Edna Ledesma: Grace under pressure

- Igan D’Bayan () - July 19, 2005 - 12:00am
It’s more or less like the Olympics for those who love to trip the ballroom light fantastic, or the Cannes for dancers. This is the Blackpool Dance Festival in Blackpool, England, the world’s most prestigious DanceSport competition, where two Filipinos Edna Ledesma and John Derek Co recently won in the senior Latin dance category.

"Thousands of couples all over the world come here to compete," says Ledesma about the event, which is in its 80th year. "It’s every dancer’s dream to compete in Blackpool." The same way it is every musician’s dream to play at the Madison Square Garden, a la Led Zeppelin, or Wembley Stadium, just like Queen.

In the last three years, Ledesma and Co won first place in the United Kingdom Dance Open and the Star Competition in London, England, as well as a couple of runner-up finishes at DanceSport gigs in England (Brentwood and Blackpool) and the Czech Republic. Ledesma and partner were the only Asians who competed in Blackpool this year (the other couples came from France, Germany, Italy, Australia, Russia, Spain and the US).

The duo performed their renditions of five Latin dances (cha-cha, samba, rumba, pasa-doble and jive), which impressed the panel of judges composed of past Blackpool champions and dance teachers.

"I couldn’t speak for two days when we learned we finally won the title," reveals Ledesma. "I was so excited… it was as if I was floating."

She adds that her British coach Paul Harris (the duo’s mentor since 2003) was instrumental in their victory by giving them sound advice.

"Paul is like a psychologist," Ledesma says. "He’ll put your mind at ease. And if I have issues with your partner, Paul makes it a point to resolve them. He’s a very good coach."

If you ask Ledesma what a dancer should do to become a Blackpool champion, she would stress, "Practice is very important. My partner and I practice speed, elasticity, even the connection with one another. During competitions, the judges study your technique, speed, grace and presentation."

Of course, before anybody could dance like a pirouetting toy in a music box, they should be physically fit. Ledesma offers some sound fitness advice.

Philippine STAR: What is your exercise routine?

I start with stretching. I warm up for half an hour and then do different types of abdominal exercises. I believe every dancer, or everybody for that matter, has to have a strong center – to stay fit, strong and healthy. Next comes the squat. It is important to have a tight, rounded butt, strong legs, and firm hamstrings. Then I work on my back, arms and shoulders. Light weightlifting enables one to maintain a well-toned body. I do the stretching every day, but I do the abdominal exercises three times a week.

Aside from dancing, what keeps you in shape?

Exercising with free weights keeps me in shape. I also do some Pilates-based exercises, which help me develop my strength and flexibility. I also engage in occasional rounds of golf and swimming to keep fit.

Do you follow a particular diet?

My diet consists mainly of fruits, vegetables, fish, and chicken. I try to avoid eating pork and beef. Sometimes I tend to give in to my cravings and eat sweets and chips. One thing for sure, we have to take lots and lots of water. I also take a lot of vitamins and food supplements.

How many hours a day do you practice or hold dance classes?

I practice two hours a day and normally teach around four to six hours.

How do you prepare for a competition?

My partner and I practice two hours a day and five days a week. This is to master our routines and "body connections" by heart. On the day of the competition, it is important to look energetic, fresh, happy, ecstatic, and charismatic. You know what? My partner and I eat well. We don’t go on a diet. It is a no-no to lose any more weight on the day of the competition or else you may look tired or too lean. It is a must also to give up late-night parties, for they are "energy leaks." It is essential to learn how to focus, to put a lock on the goal ahead.

What advice would you give to aspiring dancers?

They should be patient because every dancer has to start with the basics. They have to allocate time for practice. Excellence doesn’t come easy. Also dancers should find their own style while developing the right techniques and dynamics of the dance. And you have to let the personality of the person come out while doing the dance itself. After all, dancing is a form of expression.

What do you think is your advantage over other dancers?

I think I have developed my own style, which has soul. I try to dance with passion and intensity. And I try to get into the "character" of the dance. I think dancing has a purpose, not just automatically moving one’s body. I try to express the "message" of the dance.

What are the health benefits of dancing?

You learn to be fast on your feet. Your heart rate increases, which benefits overall blood circulation. You sweat it out, which eliminates toxins and burns calories. Dancing can really help you shed those unwanted pounds. Your body becomes more toned and fit. You have that healthy flush on your face and your reflexes are fast. People who dance are more alert and have better postures. Thus, aches and pains go away. It’s good for the heart, the organs, the back, and joints. People with arthritis say that their pain vanishes when they dance. Dancing also gives you a natural high. The music relaxes, energizes, invigorates, and stimulates the senses and it makes you feel absolutely happy…that’s for sure. You feel and look younger because you act and feel good about yourself.
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Edna Ledesma teaches Latin dance at Studio 116, at the fifth floor of ALCO Bldg., Rufino St. (formerly Herrera), Makati City. For information, call 813-1549 and look for Neri or Gemma. For workshops and shows, call Edna Ledesma at 0917-6282477.
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