"There are no strangers at the Ohio Star Ball, only friends we have not met..."
Sam Sodano, a legendary figure in the world of ballroom dancing, is the mastermind behind the creation of the renowned Ohio Star Ball. His significant contributions to the dance community, coupled with his role as the founder of one of the world’s most prestigious dance events, mark him as a true pioneer and luminary in DanceSport.
Born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, Sodano’s journey in dance began at a young age. He excelled as a competitive dancer, quickly gaining recognition for his talent and technical proficiency. However, it was his transition to professional coaching that truly marked the beginning of his influential career in ballroom dance. With a deep understanding of the artistry and athleticism intrinsic to dance, Sam became an esteemed coach and a mentor, shaping the careers of numerous successful dancers.
Starting over four decades ago as a modest one-day showcase, Sodano’s brainchild, the Ohio Star Ball, has since transformed into the largest Pro/Am competition worldwide. His dedication, courage, and relentless creativity enabled him to surmount early challenges and gradually develop the event into a six-day extravaganza that brings together dancers from across the globe.
Sam Sodano -
is a biography by Sharon Savoy of the one and only Sam Sodano. The title of the book was befittingly chosen by Sam, himself. With three years of research and interviews with over 90 people, the book takes the reader on a seven-decade journey that was propelled and defined by his passion for ballroom dance. The well-known story of Sam’s dance epiphany occurring at age eight while watching the ‘Arthur Murray Dance Party’ sets the stage for his life’s path.
Here’s a brief look into the book, revealing an intriguing journey and remarkable details about Sam.
The American Invasion
“Even my costume went against the grain,” recalls Pat. “Everyone was wearing proper gowns. I couldn’t afford a gown, so I bought a tangerine swimsuit from Cole’s department store and added tangerine and purple fringe. It was wild in comparison.”
People in England didn’t know what to make of these Americans with their bold, brash style. And the judges—what would they do with this American invasion? Would they be open-minded and consider their talent and mark it accordingly, or would they simply ignore it as too wild and not English enough to warrant recognition?
Sam and Pat came in ninth in their first international competition, a fantastic debut that bode well for the upcoming Blackpool and World Championship events. “More than anything, I remember the unforgettable feeling of being on that dance floor,” recalls Sam. It is one of those moments that all dancers hope to experience at least once in their career—the moment when all the elements—the music, the movement, the man, and the woman become one.
“I did a rumba that night with Pat, and when I walked off the floor and I remember saying to her, ‘I don’t know if I ever will capture this feeling again.’ It was so in the moment—the electricity, the connection—it gave me chills. I don’t think you can get that from dancing on your own. It’s not the same experience.”
“When Pat and I took a cha cha lesson with “Lorraine,” one of the most renowned Latin female dancers of her era, she said, ‘I’m not touching your cha cha. I like it just the way you dance it. Show me something else,’” recalls Sam. “Cha cha was my favorite dance. When I went to England that was the dance they marked best. They thought it was International Latin; actually, England didn’t know what it was. I just did what I felt to the music.”
Right Place + Right Time = Prime Time
“I was fortunate to be at the beginning of so many things, the first USBC, the first wave of Latin dancers to go to Blackpool and influence Latin dancing, and now PBS had chosen Ohio Star Ball to be the venue and event for “Championship Ballroom Dancing.”
For many competitors, national exposure on the PBS broadcast meant more than going to the United States Championships. Only one couple wins a national title, but everyone, especially the finalists, had a chance to be seen on TV! If competing at the Ohio Star Ball wasn’t a priority before, it now leap-frogged to the top of the list.
Even the audience wanted their five minutes of fame. They dressed to the nines and waited in long lines to get into the ballroom for the taping of the PBS special. Everyone secretly hoped to be interviewed and asked about their favorite couple or be seen applauding in the background.
“One of my many jobs was to carefully hide the neon sign,” states Aida. “The televised show was Championship Ballroom Dancing, not Ohio Star Ball. We took great pains to hide the sign from our camera’s view. Dozens of crewmembers set up lights, stands, microphones, cameras, and so on. Can you believe we broke that neon sign, not once, or twice, but three different years? I was the one who had to break the news to Sam each time, and boy, was that painful. Of course, Sam repaired it every time, bless his heart.”
Sam’s association with Aida and PBS placed the Ohio Star Ball in the limelight and produced a legacy that still exists today. “We made a perfect partnership,” states Aida. For almost 30 years, Championship Ballroom Dancing, and subsequently America’s Ballroom Challenge, offered viewers an inside look at the glamour, athleticism, and art of ballroom dancing.