FLORENCE — Kristina Casazza and Chaz Frankenberry stood on the stage last year and found out they had come in second among couples competing to be the best swing dancers at Country Thunder. Luckily, the runners-up still received a pair of tickets to this year’s festival, meaning they had a chance at redemption.
“We had to come back,” Casazza said.
They made the most of it, too, wowing the large crowd gathered under the Electric Thunder tent with aerial moves and rapid movement around the dance floor. And this time, when the crowd was given the opportunity to pick a winner of Dancing with the Thunder, the roars made the choice obvious.
The competition was open to all attendees, with couples competing in the qualifying rounds on Thursday and Friday, with the best 16 moving on to Saturday’s final. The top three of that group then put on one last show for the crowd before the winner was chosen.
The girlfriend-and-boyfriend couple, ages 32 and 35, respectively, actually met dancing at a bar in Pleasanton, California, just over a year ago. Casazza lives in California, while Frankenberry lives in Austin, Texas. An environmental engineer, he has been working in California recently in the aftermath of the massive wildfires.
Since they typically live so far apart, there isn’t a lot of time for practicing. They do social dancing on the weekends, but that’s about it. Yet when they got out on the dance floor last weekend, it seemed as if this is all they do. The hardest move, they said, is probably the front flip in which Frankenberry tosses Casazza into the air and catches her.
“It’s not really about feeling comfortable,” Frankenberry said. “It’s more of a dynamic, so it’s ever-evolving, with styles changing.”
Each performance is about four minutes long, and without any routines. The thrill of it is that the dancers are improvising their moves to the music, so the couple has to be on the same page as to what is coming next.
“We love the creativity involved,” Casazza said. “You can be technical, but you can also do a lot of lifts. And we love the music.”
Frankenberry said that when they were announced as winners, it just felt like a relief because it was over. Doing these dances is tiring work, and competing over two days takes its toll. But they came away winners, which brought with it a meet-and-greet with Saturday night’s headliner, Dierks Bentley, as well as $500 and premium passes for next year’s Country Thunder.
The couple is excited to come back to the festival next year, but they don’t know if they’re going to compete yet. But they have enjoyed the small dancing community that has formed through the competition.
“This year, it was really awesome because the other dancers were great all around,” Casazza said. “It was just fun to be around all these great dancers.”