The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
National Collegiate DanceSport Championship
By Daniel O’Connell
This year was my fourth and final year competing at the National Collegiate DanceSport Championship. For members of the University of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Club, the trip involves two fourteen-hour bus rides. That's how you know the experience has to be good: it takes a lot to make a trip worth sleeping through the night on a bus.
Held at the same time and place as Ohio Star Ball, the National Collegiate DanceSport Championship often brings out the best collegiate competitors in the country, with extremely large and deep heats compared to a normal competition. Many who compete there go on to the finals and semifinals in their respective divisions and levels at USA Dance Nationals in the spring, so it is a fantastic check-in point at a fantastic price. Here's what I specifically enjoyed (or did not enjoy) about my trip this year:
- Since the trip to Columbus involves a fourteen-hour bus ride, both sleep and good nutrition are hard to come by. Having optimal amounts of energy and hydration can make a big difference in your performance. This year I learned how to optimize my eating and sleep habits while competing. If I had to recommend one thing to others, I would recommend dark-chocolate-covered almonds. The almonds have a good mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein, as well as a little bit of caffeine. They're a great choice for right before you compete and throughout the day. Also please remember to hydrate constantly. I try to drink my weight in fluid ounces, and that seems to work really well for me.
- Competing can often be a solitary affair, but I think that having teammates and friends can make a really big difference in how enjoyable the trip will be. It’s really fun to have friends there for you and cheering you on, and it is wonderful to enjoy the success of others. Having friends can also make the downtime significantly more enjoyable.
- Speaking of fourteen-hour bus rides and friends, we watched every Celebrity Jeopardy skit from Saturday Night Live on the bus ride. It was definitely funnier than I remembered.
- Competitions can be a wonderful learning experience. It can be a great time to learn about yourself and your dancing, and draw inspiration from others. This year I continued to develop the performance side of my dancing, and I learned how to think less while I perform. I also developed a better understanding of what sets apart the truly great couples from the mediocre ones.
- Having wonderful partners is great. I get to dance with my smarter-and-better-looking-than-me wife, so that's always a treat. In addition, I got to dance with Libby Ryan, who is also smarter and better looking than me. Working with her has been a lot of fun, and I look forward to continuing to dance with her at Star of the North and beyond.
- This year I missed a lot of opportunities I’d wanted to take advantage of. Ohio Star Ball is one of the largest (if not the largest) gatherings of vendors in the country. Since my wife and I both design her dresses, we like window shopping for inspiration and to better understand the qualities that define a great dress. It is also a great opportunity to watch high-level dancing at the evening show. This year I was unable to do either, and I would have liked to do so.
- Due to the timings of my heats (and not having a voice—see The Ugly), I wasn't able to cheer and support my teammates as much as I like to. They did very well without me, but I'd have liked to cheer them on, all the same.
- The bus had screwed-up shock absorption for the first portion of the trip. Catching six inches of air is only fun the first few times. It isn't as fun by the fourth hour. Fortunately the bus driver figured out the cause and fixed it, resulting in a much smoother ride the rest of the way.
- Competing with a flu and high fever is unpleasant—extremely unpleasant. I definitely did not get a callback in one of my rounds purely because I felt like I was dying. Fortunately, having better nutrition available to me and getting extra sleep made a big difference in how I felt on day two of the competition. It was also helpful that our safety and facilities coordinator is a nurse in training. Thanks, Karen!
- This year marks the first year I flubbed a team match performance. It was disappointing to represent my team poorly in my final year. Oh, well. What can you do?
On the whole, you can see there were a lot more positives than negatives on the trip. Though I won't get to compete at the National Collegiate DanceSport Championship next year, maybe I'll go to Ohio Star Ball and get a chance to spectate and cheer on the University of Minnesota. Until then, I'll continue to develop my dancing and try not to catch any diseases before Star of the North!