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Dancers twirl from chaos into glamour

Ballroom dancers aren't always poised. Just minutes before the Millennium 2002 Dancesport competition began Thursday night, there was considerable chaos.

Several couples on the parquet dance floor were still wearing sweats. A friend was frantically trying to sew Corinne Manyak's blue halter dress, which was slowly unraveling.

A Canadian coach pushed pin after pin into a dancer's hair bun, which already looked painfully tight. The dancer was not smiling.

"I'm very nervous," said Linda Gioino, who wore a red rose behind her ear. "I try to focus on my partner, feel my feet on the floor."

Such is the life of a competitive ballroom dancer.

Thousands of them are at the Marriott Waterside for the Millennium competition, which ends Saturday night. There are separate events for professionals and amateurs. Both attract participants from around the world.

Thursday's competition was for the pros. For them, life is a combination of travel and dance.

Fabrizio and Lorena Cravero, both in their early 20's, are brother and sister from northern Italy. They run a dance studio and have been in competitions in England, Spain, France and Russia.

They have been to the U.S. twice. Their next stop is Boston.

"I like never staying at home," said Fabrizio, who has slicked-back dark brown hair.

Victor da Silva, 29, sees dancing as a form of expression. He dressed as a gladiator in his publicity photo. In real life, he runs a construction company in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"In general, I like the art. I like the passion. What two people can do, what they can create," he said. "It's almost like a story. I try to demonstrate to the world a story."

At 8:30 p.m., the lights finally dimmed in the Marriott ballroom. The sparkles on a backdrop behind the orchestra lit up like the night's sky. A globe rotated near the trophy table. Hundreds of guests watched excitedly.

The drummer tapped his sticks and trombones rose in the air as the first notes of I love Paris were played. The dancers took the floor; the men looking like butlers, the women like dolls.

This time, everyone was poised.