Who are the top 10 male Latin-American dancers of all time? Whereas Ballroom can be seen to have taken a more natural progression, Latin American has altered dramatically over the decades. With everything from the technique, attire (who can forget the infamous jump suits of the 70’s/80’s) and music changing, it makes comparing dancers from different eras almost impossible.
Therefore, I have taken into account many different factors which makes a dancer 'great', such as their technical level, their showmanship, teachings and trophies won. So here is my top 10!
10 - Corky Ballas
First on my list is the charismatic and exuberant Corky Ballas. A regular finalist at the top events in the 90’s, Ballas will probably be best remembered for his extravagant costumes and sense of fun on the floor.
Not to everybody’s taste, Ballas would regularly perform stunts such as break dancing on the floor or jumping over his partner’s head, much to the audience’s amusement. Ballas is perhaps not the most technical dancer on this list, however his entertaining dancing and unique attire, for me, makes him memorable and a worthy candidate.
9 - Sammy Stopford
A multiple UK Open winner, and regular finalist at major competitions during the 1980’s/1990’s, Stopford was very much a crowd pleaser. Possessing great charisma on the floor, Stopford was well known for his legendary entrance dances, which epitomised his cheeky character.
A very competent technical dancer in his own right, Stopford was a great leader and was always able to show his partner off to her maximum. He was also a master of characterisation, seemingly able to switch from the cheeky, party like character of the Cha Cha Cha and Samba, to the more romantic, serious nature of the Rumba.
8 - Alan Fletcher
A 5 time World Champion between 1977-1981, Fletcher was perhaps the first dancer to introduce a modern style of Latin-American dancing.
Showcasing a more vibrant and physical style of dancing, Fletcher emphasised the creation of beautiful body shapes and use of hips, over the more graceful and carefree style of the 50's and 60's.
This style of dancing helped to elevate them above the competition, as well as setting a blueprint for Latin dancing of today.
7 - Sergey Sourkov
Unlucky to never win a Professional World title, Sourkov had a very unique dance style, which combined the rhythms of Latin American with elements of street and hip hop dance.
A crowd favourite, Sourkov possessed an impossibly fluid hip action, as well as a great softness and musicality of the upper body. Sourkov arguably had the best hip action and foot placement on this list, with every step precisely taken to maximise the use of the music and the hip.
Recently retired from competitive dancing, we will wait and see if he can reproduce his exciting style in the pupils he teaches.
6 - Walter Laird
A 3 time World Champion during the early 60’s, Walter Laird will perhaps be best remembered for his contributions to dance off the floor, rather than on it. Competing at a time when Latin-American was yet to be officially formalised, it was Laird’s Technique of Latin Dancing book that provided the blueprint for modern dancing.
As well as this, Laird implemented this new technique into his teachings, of which some of his famous students include Peter Maxwell, Espen Salberg, Allan Tornsberg and Donnie Burns.
As a dancer, Laird’s technique does not quite compare to modern standards. However, his dancing had a graceful and charming quality which in some regards, is more enjoyable to watch than some of the modern, faster paced Latin dancing of today.
5 - Riccardo Cocchi
Blessed with the perfect physique for Latin dancing, Cocchi brought a fresh and carefree style to the top of the dance world. Famed for his numerous battles against Malitowski, their two differing styles made it almost impossible to pick a winner.
Whereas Malitowski favoured a more mechanical and powerful style, Cocchi's dancing could be described as more playful and and energetic. Excelling in the Cha Cha Cha and Jive, the faster dances suited his more youthful approach to dancing.
Along with his partner Yulia, Cocchi was quite open to often changing choreography and experimenting with new steps, which was sometimes to their detriment in competitions.
With Malitowski's retirement from competitive dancing in 2015, it remains to be seen whether the rest of the field will be able to challenge Cocchi's dominance.
4 - Slavik Kryklyvyy
Slavik was perhaps the greatest male dancer to never win the Professional World Championship. Kryklyvyy possessed an unusual but effective up right posture which would make even the best Ballroom dancer enviable.
As well as this, he had a tremendous flexibility and fluidity, a very natural hip action and an excellent sense of body rhythm and musicality which elevated him above his rivals.
Unfortunately, like many great artists, Kryklyvyy was infamously difficult to get along with which led to many partner splits. Unable to keep hold of a partner long enough to really challenge the very top, Kryklyvyy sadly never won the Professional World title, which a man of his talent deserved.
3 - Michael Malitowski
One half of the famous Malitowski-Leunis duo, Malitowski is arguably the best male Latin dancer of the current era. He and Riccardo Cocchi enjoyed a friendly rivalry which helped push Latin-American dancing to the next level, elevating themselves from the rest of the dance world.
With a heavy emphasis on connection and technique, Malitowski helped Latin-American become a serious art-form, alongside the likes of Ballet or Contemporary dance. With every step meticulously studied and practiced, Malitowski could even make a cursory glance look part of his routine.
Usually donned in a white Latin top, Malitowski produced the perfect picture frame for Leunis’s exceptional talents to thrive in. Now retired from the competitive dance world, we wait in anticipation for the dance couples of the future that Malitowski will no doubt train.
2 - Bryan Watson
Next up is the 9 times World Professional Champion, Bryan Watson. A pleasure to watch in his prime, Watson’s joy from dance was evident to see every time he took to the floor.
He perhaps combined the old and new style of Latin-American dancing perfectly; balancing the cheeky and authentic style of the old with the faster, more crisp style of the new.
Best known for his Jive, Watson had the remarkable ability to execute sharp flicks and kicks with an effortless coolness. Watson's small stature allowed him to be able to move his legs and feet at a terrific speed, whilst remaining perfectly balanced.
Retiring in 2007, Watson had remained undefeated for 6 years, a remarkable achievement in the modern era.
1 - Donnie Burns
With so many great dancers on this list, who could possibly be the cherry on top of this cake? Donnie Burns of course!
Hailing from the unlikely Latin-American nation of Scotland, Burns was a 14 time Professional Latin World Champion, who along with his partner Gaynor, completely dominated the field between the 80’s and 90’s.
A protégé of the famous Walter Laird, Burns helped revolutionise Latin-American dancing, progressing it away from the jump suit, disco style of the 1970’s/early 1980’s, towards the style that we see today. Burns combined his natural talent of performing along with enhanced technique, showcasing the new locking of the legs, better placement of the feet and amplified hip action.
Burns perhaps perfected what could be considered ‘pure Latin’, with the emphasis on partnering skills and musicality, and the male role showing off his partner more than himself.
Now the WDC President and a highly sought out teacher and adjudicator, long may Burns' influence on the dance world continue.
So there we have my top 10, all wonderful dancers who have contributed greatly to Latin-American dancing in their own way. There are many more I wish to have included, honorable mentions include Franco Formica, Espen Salberg and Paul Killick. Do you agree with my top 10? Please leave your comments below.