True Champions

Photo credit: Ricardo Tellez
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To be defined as a champion comes with a certain responsibility, one which Regan Hirose and Harold Rancano do not take lightly. Although they were named champions of pro bachata cabaret at the 2015 World Latin Dance Cup in only their third year competing, they have not lost momentum. They continue to work hard to improve as artists, constantly striving to be better. Harold describes the moment they won as surreal: “It hits you–you are a world champion, you are going to travel the world, meet new people. You’re into the serious dance business now. You have to keep up with your body, keep up with your work, be an example–it’s a big responsibility.” Click here to watch the video of their routine.

Photo credit: Bennett Murphy

Photo credit: Bennett Murphy

These two professional dancers from Winnipeg, Manitoba have a jam-packed schedule balancing full-time jobs, teaching several classes each week, rehearsing their own routines, training, and travelling to teach workshops and compete at various dance events. I have had the privilege of attending several of their workshops and they were kind enough to drive to Regina, Saskatchewan to help our dance team host its first fundraiser in March. In fact, they support several teams and events all over the country.  Although they have achieved world-champion status, they have not forgotten their roots as dancers from the prairies; they continue to help the community in any way they can. Their nature reflects what it truly means to be champions: to work hard, to learn as much as possible and share that experience with others, and to never forget who they are and where they came from.

Hard work pays off

When Harold and Regan perform, they make extraordinary movements seem effortless. Several months ago, I showed a video of one of their routines to some of my high school students and a young man asked, “Are they even human?” Yes, their lifts and tricks are spectacular and even their subtle movements are breathtakingly beautiful but the truth is, they started out as many of us did: social dancers with a desire to become better. And yes, they are indeed human! They have experienced frustrations, self-doubt, and injury. Although they certainly are talented, they have had to work incredibly hard to get where they are today.

Perhaps what is most surprising is that Regan was not always a dancer. She didn’t start at age three, as so many dancers do. She began dancing at age sixteen after being introduced to hip-hop and breakdancing. It wasn’t until she was nineteen years old that she discovered the world of salsa. To this day, one of her inspirations is Sabra Johnson, the champion from season three of “So You Think You Can Dance.” Johnson also began her dance career at age sixteen, so she gave Regan hope that she too could make it as a professional. “Sometimes I admit I feel awkward, like I don’t look like a dancer,” Regan says when I ask her about challenges she faces. I almost don’t believe her considering how flawless she looks on stage, but she genuinely expresses her insecurities. She describes how watching videos of ballerinas and their beautiful lines pushed her to work harder and seek additional training. To achieve her goal, she has taken ballet classes at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, contemporary with the Royal Conservatory and private ballet classes. Harold has also taken ballet training and the two have started taking Pilates classes to increase their strength. They stress the importance of cross-training in order to improve as artists.

Photo credit: Bennett Murphy

Photo credit: Bennett Murphy

While hard work is necessary to make it to the top, resting and taking care of your body is of equal importance. Regan and Harold almost didn’t make it to the 2015 World Latin Dance Cup (WLDC) due to an injury Regan faced six weeks prior to the big event. “I ended up popping my collar bone out of my clavicle,” she describes. “If it had happened during a trick, it would have been broken.” Without a doubt, this incident was upsetting to both dancers. They had trained so hard throughout the year, then the injury loomed over both of them, threatening to prevent them from competing. Yet, after getting adequate rest and going to regular appointments with her chiropractor and physiotherapist, Regan was able to make a full recovery. “Everything happens for a reason,” she claims. “The body needs rest, I never rest. The passion was stronger coming back, I was more excited and appreciative. I’m so go go go, it’s so ridiculous, plus having a full-time job…it was a huge eye opener how important it is to take care of your body.” She cautions others to remember to take rest days, to eat well, and do take care to prevent injury.

This period of rest served them well. When the pair won in the professional bachata cabaret division at the WLDC–the first Canadians to ever accomplish this–they couldn’t really believe it had happened. Harold says, “The first round didn’t feel as strong for us…even though it was our third time at the WLDC, you still get really nervous [being] up against tough competition. It makes you realize what competition is about: who is more prepared, not who is a better dancer. Who does it better that day, that moment…” Training is a priority for both Harold and Regan so they can continue to be better than they were yesterday, to be prepared for the next big moment.

