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26 January 2014

Ballroom for Beginners: So you think you wanna dance...


Matt and I with our first blue ribbon at the MIT Open in 2011.
Maybe you watch Dancing with the Stars, or have seen Richard Gere twirl across the big screen with Jennifer Lopez. Maybe your parents dance a little, or you saw the NYU ballroom team at Club Fest. Somehow or other, you found out about ballroom dancing and thought it would be fun to give it a shot. 
People often ask me how I got into ballroom. The truth is, I can’t pinpoint an exact reason or moment I decided to take the plunge. I think I had always had it in my head that such a glamorous, elegant way to move to music would be a fun and different thing to learn. That, and I did tune into Dancing with the Stars diligently every week. It was all so exciting and different, and I swear I got butterflies every time Jonathan Roberts swept his partner into a throwaway oversway.

I signed up for the ballroom team and club listserves as soon as I got to NYU as a starry-eyed freshman. The thought of competing intimidated me too much though, so I joined the much more low-key sounding recreational ballroom club, which met for a couple hours every Saturday afternoon to learn some basic steps. These lessons quickly became the highlight of my week, and I went back almost every week for two years. Eventually, after talking to some other people who were on the team, I realized that joining a competitively oriented team would help me learn how to do more material, and better. 

When I pictured the people I would soon meet on the ballroom team, I imagined very serious dancers who had been dancing all their lives. They probably wore all black, had stern expressions on their faces all the time, and vaguely resembled the guys from Center Stage. But when I finally got to my first team lesson, what I found was a group of people just like me, who had heard about ballroom somewhere along the line and were just interested to learn more. (When I first started practicing in a real studio, I did find aforementioned intense dancer people.) The rest of that semester was a blur of dancing and competing and making amazing friends (and yes, I met my current boyfriend too) and having the best time of my life. 

Steve and I at MAC 2014. Photo by Ryan Kenner Photography.
Thinking back, I can’t believe it took me that long to realize how much I loved this new hobby. It gave me so much more than just more dance steps – I gained a lot of confidence, the closest thing to a “real” college experience I could at NYU, and a hobby I can pursue for the rest of my life. I love also that the social aspect is built in – it is a partner dance after all, so meeting new people is kind of a given. Previously I had mostly kept to myself, so this was the kick I needed to “put myself out there”.

So if the thought had ever crossed your mind to learn ballroom, try it out! Get one of those endless Groupon deals for salsa classes and learn a few steps. It’s a great activity for couples especially. If nothing else, you’ll have a couple steps to show off at weddings. But maybe you’ll find new hobby that will enrich your life as much as it did mine =). If ballroom’s not your thing but you’re kind of feeling in a life funk, do try something new even if it scares you a little bit. Most things worth doing are a bit scary at first!

That said, one of the main topics I’ll be writing about on this little blog is ballroom – specifically geared towards beginners to the competitive scene. Competitive dancesport is pretty crazy and very different from anything I had ever done before so when I started I had a ton of questions. I’ll address things like costuming, hair and makeup, developing technique, attending a first competition, when to start getting private lessons, etc. I hope it can be of use to the newbies, and maybe some more experienced dancers can chip in too. I’m planning on posting at least once or twice every week.

Check back soon for updates!

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