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Teen wins country dancing title

January 22, 2009|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- There is nothing unusual about a visit to Disney World during Christmas vacation, but instead of coming back with pictures of Space Mountain, Newell DeFreest returned with a world championship in country dancing.

The 17-year-old came home from the United Country Western Dance Council competition as the World Champion Pro-Am Male Teen Newcomer. In his division, he placed first in the polka, nightclub, cha-cha, waltz, two-step, East Coast swing and West Coast swing competitions, dancing with Professional UCWDC World Champion Master Rachel Jones.

"I've only been competing for about a year," Newell said.

His parents, Dan and Athena DeFreest, had been taking ballroom dancing classes from a retired Army colonel, Frank Hancock, when Newell decided to go to one about two years ago.

"He saw us dancing around the kitchen and asked if he could come along," Dan DeFreest said.

Their son's talent caught the attention of dance teacher Steve Herson, who encouraged Newell to enter his first competition, dancing with his first partner, Dani Boock.

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In October 2007, Newell went to his first competition. He needed to compete in three to qualify for the UCWDC competition and had five under his belt by the time he left for Orlando, Fla., shortly after Christmas, returning with the championship belt and trophy a few days later.

DeFreest and Rachel Jones bested a small field of competitors, in this case two teams from Canada, he said.

"I practice at least one hour a day by myself," Newell said, using DVDs prepared by Rachel and Rex Jones. Newell also practices with 16-year-old Russian exchange student Adelya Fatikhova.

While Rachel Jones was his dance partner in the UCWDC competition, the two could not get together often because she lives in Georgia. For the world championships, Newell met up with the Joneses in Atlanta to polish their routines before the competition.

Newell used his earnings from Target to finance his travels to competitions.

"Hopefully, I'll be competing next year at the next level, which is novice," said Newell, who also competes on the high school's varsity tennis team.

While having accomplished a lot in a short time as a competitive dancer, Newell said he has not put those skills to much social use yet.

"I don't usually go to school dances," Newell said.

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