Dancer Michaela “Pinky” Puno has a unique story to tell.
At 65, she’s on top of her game in international ballroom dancing despite having undergone three surgeries—replacements on the right knee and left hip, and a torn shoulder cuff.
A mother to seven and grandmother to 13, she’s maintained a size 2 figure. She has the stamina to practice two hours daily and memorize new dance routines.
Is this aging? How does she do it?
Puno attributes her tiny waistline to daily abdominal strengthening exercises. To keep the muscles pliant, she is diligent with her stretches and warm-ups before the actual dancing.
Each practice is devoted to one dance style, be it cha-cha, samba, rumba, paso doble, jive, slow waltz, tango, foxtrot and Viennese waltz.
The dancer is one of the featured artists in “Ballroom Blitz,” a six-episode series on competitive ballroom dancing produced by Linda Pope, Simon Fuller and Michael Herwick.
The program has been shown in Europe and Asia and will have a marathon viewing on Nov. 26 in America on TLC (The Learning Channel).
“Ballroom Blitz” features Pro-Am couples or ballroom dance students with their teachers. “There was nothing like this on TV yet. ‘Dancing with the Stars’ does not really show what real ballroom competitions are like,” says Puno.
The Virginia-based dancer competes with her teacher Slava Sergiev in the Latin and American Smooth styles. When she’s in the Philippines, Pinky dances with Ryan Jago, a senior amateur.
At the Virginia State Competition, Puno met a program consultant who asked the dancer to fill up a long application for “Ballroom Blitz.” After making her pitch, a production crew followed her for three days in her house to get footage of her family photos and lifestyle, in the studio for practice and the competition from warm-up to awarding.
“I was never given a set of interview questions before the takes. They wanted everything to be spontaneous,” she recalls.
Despite her maturing years, she is proud of performing at a higher level of technique. “Years ago, my routines were much simpler. And even if I had more complex steps in the Latin style, I was not as dedicated in doing the basic steps well,” she says.
With training from top coaches, Puno became more analytical in her moves and also developed the confidence to inject her personality into the movements. “Over time, I have not only honed my technique but also learned the origin of the different dances to give me a better perspective. I understand how to use my body more.”
Through the years, she’s better prepared for the conditions in every competition. “In Las Vegas, the quality of the air can even affect my dancing. In other places, the floors are slicker that you cannot even glide on them. Thus, your legs have to work harder. Even the different time zones affect the intensity of my dancing. I used to travel to different places without really preparing my body and my mind.”
Three days before a competition, Puno and her partner execute the whole round of dances several times, non-stop, as in a competition. “This trains you to concentrate and focus. Even during regular practices, my partners never allow me to just go through steps… Because of this, when I am on the competition floor, I am able to project well,” she says.
Many dancers can be inspired by Puno. In a world which emphasizes youth, she is proud of her age and has not resorted to cosmetic procedures. She makes her performance memorable with her maturity and fluid grace.
“I’m aware that eventually, my aging body will not be able to take the toll of competitions. This phase of my life will come to a halt. In the meantime, I am doing the best of my ability because dancing makes me happy,” she says.