Category: GEMA, GEMA Alumni Spotlight

Title:GEMA Alumni Spotlight: Robin Kencel (C’80), Ballroom Dance Champion

By Heidi Pashman (C ’10)

Robin Kencel (COL ’80) began her day last November with a light workout and breakfast. She then went to have her make-up done and hair put up with hair spray, adornments, and hairpins—the kind of up-do you would see on a stage. And then she stepped on a stage and performed as if she were “on Broadway,” as she described it.

Her stage, however, was not in a theater in New York City, but rather at a dance competition in Columbus, Ohio. After making it through the quarterfinal and semi-final rounds, her coach approached her and said, “You are NOT out there with the attitude of a champ. You are dancing ‘pretty and nice’ — now get it on and mean business, PERFORM for the crowd!” And so she did just that. She and 64 other couples danced the waltz, foxtrot and tango, but she walked away with the second place prize—at the Open to the Worlds Championship Competition.

While dancing was an integral part of her undergraduate life at Georgetown from 1977 to 1980, at her twenty-five year college reunion, classmates asked Kencel if she had continued her hobby after her avid dancing days at Georgetown. The inquiries were life changing for her, and she immediately began pursuing a passion that had lain dormant for so long.

After a serendipitous conversation with a friend about her revived interest, she was left with two contacts of dancing gurus in the Connecticut area. Soon she began working with John DePalma, “the voice of ballroom dance,” and Steve Dougherty, the 2007 World Professional Showdance Champion and a U.S. Smooth Finalist. Their up-and-coming studio in Stamford, CT, Metropolitan Dance, was the jump off point for many other notable and prized American dancers including Kencel.

Robin Kencel never lives within boundaries and is still pushing herself to perform her best. She is also not afraid to pursue un-trodden paths. All of these attributes led her to living successful lives in two worlds, allowing her to excel in both an evening gown and a business suit.

Kencel’s achievements as a real estate agent in Greenwich, CT. echo that of dance. At Ellsworth Ford Associates, a firm she founded, she works to restore historic homes. The sale of two of her most challenging projects, including a 13,800 square foot main residence and carriage house built in 1929, set records in the industry– highest sale price for an off-water property and fewest days on the market.

When she revived her dancing career, Kencel practiced five days a week in 90-minute increments–and still does. She was paired with 29-year-old Christian Lange, a German 9-Dance Champion and an American Smooth Professional Rising Star Champion.  Kencel notes, “Your success as a ballroom dancer is intertwined as your fit as a couple.”

Whereas, she has forged ahead as an independent and driven career woman in her professional life, Kencel has been forced to realize the power of being the “follower” in dance and giving and taking in a pair instead of relying on her own, solo drive and determination.

This skill set has proved invaluable to her career as well, whereas Kencel may have been more forthright in certain aspects of her job, she has learned to pay more attention to her clients and at times to let a partnership work, giving and taking as a ballroom dance couple must do on the dance floor. The transition in her mindset has not been easy.

“This discipline has had an influence on my professional self, as the business sectors that I am in are all service oriented and require not just being an adept listener to what is said but also being able to read what is unspoken,” she said.

However, her core tenet toward ballroom dancing is her motivation to entertain and not compete. Given the luxury of dancing for sport and not profession, she can keep dance as “an outlet for her creative and expressive energies.”

Her relationship to this passion is allowed to be forgiving. Every time she goes on the floor, she recognizes the prospect of getting beaten by other couples, the body’s unwillingness to cooperate, or the ever changing dynamic of the relationship between the dance couple. But the rewards are profound–and not only in reference to titles or trophies.

She described the benefits she reaps from dancing: “I am greeted every day with a plan, which might be focused on athleticism, expressionism, musicality, performance, partnership or new choreography. It is the time in the day where I can wholly relax and work hard at the same time–and laugh until my sides hurt.”

Georgetown alumni find themselves wearing many masks typically after graduation from whatever school or program has prepared them for the real world. The years after graduation may present family, children, high-powered careers, more school, and still–living abroad, hobbies, and more than likely even more professional and familial engagements. Most often one of these masks takes precedent over the others for the majority of the day, week, month, year–or even a life. However, Robin Kencel wears two masks on a weekly basis that accent each other and expand the skill set of one another but could not be more juxtaposed in theory.

Kencel is, above all, an artist for not only her accomplishments as a dancer but also the ease and poise she exhibits in wearing her different masks. While she may be the “painted” between her and her dancer partner on the ballroom floor, she is most definitely the “paintbrush” of her own life– demonstrating the balanced life of both a successful artist and businesswoman.
As Kencel reflected on the day last November, she acknowledges that it’s not just about being judged, “I always say, if we can make people in the audience laugh or cry than we have done our job.” She also described her tactic for achieving this connection, “[I] try to hit that trifecta of being captured in the moment and translating the feeling of the music through your body into something that the audience can connect with.”

And now, she and Christian are planning new “secret weapons” to use in next year’s competitions. And now she really has reason to walk onto the floor next year as if she has already won. The combination could mean an even bigger trophy for next year.