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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 25, 2010

New moves

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Carlos Chang and Patty Haft practice a cha-cha he choreographed that they will perform in the "Emotions" concert. Haft has been training Chang in ballet and Pilates, and Chang has been teaching her Latin ballroom.

Photos by REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Dinner and dancing, with performances by Carlos Chang, Patty Haft and some of Hawai'i's top ballroom dancers.

6 p.m.-midnight March 20

Tickets: $85 (includes dinner)

Sheraton Waikiki, Hawai'i Ballroom


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When Carlos Chang goes before the judges of "So You Think You Can Dance" on March 10 in Dallas, he will not be the same dancer they saw during auditions last year.

After his previous tryout, judges appreciated Chang's charm, charisma and skills and encouraged him to audition again. "Nigel (Lythgoe) said that when I dance, you can feel the passion, and it's a feeling others share in the audience," Chang said.

To earn a place on the show, however, Chang knew he needed to kick it up a notch. With characteristic energy and passion, he responded to comments by the judges that he needed to expand his repertoire.

What has changed? Chang, 28, of Mō'ili'ili, has added new dance skills, embracing classical ballet, modern dance and Pilates, disciplines completely different (in fact, in some ways opposite) from the Latin ballroom style he has danced for 10 years.

"It's like dance cross training," Chang said.


Could Chang hone his dance skills in Honolulu?

As luck would have it, Chang met Patty Haft, 58, of Kaka'ako, in July, when she came to his rumba class with a friend.

Haft has been a professional dancer, actor and singer in New York since age 10. For the past 25 years she has taught Pilates in Honolulu.

"I wanted to have some fun with dance because all my work was so serious," Haft said. She had no idea how hard Latin ballroom would be and how it would take her in a whole new direction.

Upon meeting Chang, Haft said, "I think I can turn you into more than a Latin dancer," to which Chang replied, "I think I can turn you into more than a ballet dancer."

They went to work immediately, sharing skills, training secrets and choreography.

Latin ballroom dancing is all about angles and spirals. Motions are sudden, sharp and passionate. Ballet and Pilates are slow and sweeping, requiring long, lean, graceful limbs stretching up and out from a strong core. Knees, hands and wrists are soft in ballet, while they are fleet and feverish in Latin ballroom. In addition, the feet seldom come off the floor in Latin, while ballet is liberally punctuated with leaps and jumps.

In short, the disciplines are quite opposite, so Chang had to learn a whole new way of moving to the music.

Haft helped Chang gain flexibility and longer extensions and worked with his feet to develop a point. She taught him split jumps to give him more dimension, as well as leaps and pirouettes.

After just three months of what Chang refers to as "ballet boot camp," he danced the role of the Nutcracker last Christmas in Hawa'i State Ballet's "Nutcracker Suite."

"He's always wanted to do leaps and jumps and kicks and now he can," Haft said, with obvious pride.


Chang was born in Peru but moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, as an infant. He has lived in Hawai'i for five years.

While most professional dancers study from the time they are toddlers, Chang didn't take up Latin ballroom until he was 18. While in school he was an athlete, involved in volleyball, soccer, tennis and cross-country track.

A naturally gifted dancer, Chang became a Latin ballroom Canadian provincial champion within a year.

In addition to teaching Latin ballroom dance at Dream to Dance Studio (661 Auahi St.; 372-5574), Chang is a graphic designer and art director. His first job in Honolulu was with the Waikīkī Aquarium. He is now a freelancer by day and dance instructor by night, in addition to practicing about five hours a day for his audition.

So what will Nigel and company see on March 10? "Levels of complexity," Haft explained. "He's forming his own fusion style, blending Latin, classical and contemporary and finding the connective thread that unites all forms of dance."

That unique style may be just the ticket to catapult Chang to stardom on "So You Think You Can Dance." Stay tuned. We'll be sure to keep you updated.