an Inspirational Ballroom champion
By Patrice Tanaka
Haitian-born, American Rhythm Champion Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine does more than excite audiences with the brilliance of his dancing, he inspires them. When his beloved, two-year old son, Ishaan, died tragically during the recent earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, Emmanuel bravely reassured his many grieving friends and colleagues in the ballroom world, saying: “We accept that everything is as it was meant to be…that Ishaan was an angel who came into our lives to deliver a message of love and happiness and to teach us that the next second does not belong to us…that the only thing that counts is the present.”
Being fully present each moment is what’s important in life, according to Emmanuel. “Right now I am suffering, but I am surrendering to the pain and asking God to help me accept this loss and to become a better person.”
When Emmanuel returned to the ballroom floor on Feb. 27, 2010 to compete at the Arthur Murray Dance-O-Rama in Miami where he and his partner, Liana Churilova, won the Open Profession Rhythm Championship, the highly emotional audience rose to its feet to welcome back their reigning national champions. When presenting Emmanuel and Liana with their trophy, John Kimmins, President of Arthur Murray Dance Studios, embraced the returning couple with tears in his eyes.
At their next competition on March 5, 2010, the Heritage Classic DanceSport Championships in Asheville, N.C., Emmanuel and Liana, again won the Open Professional Rhythm competition in front of a wildly cheering crowd who gave them a standing ovation.
“I once used dance to become what I am; today I dance to find out who I am,”explained Emmanuel, who rose from very modest circumstances in Haiti to become one of the top professional American Rhythm dancers. This introspective dancer has always been focused on his spiritual development. At 16, he quit dancing to devote himself fully to his spiritual studies, planning to become a priest.
At 18, Emmanuel was drawn to dancing again after watching his older sister and her boyfriend perform a mesmerizing Tango and Cha Cha. He begged his sister to take him to the dance studio where she took lessons. So overcome with emotion by the movement, the colors and the energy of the dancers, he began crying.
“When you allow yourself to let go and to surrender to the power of dancing it changes you. You’re not a dancer that dances, you become the dance itself,”Emmanuel says. “Dance gives you so much awareness, awakeness and aliveness in one movement.”
Soon Emmanuel was spending 8-10 hours a day practicing and teaching dance while attending university where he majored in economics and journalism.
In 1997, Emmanuel founded Caminito,which came to be regarded as one of the leading schools of Ballroom and International dance in Haiti. As the General Director and Dance Master, Emmanuel grew Caminito to a school of international repute and import. He organized and choreographed frequent shows and performances and established training and seminars for professional dancers in Port-au-Prince and some of the major provincial cities. Due in large part to Emmanuel’s unflagging determination, Ballroom Dancing is now embraced and woven into Haiti’s cultural and folkloric fabric.
In 1999, Emmanuel first captured the attention of the ballroom world at the “World Mambo Championship” in Miami, his first-ever competition outside of Haiti. Competing in a 48-couple heat over 12 rounds, Emmanuel and his partner made the finals and took third place, creating a major upset in the ballroom world when they beat veteran ballroom professionals in the U.S.
In 2003, Emmanuel closed Caminito and left Haiti to pursue his dream of a dance career in New York City, the dance capital of the world. In September, he started dancing with a talented amateur Latin dancer from Poland, Joanna Zacharewicz, and taught her the American Rhythm style dancing. Together they rose to the top of the American Rhythm world, taking first or second place in nearly every competition in 2005 and 2006, winning the “Show Dance Championship” at Ohio Star Ball in 2005 and 2006, the biggest competition in the U.S., as well as the “World Mambo Championship” in 2005.
Emmanuel and Joanna were also featured performers on ABC-TV’s “Dancing With the Stars” in February 2006 and also appeared on PBS-TV’s “America’s Ballroom Challenge” in 2005 and 2006.
In 2007, Emmanuel started a new partnership with Julia Gorchakova, 12 times undefeated U.S. Rhythm Champion and three times World Mambo Champion, hoping to bring a new energy into the dance world both being very passionate dancers. Although Emmanuel and Julia enjoyed the experience and have no regrets, they did not feel they would be able to accomplish their goals in the time frame originally set and, thus, decided to end their partnership in July 2008.
In September 2008, Emmanuel paired up with Liana Churilova, amateur international Latin champion in Russia and world finalist. Since they began dancing together, Emmanuel and Liana have won the Open Professional Rhythm Championships at Arthur Murray Dance-O-Rama (November 2008), La Classique de Quebec (February 2009), Florida Superstars DanceSport Championships (February 2009), Arthur Murray World Dance-O-Rama (March 2009), Philadelphia Dance Festival (April 2009) and Empire State Dance Sport Championships (August 2009) as well as many second place wins at other competitions. They also won the “World Salsa Championship” (November 2009).
Emmanuel has been married since 2001 to Jasmin. They are happily expecting a son in June 2010. Aside from his love and passion for dancing, Emmanuel devotes many hours to meditation and spiritual studies. “The physical part of us is only 1 percent, dance makes you aware of the 99 percent that is not visible,” explains Emmanuel.