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BU Ballroom Dance Club Offers Lessons, Competitions, Shows

Casual vibe promotes a love of dancing

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On a cold Saturday morning in mid-February, Nikita Varman and Angel Wu were up at 4 a.m. for what would turn out to be a very long day. Varman (CAS’19, SAR’19), BU Ballroom Dance Club president, and Wu (CGS’17), the club’s public relations coordinator, were checking on last minute details for the club’s biggest event of the season: the annual Terrier Dancesport competition, which draws more than 400 ballroom competitors from colleges across the Northeast.

Varman and Wu were triple-checking that the electronic scoring system was functioning properly and helping teammates prepare their hair and makeup before the 8 a.m. start time. The competition was the culmination of months of planning. In addition to lining up judges and finding and inviting teams to compete, Varman says, team members have to tend to myriad tasks, from reaching out to other ballroom programs in the Northeast to lining up prize sponsors to ordering flowers, food, ribbons, and the numbers contestants wear on their backs as they compete.

Over the course of the day, 4 to 12 couples at a time took to the floor of the Metcalf Ballroom, the women resplendent in ball gowns and sparkly costumes, the men wearing black vests and pants and white shirts, although some elected a more formal black-tie treatment. The women’s outfits can run as high as $1,500, but the BU team has a trove of dresses handed down from year to year that members can use, and a couple of new outfits are bought each season, adding to the inventory.

This year’s daylong competition kicked off with Latin and rhythm dance competitions, followed by standard smooth dances. By day’s end, 7 p.m., the BU ballroom team had placed 31 times in 20 different categories, capturing 8 first-place awards.

Founded in 1995, the BU Ballroom Dance Club has been hosting the Dancesport competition since 2001. It’s one of two major events it sponsors each year. The other event is Montage, which is held in the fall and offers a performance showcase for various BU dance groups.

The club recruits members at Splash, the student activities fair held at the start of each school year. Varman, who had never taken ballroom dancing, was introduced to the team there as a freshman. “I came for the free lesson, but I stayed for the people,” she says.

In addition to hosting showcases and competitions, members travel to competitions at other schools (they’ll compete on Saturday at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), and the team holds twice-weekly lessons in the George Sherman Union Alley, open to all BU students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The lessons are followed by an open practice.

Alan Jankowski (from left), Angel Wu, and Jia Li at a BU Ballroom Dance Club practice in the GSU Alley.

Alan Jankowski (ENG’18) (from left), Angel Wu (CGS’17), and Jia Li (Questrom ’18) at a BU Ballroom Dance Club practice in the GSU Alley.

Professional teachers offer beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes on Tuesdays (Latin and rhythm) and Thursdays (smooth and standard). The first class is free and subsequent classes are just $5. Discounted rates are available: $40 gets undergrads a semester’s worth of weekly classes ($60 for postgrads, faculty, and staff). The cost is slightly more to take two classes a week.

On any given Tuesday, you’ll find people of all ages learning how to master cha cha, rumba, and swing. On Thursdays it’s waltz, tango, and foxtrot. But the open practice sessions are often the most fun. Fleet-footed Terriers can be found cutting loose to songs from the likes of Rob Thomas or Ed Sheeran. The mood is light and infectiously happy.

“My favorite feature of the club is the atmosphere,” says Luke Jones (CAS’17), who first took up dancing in high school and loved it. “Everyone is open with each other here and we’ve become good friends. The instructors have been invaluable. They challenge me from different directions and have helped my posture and balance in my day-to-day life. The club has changed my life immeasurably.”

For others, like Varman, the classes and practice sessions are a great way to reduce stress. “This is where I come to just dance it out,” she says.

Members put in countless hours— many practice at least eight hours a week—but they say it’s fun, not work. And what begins as a lark for many occasionally leads to romance. “We joke that if you’ve been with your dance partner for four years, you’re probably dating,” says Sarah Wu (COM’17). A number of recent ballroom alums who met in the club are still a couple, she says.

And often what members learn on the dance floor informs their life in unexpected ways. According to club treasurer Patrick Reilly (Questrom’18), “Being on the team has allowed me to learn and improve my skills in something outside the realm of business…Most important, it has helped me with communicating and sharing feedback with others.”

The BU Ballroom Dance Team will compete at the RPI Dancesport Competition at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y., tomorrow, Saturday, March 25. The team will also compete at the MIT Open competition at the Rockwell Cage, 106 Vassar St., Cambridge, on Saturday, April 29, and Sunday, April 30.

Find more information about the BU Ballroom Dance Club and Team here, or on its Facebook page. Follow the club on Twitter @BUBallroom.

Connor Lenahan can be reached at lenahan@bu.edu.

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