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Sam Sodano

The contribution of Sam Sodano to American Ballroom dancing is immeasurable. He is an icon, a celebrity and yet the most humble and loving human being.

I first saw him lecturing at the Blackpool Congress in 1991 on Mambo and Swing. Being a young teacher at the time, I admired his body rhythms and the smooth flow of his movements. I became aware that American Rhythm is quite a different style of dancing than the International style I grew up with.

Years later, we met at USBC in Miami. It was Meryem Pearson who introduced us in person during her event, Classique Du Quebec in Montreal. Through our short talks back then, I realized that we shared similar thoughts on the originality and values of different dance styles.

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'The Icon', organised by Tony Meredith, Columbus, Ohio, 2019. From left to right - Tony Meredith, Linda Dean, Ron Montez, Melanie LaPatin, myself and Sam Sodano


Sam's Early Days

Sam was born on April 16, 1943, in Fairview, New Jersey. At 14, he was voted the best Swing dancer in his senior year of high school. Soon after, he became popular on the TV program "Clay Cole Dance Hour."

After graduating in 1960, he started to dance at Arthur Murray's in New Jersey, first as a student, then as a Pro-Am teacher. His goal was to become the best teacher and a few years later, he achieved that goal.

However, besides teaching his students, he also wanted to compete in International style Standard and Latin.


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Competitive Career

Sam's first home teacher was Fran Rogers. He danced his first competitions with her. Later on, his partner was Pat Hogan and they placed second at the USA National Latin Championship in 1971 and 1972. They represented the USA abroad, attending World Championships and the Open British in Blackpool, reaching the final of the Open British Professional Latin Championship and winning the Cha Cha Cha in 1972.

Alongside peers Bob Medeiros and Sheryn Hawkins and Vernon Brock and Beverly Donahue, Sam was part of the breakthrough of Americans impacting the development of competitive Latin dancing in Europe. Americans brought the Latin flavors that cherished a rhythmical way of dancing, hip poetics and freer body motion.

Alex Moore reviewed Sam in Dance News as the “man who brought the mambo to the Cha Cha Cha,” introducing a rhythmical approach to the dance. At that time, dancers in Europe were still 'bouncing' in Cha Cha Cha.

In England, Sam studied with Walter Laird, Lorraine and Major Eric Hancox, polishing his way of dancing that respected the technique of the International style yet kept the flavor of American Rhythm.

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Later on, he competed for a while with Beverly Donahue and became North American Latin Champion in 1975. Soon after, Sam hung up his dancing shoes and decided to become a judge and a coach. He used to adjudicate more than 40 competitions a year for decades and still enjoys judging today.

Pioneers of American Rhythm

Some pioneers, among them Vernon Brock, Bobbie Medeiros and Ron Montez, have sadly passed away. Sam has remained faithful to the fundamentals and originality of American Rhythm.

To preserve this unique style, he developed the Hip Lift Technique, a method of understanding the basics of American Rhythm and bringing it back to its roots. Sam was invited to lecture again at the prestigious 2017 Blackpool Congress. This was a historic year for American Rhythm Style and the perfect platform for the Hip Lift Technique to be introduced to a worldwide audience as this method is a culmination of knowledge over his lifetime.

Sam's teaching methods always start with the acknowledgment of the foundation—how to be grounded, how to apply hip movements and body movement between the steps. His advice about how to teach rhythm without losing its authenticity is: "Choose the right music that makes you dance Latin as music dictates what the body should be doing."

The Ohio Star Ball Championships

The Ohio Star Ball is one of the largest and most prestigious dance competitions in the United States that Sam has been organizing for 47 years. Over the years, the event has grown into a six-day festival, open to all age groups and styles of dancing. The competition unites the country by attracting competitors from every region of the USA and even Canada.

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Sam is the organizer and co-organizer of several other events across the country and has a major part in creating a DanceSport Series like the World Pro-Am Dance Sport Series, Fordney Foundation Junior and Youth Dance Sport Series and The Best of the Best DanceSport Challenge.

In each venue, Sam strives to bring new challenges and more opportunities to competitors, while keeping in mind that dancing should be first and foremost fun.

Biography - "Passionate Journey" by Sharon Savoy

Sharon Savoy took three years of research and interviewed over 90 people to write this biography. The book takes readers on a seven-decade journey defined by Sam's passion for ballroom dance and love for the dance community. To order the book, visit his website

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On September 14, 2014, a celebration was held at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel where Sam received a Humanitarian Award from the Fordney Foundation.

Afterward, Sam was presented with the BBC&C Lifetime Achievement Award by Pat Traymore. Everyone was entertained by a specially prepared video featuring many people in the dance industry congratulating him on camera.

Private Life

Sam Sodano and Bill Sparks have been in a relationship for 36 years. They still enjoy each other's company, professionally and privately. "It’s all about giving back,” Sam says. They love to spend time with friends, listen to good music and visit Broadway shows in New York and Columbus, Ohio, which is their hometown.

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To learn more about Sam, you are invited to listen to the podcast on Spotify - Barbara's Dance Room.

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