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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 25, 2003

Dancing to the top

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

Glenn Okazaki and partner Anne Ho enjoy ballroom dancing for different reasons: He sees it as a form of escape for the mind and body, while dancing well makes her feel good about herself.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Michael Goya and May Fung will compete in the 12th Annual Hawaii Star Ball. Goya says he loves the show aspect of the competition.

Albert Parker • Park West Photography

Anne Ho and Glenn Okazaki became ballroom dancing partners when Okazaki's wife had knee surgery and could no longer compete.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Sometimes, when he's walking down a deserted hallway in his office building, Michael Goya, an agent with New York Life Insurance Co., can't help himself. He breaks out some dance moves, unable to resist a perfect spot to practice.

The chances he'll be caught rehearsing his rumba this week could be pretty high.

He'll be performing in the 12th Annual Hawai'i Star Ball, Hawai'i's only recognized ballroom dance competition, a three-day event that runs through Saturday at the Sheraton Waikiki.

If he does get caught doing dance moves when he thinks no one is looking, the 36-year-old Goya probably won't mind much.

"I have to be honest," he said. "I love the show part of it. I love to be out there. I like the spotlight."

His dance partner, May Fung, knows all about that.

"I always tell him he's a ham," said Fung, 35, an administrative assistant in the legal department at Kaiser Permanente.

He talked her into competing with him in the novice division. They're dating. But she wouldn't call doing the waltz, fox trot, samba or jive with him anything romantic.

"It's only stress relief when I'm finished," she said. "It's like a test."

Test of talent

The stakes for this week's Hawai'i Star Ball aren't as high as, say, England's annual Blackpool Dance Festival, the Wimbledon of ballroom dancing. But on a local level, the competition offers about 200 dancers a chance to be judged by a panel that includes former world or U.S. champions.

The pro/am and amateur couples compete mainly for trophies, and professionals compete for a cash purse. Total prizes amount to $29,000, with individual dance prizes starting at $100.

"This is like no other competition in the states," organizer Geoffrey Fells said.

The difference here is cultural, he said. Activities for participants from here, the Mainland, Canada and Japan include a lu'au, Chinese lion dance and hula halau performances, lei making and Japanese taiko drumming.

Like a kid again

For Myra Grist, a retired school teacher who has gone back to the classroom at Mokapu Elementary to fill in for a friend on maternity leave, the competition is a chance to feel like a kid again.

Grist, 60, can't believe she has a daughter who will turn 40 on Saturday, one of the days Grist, a grandmother of five, will be out on the dance floor in a new gown and $120 shoes.

"I think it's the little girl in every girl, wanting to have a pretty dress and feel like Cinderella," she said.

At first, Grist fretted over the cost of competing, which can run in the thousands for gowns, entry fees, ball dinners and lessons. Then her son helped her decide it was worth it to do what she loved.

"When I get out of school I can be all stressed out," she said. "All I have to do is start dancing and I'm a happy person."

Putting on an act

You'd never know, looking at these people doing their day jobs, that they're dancers on the side — unless they sneak in moves like Goya does in the hallway.

When she started learning steps, Anne Ho used to find herself practicing when she woke up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Her tile floor at the Plaza Clubhouse sandwich shop in Kaka'ako just isn't big enough. But when the music is tuned to old standards, it's a safe bet that Ho has some dance steps moving in her head even while she's working.

Ho, 44, works alongside her husband, but he steps to a different beat, one that's called golfing. Ho doesn't like to be out in the sun, so she chose a sport upon the encouragement of her mother, a social dancer.

Her dance partner, Glenn Okazaki, is a draftsman for a structural engineering firm.

Okazaki was out of a dance partner when his wife had knee surgery and could no longer compete.

So Ho and Okazaki put on the facade of a romantic couple moving to the music in what has become fierce competition in the amateur division. They've placed in Mainland competitions and even made it to the second round of dancing two years ago at the Blackpool Festival.

"Part of it is really like acting," Ho said. "I really love and enjoy doing the physical part. When the dancing is going well, it really gives you the high, and you feel good about yourself."

 •  If you go

• Tickets for the Hawai'i Star Ball can be purchased during event hours at the ball registration desk, at the Sheraton Waikiki's Hawaii Ballroom (second floor).

• Tickets range from $30 to $90, depending on the event.

• Information: www.hawaiistarball.com.

Okazaki won't admit to dancing down any hallways, but he does remember times where he caught himself with his feet tapping under the table, like in the movie "Shall We Dance?"

If dance is a form of escapism, he does it for the same reason he used to body surf: It's a getaway for the mind as much as the body.

"It helps mentally in concentration," he said. "It really makes you focused."

So after Ho closes the lunch spot and Okazaki gets away from his draft table, they'll waltz, tango, fox trot and quick step. And if they don't reach their goal of being granted "elite" status this year, they'll keep practicing.

Tanya Bricking writes about relationships for The Advertiser. Reach her at tbricking@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8026.