Happy Feet

Attention, all twelve-year-old boys: Krysten Batlle is looking for a dance partner.

Batlle, an attractive brunet with a ready smile and an infectious giggle, is one of the most accomplished competitive ballroom dancers in Miami, if not the state. She's also a seventh-grader at Arvida Middle School in Kendall. Only problem is, she can't find anyone her own age — or within a decade of her own age — interested in rumba, waltz, pasa doble, or even jive.

"They think it's gay," Batlle says of her prepubescent male classmates. "To me, a boy that dances is, like, awesome."

Instead of awesome boys, the five-foot tall Batlle finds herself swishing around area dance floors — about six or seven competitions during an average winter dance season — eye-to-eye with an adult partner's breast pocket. Inevitably she is the youngest dancer, competing against couples who had their midlife crises before she was born. Still, the trophies and medals keep coming, "too many" of the latter stacked on her jewelry box at home. During the past four years, Batlle has won pretty much every competition she has entered.

The daughter of two accountants, Batlle took to dancing almost as soon as she took to walking. She began lessons at age four and hasn't looked back since. Now, with people tuning in to watch the likes of Jerry Springer and Emmitt Smith on Dancing with the Stars, Batlle's choice of recreation seems prescient.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Batlle put on her size four-and-a-half heels and Lycra dress for the Grand National Championships, a sequins-and-sweat-filled competition in Miami Beach pairing amateur dancers with professional instructors. More than $20,000 in prize money was at stake for the pros.

Television cameramen moved awkwardly around Batlle as she stretched and shadow-danced before her events in the hotel ballroom. A newspaper reporter peppered her with questions.

Yes, she had skipped school, but it was okay because she had done well on her tests. When she isn't dancing? Well, she can outswim her brother — and he's a really good swimmer. She has to dance with her instructor's friend, a guy from Germany, she explained for the umpteenth time as she unwrapped a fun-size Hershey's bar. "Sorry, I have to dance the cha-cha now."

On her way to winning 25 first-place awards (good for $75 in vouchers for other pro-am competitions), Batlle offered some advice to aspiring twinkle-toes. "You have to be flexible, have patience, courage, and love dancing." She paused for a beat. "You can't be shy around girls."