Christopher Affonso (16) and Holly Hatleberg (15) are from Boston, Massachusetts where they practice at Champions Dance Sport Club. They are 10-Dancers and have been dancing together for nine years. They are the 2022 USA Dance Youth Standard Champions, Under-21 Standard Runners-Up and Youth 10-Dance Runners-Up. This is their opening Waltz at the Swiss Dance Tour Festival, April 14-15, 2022.
Christopher Affonso (16) and Holly Hatleberg (15) are from Boston, Massachusetts where they practice at Champions Dance Sport Club. They are 10-Dancers and have been dancing together for nine years. They are the 2022 USA Dance Youth Standard Champions, Under-21 Standard Runners-Up and Youth 10-Dance Runners-Up. This is their opening Waltz at the Swiss Dance Tour Festival, April 14-15, 2022.

Our First International WDSF Dance Competition

By Christopher Affonso and Holly Hatleberg
Contributing Author
Swiss Dance Tour Festival – Through the eyes of Youth Dancers

We first learned of the Swiss Dance Tour Festival — Chiasso, Switzerland, April 14-15 — sometime around February. Our coach, Andrea Zaramella, encouraged us to join him and two other couples in competing at this event, and then participating in a dance camp with world-class judges and coaches. This opened the door to our first international World DanceSport Federation (WDSF) dance competition. We had a great time and wanted to share our travels!

Thursday-Friday, April 14-15, 2022

We knew we were in for a ride when we arrived at Boston Logan Airport on Thursday afternoon to discover a mess of flight delays, cancellations, false seat promises, missing bags, and security. We kept on saying, “We’ll take anything. Just get us to Milan by noon tomorrow!” Eventually, we found a flight, and we landed in Milan, Italy around 2 p.m., Friday, April 15. We were headed to our first international WDSF dance competition in Chiasso, Switzerland! 

Our original plan was to arrive and, a few hours later, compete in the Under-21 (U21) Standard event, after getting Holly’s hair and makeup done. However, since our flights were mixed up, we arrived a little bit later than we had hoped. Because of this, we rushed through the airport in order to try to reach the competition before the U21 Standard started.

Rushing made us forget a few important things… such as exchanging US dollars for euros! We regretted this later, but at the time, it didn’t even pass through our minds.

We got in a taxi and took a 30-minute drive to our hotel, Ibis Milano. We hoped and were counting down the minutes, but after a tense hour, we decided it did not make sense for us to try to squeeze into the U21 competition, since we wouldn’t be prepared for it.

It was a bit disappointing, but we were both exhausted from the overnight flight, and were relieved that we wouldn’t have to rush onto the floor with no prep-time. Instead, we spent Friday evening watching and supporting our other teammates, Mike and Rose-Ann Lynch and Eugene and Alla Lobko.

As we were watching, our coach and Christopher’s mom, Judit Gaspar, came up to Holly and asked, “Since we missed the hair appointment, would you rather do it now, at 10 o’clock, or tomorrow at 6 a.m.?”

Holly had absolutely no desire to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to arrive in time for hair, so she got it done that night. So, when we got back to the hotel for bed around midnight, we discovered the pain of sleeping with dance hair done. Make sure your bun is comfortable, otherwise you’ll regret it later!

Saturday, April 16, 2022

We had to make it to the dance competition for a makeup appointment at 7:30 a.m. We woke up around 6 a.m. to eat breakfast, gather our competition clothes, and arrive in time. Holly’s makeup took place below the ballroom, and in the meantime, Christopher stretched and put on most of his tailsuit and shoes.

The dance competition took place in a sports hall which was divided in two by bleachers. The bleachers framed the competition floor, and behind them, there were a few food and shoe vendors around a practice floor. The practice floor has some dangerous holes and cracks which people had tried to resolve by filling with duct tape. As you might guess, it didn’t work too well! To the right, there was a changing room for all the competitors. It was a very different experience than changing rooms in America, because men and women, kids, and adults all changed in the same room. There were clothing, tanners, dresses, shoes, and suitcases all over the place.

We were warming up and getting ready to dance in the non-WDSF Youth competition, when an announcement came on notifying couple 327 (us) that we were to take our number off and dance as a presentation. This surprised us a lot because we had expected at least four or five other couples. It turned out that the other couples in the event had scratched, so the organizers combined us in another event’s heat.

We were slightly disappointed, because we had hoped for competition, but once on the floor, adrenaline kicked in. It felt great to dance on the floor in a full heat and in front of new judges. The first round served as a good warmup and helped us orient our routines on the floor for the evening.

We decided to go out for lunch at a pizza restaurant next door to the competition. Between the three of our party, four languages were fluently spoken: English, Spanish, German, and Hungarian. Though none of our party spoke Italian, we were able to communicate with the waitress in a mixture of languages and gestures. It was here where we first learned that “sparkling water” is acqua frizzante in Italian!

We ordered some delicious food and had some genuine Italian pizza! At least at this restaurant, the pizza was thin and salty. It was also not cut into slices, so you actually had to use your silverware to eat it!

Since we still had a few hours until we needed to start getting ready for our second and final event, we returned to our hotel to nap and relax. Around 5 p.m., we got back on the transit and took a ride back to the competition.

Saturday night came around, and this time we were ready to go and prepared to dance our best. We checked our times on a sheet posted on a wall and got ready to perform. This time the energy of the ballroom was even more apparent, as the best-of-the-best dancers filled the hall. On the practice floor, the couples we knew we’d be up against looked so tall, strong, and confident. Their frames were sturdy, toned, and stretched out, yet there was no tension between the partners. We thought, “Wow, these people know what they’re doing.”

