Dancing to the top

Margaret Stepaniants doesn’t watch TV’s “Dancing with the Stars.” She’s too busy tearing up the dance floor with her own partner, Max Levin.

Redmond residents shine at SnowBall Classic

Margaret Stepaniants doesn’t watch TV’s “Dancing with the Stars.” She’s too busy tearing up the dance floor with her own partner, Max Levin.

The suave and sophisticated ballroom dancers from Redmond recently placed first in the Latin category and second in the Standard category at the SnowBall Classic, an international competition in Vancouver, B.C.

Stepaniants is a fifth-grader at Norman Rockwell Elementary School and Levin is in seventh grade at Redmond Junior High. Margaret studied ballet for a while, but didn’t like it much. At age 6, she discovered the ballroom style, which she and Max study at Oly’s Dance, a professional training facility with classes in Everett and Bellevue.

She’s worked with several partners and then “Max came along at the end of August, like a prince on a white horse,” quipped her mom, Karina.

Levin said the main reason he started ballroom dancing was “because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do hip hop and break dancing when I’m 40 years old, so I wanted to learn a kind of dance that I could do at that age and even later.”

“Outside of school, I like to do physical activities like dance,” he continued. “I’ve been doing hip hop for five years and now I’m on a dance team named Rated PG (Phyzikal Graffi-t). … My classmates don’t know that I do ballroom but they do know that I do hip hop because at school dances I lay down some moves.”

Levin also likes to ride dirt bikes, ski and wakeboard — and he plays saxophone.

Stepaniants’ other passion is mathematics. She qualified to go to the Math Olympics this year but there was a schedule conflict with the SnowBall and she didn’t want to let her dance partner down, she said.

Her dad, Sergey, commented, “We think of ballroom dancing as a sport — it’s also music and art and very competitive. Dancers fall sometimes, so you have to be very strong and brave.”

He said competitions in the U.S. are not as tough as those in other countries, including Canada. Rules are strict and judges don’t sugar-coat the bad news if you’re called off the floor.

“At a certain point, they’re rude. They just call out your number and say, ‘You’re disqualified,’” said Sergey.

That can be disconcerting, Margaret admitted, “but you learn how to do better next time.” For her, “The Jive is the most challenging because when I start dancing, my ribs can hurt — you don’t really have much chance to breathe, it’s somewhat like fast rock and roll.”

But “judges look for spirit or a spark, so you’ve got to put yourself in the mood,” Karina commented.

To get psyched up before competitions, Margaret sometimes will rent movies like “Strictly Ballroom,” “Shall We Dance?” or “Mad Hot Ballroom.”

Max said he checks out shows such as “Dancing with the Stars” but doesn’t have any favorites among the competitors.

The kids’ parents mostly counsel them, “Be yourself, be brave, be willing to win,” said Sergey. “Sometimes if they make a mistake, they feel like they want it to end quickly, but you have to start anew, start from scratch.”