SURREY — The “modern” ballroom dance has been with us for about a hundred years, or about 93 years longer than South Surrey’s Shawn Shi.
Why is that important? Because, despite the rather scandalous age discrepancy, the two were seemingly made for each other.
It all started, says the Grade 3 student of Tsawwassen’s Southpointe Academy, when he was so very much younger.
“I decided I liked dancing when I was five,” said Shawn, nattily attired in his Fred Astaire-esque white shirt, black slacks and polished black shoes.
He’d just finished an hour’s training at Richmond’s Crystal Ballroom dance studio, something he now does twice a week all year ‘round. But more on that in a bit.
“My sister was playing a Chinese instrument called the guzheng (essentially a Chinese zither). She was playing a song that I really liked, and I started to dance. I made up some moves,” Shawn noted.
And so it began. Shawn kept right on dancing and a year later, at the ripe old age of six, his big break would come. It was Multicultural Night at Southpointe, and Shawn and pal Melissa Fung signed up. They’d ultimately do a cha-cha and a traditional Chinese dance, and together they wowed the crowd.
Other events would follow – other multicultural nights, Surrey Festival of Dance, a show at what Shawn recollects was a “church… somewhere in Surrey,” and Shawn and Melissa’s splashiest appearance yet, and first true competition, at the prestigious 2016 Snowball Classic at Vancouver’s Hyatt Regency.
The twosome have become quite the sensation as they’ve worked their way into competitive dance, aided in no small part by Melissa’s dad, Tony, who just happens to be a world-class dancer himself and one heck of an instructor, too; he signed on officially as teacher two months ago.
On Tuesday in Richmond, Fung put the pair through their paces like he always does. There’s no room for errors in the world of competitive ballroom dancing, and no detail is too insignificant.
“They (the judges) don’t give you a chance,” he said. “You make a mistake, you’re not allowed to try again. You don’t place well, and you’re out. The judges only look at you for five seconds, and that five seconds has to be perfect.”
Fung explained how the two rounds work and detailed the complexities involved. Finger placement, facial expression, proper arm extensions – the list goes on and on, and just listening to it is exhausting.
Yet in between the repetition, the perspiration, the non-stop pursuit of perfection and the copious water breaks, it’s easy to see the three get along splendidly. Smiles and laughter abound.
And now, this weekend, it’s time for another high-end test. It’s called the Canadian Closed Championships, and it’s being held this Friday and Saturday (April 14 and 15) at Richmond’s Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel. It’ll bring together entrants from across the country, including our pair of eight-year-olds.
Considering Shawn and Melissa will compete in an age group that, much like Spinal Tap’s guitar amplifiers, goes all the way to 11, they clearly have their work cut out for them.
But you get the sense that there’s no place they’d rather be. Melissa, all graceful, absolutely loves the spotlight, and Shawn, he’s obviously in his element.
“I want to stick with ballroom dancing,” Shawn said. “I don’t want to do jazz or hip-hop, cuz I like to listen to calm music. I don’t really like rock.
“When I have free time, when I hear music, I just want to dance.”