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July 31, 2015

Pro-Am Ballroom Dance Competition Through the Eyes of A Student


Sometimes, to a complete beginner, our dance studios can seem a bit intimidating, especially with all those trophies around.

However, the majority of our students are actually completely new to dance, and we wanted to share their experiences. We selected a student from our youngest dance studio, Dance With Me Glen Rock,  to share their experience from beginner to pro-am ballroom dance competitor. We present to you, Victoria Buchner, a passionate student at Dance With Me Glen Rock who takes us behind the scenes of her preparation and experience of Summer Invitational 2015.

While many may think that to dance competitively one has to go through years and years of practice and experience, Victoria tells us about her 18 month journey as a dancer under a budget.

Read about Victoria’s dedication, hard work, and love of ballroom dancing below. Take it away Victoria!


“Initially when I was asked to write a blog post about my dance experience at Dance With Me USA, I wasn’t exactly sure what direction I wanted to take it in. There are so many aspects of ballroom dancing— from the actual dance lessons to dance fashion, and everything in between. Eventually I decided that I wanted to do a combination of several things, so I chose to share my road to one Dance With Me’s DanceSport competitions, Summer Invitational 2015.  I wanted to make it functional for those who may be interested in doing a dance competition, want to get a behind the scenes look at how everything comes together, or are just casual fans of performing arts and DanceSport.

To give a brief summary about myself, I majored in Italian and minored in Psychology and Linguistics from Montclair State University. My first employment opportunity after college was a part-time Paraprofessional position at Jefferson Elementary School in Hawthorne, NJ, working with students that have a behavioral and/or learning disability. This included working with autistic, emotionally disturbed, or learning impaired children with no behavioral problems. A completely non-dance related job and life outside of my dance hobby– just like most amateur ballroom dance students. I just recently switched jobs and am now a full-time keyholder at a Capezio retail store called Center Stage Dance Supplies in Wyckoff, NJ, which seems to be a little more up my alley.

I’ve always been involved, in some capacity, in the fine and performing arts but my journey with Dance With Me began just a short year and a half ago. What I love most is that, at the dance studio, I get to be ME. Not a contained, “normal” side of me, but me to its fullest weirdest, dorkiest, happiest extent. To top it off, I’m accepted and applauded for it here, as opposed to previous years and moments of being verbally and cyber bullied. Society doesn’t always appreciate and value respect, morals, tradition, and family as much as it used to, which is what I dealt with growing up and part of the reason I was made fun of. At Dance With Me, however, these values are first priority.

It is also noteworthy to point out that dance, although the strongest passion that I have, does not come easily to me, nor have I had prior training in, other than a few years of basic tap, jazz, and ballet when I was 4-7 years old. There is a lot of hard work and hidden tears that go into the making of who I am as a dancer. Almost everything I do is not good enough. Not even a compliment from Maksim Chmerkovskiy can deter me from being disappointed, but the best part was that he totally understood how I felt. Sometimes though, my hard work does pay off and my dancing is acceptable by my toughest critic, myself.


So how do I prepare for a ballroom dance competition like Summer Invitational?
The majority of my lessons are based on American Rhythm style because that is what I am currently competing in. I have occasional lessons on American Smooth, because it presents a good learning base and some key dance fundamentals, such as good posture. For me, currently living on a very small, and frankly sad budget, every second of my lesson counts. I can only afford to be at the studio once a week, unless a showcase or competition is coming up. Approximately 5 days a week the cocktail table is pushed off into another room, and I spend time practicing what I have learned. When I am at the studio, my instructor & dance partner, Misha Fatyanov, and I are two very strong perfectionists with a lot of positive energy, spending every second working hard with or without coaches, in the hopes of making me a competitive and performance-worthy dancer. I treat it like my second job.


One fun part about preparing for an event is getting to choose your “look.” Dance fashion is a whole different ball game. For this particular event, I bought my dress at Shall We Dance Designs (Nutley, NJ), my Aida shoes from WorldTone (NYC), and my earrings from Claire’s (nearest mall). It’s important to tan before a competition because it makes your body look more toned and keeps you from appearing sickly white under the bright lights. St. Tropez Self Tan Dark Bronzing Mousse from Sephora (nearest mall) is the brand I have been using. I apply one coat with the St. Tropez mitt every night, 4 nights before I will be competing. I also always make sure that my nails match my dress and that my nails are long enough to create beautiful lines since my hands are so tiny. The day of the event, I make sure I always have my hair & makeup professionally done by the wonderful people that Dance With Me has hired for the event.


