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CMU Ballroom Dance Club fosters dance community

Credit: Courtesy of Ballroom Dance Club Credit: Courtesy of Ballroom Dance Club

The Carnegie Mellon University Ballroom Dance Club is a community of dance lovers, a group of people of all different backgrounds, interests, and levels of dance ability can come together to dance.

When first-year physics major Matias Jonsson came to campus last fall, he had never ballroom danced before and knew very little about it, beyond the fact that it existed. But, he saw many posters around campus about the club, and on a whim, decided to check it out. He never looked back.

“I saw signs everywhere [and] I was like, what the heck, why not?” Jonsson said in an interview with The Tartan. “I’ve never been good at moving or [being] graceful. I always run into stuff. [I thought] I’ll give it a try. Turns out I love it.”

When beginners first join the club, they practice with many other beginners as they learn the dance technique. Over time, dancers form partnerships that work best for them.

“Ballroom is all about partnership,” Jonsson said. “Midway through [the] semester, you figure out who you work well with. You improve more rapidly when you practice with [the] same person.”

There are four styles the club dances: International Standard and Latin and their American versions, Smooth and Rhythm. Beginners can try the different styles at the club’s lessons twice a week, which are open to the Pittsburgh area, while dancers on the competition team perform all four styles at competitions.

Jonsson is a big fan of Latin but appreciates the diversity of ballroom dance that he didn’t realize before he joined the club.

“You have a mental image of what ballroom dancing is, from the cliche waltz or tango, [but] there’s a style for every personality.”

If members want to dance competitively, they can join the club’s Competition Team, which competes around the country in 6-8 events each year with other collegiate ballroom dance teams. While the club counts up to 180 unique members who have attended at least one practice, the Competition Team has 60-70 people. This past weekend, the team competed at the annual Michigan Ballroom Dance Competition hosted by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI.

One of Jonsson’s favorite aspects of the club is the weekend trips they take around the country to different competitions. The constant time together and late nights have led to some great memories and helped to form lasting friendships in the club.

“Ballroom has a way of drawing people in,” Jonsson said. “There’s not one good reason not to do it. It’s a lot of fun.”

Elliott Toy, junior statistics and machine learning major and the club’s Competition Team Captain, has had a similar experience to Jonsson with ballroom dance. When he arrived at Carnegie Mellon, he had no ballroom dance experience and didn’t know much about it.

“I saw a flyer for [the club], I thought it looked really fun, but I went in with low expectations,” Toy said in an interview with The Tartan. “I saw it, I loved it, and kept coming back to rush events. I danced a lot, practiced a lot, probably spent more time on [it] than my [15-112] project.”

For Toy, the ballroom dance club has been an important part of his three years at Carnegie Mellon so far. It has been a community where he can take a step back from all the stress of being a student, and do something he loves to do with people who are equally passionate about it

“Ballroom is like my escape from a very stressful time at CMU between work, schoolwork, clubs, just life in general,” he said. “We are a bunch of people who are united with one purpose to become better dancers, and enjoy the art of dance.”

Toy is excited to see the team continue to compete in the coming year. One of the biggest competitions the team enters is the Arnold DanceSport Classic, held each spring in Columbus Ohio. In the last three years, the team has improved from fourth place, to third place, and second place this past month.

“I’d like to see it grow. I’d like to see us win,” he said. “The people in [the] ballroom are very passionate about it. They join for various reasons, [but] once you get into it, everyone just loves to dance, loves the way it makes them feel. I love being part of the club because I get to be who I am. I’m most at home when I’m dancing.”

Visit the Ballroom Dance Club’s website at www.cmubdc.org/ for more information about the club.