Ballroom Buffet: Three Ballroom Stars Share Their Favorite Summer Dance Experiences

July 13, 2021

When it comes to summer training opportunities for ballroom, there really is no industry standard. Whether hunkering down with your hometown educator or traveling to global competitions, you’ve got options.

We spoke with three A-list ballroom dancers to hear how they spent their favorite summers growing up. Each performer followed a different path, yet saw major success along the way. Check out their experiences below, and use them as inspiration for the rest of summer 2021.

Daniella Karagach

"Dancing with the Stars" pro Daniella Karagach

Courtesy Karagach

“Dancing with the Stars” pro Daniella Karagach spent her summers in Brooklyn, training with her coach Viktoriya Drubetskaya. Throughout the year when she was starting out, Karagach’s schedule typically included one dance lesson with Drubetskaya per week. “My mom was a single mom who worked three jobs in order for me to dance, and our budget couldn’t do more than that,” Karagach says. But in the summer, Drubetskaya offered a camp that all of her students could attend from morning to evening. The days consisted of running laps, a dance lesson, a group class, rounds, rehearsals, lunch and games. “One group class would be about shaping, and another would be about dynamics,” Karagach says. “We would choreograph routines and write them out. It was all about developing our dancing more broadly.”

Karagach says this camp was usually held two weeks before the dancers attended a competition (like the Manhattan Dancesport Championships), and was meant to help prepare the students for the event. “I remember being drenched in sweat and having so much fun,” Karagach says.

On how this yearly summer camp has helped her reach her potential:
“Summer dance camps really inspired me to work hard. Everyone there wanted the same things as me—they wanted to do well. I was surrounded by people who pushed me more than any private lesson could.”

Ezra Sosa

Ezra Sosa, wearing all black, and Charity Anderson, in a red dress, perform in a ballroom dance competition
Sosa and Charity Anderson Reid at U.S. National Amateur Dancesport Championship, Courtesy Sosa

“So You Think You Can Dance” Season 16 contestant and U.S. Latin National Champion Ezra Sosa spent most of his summers traveling with his ballroom partner, Brynley Arnold, to work with master teachers like Shirley Ballas. “We would go to California and watch Brynley’s sister Lindsay [Arnold Cusick] perform on ‘DWTS’ for inspiration, then go put in the work and train with Shirley the next day,” Sosa says. Outside of private coaching, Sosa flew around the country to attend ballroom competitions like Hollywood Dance Classic, which often included workshops with the judges, and helped him further develop his technique. “Classes with judges are more like a seminar than a super-physical dance class,” Sosa says. “They talk in great detail about the principles behind ballroom, like timing, footwork and articulation. It’s about gleaning information from experts.” Now, as a professional in both the commercial and ballroom worlds, Sosa benefits from these training opportunities.

On how his jet-setting summers have benefited him as a professional dancer:
“These master classes taught me a lot about professionalism, and how to keep my mind sharp despite periods without movement. I remember I once took a master class that I yawned in, and I got called out. Now, when I’m on set and I have downtime, I am vigilant about not taking energy away from the class and staying present.”

Chelsie Hightower

Chelsie Hightower in a ballroom dance performance
Courtesy Hightower

Former “Dancing with the Stars” pro and “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 4 contestant Chelsie Hightower’s summer training rarely veered from her typical yearlong schedule. “Ballroom has competitions year-round, so I never had much time for anything else,” she says. That said, at 16 years old she took a detour from her standard schedule to teach at a school in South Carolina called Queen City Ballroom. “I was there to make money to help pay for my lessons,” Hightower says. “I was too young to teach competitors at that point, but I got to work with wedding couples and older dancers who just wanted to get better at social dancing.” It was a teaching opportunity that would set the stage for her future career as a pro on “DWTS,” instructing novice dancers on how to compete at a high level. On the weekends, she and her dance partner would travel to New York City to attend competitions or train with master teacher Vibeke Toft.

On how this summer of training and teaching improved her technique:
“Vibeke does a great job of teaching elements beyond a routine that you can carry with you from dance to dance. She helped me get grounded while dancing in heels and broke concepts down so I could understand them. She really stressed that the coordination between the lats and the hips is so important in ballroom, and she knew how to teach it. I still give that same lesson to my students today.”