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Gaining Perspective

Mill City Ballroom Grand Opening

By Joel Torgeson

Kate and Gordon Bratt performing rhythm
I turned away from the punch bowl, full glass in hand, and made my way back to the corner I’d decided to inhabit with my camera. The modest ballroom was comfortably packed with people drinking, talking, and, of course, dancing. Kate and Gordon Bratt’s new studio, Mill City Ballroom, was alive and kicking on its first official night of business.

As I was watching dancers and snapping the occasional shot, a woman came up and introduced herself as Kathy. “Are you one of those wonderful Russian boys?” she asked with bright eyes. I kindly informed her that I was 50% Norwegian and thus probably didn’t qualify.

Talking with her further, I learned that she was, in fact, Kate’s mother. We chatted about her daughter’s lovely dancing before we parted ways, she to talk with more family, and I to get ready to take pictures of Kate and Gordon giving thank yous and announcing their first demo of the night.

Watching their foxtrot through the lens of my Nikon, snapping stills all the while, I thought about how much effort it must take to start (and run) a studio. The floors were sanded, the ceiling had been put in, chandeliers were hung, sound systems were set up, and countless other projects had to be handled for this new studio to come into existence. I come from an amateur collegiate background in dance, so it was interesting to think about how a studio begins its (hopefully long and successful) life.

I’d been to Cinema Ballroom only the night before to celebrate New Year’s Eve at their dance party, and I couldn’t help wondering what their opening night would have been like. Next year will mark ten years of successful existence for Cinema--what makes some studios last where others falter? Location, atmosphere, quality, and opportunity must all have their parts to play, but in what ratios? I don’t have the answer, and I’m sure it’s different for each situation, but these kinds of questions interest me. What would an ideal studio look like, and is it a reasonable ideal? I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know.

As an anthropology major at the University of Minnesota, how different entities in the dance community fit into the broader, more complex dance web interests me. Dance fascinates me because it sits at the intersection of hobby and livelihood, reputation and passing interest. Add in dance’s nature, an expressive art form with subjective rules and conventions (especially at the competitive level), and it’s easy to see how the dance community becomes complicated and interwoven quite quickly. Studios, dance clubs, formation teams, independent professionals, university students, amateur competitors, governing bodies, casual observers, and more all intersect in interesting ways. Over the next few months, I’d like to dig in to those relationships and try to better understand the motivations and histories that make up the dance scene in the Twin Cities area. As my column title would suggest, I hope to gain a better, more complete perspective.

Back at the studio, Kate and Gordon bowed to the crowd’s enthusiastic applause, and they had barely left the floor before partners crowded on for the next dance--a foxtrot if, memory serves. The room remained comfortably warm and crowded through dance after dance, and champagne and hors d’oeuvres kept the crowd happy and ready for more music.

Towards the end of the night, I danced a tango with Kate herself and commented on how well I thought the night had gone.

“I know!” she responded. “We were expecting, like, twenty people!” At its peak, there were well over one hundred people in the room, by my count.

Mill City Ballroom’s opening night was a resounding success, by my measure, and I wish Kate and Gordon nothing but luck in the months and years to come. As for me, I’ll be working on dance, both physically and intellectually, for the same time period--months and years.