The on-deck area was flooded with dancers in outfits which flattered and fit them perfectly. While weaving through them, we had to listen carefully for our event. There was no deck captain, and most announcements were made in Italian, which we could not understand very well.

We walked onto the dance floor for our first round, along with 23 other competitors. Even within just our event, 11 countries were represented. It was an honor to be the United States representative in this WDSF competition.

Our first round went by in a blur. All our nerves made it difficult to focus, but on the competition floor our dances fell into place, and we danced confidently. There were a few mishaps here and there. For example, at the end of one dance, a follower in another couple spun into Christopher’s hand, and part of her bun ripped out. She was NOT happy. We were also about to do a huge pose, when suddenly, we were surrounded by three other couples! Christopher had to maneuver us around all of them, which was difficult since we were all trying to get back into our routines, before getting back into our pose.

After getting off the floor, all we really hoped for was that we were moving on. We had encouraging observations by our coach and waited in suspense to hear if we made it to the second round. We did! After a sigh of relief and lots of smiles, we collected our thoughts and prepared to take on the semi-final.

In the round of 12, we danced better than our first, but did not make it to the final. We ended up placing 10th out of 23 couples. Initially the realization was disappointing, but we watched the final and looked at what we could improve. There were little details that made the couples in the final glide across the floor and maintain their shapes perfectly. We decided we would have to work on those same details when we made it home.

We went to a very late-night dinner with the rest of our team: Andrea Zaramella, Mike and Rose-Ann Lynch, and Eugene and Alla Lobko. We looked over results and noticed we were only three marks from the final! We were proud of how we had done but knew that we would need to work harder in the upcoming months to polish our dancing even more.

We returned to our hotel around one in the morning. Holly had a slight struggle removing her hair and makeup, but what a relief she had after her shower!

Christopher and Holly with Coach Andrea Zaramella, Official Valeria Pittalis and their United States travel companions – Eugene and Alla Lobko and Mike and Rose-Ann Lynch.
Christopher and Holly with Coach Andrea Zaramella, Official Valeria Pittalis and their United States travel companions – Eugene and Alla Lobko and Mike and Rose-Ann Lynch.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

We got up late on Sunday morning, since we had the day off from competing, and met with Mike and Rose-Ann. After a breakfast of croissants and cold cuts, we headed out to catch a local train bound for Milan at 10:30 a.m. The train ride to Milan was pleasant; it was nice to recoup the last two days’ events. We made a new friend who helped show us which train to board. Everyone chatted and enjoyed the scenery.

We arrived in Milan after only a 40-minute ride and went out to the streets of the city. Right outside of the train station there was a huge statue that had bright green, red, and yellow strands weaving together and passing through a large silver pole. It was very odd at first glance, but we discovered it was a sewing needle and thread, and that the knot of thread was a block away.  

We decided we would wander around and see where we ended up. Sure enough, the first corner we rounded led to a magnificent-looking building. It looked like a castle, and we were intrigued. The castle was called Castello Sforzesco di Milano, and it was full of beautiful architecture and mosaics. Right outside of it there was a huge fountain that jutted up into the air before the castle, making a beautiful sight and background for photos.

Our group of five continued onward through the center of Milan, down a street that was crowded with street vendors, shoppers, and musicians. It was wonderful to see so many people out and about after cities experienced a complete shut down during COVID. 

As we made our way down Via Dante, we suddenly saw white spires with light blue accents jutting into the air. We rounded the corner, and in front of us was a huge cathedral — Duomo di Milano — made of bright white marble. The cathedral, with a construction spanning six centuries, starting in 1386, literally looked like a photograph. There were hundreds of marble statues of benefactors and saints all around the outside. We admired it from afar. It was Easter, and the lines to get in stretched all the way down the block.

As we continued wandering throughout the city, we came across Roman Circus and palace ruins, interesting plants, architecture, and wonderful gelato (Holly recommends white chocolate pistachio gelato, and Christopher Nutella, if you ever visit Italy…). Christopher enjoyed trying to communicate in Italian, and Holly and Rose-Ann enjoyed an in-depth talk about plants and gardens!

Christopher and Holly in front of Duomo di Milano on Easter 2022
Christopher and Holly in front of Duomo di Milano on Easter 2022

Monday-Tuesday, April 18-19, 2022

On Monday and Tuesday, we had a wonderful opportunity to take lessons with world-class coaches and judges. Starting at 10:30 a.m., we were flooded with new information and ways of approaching shapes, head actions, and movement. The days were long, and we took a lot away from all our lessons. We found a notebook useful so we could write down bits of information we were otherwise likely to forget.

On these dance camp days, we brought a water bottle and snacks, expecting time to get more of each. However, we discovered the hard way that water fountains are not really a thing, and that restaurants might be hard to get to by foot. Note to the traveler:  Be sure to bring lots of food and enough water for a full day of work if you ever go to a European dance camp!

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

We returned to America on Wednesday. The night before, our group had a very nice wrap-up dinner, and we made sure to have Italian pasta before leaving! It was delicious.

We traveled with Eugene and Alla Lobko back to Milano Malpensa, the airport, and after more flight and ticket confusion, made sure to buy souvenirs for family back home.

We had a wonderful time seeing another country and competing against world-class couples in our first international competition! We would highly recommend our experience, but travelers should make sure to bring the appropriate type of money with you, enough food, and plenty of water!

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