Glamour and grace will be order of the day when dance sport takes its bow at the games, writes Alvin Sallay
After 12 years of married life, Ieong Su-kan and Wong Sut-kuai still smile at each other across the dance floor and in each other's arms. Macau's first couple of ballroom dancing are still besotted - with the idea of winning a medal when this sport makes its toe-tapping debut at a multi-sports games.
Sequins and smiles will dazzle spectators at a sold-out indoor theatre inside the cavernous Dome on November 5 when competitors from six countries vie for 10 gold medals in categories from the cha-cha-cha to the quickstep.
Although new to the East Asian Games, dancing is widely popular in Macau. Casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun, is a graceful practitioner of the stately Viennese waltz and is known to indulge in this passion. His fourth wife, Angela Leong On-kei, is also the president of the Macau Dance Sport Federation (MDSF).
No wonder then that of 17 sports at the EAG, dance sport was the first to put up the full-house sign. Those 1,800 lucky spectators are in for a treat when the competitors go through the moves in the two styles: ballroom and Latin American.
'Dancing is popular in Macau,' says Ieong before leading his wife out on to the polished floor during a recent test-run of the facilities. 'We have lots of people who are involved in the sport and we hope that we can make them all proud by winning a medal,'
Envy wells up as we watch them move gracefully across the floor. Teenage memories of holding back while your more adventurous buddies spirited the girl on to the dance floor come rushing back. Just imagine if we had been able to shake our booties like these Travoltas? But then again, is this really sport?
The cynic might snort at that idea. They might, in turn, laugh at the idea that men in tuxedos or sequined shirts opened almost to the navel, and women in diaphanous ball-gowns and revealing skirts, can be called athletes. But for Ieong and company, it is strictly sport and strictly ballroom.
'We train up to six to eight hours a day just like any other athlete,' says Dickson Zhou Daxing, Macau's leading man in Latin American dancing. 'It is hard work. We have to watch what we eat and be very disciplined in our life if we are to be successful.' Dickson, 30, came from China and has lived long enough in Macau to qualify as a resident. Four years ago he met Michelle Loi Ka-I, 24, and a bond was immediately formed. The pair will carry Macau's hopes in the Latin American category.
'We have been dancing together for some time now. Our goal is perhaps one day to become professional dancers,' says Michelle as her hips swing to the jive music blaring through state-of-the-art speaker systems.
As in many sports, it takes two parties to tango in dance competition - the dancers performing on the one hand and the adjudicators assessing those performances on the other. 'Of course scoring is subjective but we try to reduce the influence each individual adjudicator will have on the overall score by having nine officials, one from each of the nine countries at the games,' says Kong Pou-kun, Macau's top dance adjudicator. 'Competitors will be judged on their timing, their rhythm and how much they feel for the music.'
The feel for the music and for each other is crucial as competitors go through their routines which vary from one minute to 90 seconds.
'It is very important to have feelings between each other,' said Ieong, the ballroom aficionado as he gazed longingly into the eyes of his equally passionate wife on the dance floor. Even 12 years of marriage and a nine-year-old son have not dimmed their fires.
Dance sport's world governing body, the International Dance Sports Federation, was founded in 1957 but only gained IOC recognition in 1997. Dance was a demonstration sport at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok and will be included at the inaugural Asian Indoor Games in the Thai capital in November.
By the sounds of it, dance sport is here to stay. It will definitely not be the last tango in Macau on November 5 as make-up and music mix it up with big band sounds to make it a night to remember.