A Social Dancer’s Guide to the Rio Grande Dance Classic

Rio Grande Dance Classic logo

Ballroom, Country-Western, and swing dancers from the Southwest and beyond will gather this week to compete at the Rio Grande Dance Classic in Albuquerque.

The competition runs from Thursday evening, April 13, to Sunday afternoon, April 16 — ending just before our 3rd Sunday USA Dance kicks off at 3 p.m. It’s at the Marriott Albuquerque, 2101 Louisiana Blvd. NE (at the intersection of I-40 and Louisiana).

Nicolás Rael

Most USA Dancers are social dancers who have no interest in competing. If that’s you — and if you think the Rio Grande has little to offer — we encourage you to think again. With the help of competition organizer Nicolás Rael, we’ve prepared a guide to the Rio Grande Dance Classic with dozens of reasons why social dancers should attend. Here are a few of them:

• The Rio Grande offers nearly 60 dance workshops over 3-1/2 days. The workshops cover just about every dance style you might be interested in, and feature an international cast of teachers.

• The Friday and Saturday evening shows are designed with entertainment in mind. They’ll feature professional performances, solos, formation teams, and fun Jack & Jill events open to most spectators. The evening shows will also have opportunities for social dancing.

• You’ll know at least some of the competitors — and their dance teachers — who are dancing their hearts out on the ballroom floor because you dance with them at USA Dance. Competitors always welcome an audience!

The Rio Grande Dance Classic this year became a sanctioned event by the American Country Dance Association. Nic said he is working with USA Dance, our national parent organization, to become a sanctioned USA Dance event in 2024. As an inclusive event, the Rio Grande welcomes same-sex and switch-role couples.

Workshops. Workshops are separated into three tracks: West Coast Swing; Ballroom and Club; and Country-Western and Line Dances. You can mix & match styles, and if you have the energy you could attend up to 7 workshops a day. We don’t have room to list them but you can see the full schedule here.

Workshop instructors hail from all over. Famous Argentine Tango instructor Virginia Vasconi from Buenos Aires will lead two tango workshops on Thursday evening. Giacomo Steccaglia, one of the judges who has a long background as a competitive Latin dancer and coach, will teach several workshops covering the rhythm dances.

Local salsa teacher Mandeep Sahota of Energy and Rhythm will handle salsa, bachata, and rueda classes. Covering several aspects of West Coast Swing will be instructors and judges Phoenix Grey, David Appel, Samantha Buckwalter, Jeffrey Munson, and Nicolás Rael.

The Country-Western and Club side is well covered by Michael Eads, Jonno Liberman, Meredith Stead, Chad Graber, Lacie, Christy Kam, and Rowdy Dufrene. And the list goes on … see the full lineup here.

Evening Shows & Social Dances. The Friday and Saturday evening sessions have something for everyone. The Friday night show is dedicated to “fun dancing,” Nic said, and includes Jack & Jill contests that are open to spectators as well as competitors (to compete in a J&J, spectators need to hold an all-access or one-day pass; the J&Js are an extra $20 per person).

A Jack & Jill pairs two dancers at random for a true test of leading and following. ”It‘s like a social dance, but you can win prizes,” he said.

The Friday J&J lineup includes several West Coast Swing levels along with American smooth, American rhythm, salsa/bachata, Country-Western 2 Step, Argentine tango, and hustle. Nic promises some fun twists — like a West Coast J&J where participants have to switch roles halfway through the dance.

The Saturday evening session is the “main show” and will feature dance performances by professionals, including some of the officials. (Nic has two performances scheduled with different partners.)

Competitions. This IS a dance competition, and dancers range from beginners who are nervously getting a feel for the dance floor to those with years of experience who dazzle with advanced routines. It’s always entertaining to watch your dance friends and teachers go all-out on the dance floor. Spectators are free to come and go as they please. Competitors feed off of the audience’s energy

Below is information on pricing, and a very abbreviated schedule of events. For more information, visit the Rio Grande Dance Classic website or email the organizers at riograndedanceclassic@gmail.com.

See you at the Rio! If you know someone who is interested in attending, please send them the link to this post.

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