Scotch Ball returns

The music is floating out of the ballroom and into the University Center, but it?s not the typical sound of a choir practicing behind closed doors. The doors are instead wide open, with streamers flanking each side, but one might be a bit confused by what is revealed inside. If one takes a peek one might see a few small children dancing with professional-looking steps in the middle of the floor. If they were not so dressed up or so serious, one might think they were simply playing. Stepping inside reveals not only children, but teenagers and adults, all dressed in similar fashion ? the women in flexible materials like nylon and spandex, the men almost invariably in black suits and vests or open-chested shirts. It becomes fairly obvious ? even if one happens to miss the sign outside the door ? that the majority of the audience is here to dance. As it turns out, the women in heavy makeup and sequined eyelashes and the men in ... heels are not just dancing, but competing in Scotch Ball, an event sponsored by the Carnegie Mellon Ballroom Dance Club (CMUBDC).

Previously in Carnegie Mellon history, the Ballroom Dance Club was the largest club on campus, according to one former president and still member, Andrew Pueschel, who is a staff member as well as a masters student at Carnegie Mellon. He was not the only member who mentioned this popularity, which came about because of the swing craze around 1998. Currently, the group has about 100 CMU-affilliated members.

Membership, however, is not limited to CMU students; CMUBDC allows for students at local schools as well as CMU alumni, staff, and even non-affiliated parties to join, according to the club?s website. Aurora Zinck, a sophomore in materials science and engineering, is president of CMUBDC. She described how colleges like Duquesne and the University of Pittsburgh either have a much smaller organization or none at all, and students will come to join the CMUBDC because of its larger scale.

The members, from different schools and age groups, have found the experience rewarding. Tom Gilbert, the competition team captain, had no previous experience in ballroom dance when he joined as a first-year.

?I came for one reason and stayed for another,? said Gilbert, who is now finishing his education as a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. He described how his initial interest had been in a young lady who invited him to come, but that he stayed because he enjoyed it. Ten years ago Carnegie Mellon was a place with ?not a lot of school spirit,? according to Gilbert. ?[It was] hard to meet people in a way that wasn?t drinking.?

According to Zinck there is quite a large number of people who come back after either taking a break or leaving college.

The Scotch Ball, returning for the first time in three years, was certainly a big event for the CMUBDC, as well as one that featured several still-members who are no longer attend Carnegie Mellon or have completed their undergraduate work. It was a two-day event, but the competition was limited solely to the second day; the first was dedicated to social events.

The competition featured categories in American Rhythm, American Smooth, International Standard, and International Latin dance. To someone unfamiliar with ballroom dancing these categories can seem meaningless, but the moves are recognizable. In addition to these categories, there is the additional complication of labeling different types as either ?Syllabus? or ?Open.? The categories, as described by Gilbert, are almost self-explanatory. Syllabus restricts dancers to a set of perhaps 20 moves and open allows them to do as they please as long as it matches the style.

Along with a variety of categories was a large range of participants. Scotch Ball was not restricted to just CMUBDC, but rather invited various studios and colleges to attend. There were participants at last night?s competitions from Case Western Reserve University, Ohio State University, and many others. The children, however, were solely from the Art and Style Dance Studio, a nearby studio that had many respresentatives at the event.

?We?re trying to outreach to the community, so we invited the kids,? said Zinck of their involvement. Art and Style had quite a few participants in Scotch Ball, not just to children.

Zinck described organizing an event like Scotch Ball as merely going around to other competitions, d-listing members and just getting the word out. The event, as well as the club, encourages social interaction, according to Zinck. People from out of state stay over the weekend with student members or others from around the Pittsburgh area, and the Friday night events are all orchestrated to get to know other competitors.

This social aspect of the club and the competition was a huge theme for members. Jack Liu, a sophomore in mathematical sciences and secretary of the club, described how you can make the club what you want, dedicating time for the social aspect, or treating it as a sport. Liu, like Gilbert, started the club as a first-year. Liu also mentioned the competition?s inclusion of fun dances and social dances as icebreakers where people of different colleges can meet and greet.

The competition was serious, however, featuring dancers in several different levels of advancement. The children?s categories were labeled according to age, but the adult categories are labeled according to skill level, using the qualifiers newcomer, bronze, silver, and gold.

The dancers were put through what Zinck described as a rather challenging repertoire of up to four dances in a row. Though the emcee did not play the entire song, the dancers had to be able to switch between different styles of dance, which can be extremely fast-paced. Zinck continued to emphasize how much time and money it takes to reach these levels of prowess.

?These people have jobs or go to school,? she said, noting how much devotion it would require to reach the professional level.

Despite the devotion of time, the members continue to laud the group as a great social outlet, not just among CMU students, but also at competitions where one can meet people from other areas of the country. Kim Judd, the instructor for the CMUBDC, noted that at CMU, members join ?because they actually want to dance ? there?s not the grade or the fact that they paid [money],? differentiating between people who take dance as a class or pay large sums for lessons and people who join the club. Though the club has dues, the amounts are a pittance compared to the price for professional lessons.

The Scotch Ball event embraced different schools, different age groups, and different levels of skill, making for a wide range of participants that was obvious just from looking around the audience. After its three-year absence, Scotch Ball returned to the delight of various members and non-members who came to compete.