Inspiring through teaching

Regan and Harold pour their hearts into everything they do. Their precision when they execute their routines demonstrates this fact. The truth is, they put just as much effort into teaching as they do into their own advancement. They brought their Cubanisimo team with them to the 2015 WLDC and all of their student competitors made it to the finals–three of them are now world amateur champions, by the way. Evidently, Harold and Regan are great teachers and their students continue to impress the world. Harold says, “You want to see your students exceed because it proves how good of a teacher you are. What we focus on is that the student has a good base, a good foundation to be able to go into a competition and exceed amongst others.” Regan adds how coaching has helped them to improve as artists, saying, “I think it’s huge for an artist to teach because it forces you to think about the technique and breakdown and practice what you preach. We are more technical because of that. It would be hypocritical to be lazy. [Teaching] forces you to push yourself more, to be on top of everything.” Harold and Regan’s school has recently evolved from Cubanisimo to RHR Latin Dance Company, but they continue with their Cubanisimo folklore group. Harold came to Canada from Cuba at eighteen years of age and staying true to his roots and promoting the preservation of Cuban culture is of vital importance to their company.

Proud teachers, Regan and Harold, with their teams at the 2015 WLDC

Proud teachers, Regan and Harold, with their teams at the 2015 WLDC

Cubanisimo 2

When you teach, it’s important to acknowledge the obstacles you have faced. I’ll never forget watching Harold and Regan during their first competition at a WLDC qualifier in Saskatoon in 2013. This was a very difficult moment for them because they had made some last-minute changes to their routine and ended up hesitating and making a mistake at the very beginning. Although they did very well, they describe the experience as “devastating.” Regan says that the disappointment “put fire under [their] butts,” forcing them to train harder to execute the routine flawlessly at worlds. They ended up placing seventh in salsa that year, their first time at the WLDC. So, as Regan says, “Good comes from the bad.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Tellez

Photo credit: Ricardo Tellez

The two are under ever more pressure now that they are champions and they have to continue to be role models for their students (and everyone else who is watching them!). Regan describes how “Everyone has those moments that you feel defeated. Harold and I have been lucky that we’ve worked hard for competitions but in our partnership, there have been moments when…pressure is on you, the most pressure we’ve ever had. There’s an expectation now when you do a show. This is stressful…When you really love dance, you get through all those moments that make you want to quit; if still want it, that proves a lot. There are days that you just don’t want to go to the studio… Seeing students improve is what pushes us to keep going.” Harold adds the importance of confidence and goal setting as the foundation to performing and competing. He says, “We have been under a lot of stress before. It’s been tough in dance and in our relationships. [There were] big bumps that we had to go through to get where we are today. It is possible when you set your egos aside.” This ability to compromise and work through dance emotions is admirable and what makes their partnership so strong.

Remembering their roots and supporting their community

Giving back to the community is a priority for RHR. Although their schedule is filled with full-time jobs, several hours of  practicing, teaching, and training, they make time to help others. They often travel around the prairies to coach up-and-coming dancers.

One of the most incredible people they have worked with is Paul Redmond. Regan competed with this young man in the Limitless division of the WLDC. He has cerebral palsy and it took a lot of work from many people to get him to Miami. Both Regan and Harold describe working with Paul as extremely rewarding. Regan lights up as she talks about her experience with him: “He made me appreciate dance a lot more. He’s a huge inspiration to Harold and I…it was so beautiful to work with him.” Harold agrees and he adds how, “It’s incredible seeing yourself in that position–because it can happen at any time–the fact of just helping others and being able to help people who have that dream of dancing on stage…everything is possible. Whenever we come across someone who wants to dance, we offer our help.” Check out the video of Regan and Paul’s performance here.

Regan and Harold are grateful for the opportunities they have had and they will never forget those who have helped them to come so far. They are thankful for the incredible support of their families, their team, Ted Motyka dance studio, and all of their supporters throughout every step of their journey. They are grateful to Jhon Narvaez of Salsamania Dance Company. Harold tells me how, “Jhon was the one who saw the potential in us, encouraged us to compete, get more training, and prepare more. Before that, it was all just for fun.” Regan also gives credit to her first professional instructors, Paulina Posadas, David Zepeda, and Israel Vladimir. Harold and Regan have received training from their lift coach and dear friend, Burt Lancon, who has become very much like family. Both would like to acknowledge their many inspirations in the world of dance, including: Ana Masacote, Karel Flores, Jhon Narvaez, Andrew Cervantes, Alien Ramirez, Grisel Ponce, Adrianita Avila, Jefferson Benjumea, Karen Forcano, Ricardo Vega, Patrick Carvalho,  and Adolfo Indacochea (just to name a few). They would also like to thank Carmen Gonza of Danza Morena Latin Dance Academy in Saskatoon for bringing a congress to Saskatchewan, which opened the door for them to compete in prairie Canada. Lastly, they want to express their gratitude to Albert Torres for coming all the way from LA every year and believing in dancers from the prairies.

Photo credit: Ricardo Tellez

Photo credit: Ricardo Tellez

In every encounter I’ve had with Harold and Regan, they have been kind, knowledgeable, grateful, encouraging, and fun to dance with! If you are interested in learning from them, check out their upcoming event, the third annual Winnipeg International Salsa Festival. Check out more information here to see the great lineup of artists who will be there this September.

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