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Dancing Dreams Come True

By Tyler Bridges

Hello, everyone! As the snow finally starts melting and we start jumping around puddles, I thought I'd reflect on my recent competition experience. On March 1st and 2nd, I had the pleasure of participating in the local competition known as Dance Fest. I was able to compete, watch the great evening show, and dance with some wonderful people. It was an exhausting weekend, but one of the best I've had the pleasure of being a part of.

Upon arriving to the event, I was a bit shocked to see the lack of representation from the Twin Cities and Rochester chapters of USA Dance, considering so many USA Dance members were participating in the event. I thought this was their event, after all, but it turns out it wasn't affiliated with them at all. Despite their lack of involvement, the event ran smoothly.

To be honest, I was very nervous for this competition. I dance with the University of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Team, as I have for the past four years. We had recently held tryouts at the start of the new semester, as several team members unable to dance (due to studying abroad and other schedule demands) left us with smaller numbers than we'd like. With the new tryouts, I ended up having two completely new partners, and I had about two weeks to practice with each of them before the competition.

Despite the reservations I had as to how well I could serve my partners, I entered Dance Fest and gave it my best effort. As it turns out, it went pretty well! I ended up getting third in Latin rumba and tied for fourth in Latin cha cha, as well as making the semifinals in several smooth and rhythm events. What really sold the event for me, however, was the evening show on Saturday.

During the evening show, the competitors became the audience as the champions of ballroom took the floor. I had the privilege of seeing several amazing couples, including Nic Westlake and Neli Petkova, Andy and Janie Nordberg, and Nels Petersen and Theresa Kimler, among others. Their routines were enthralling, the competition fierce, and as always they put on a wonderful show.

In addition to those fantastic performances, the team matches were held at the end of the night. Several collegiate teams selected three couples to represent them in the international and American team matches. I had the opportunity to dance on both teams, performing samba for international and swing for American. During each round, the energy in the room was turned up, and the cheers from the teams and audience raised the roof. The room was electrified, and it was an incredible time. My team of three couples ended up taking third in the international match, winning our team some scholarship money for the future.

As fun as the evening show was, my personal highlight from the weekend was on Sunday, when my mixed proficiency dances and the strictly dances happened. I had the amazing pleasure to dance with Janie Nordberg for mixed proficiency mambo—twice! How did this happen? Well, Andy walked up to me after my rhythm rounds had finished and asked if I wanted to dance with Janie for Mambo, since he was the only one entered for the mixed proficiency offering of that dance.

If Batman asks you to become Robin, do you say yes? If the Beatles want you in their band, do you say yes? If Janie Nordberg wants to dance with you, do you say yes? Of course! I had the privilege of dancing with Janie at Star of the North a year ago, when we danced standard waltz at the mixed proficiency level, and dancing a rhythm dance was a dream come true (considering rhythm and Latin are my favorite styles). We actually ended up winning one of the mambo rounds as well, much to my surprise, since I hadn't danced mambo in a few months.

After mixed proficiency, the strictly dances occurred. This part of the competition happened after all the primary ballroom genres had finished, where the dancers could cut loose and enjoy competing in some fun dances, such as west coast swing, hustle, salsa, Lindy hop, and Argentine tango. I had missed the registration for these events, but Janie once again asked if I wanted to dance with her. Of course, it wasn't really a question for me; I'd have jumped at the chance even if my ankles were broken. We ended up competing in hustle, west coast swing, and salsa, and taking first place in all three. This is a prime example of when a follow carries the lead to victory, as Janie's expertise and showmanship were shining like a beacon on that dance floor. And of all people, I got to be her partner for that. It was truly incredible.

I'm still reeling from happiness from that weekend. I am always starstruck when watching the champions compete, and I had the opportunity to meet a few of them during the competition, thanks to some friends in high places. I almost melted from excitement and nervousness. After all, who am I to shake hands with a champion of ballroom? All in all, it was a great weekend, and one of the most memorable ballroom experiences I've had to date.