Aug. 11, 2009
Denise Evans is an athlete.
She averages 10 hours a week in training. In a gym in her Kansas City, North, home, she exercises, lifts weights and stretches. Weekly hot yoga and ballet classes are part of her regimen.
By all accounts, the former Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader is in good physical shape. She can, for example, run 3½ miles without stopping.
But that run is a walk in the park compared to a 10-minute round on the dance floor.
“Dance is twice as hard,” said Evans, 42. “It requires intense bursts of energy – in heels, and smiling.”
Evans is competing in the Heart of America Ballroom DanceSport Championships this weekend in Kansas City. Some 300 dancers have registered to participate in different categories during the three-day competition.
Evans and her dance partner, Gert Roslender of Indianapolis, are entered in the pro-am international open standard division of ballroom dancing. Roslender is a professional dance instructor and Evans is an amateur.
On Saturday, they will fox-trot, waltz, tango, quickstep and Viennese waltz at three different times: 11:44 a.m., 12:18 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. In each 10-minute round, they will perform all five dances.
“Denise is the epitome of what ballroom dancing should be,” said Carmelita Beets, who saw Evans dance at last year’s event. “She embodies the heart and soul of physical movement and music coming together as an art form.”
Beets is a retired ballroom dance instructor and owns the Midwest Institute of Natural Healing in Kansas City, North.
To spectators like Beets, the dancers are a picture of elegance: men in tuxedoes and women in ballgowns swirling gracefully around the floor.
“The artistic, aesthetic part is visual,” said Angela Prince, national public relations director for USA Dance, the national governing body for DanceSport in the United States.
What the audience doesn’t see, Prince said, is the demanding discipline involved in reaching the high levels of athletic proficiency required to meet the rigors of competitive dance.
Roslender and Evans have been practicing about two years. Evans flies to Indianapolis about every other week for a four-hour session. On her return flight, Evans said, she feels both empty and full: “I am empty of stress and tension and my spirit is filled up.”
Evans returned to dancing after a seven-year break. In 2000, she won the national championship in the open pro-am international standard. Evans then took time off to write a book and give birth to a daughter.
She began competitive dancing again at the urging of her husband, who wanted their 5-year-old daughter to see her mother perform.
So, in 2007, Evans returned to the dance floor and to her roots.
She has been dancing since she was 6 years old when her grandfather taught her how to cha-cha. At the time, he owned a dance studio in Kansas City, Kan. Evans’ parents, LeRoy and Ginny Walters, are still in the dance business and are sponsoring the event in Kansas City.
While ability and agility are in her favor, there are some things dancers can’t control no matter how talented or how much time they’ve invested in perfecting their art. The music, the dance floor and the number of couples on the floor vary.
“We have no idea what songs we’ll have to dance to,” Evans said. “We know only that it will be a waltz or whatever dance we’re on.”
In addition, a couple must maneuver – with an appearance of ease – through the traffic on the dance floor, and the dancers must adjust to the surface of the floor. Floors that aren’t slick, Evans said, aren’t as “fast” and require different muscles.
Evans and Roslender have two more contests this year: Las Vegas on Aug. 22 and the national championships in Orlando, Fla., on Sept. 11.
Then, Evans said, she plans to retire from competition. But she isn’t hanging up her shoes.
“One thing I know for sure now is that dance will always be a part of my life,” she said.