Latin ballroom champs dust off their dancing shoes in Bridgeport

Pasha Stepanchuk and Gabrielle Sabler once competed against each other in ballroom dancing.

Stepanchuk said he and his female dance partner at the time would win, but then Sabler suggested they change partners and dance with each other.

Ever since, the pair has been winning Latin-style ballroom dance competitions, including the recent Open to the World Professional Latin Rising Star Championship at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

The two dancing stars will perform in Bridgeport on Saturday, Nov. 30, at a Premier Ballroom Dance of Connecticut event that includes general dancing for the public. The show is at 9:30 p.m., with dancing to DJ music for attendees from 7 to 11:30 p.m.

Stepanchuk and Sabler will give performances in the cha-cha, rumba, samba paso doble and jive dance styles.

Stepanchuk is from Ukraine and Sabler, known as Gabby, grew up in Brooklyn. They met at the Brooklyn Dancesport Club, where they are coached by owners Eugene Katsevman and Maria Manusova.

Katsevman and Manusova are the most successful Latin-style dance coaches in America. They likely would have danced together for the United States if ballroom dancing had become an Olympic sport.

Stepanchuk, 31, came to the United States at age 9 and lived with his family next to the Brooklyn dance facility. He, his brother and their older cousin pursued kickboxing and then decided to try ballroom dancing, which is popular with the Russian-speaking community in Brooklyn.

He was age 13 when he began dancing. “When I changed sports, I explained it by asking people if they’d rather get kicked and punched in the face or dance with a pretty girl,” he said.

Stepanchuk met Sabler, 25, at the dance studio and they started dating while they were still competitors. Now they’re engaged.

The couple has danced together for five years and won 18 competitions, including the Ohio Star Ball, U.S. Open, International Grand Ball, World Dance Classic, Yankee Classic and San Francisco Open.

In addition, they both won national titles before dancing together as partners, with Stepanchuk being both a U.S. National and U.S. Open champion.

They’ve competed overseas in France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, among other locales. Stepanchuk said they both enjoy the traveling involved in going to competitions.

“I love traveling,” he said. “I love to visit places and to learn.”

They thrive on dancing — noting that it’s both physically demanding and an artistic endeavor — and encourage others to work hard, dream big and believe in themselves by pursuing such an activity.

“It gives me a good feeling,” he said. “I like the music. I can express the music with my body.”

Stepanchuk said he and Sabler plan to continue pursuing their dancing careers. “It’s my profession,” he said. “I love passing my knowledge to the next generation.”

Both are instructors at the Brooklyn Dancesport Club. “We teach people of all ages,” he said. “I like the process of seeing students get better and enjoy themselves.”

Premiere Ballroom organizer Bob Beslove said the pair are magical on the dance floor. “Pasha and Gabrielle present speed, power and natural grace and undeniable chemistry, taking dancing to a high level,” he said. “Their chemistry continues off the dance floor since they have been engaged for three years.”

Beslove, a former U.S. Senior Pro-Am ballroom dancing champion, has been organizing monthly dances in Bridgeport for 19 years. Before that, he held the dances in Stratford and Stamford. He’s brought some of the world’s top ballroom dancers to the region through the decades.

He’s also seen lots of friendships develop at his dance events. “I’ve had people coming for two decades,” Beslove said. “Many are good dancers and go to the dance studios. It’s an enjoyable activity for men and women — a very clean sport.”

He said the key to becoming a good dancer is practice. “You have to keep at it,” he said. “You need good teachers who are creative.”

The evening includes a dance lesson at 8 p.m. as well as complimentary Venetian pastries from Luigi’s Cannoli Pie Co. The venue is Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 4070 Park Avenue (near the Merritt Parkway), with a 2,800-square-foot parquet floor and ample parking in the rear. Tickets are $20 per person; reservations at 203-374-7308.