September 30, 2022 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

SoCal Local Brings Home Bronze Medal from 2018 Gay Games Paris

A Santa Monican’s journey to medaling in dance at the 10th anniversary of the Gay Games.

By Brianna Kwasnik

Ten years ago, now Santa Monica resident, Jo Popadynetz was asked what her goal was when signing up for a local gym.

The person signing her up laughed when she told them she wanted to compete in the Gay Games. While it was a dream of hers, it was not yet set in motion.

This August, her and her dance partner, Deborah Fields Perez took home the bronze medal at the 10th annual Gay Games held in Paris, for the Women’s Senior Latin for the World Championship. The pair placed third out of 361 participants in the contest.

Jo with her bronze medal at Gay Games.

The Gay Games is held every four years and offers over 36 different sporting events. Participants can compete solo or as part of a team. This year brought out over 10,000 competitors from over 70 countries.

Popadynetz’ journey to dance began in 2016 when a friend told her of a gay social dance class being held by Liora Paniz. Here, she fell in love with dancing because she got to lead for the first time.

The instructors she’s had made her feel very welcome by honoring her wish to lead in dance. Some instructors have begun saying “leader and follower” rather than “man and woman” in terms of who leads the dance.

“It was like a whole world opened up,” she said. “Dancing makes the whole world disappear, you can’t think of anything else but the steps, your arms, your partner and the music.”

She soon found out that Paniz was giving private lessons and taking her students to a same-sex ballroom dance competition in the Latin category in Ohio.

“Jo was immediately ready to go after the first class she took,” Paniz said. “Her eyes became bigger and brighter as the class progressed.”


Immediately after her competition in Ohio, Popadynetz threw herself into training for the Gay Games.

Initially, Paniz was going to be her partner, however, due to prior obligations and preparing to start law school at USC, she was unable to dedicate the time needed to prepare to compete.

Two months into training, Jo tore two of her hamstrings and required a major surgery. She couldn’t dance for seven months.

She resumed her training in August 2017, one year prior to the start of the games, and was still without a partner. She began asking around the studio where she was taking classes, By Your Side Studio, in Culver City, and Deborah Fields Perez, who owns the studio was eager to step up to the task. Although she was taking classes with another instructor and the two hadn’t spoken prior, Fields Pere said she saw that Jo had natural talent and given her dedication, she knew she would put in the work and give it her all.

“I took on the challenge, because I could see in her eyes how much it meant to her,” Fields Perez said. “I couldn’t say no if I wanted to.”

Fields Perez immediately got to work choreographing five dances for the competition. The next challenge was for the pair to learn the moves and focus on how to properly execute the dances.

Jo said she danced as often as she could afford, given that dance classes were private lessons. She often practiced at home, working on memorizing the choreography.
Arriving in Paris for the first time was emotional for Popadynetz.

“To see all the same sex couples on the dance floor rehearsing together and the music playing in this space where it’s safe and celebrated, it was overwhelming emotionally,” Popadynetz said. “Never before have I felt that kind of welcome and community.”
Popadynetz said the experience overall hadn’t fully set in until her and Fields Perez returned to the states and she had a moment to process it all.

For now, she’s not sure exactly what the future holds, but she said “I know this: I’m not going to stop dancing. I’m just going to put one foot in front of the other right now.”

Related Posts

Liberation Café Hosts Anniversary Celebration, in-Person Dining After Two-Year Pandemic Restrictions

September 22, 2022

September 22, 2022

By Susan Payne Two years after opening, the plastic partitions that separated employees and customers inside of Liberation Coffee House...

Long Beach Police Arrest Possible Suspect in Stabbing Death Outside of a Popular Gay Bar

September 22, 2022

September 22, 2022

By Susan Payne Long Beach Police have arrested a man in connection to a murder outside of Mineshaft gay bar...

Santa Monica Hotel Hosting Monthly Drag Brunch

September 22, 2022

September 22, 2022

Drag Me to Brunch at Lowes Santa Monica Beach Hotel on the third Sunday of every month By Dolores Quintana...

Famous Italian Singer Zucchero to Play Beverly Hills Theatre on Sept. 30

September 21, 2022

September 21, 2022

Zucchero will play at Beverly Hills’ Saban Theatre, one of several American stops on his World Wide Tour  By Susan...

Santa Monica Pride History: Public Panics Over Perceived Homosexuality at Muscle Beach

September 16, 2022

September 16, 2022

By Susan Payne In a scholarly article called “Muscle Beach prompted both fascination and anxiety,” Historian Elsa Devienne studies Santa...

LAUSD Releases Pride Calendar That Helps Educators Support LGBTQ+ Students

September 15, 2022

September 15, 2022

By Susan Payne  The Los Angeles Unified School District is giving schools and teachers a monthly calendar that promotes and...

Respect Los Angeles Hails JoJo Siwa as ‘Gamechanger for LGBTQ Advocacy’

September 15, 2022

September 15, 2022

By Susan Payne Come October, JoJo Siwa will be honored as a gamechanger at the upcoming GLSEN Respect Log Angeles...

West Hollywood Launches Initiative to Prevent Drink Spiking

September 15, 2022

September 15, 2022

By Susan Payne Drink spiking at bars and restaurant is a growing problem. To curb that problem, the city of...

California Candidate for Congress Seeks to Be First Transgender, Nonbinary Member

September 8, 2022

September 8, 2022

By Susan Payne More than 100 LGBTQ+ people have run or are currently running for Congress this year, including 13...

WeHo Gay Bar ‘The Or’ is Opening Soon, Accepting Applications

September 8, 2022

September 8, 2022

Bar owner foresees ‘cool, 1970s, ‘80s trashy cocaine chic’ vibes  By Susan Payne Set for a September opening in the...

Georgia Added to California Travel Ban Post Anti-Trans Youth Sports Law Passage

September 8, 2022

September 8, 2022

By Susan Payne California is restricting state-funded travel to Georgia as a result of its anti-LGBTQ+ legislation recently passed within...

QFilms Long Beach Screens Billy Eichner RomCom ‘Bros’

September 8, 2022

September 8, 2022

In partnership with the Art Theatre, 29th Annual film festival is happening now By Susan Payne Dozens of features and...

LA Public Health Expands Monkeypox Vaccine Eligibility

August 26, 2022

August 26, 2022

Persons of any gender or sexual orientation who engaged in commercial and/or transactional sex in the past 14 days now...

Black LGBTQ+ Rally for Brittney Griner Ignited by Former Firefighter

August 25, 2022

August 25, 2022

By Susan Payne  Olympian and WNBA basketball star Brittany Griner received a nine-year sentence in Russia for possessing hash oil...

Detroit Vesey’s Announces Decision to Move with Possible Expansion to Offer Liquor, Larger Drag Acts

August 25, 2022

August 25, 2022

By Susan Payne  Inflation in a world still impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged small businesses in more ways...