A publication to engage the dance community. Learn. Discuss. Contribute. Enjoy.

Gaining Perspective

The National Collegiate DanceSport Championship

By Joel Torgeson

University of Minnesota Competitive Ballroom Dance Team competing
“Joel! We made finals in both!” my partner, Rosemary O’Connell, said with a grin. I confirmed it with my own eyes, briefly laughed aloud, and smiled too. As I jogged to the water station in a last-ditch effort to beat back the advancing desert in my throat, I couldn’t help wondering at that outcome. I had known it would be a stretch for me to jump to silver-level dancing just over a year after trying my first waltz box step. I knew that with hard work and determination I had the potential to show well. But I definitely did not expect to final in a silver event, let alone two!

We hurried to the on-deck area, just in time to wipe the sweat off our faces and check in with the deck captain. In the seconds before our heat was called, I couldn’t help but notice the nervous, excited energy emanating from the newcomer couples who were lining up across the way from us. I vividly remembered being right there last year, watching the silver couples lining up and getting ready to take their places for their finals, and I wondered if I fit my memory’s mirror. The silver couples back then had seemed so serious, so incredibly good and competitive. I certainly felt competitive at that moment, but good? Not so much. The more I thought about my own dancing, the less good I felt about it. But that spoke to something else in my memory of those couples back then; they’d seemed so wrapped up in their own dancing, their eyes and faces set with mental preparations for the dance to come. Before I had time to think any further, our heat was called, and everything but partner, music, and competition faded into a comfortable blur beyond the range of my cognition. One after another, waltz, tango, Viennese, and foxtrot all came together with fun and terror. Fewer than seven minutes later, it was over, and we were panting on the sidelines. Our dancing done, we had only to wait for awards.

With my dancing done for the moment, my mind drifted back to the thought I’d had briefly before taking the floor, that the silver couples had seemed so very caught up in their own dancing. It’s hard to put a finger on precisely what it is that made them feel distant, but an honest look at myself revealed the same pattern; it seemed that everything about dance related to strictly my partner and me. I felt I was constantly struggling against my own inadequacies, as if by practicing that promenade just right, or getting out of her way just a little more in the natural, everything about the dance would click into place and it would instantaneously be right. Something about that approach strikes me as off.

Don’t get me wrong; I completely believe in hard work, and it’s necessity in advancing one’s dancing. Those endlessly practiced promenades and naturals are the building blocks of better dancing. Without them, the edifice of dance doesn’t get far off the ground. But also, I have come to see (perhaps, more accurately, glimpse) that simply knowing the mechanics of a good natural or promenade is not enough either. To complete the building metaphor, the building blocks are nothing more than cold stone without something important to house. While working on the structural aspects of dance, I fear I lost some of the drive that initially drew me to it. I’ve decided it’s my New Year’s resolution, if you will, to get back to the basics of dance: loving the music and the movement, and just having fun with it! I’ll still work hard and practice my promenades and naturals, but hopefully not to the exclusion of finding joy in what I’m doing.

As for the rest of the team, Collegiate Nationals 2013 was, by all accounts, a success. Looking at things from a purely statistical standpoint, this year showed our team as a whole making more callbacks, on average, than the two years previous (and possibly beyond—I don’t have knowledge of those years). We had couples competing in divisions from newcomer all the way to gold, and everyone’s dancing was definitely at a higher plane than it was the year before. Many U of M couples made it to the quarterfinals and semifinals. Lee Wintervold and his two partners did especially well; Lizzie Weaver and Lee took bronze smooth by storm, taking third in waltz and tango and first in foxtrot. Lee and Sierra Kimbrough nailed their performances in bronze standard, placing third in waltz and quickstep, third in foxtrot, and second in tango. Additionally, Michael Kasinkas and Karen Maldonado took fifth in silver rhythm swing and mambo, Michael Veres and Jiarui Li took seventh in bronze American swing, Seth Westlake and Michelle Hale got sixth in newcomer American foxtrot, and Sam Blass and Rachel Marusinec placed sixth in newcomer American waltz. As for my own results, I couldn’t be more pleased! Rosemary O’Connell and I got fourth in silver American waltz and tango, and foxtrot and Viennese waltz, and my other partner, Tijen Petersen, and I took fifth in bronze American swing.

So there you have it: a brief overview of my experience at this year’s Collegiate Nationals. As noted above, I fully intend to focus more on just dancing for the fun of it as this new year unfolds, and I hope all of you out there find as much fun as you can in your dancing as well. Happy New Year, and I hope to see you out dancing soon!