Higher Ed

Get Your Cha-Chas Out

Collegiate dancesport teams give nondance majors a chance to show their stuff.

Students competing in the BADC, held at Columbia University

It’s a chilly March night, but there’s plenty of sweat inside Columbia University’s Roone Arledge Auditorium. As music blares overhead, scores of college students—proudly sporting school jackets—crowd the perimeters, hooting, whistling and cheering, smartphones held aloft to record their teammates in action.

No, this isn’t March Madness. It’s the Big Apple Dancesport Challenge (BADC), hosted by the Columbia University Ballroom Dance Team. More than 584 competitors—dressed head to toe in sparkles, feathers and tails—flaunt their fox-trots, tangos, sambas and cha-chas over the annual two-day event. While some are amateur ballroom dancers, most competitors are college students representing 67 different schools—just a sampling of the country’s hundreds of collegiate dancesport teams. These student-run organizations are open to all skill levels and coached by professionals. For those with dance backgrounds, joining a college ballroom team can provide not only a fun outlet for their skills, but also valuable social and leadership opportunities.

 

Ballroom’s Learning Curve

Etta Iannaccone, a senior science, technology and society major at Scripps College, grew up dancing ballet, tap, modern and jazz in La Cañada, California, and admits it felt strange not going to the studio every day after high school. “I knew I wanted to keep dancing, but I wasn’t as committed to ballet anymore,” she says. “I decided to go another way, and that way was ballroom.”

Joining her school’s ballroom team also seemed like a great way to meet people. Indeed, Yuehwern Yih and Daniel Dilley, professional American Rhythm competitors and head coaches for Purdue University’s team, admit most students initially join for the social experience. “We have to trick them into learning the technique,” says Yih, whose team has performed on “Dancing with the Stars” and is ranked second in the nation.

Most college dancesport organizations are divided into different categories based on commitment level, from social dance classes to team practices. Iannaccone soon found herself practicing four nights a week, with her weekends spent either social dancing or competing at collegiate ballroom events.

Dancers compete within their skill levels, which range from beginner (called newcomer or pre-bronze) to very advanced or championship. Yih notes that while students with previous dance training usually excel, they have to start from the beginning. “You’re in heels,” she says. “The way you plié is different. In ballroom you bend one knee at a time, and it has to roll inward—that’s what makes that crazy hip action.” Plus, there’s a lot to learn. Dancesport includes two different styles: International, which is recognized worldwide, and American, which is similar but mostly limited to the United States. International Standard/American Smooth dances are characterized by formality and grace (think waltzes, flowing dresses and tuxedos), while International Latin/American Rhythm dances are faster and sexier (lots of hip action, short skirts). Some colleges also have a formation team, which performs group numbers.

A Hard-Core Hobby

Once bitten by the ballroom bug, many students become serious about it. Nonie Shiverick—an amateur competitor and Barnard College/Columbia University alumna who, along with partner Jason Seabury, took first in champion-level Smooth at the BADC—had never had a ballroom lesson before joining Columbia’s team. Her background in figure skating, ballet and jazz came in handy, however, and it wasn’t long before she threw all of her energy into dancesport. “I took every dance form I could at Barnard,” says Shiverick, who filled her electives with dance classes. She sought out private ballroom lessons, and while studying abroad in England she trained with world champion Standard dancer John Wood. Back home, weekends were spent traveling to competitions. “It’s like being on a varsity sports team,” she says.

Iannaccone devotes up to 10 hours a week to the Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Company, which competes and puts on independent performances. “Our performances are more theatrical—there are lifts, tricks, a bit of a story,” says Iannaccone, who serves as CCBDC’s president. Dancers on the tour team, who are the most advanced, also have opportunities to coach other members. “It’s a good way for them to spread the knowledge that they’ve learned and have a chance to choreograph,” she adds.

Leadership Opportunities

Since dancesport teams are student-led organizations, there are plenty of opportunities to develop business acumen. Most schools host their own competition, which often requires months of planning. Shivrat Chhabra, who graduated from Columbia’s chemical engineering department in May, served as this year’s competition chair for the BADC. Not only did he and his committee have to book a venue a year in advance, they had to organize housing, raise funds, secure sponsorships and negotiate guest artist contracts. The experience gave his resumé an edge. “I spent half of one job interview talking about putting this event together,” says Chhabra.