When I arrive at the event, I try to eat as healthy as possible. The things that will give me the best results when I compete are grilled chicken, steak, eggs, minimal cheese, vegetables, potatoes, pastas, and breads. I snack on bananas, Hershey kisses, and drink water in between my heats. It’s important to eat healthy but not undergo a crazy diet to look better in your dress. You’ll actually end up wearing yourself down and not performing to your fullest potential. You need the protein and carbohydrates to give you energy. It’s also the one weekend that I don’t drink coffee… I know… sacrifices need to be made.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I have stage fright and performance anxiety, just like everyone else. So many people come up to me and say, “I could never do what you do.” Truthfully, years ago I couldn’t even imagine myself doing something this cool. It’s been years in the making– the cracking of that shell and blossoming into this confident person that I am today. I don’t think stage fright and performance anxiety are things that ever truly go away, but if you listen to your body you can find ways to subdue the amount of stress that you undergo. For me, I need to be completely prepared with my dance steps and have an instructor/partner that I can not only trust, but be able to let my guard down with. I need to stare at videos of the professionals dancing on Dancing With the Stars to draw inspiration and visualize the podium in my head. It takes some deep breathing and the will to go out there, because I absolutely want to be out there. The hardest part of the competition is overcoming that initial mental hurdle; everything else is a piece of cake.

The competitors are strong, hardworking, beautiful individuals, but I never compete against them. I always compete against myself, trying to be better than my last dance. This particular competition was certainly not an easy one and I would like to congratulate all the participants for putting everything that they had out on that dance floor. It was a pleasure to be there amongst all of you and I can’t wait to meet up once again at another Dance With Me event!

My journey with Dance With Me comprises some of the most thrilling and rewarding moments I’ve ever experienced. This place gives me the confidence to take on the world with all my might. I need to take this moment to thank ALL of the staff, instructors, and fellow students of these 6 studios, my best friend Amanda Rose Antonucci, and my parents Fred & Mary Buchner, and of course my spice-of-life dog, Aurora, for all of the support and opportunities you have granted me. I am sincerely grateful for all that you do and have done for me. It never goes unnoticed.


What did you think of Victoria’s journey to the ballroom dance competition floor? How do you relate to her story? Does it inspire you to try to learn to dance?


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Leave a Reply

  • Victoria Stasia Buchner Aug 5, 2015

    Hi Cindy Winfindale! Thank you so much for writing and I am so glad to hear that my blog post touched your heart deeply. The link that Alex Samusevich listed in the comments section is in fact correct and will take you to my Facebook page where you can send me an inbox message. I would be happy to help in any way that I can. I am excited to hear that you are dancing too!! What a blast, right?! Just remember, dreams do come true… you WILL compete in Latin… and you’ll probably do it sooner than you think.

  • Alex Aug 5, 2015

    You can find her here:

  • Cindy Winfindale Aug 5, 2015

    Hello, I sent Victoria an IM to let her know personally how much her sharing the above story, how she moved up to Pro Am Dance Competition in less then 2 years. Her story touched my heart deeply. I started taking Ballroom dancing lessons in January, started taking private lessons with an amazing instructor in April and yes I am my worst critic. My goal/dream is to someday compete in the Latin dances, hopefully I can attain that goal….I would love to hear from Victoria…is that possible?

  • Indian Dance Competition Feb 23, 2017

    Very inspiring article. This is an example of believing in ones self not only in dancing but in all of your dreams in life.

  • Jean Garbutt Nov 23, 2017

    I’ve always loved dancing but never been good. Just teen social with no technical substance. Now 70+ I’m longing to get going again but afraid of losing balance and not being able to twirl. Love swing dance. Maybe I will get going again.

  • Lyndsey Jan 17, 2018

    Victoria, great article! The videos and your story are inspiring! I’ve been taking ballroom lessons in smooth and rhythm for a few months. Reading your article was a strong reminder that the practice does not need to come in the form of a lesson- home practice can really take us very far, it’s all about that commitment. Kind regards and Cheers to you and yours

  • Samantha (Manti) A. Sep 19, 2018

    Victoria! Thank you for this! I have wanted to compete in ballroom for so long, and at age 29 working with David from the Glen Rock studio just 7 lessons in, I am already doing lifts and moves I wasn’t sure I could do. Next is the Dance With Me Nationals in November and then possibly the same competition you posted about in June 2019! With arthritis from gymnastics and fibromyalgia, this is truly unreal and nerve-wracking at the same time. Reading this, along with your tips for getting ready, I feel as though I CAN do this and WILL do this. So thank you. Maybe I could DM you on Facebook to get some more suggestions if you have for the fashion aspect and prep?

  • Gargi Aug 20, 2019

    Thanks for sharing this dance related blog post. Dancing can be a way to stay fit for people of all ages, shapes and sizes. It has a wide range of physical and mental benefits. Hope for the best in future.

  • Kourtney Feb 12, 2020

    Hello. I am currently a dance student at Cinema Ballroom in Minnesota. I have been dancing sense April of last year. My family and I are looking to move to Texas in June/ July so I am starting to look for dance studios I can visit and try out. What program or syllabus do you use to teach your students? Cinema use the DVIDA syllabus. Do you have a medal program there or a program I can test my dance knowledge as I learn to get certified in what I can do? Right now I don’t have any because I still have a lot to learn. Do private lesson get you free group classes for the week or how does that work? Also how much is your dance fitness class? Thank you and I look forward to hearing back from you?



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