By Samantha Greben
With determination and ambition in her eyes, senior Anna Kaczmarski leaped onto the ballroom dance floor at the World Dance Council’s World Championships in Paris, France in November 2015. Pulse racing and adrenaline rushing, she could barely hear the emcee’s announcement of her name above the crowd’s applause. This was it, when all her hard work could finally pay off. And it did. She and her partner, eighteen-year-old Patryk Ploszaj, took two world titles in the under 21 event, their biggest accomplishment so far.
Though a young competitor, Kaczmarski has developed exceptional skill in ballroom dancing, which, generally, is any sort of partner dancing, from tango to waltz to foxtrot. She began learning the style at the age of four after her parents saw an ad in a Polish newspaper for classes at Joseph’s Dance Studio in Queens. No one in her family had been a dancer before, but when her parents randomly signed her up for this class, she never stopped attending.
At first, Kaczmarski admitted, she didn’t particularly like it, but she soon realized ballroom dancing provided the perfect environment for her. “I love that I can express myself through movement to music, to be able to convey different emotions, and I’m really competitive. I’m the type of person who, once I start doing something, has to become good at it, or I’ll just be really unhappy.” She currently dances every day of the week, traveling after school to a studio in Brooklyn where she and Ploszaj practice for hours each day.
In total, the dancing pair has won seven world championships and had been featured in the 2010 semifinals on America’s Got Talent. At the age of sixteen, Kaczmarski and Ploszaj participated in the biggest dance competition in the world, Blackpool Dance Festival in England, where they competed against 113 couples under the age of 21 and took fourth place, even as the youngest competitors to take the floor.
Kaczmarski attributes most of her success to her two main coaches, Alina Basyuk and Marat Gimaev, who are a professional dance couple currently ranked third in the United States and seventh in the world. Kaczmarski said,“They’re my second parents, and I don’t know where I’d be without them and their endless comfort and motivation.” When her coaches cannot attend a competition, they Skype to show their support and watch livestreams of the performance so they can offer Kaczmarski and Ploszaj advice. Kaczmarski says that watching top professional dancers such as her coaches inspires her to put her best effort into every twist and turn she makes.
Kaczmarski’s support team also extends to family members who dedicate and sacrifice a great amount of their time to driving her to practice and to planning her trips.
“Although it’s never been the easiest,” admitted Kaczmarski’s mother, Barbara Kaczmarski, “It’s been worth it because it makes Anna happy, and she loves it.” She has extended family in Poland and Chicago, who are always sure to tune in and watch her online, despite the time difference.
Kaczmarski also attributes some of her success to the understanding and encouragement of her academic teachers, as she frequently misses school in order to participate in national and international competitions. Catching up on work can be a challenge, she admitted, but she has been fortunate to have accommodating teachers who want to see her succeed on and off the dance floor.
One day, Kaczmarski hopes to be a World Ballroom Dance champion, the highest title a competitor can receive. It entails earning enough titles and honors to be nominated by a participating nation’s own organization to compete in the World Dance Council’s championships. Each country can only nominate two couples, a spot that professional couples around the world vie for. With her passion and talent, she is likely to get there. “Every decision I make revolves around and always comes back to dancing,” Kaczmarski said. “It’s basically dancing first. Everything else second.”