“I developed a lot of skills that will help me long after I stop dancing,” says Iannaccone.

Shiverick, who co-chaired the 2012 BADC, agrees. But while students develop valuable leadership skills, the dancing is what keeps them coming back. Since graduating, Shiverick continues competing full-time as an amateur; she and Seabury are among the top Smooth couples in the Northeast. “I’m currently looking for a job that is satisfying as a career but will still allow me to ballroom dance,” she says. “When I think of my life without ballroom, it just seems kind of empty.” DT

 Photo by Joseph Pasaoa, courtesy of Shivrat Chhabra

Show Comments ()
Photo by TC, courtesy of Guillette

Healing through movement has proven to be a powerful salve for pain, trauma and even disease. In an effort to explore her own grief, dancer and writer Suzanne Guillette created a piece titled Moving, for You: A Tribute to Empathy. The project, which initially honored a collection of other people's written personal stories of grief and loss, evolved into a short film of Guillette's improvisational movement. As one story contributor Lindsay McKinnon described it, "Suzie is 'singing over bones' and allowing those painful places to live and breathe, dance and be free."

Here is Guillette's journey that discovers and celebrates empathy and joy through dance.

Keep reading... Show less

Alexandra Costumes' bold apparel has been making its way onto stages across the nation and people are noticing. Why do coaches love these costumes so much? With years of experience in the dance industry, the minds behind Alexandra Costumes know what works for dancers—comfort, performance and stage-worthy style.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Via Jaime Guttenberg's memorialized Facebook page

Last week the dance community was heartbroken to learn that Jaime Guttenberg, a 14-year-old dancer, was among the 17 people killed on Valentine's Day in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Jaime trained at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL and was a member of the studio's DTX competition team. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick said this on Facebook:

You can join dancers across the nation in showing support for Jaime's family, her friends, and her dance community by wearing orange ribbons at competitions, in class, or at rehearsal this weekend. Our hearts go out to everyone who loves Jaime, and to everyone touched by the shooting in Parkland.

This article was orignally published on dancespirit.com.

Dance Teacher Tips
Ailey School co-director Tracy Inman with students from the Professional Division. Photo by Eduardo Patino, courtesy of The Ailey School

Are you students stressed in class? Mixing up your music choices might help.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Once a dancer recovers from a foot or leg injury—usually via rest and physical therapy—it's time for them to slowly reintegrate into class. They may ease in by taking barre or doing only the warm-up before working their way up to a full class, depending on how they feel and their physical therapist's advice. One of the last movements to add back into a dancer's regular practice is big jumps, since they require strength and control to take off and land safely.

But what if it didn't have to be that way? New research suggests that using jumps as part of injury recovery could actually help dancers make a stronger return to training.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Rachelle Rafailedes in L.A. Dance Project's Orpheus Highway. Photo by Erin Baiano

Watching L.A. Dance Project's Rachelle Rafailedes travel the world with mesmerizing movement quality, it's hard to believe she's ever had aspirations of anything but a professional dance career. Surprisingly, though, the Juilliard alum didn't even consider dance as a career until she was well into high school. "I just wanted to do it because I enjoyed it," she says. "I didn't realize I could do it to make a living."

Rafailedes attributes her longtime love affair with dance to the late Theatre Dance Centre teacher, Richard Moore, in Canton, Ohio. "He inspired a love for dance without pressure or high stakes. He taught with encouragement and led me to believe that there wasn't anything I couldn't do." Moore passed away in 2000 when Rafailedes was only 13. Here she shares a favorite memory and an emotional shout-out to her beloved teacher.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News

When dancer and teacher Joy Ndombeson heard an elderly couple's love story, she was inspired to retell it through dance–the good and the bad. The piece titled Arnie and Brenda's Story: Love is a critique of the fairy tale about love that society sells, says Ndombseon. "The story that's unrealistic versus the real love, which is messy, hard but priceless and worth the work."

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored