Amilia Thompson, a newcomer to the ballroom dance team, and her partner Nigel Allen strike a pose having won several awards in the Newcomer Latin Division at the Big Apple Challenge.
The ballroom dance team continues its winning ways having garnered more than 10 awards in the Big Apple Challenge at New York’s Columbia University. The team faced collegiate competitors representing over 50 schools including Harvard, Yale, Princeton and NYU at the Dec. 7-8 event.
Attracting roughly 900 competitors this year, the Big Apple Challenge is one of the nation’s largest contests of its kind, according to Pamela Roberts, the team’s advisor.
“Each division had over 70 couples competing. (And) each division had seven to eight heats just to get to the finals. It was grueling,” Roberts said.
Although a competition of this scale could be daunting, Amilia Thompson, who competed for the second time since joining Thomas Nelson's team, didn’t show a hint of fear in her performances. Thompson and partner Nigel Allen were in the Newcomer Latin division and won second place Jive, third place Cha Cha/Rumba and first place division overall. Last month, Thompson swept the newcomer division in her first outing with the team at an event in Maryland.
“Because I already went to the first one, that’s where I worked out all my major nerves. So in the second one, I was slightly nervous but not as much,” said Thompson, an AST/medical office administration major and 2017 Menchville High School graduate.
“I went in with the thought that this was a chance to go learn, get experience and see what other dancers brought. That was my mindset and it helped curb the nervousness. All I felt was anticipation and excitement to see what I could do to keep up with everyone. That experience was definitely something to learn from, for sure,” she added.
While Thompson was learning and winning, her team mates followed suit racking up numerous prizes, as well. Competing in the bronze Rhythm and Latin Division, Eme Bassey-Duke and Faizon Alexander took first place in Cha Cha/Rumba, second place in swing, third in Mambo and won second place division overall. The duo was also in Bronze Latin division taking third place in Samba and reaching the semifinals (top 10) in their remaining three Latin dances.
Another winner, Tiarra Johnson was in the bronze Latin division with a TBA partner (a partner assigned at the competition with whom she had never danced) winning first place in Cha Cha/Rumba, first place in Jive and second place in Samba. Johnson and TBA partner also won first place division overall. J.D. Ellis and Charis Hutton, competing in the silver Rhythm and Latin divisions, won third place Swing/ Mambo in rhythm and third place in Samba/Jive and seventh place Cha Cha/Rumba.
Other notables included Jamaya Worrell, who joined the team last year, and Allen competing in the Bronze Latin division and reached made the semifinals (top 10). Newcomers Elizabeth Axberg and Elizabeth Yimmer reached the quarter finals in Latin Jive. This marked their first competition. Newcomer V’ashon England with partner Melaku Astatike competed also for the first time, as well.
Showings by the team's new members make Roberts beam with pride.
"I’m so proud of our team especially our new team members," said Roberts. "This is such a big stage for them to compete for the very first time. We have trained so hard with our coaches Riccardo Paccini and Sonia Spadoni, as well as our assistant student coaches Tiarra Johnson, Eme Bassey-Duke and Faizon Alexander. We may be the smallest collegiate team and the only community college on the collegiate circuit, but we have proven that we are a force to be reckoned with."
Like her team mates, Thompson won’t rest on her laurels. That's especially true since the opportunity to learn ballroom dance at Thomas Nelson came as a pleasant surprise. Although it's different than the contemporary and cultural dances did as child when competing in her native Jamaica, Thompson relishes ballroom dance now.
“I would have never expected a community college to be involved in something like ballroom dance. I never knew that this would be possible. I want to say thanks to Miss Pam for putting the team together giving us an opportunity to try something new and different. Thanks also to my team mates for pushing me, teaching me and just being there to support each other.
Now with two fruitful competitions under her belt, Thompson practices diligently with an aim to advance to the bronze level. She's strong in Jive, much to her surprise, but she wants to improve in Cha Cha/Rumba.
"I don’t’ think I’ll be able to compete in newcomer again. My goal is to improve on my technique, work hard as I can so I can make the team proud, make my mom proud and be the best that I can be at the next level that I’m about to go into," said Thompson.