Collegiate Ballroom Dancers Redefine the Meaning of Summer Vacations
It’s 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning that promises to be a gorgeous summer day. Inside the Richard J. Codey Arena in New Jersey are ballroom dancers oblivious to the sun preparing to compete in the Northeast Regional DanceSport Championships. School may be out, but collegiate ballroom competitors know that is hardly an excuse to slack off from dancing. “My partner and I practice 6 hours a week and sometimes more when it gets close to a competition. It’s important to know that you’re improving,” explained Lindsey Healy, a Museum Studies graduate student at New York University and a bronze-level competitor.
Thanks to shows like Dancing With the Stars, which has pulled in as many as 20 million viewers, ballroom dancing is enjoying a huge wave of popularity. However, even before dance shows came on the scene, college students around the country have been dedicating hours each week to learning dance routines, perfecting their partnerwork, and refining their technique. The East Coast alone has over 35 colleges and universities, ranging from Ivy League schools to small liberal arts colleges, that offer ballroom dancing among their extracurricular activities. As ballroom dancing gains mainstream popularity, competitors are noticing higher skill levels emerging at competitions. “Ballroom dancing has definitely become more competitive since I started. Anyone who is a serious dancer practices and improves everyday, even if it’s only an hour or two each day,” asserted Rose Ravelo, who recently completed her graduate studies at Purdue University and competes at the championship level.
The increasing number of colleges vying to attract students to their competitions could be another indication of a growing competitiveness in the collegiate ballroom community. “The college circuit has become very hectic; there’s at least one competition a month,” noted Yang Chen, President of the Greater NY USA Dance, a non-profit organization with chapters throughout the country that promotes the interests of competitive ballroom dancers. “Summer is the time to take a break, but I hope students are also using this time to train,” he said.
Although most students have yet to abandon the idea of summer vacations as a relaxation period, a number of students have come to embrace it as a rich opportunity to advance. “Summer is definitely a time to improve. For many competitors it’s the time to jump a level and move up in the fall when competitions kick up again. Nowadays though, there are so many comps in the summer that the season doesn’t really end. A lot of the college kids have more time in the summer, so practice kicks up even more,” added Meagan O’Toole, an NYU law student and a gold level competitor.
It can be difficult to understand the appeal behind spending the hot summer indoors taking dance lessons until you speak to a competitor. “It’s a great feeling when you’re out on the floor and your team is cheering you on,” explained Sara Wendell, a recent graduate from George Washington University. “There’s a lot of camaraderie and school spirit in ballroom. Many of my strongest friendships are from ballroom.”#