back to USA Dance competitions?

Clunis: The comradery and knowing you are with people who feel the same way you do about this.  I mean, yes, it’s a competition, and I’m a competitor, I’ve always been a competitor- from basketball to ballroom. But ballroom is also a fun thing, and you won’t believe how much it has helped me. In certain times of my life dance kept me sane.

Ruby: Well, I’m a social butterfly and I made a very good friend coming to these events. I meet people from other studios, the exposure is great, and you can show your creativity. It’s like the dance community at its highest level.

Christine: Clunis, thinking about the dance competitions you’ve attended do you have a favorite memory?

Clunis: Anytime I see a full floor.  The more people I see on the floor the more I am excited!  It means practice is over, let’s do it!  It’s more action that way, and when I compete, I leave it on the floor!

Christine: Ruby, if you stripped it all away- what’s at the very core of why you dance?

Ruby: Dance has become the center of my life.  It has so many benefits in terms of health, socializing, and developing skills, and to me, it’s the best thing. This environment just suits me, the way I get to learn on multiple levels.  I feel like I can, and will, do this until I physically can’t anymore. It’s something I absolutely adore.

Christine, Have you ever had to step away from dancing? How did you get back into the swing, and what would be your advice for someone in a similar situation?

Clunis: I had to step away for two years because of injury. I think dance has to be in the heart, not just because you’re doing it for a friend or some other reason. Something natural and intrinsic inside you has to make you want to get back to it. You have to naturally love some form of dancing and use that as motivation.

Ruby: I had to step away due to injury a few times as well. But because I love dance, I never think about not coming back; I just look forward to the time I can get back. In the meantime, I look for smaller exercises to keep me active- so keep busy anyway you can and keep active where you can.

Christine: Final question, what’s next for you both?

Ruby: For me, it’s continuing to improve my skills. I plan to work to get better, gain more confidence, and feel like I can do this without thinking. We’re also doing smaller competitions to get experience on the floor because I still get nervous. I figure by doing more smaller competitions I will get the feel and find the comfort level.

Clunis: Dance is an ongoing learning process, so for me, it’s just a focus on continuing to progress!

Christine: Thank you, Clunis and Ruby.  Good luck and see you on the floor!

Christine Young is a Member of the Senior Committee.  She and her partner Bryan Young compete at the Championship-level in American Smooth.

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