My recent involvement in Dancing With the Richmond Stars was an awesome opportunity to experience Pro/Am. My student was Michelle Hopkins, a reporter for the Richmond News.

Michelle Hopkins performing with George Pytlik

Michelle was a terrific partner. Hard working, well matched physically, keen to put in the effort and a fast learner, she also brought a warm and friendly personality that made her a joy to teach. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was quite nervous about the choreography, because I wasn’t sure how to choreograph an open routine for a raw beginner, but as things progressed it became easier and in the end it was a great routine for Michelle. She had never danced before, but tackled the difficult steps with determination. I was especially proud of the way she was able to express herself and dance without looking like she was thinking.

Life happens

As the event drew near, we were both very excited about the opportunity to showcase Michelle’s expressive personality and her considerable skills. Then tragedy struck. A very close friend of hers passed away suddenly just days before the event. As it turned out, the funeral was to take place on the same day as the DWTRS competition. Even worse, it was to take place at close to the same time as our event, and in a distant city. Michelle was devastated. We had worked so hard for such a long time and now there would be no opportunity to showcase that work.

Life can happen this way. You never know when a curve ball will be thrown. Michelle did the right thing by choosing to go to the funeral. Friendships are for life. Michelle had been writing about her experiences in the newspaper, creating a following of people who wanted to see the outcome in print. But the decisions we make in times of crisis are the ones that define our character, and Michelle decided to stand by her friend in this time of need. It was fitting, given that Dancing With the Richmond Stars was a fund-raiser for the Richmond Hospice Association, which provides support for people going through grief and struggling with the issues around the loss of loved ones.


On the day of the DWTRS event, my lovely wife Wendy performed Michelle’s part as a show routine so the audience could see what they missed.

Wendy and I performed Michelle’s choreography at the Dancing With the Richmond Stars event, as a showcase performance following the competition. I believe Michelle would have done very well, probably placing right behind champion Laura Van Sprang, who danced a Paso Doble with great flair with her professional partner Andy Wong.

On to UBC Gala Ball

We were then invited to perform our dance at the UBC Gala Ball Showdance Competition which was taking place only two weeks later. Michelle was somewhat reluctant because this was a much higher-level event with highly skilled competitors, as compared to the beginners competing in the DWTRS program. But she readily agreed to do it.

The evening of UBC Gala Ball, Michelle was watching the championship events leading up to the showdance competition and getting increasingly nervous because of the obvious quality being demonstrated. “I have to dance after that?!,” she exclaimed following the Adult Championship Latin event. But she bravely got ready and performed her routine with all the character and quality I knew she was capable of. She was expressive, musical, followed the leads beautifully and danced with a maturity rarely seen in a beginner. I was really proud of her.

Naturally, the showdance competition included highly experienced couples and it would have been impossible to beat any of them. But what mattered was the boldness, courage and excellence that Michelle displayed in tackling the challenge before her. It was a distinct pleasure for me to be part of the event, and to have such an amazing student. Michelle, I will dance with you anytime!