Pinky Puno conquers Blackpool at age 67
Her spirit is willing, and her flesh is not weak. At age 67, dancer Michaela “Pinky” Puno is unstoppable.
This year, she competed in the Blackpool Dance Festival, dubbed the Olympics of ballroom dance competitions in England.
“No other competition lasts for eight days, boasting as many as 3,000 couples from 60 countries,” says Puno.
She joined the senior category for dancers over 35 in the Amateur Latin division.
“Competing against people who were 30 years or so younger than me sounded crazy. But I knew my body was racing against time,” she says.
Initially, she and her Filipino partner, Ryan Jago, rehearsed daily at her Avant Garde Ballroom studio in Virginia.
Last April, she flew to the Philippines to be coached by 10-time national champion Belinda Adora.
At Blackpool, Puno donned a pink dress to stand out among the sea of red and gold. Being called back to the dance floor for another round of the competition was an achievement.
“Ryan practically pulled me on to the floor. It was a pretty rough first dance, the chacha, because I was still reeling from the surprise,” says Puno.
Although they didn’t bring home the honors, Puno was pleased with their first Blackpool competition.
The Filipino pair ranked 38th among 100 couples. For her, it was an accomplishment, considering she was up against dancers younger than her children.
Still, she realized that it takes a year of preparation to compete with the world’s best ballroom dancers.
“I can’t say it was my best performance. I wish I could have performed as well as I practiced. They always say, you have to put in 110 percent effort during practice. With the many pressures during the actual competition, only 70 percent of what you practice comes out. For an amateur like me, that was ever so true!” she says.
Hip, knee replacements
“This was the first time our coach, Belinda, saw me competing with Ryan,” she adds. “After Blackpool, she knew what my strengths and weaknesses were. We have since adjusted some of our choreography, not necessarily performing complicated routines, but honing my technique and elevating the musicality of the dance.”
She admits that her hip and knee replacements have hampered her technique. Moreover, a mature body takes a longer time to warm up.
Nonetheless, her partners, Slava Sergiev and Jago, acknowledge her capacity, and challenge her to get out of her comfort zone.
“‘No, I don’t want to do that’ is not an option for them. Determination, the drive to excel, and more practice help me dance well despite my hip and knee replacements,” says Puno.
My partners make me look good because they are not competing with me on the dance floor.We dance as a true partnership. They provide the power and energy so I can generate it back in return
Then again, ballroom dancing requires a successful partnership. Like teammates in a sport, a good partner will assist, support and take risks.
Puno explains that her ideal partner must be compatible with her height and appearance to facilitate seamless interaction.
“He needs to exude masculinity and confidence, without being narcissistic,” she says.
“A good partner does not worry about how he alone looks, but considers how we look together. Good technique and a willingness to keep learning is important. He needs to know how to express the emotion of the dance, and have the charisma to interact with the audience.”
A good partner must be a gentleman,” she notes.
“He must be even-tempered, and treat me like a lady at all times—on and off the dance floor. Some men act great on the dance floor, but treat their partners terribly when they are out of it. Hindi puwedeng wala siyang pakialam sa akin the minute he leaves the dance floor.”
She continues: “Even when he is not dancing, he needs to maintain a dancer’s image of class. He needs to be trustworthy and a man of good character.”
In the Pro/Am (a professional dancing with his amateur student) events, Puno dances with Sergiev, while Jago is her partner in the Senior Amateur division.
“My partners make me look good because they are not competing with me on the dance floor,” she says. “We dance as a true partnership. They provide the power and energy so I can generate it back in return. When I make a mistake, they never show disapproval. They keep dancing and try to make me recover so disaster is averted.”
On and off the dance floor, Puno is the epitome of ladylike demeanor. She credits her inner grace to her mother, Aurora Mendoza, and her education in Maryknoll (Miriam) College.
“Good manners and kindness were requirements in my home and my alma mater. I never learned to drink or smoke, and cussing is unthinkable,” she says.
Her sense of propriety is also applied in ballroom dancing. “I have never indulged in anything to make me high, and I don’t drink,” she says.
“This is why it is easy for me to be conscious of propriety. I maintain boundaries in my friendship with my partners or any dancer I am in contact with. I demand to be treated like a lady at all times because I act like a lady at all times. This avoids misunderstandings and being taken advantage of.”
Her enthusiasm and litheness make her look younger on the dance floor.
“I strive for excellence,” she says. “My passion for dance and meeting challenges drives me. The benefits of ballroom dancing keep me going. I am not in denial of my age, but I know there are competitions out there for senior women.
“I want to keep improving. There is still so much to learn. There is an expression: The more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know.”