Teen ballroom dance duo eye championships in Paris

EVERETT — Ballroom dancing is their sport.

As fierce and competitive as any football player, dancers Erik Linder, 14, and Rickie Taylor, 13, have stamina equal to most of the Seahawks.

“It’s not a bunch of twirling around,” Rickie said.

Just muscles, skin and bones, these teens spend long hours at least six days a week now preparing for the world championships on Dec. 5 in Paris.

Erik, of Lake Stevens, and Rickie, of Edmonds, are the reigning U.S. Amateur DanceSport Junior I Standard National Champions. “Junior I” refers to their under-16 age group. “Standard” ballroom dancing is everything but Latin styles.

They also earned first place in Latin at the International Grand Ball DanceSport Championships earlier this year in San Francisco.

“I am excited about competing in Paris,” Rickie said. “I love world travel, there’s just something about Paris, and I can’t wait to cross that off my bucket list.”

Dancing together since age 4, the duo won the first of their five national championships when they were just 7.

Soon after, they appeared in a segment about talented kids on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” At age 9, they were semi-finalists on the “America’s Got Talent” contest show. They appeared at age 10 on “Dancing With The Stars,” drawing the praise of judges Carrie Ann, Len and Bruno.

“It’s hard to remember it all,” said Erik, shaking his head.

Erik and Rickie dance frequently around the country, often traveling with their Ukrainian coaches, who are based in Everett at the First Class Ballroom owned by Erik’s parents.

“We dance better when our coaches are with us than we do when it’s just our parents,” Rickie said.

The teens’ elaborate costumes, energetic talent on the dance floor and hard-earned confidence often make them seem older than they are. Get them in a moment between workout and rehearsal, however, and it’s easy to see they’re still kids.

After nearly 10 years together, Rickie and Erik have a relationship akin to siblings.

“We love each other,” Rickie said. “But we fight. Even over who gets the last juice bottle or banana.”

What do they do when the other has bad breath?

“We just say it straight, just like you would to your sister or brother,” Rickie said. “Eat a mint!”

The dancers have promised each other they will remain friends to the end.

“Dance has been our whole lives. I can’t imagine a life without dancing. Even if I become an architect, I won’t stop dancing. That would be unnatural and impossible,” Rickie said. “Right now we hope to remain partners and become professionals together.”

Erik and Rickie dance the waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, cha-cha-cha, samba, rumba, paso doble and jive.

They have several times been on the U.S. team competing in Blackpool, England, which hosts the world’s most famous annual ballroom dance competition of international significance.

“It’s in this ginormous ballroom, crowded with people from around the world,” Rickie said. “Europeans tend to think Americans are lazy dancers, but I think we bring a lot to the table.”

Erik agrees American ballroom dancers are getting better.

“Europeans are dedicated, but for them it’s all about dancing and not much else,” Erik said. “If I had grown up in Ukraine, I would already be a professional dancer starting my career.”

In order to make time for dancing, Erik and Rickie are primarily educated at home. This year, Erik is involved in a hybrid program at Snohomish High School for which he does most of his work at home.

“Because we started young, people always ask us if our parents force us to compete,” Rickie said. “They absolutely do not. We want to.”

The duo said they love to dance, otherwise why would they put themselves through the grueling training and stressful competition?

“Sometimes there is no break or water for hours,” Erik said. “You get very tired, but you just push, physically and mentally, through that last dance. You don’t know how tired you really are until you step off the floor.”

Along with fatigue, other challenges while competing include crowded dance floors and aching feet.

“It’s not like ‘Dancing With The Stars,’ where it’s one couple at a time and they have matched their dance to their music. That is so fluffed up,” Erik said. “In sport dancing, you have to maneuver around a bunch of couples and you never know what piece of music will be played. You have to fit your dance to the music.”

Erik leads well, Rickie said.

“He has to use his peripheral vision and I have to be a studious follower,” she said. “And I have to keep smiling even when a taller dancer bumps me in the eye with an elbow. Same with blisters. Your adrenaline might be so high, you wouldn’t feel it, but if it hurts, keep smiling.”

Despite all the challenges, Erik and Rickie encourage other kids to give dance a try.

“It can be tough,” Erik said. “But pretty soon, it’s second nature. You develop muscle memory. Just like any sport.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @galefiege.

“Dancing in Paris”

Erik Linder and Rickie Taylor are raising money to get them to Paris to represent the United States in world competition. They will perform their “Dancing in Paris” fundraiser at 6 p.m. Sunday at First Class Ballroom, 1216 50th St. SE., Everett. Admission is by donation to the travel fund. Seating is limited, so call 425-876-5849 to make a reservation.

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