It takes two to tango--and to samba, rumba, cha-cha, jive or
paso doble. The last five of those dances were executed to
glittering perfection by 12 couples last Saturday at the
DanceSport Champions Series in Madison Square Garden. The
competition was a tune-up for the Sydney Olympics, at which
ballroom dancing will be an exhibition event. In the
International Latin division (in the Olympics, contestants will
also cut a rug in the tango, waltz and other steps), Jukka
Haapalainen and Sirpa Suutari from Finland were the couple to
beat. The suave Haapalainen and the piquant Suutari are the
defending Latin champs at the British Open, the Wimbledon of
DanceSport. They have won the title in Blackpool three years
running, or should we say, rumbaing.
Haapalainen and Suutari, who teamed up in 1989 and married this
summer, were weaned on the Finnish tango, a staccato step that's
slower than its Argentine cousin. Finland has been a
cold-weather tango hotbed since the '60s. Every summer a
national tango king and queen are crowned at the annual
tangothon in Seinajoki. "Our tango is more melancholy than the
South American one," says Haapalainen, "but just as passionate."
At the Garden, Haapalainen and Suutari danced rings around the
competition to place first.
The reigning U.S. champs, Bill Sparks and Kimberley Mitchell,
finished fourth. They won't be competing in Sydney: Mitchell is
British. She came to America in 1997 after breaking up with
longtime partner Scott Montague. "It was inevitable," Sparks
cracks. "Kimberly's a Capulet." Mitchell and her current Romeo
have never beaten Haapalainen and Suutari, whom they next face
on Halloween at the world championships in Tokyo. "We have a
fair chance," deadpans Sparks. "The glass we'll put in their
shoes should help."