Local duo dances their way to championship

Local duo dances their way to championship

Lincoln residents Nevaeh Chito and Zachary Jawharjian, who have been dance partners for several years, recently placed in their division at the Country Dance World Championships held in Nashville in early January.

LINCOLN – A cowboy hat and boots are not part of Zachary Jawharjian’s typical wardrobe, but the 17-year-old Lincoln resident recently traded his daily threads for both, plus a world champion title in country ballroom dancing.

Competing in Nashville, Tenn., at the Country Dance World Championships last month, Jawharjian and his partner, Lincoln High School junior Nevaeh Chito, place first in the juniors age bracket’s classic couples competition, earning top marks for dancing the triple two-step, polka, nightclub two-step, cha-cha, two-step, East Coast swing and West Coast swing.

Jawharjian, a senior at the Providence Country Day School, first began ballroom dancing with his grandmother when she came to visit the family, dancing the waltz and the tango for fun. As a 7th-grader he started taking lessons at Studio One in Lincoln.

It was there that he met Chito, who was similarly introduced to ballroom dancing by her grandparents after watching them take a country ballroom lesson at age 13. With similar personalities, Chito said she and Jawharjian hit it off quickly.

“It’s been fun dancing with him these past couple years. I think since we got along so well that our connection while dancing is the part that stood out the most,” she said.

At the most recent championships, hosted by the United Country Western Dance Council in early January, Jawharjian and Chito competed with dancers from as far as Holland and China. Jawharjian said dancing competitively has given him the opportunity to travel, explore new cities and meet new people from around the country and world.

“It’s a great way to get involved in something unique, as well as making friends and experiencing different places around the country. The entire process is fun to choreograph, feeling the music and learn new techniques,” he said. “I was very shocked that someone my age would be into it, but there’s a surprising amount of kids involved.”

Winning was an amazing experience, said Chito, who said she works hard to achieve the goals she sets when she competes.

“To be able to reach these goals is all I ask for,” she said. “It’s a great feeling knowing that you have achieved what you have been working for all year.”

Jawharjian aspires to rise through the ranks of competitive dancing, but only has a year left before he heads to college. He’s considering New York or Los Angeles for school, but said the dance scene won’t compare to what he’s come to love here in Lincoln.

“I know my partner well and we’re very comfortable with each other,” he said.

Neither partner plans to stop dancing anytime soon.

“I am going to continue to dance and further my knowledge so hopefully one day I will become a professional dancer and eventually teach,” said Chito.

“I love challenges, and country ballroom is a challenge,” she added. “I love the feeling of improving. I love the way dance makes me feel. I love how I can express myself in a routine. I love being able to really feel and listen to the music, choreographing to songs or just dancing socially … it makes me happy.”

Other locals have also gotten in on the country ballroom dancing trend.

Dr. Thomas Sepe, of University Gastroenterology, has been practicing medicine for decades, but said dancing was foreign to him. With high hopes of being able to dance with his wife without stepping on her toes, he decided he’d start training to compete. Since strapping on his country ballroom dancing boots more than a year ago, he said he’s lost weight and gained a passion.

“I love it. I can’t get enough of it,” Sepe told The Breeze after returning home from the World Championships in Nashville. “It’s really cool at this stage of my life and career to do something that’s so out of my comfort zone, that I don’t have any experience in.”

Sepe is still a newcomer, but he doubts he’ll be one for long.

“I have big goals for the coming year,” he said, but there’s a lot to learn. For every move he masters, there’s another to unlock. “The trajectory of getting better is a steep slope, but it’s rewarding,” he said. “There’s so much to learn.”