University of Northern Iowa's Preparation for Dance Fest
By Joseph Carey
UNI Ballroom/Swing loved going to Dance Fest. As a new team, nearly all of our dancers are new to the dance world. As such, Dance Fest was their first introduction to a ballroom competition, and many were raving after the fact.
"Oh, my gosh," said Waiverly Daniels, a freshman who began dancing this year. "That was even better than I imagined. Everyone said it would be fun, but that ... that was awesome. I'm hooked."
Her sentiment was echoed by Kellen Nilles, another young member of the team. "It was amazing," she said. "I can honestly say that that was the most fun I've had all year."
Older dancers were similarly impressed. "Seeing all of the silver and gold dancers was a wonderful opportunity," said Michaela Illig, a junior English major and member of our executive board. "You got to see the potential of each dance, and it created a definite goal to aim for. Out on the dance floor, it was also amazing to see the work we had already put in pay off. It gave a clear vision of how far we had come and how far we could go."
Kevin Lam, competitive chair imported from Luther, echoed Michaela's sentiment. "The best part for me was watching the young dancers," he said. "The most edifying part is to see how far their passion has brought them, and Dance Fest provides the perfect framework for that."
Overall, freshman Gina Durgin summarized it well, saying, "It was awesome. The rounds, the workshops, the [social] dancing .... I'm already looking forward to next year."
One thing UNI Ballroom/Swing did to help some new dancers prepare for Dance Fest was hold a preparatory event about a month prior called invitational rounds. Newcomer students from Luther Ballroom/Swing joined UNI newcomers on the UNI campus for a full set of rounds, with Derrick Murray judging. Instead of ranking couples and doing callbacks, however, Derrick was asked to take notes on each team (each number was color-coded). Each team then had a lesson slot in which Derrick worked on what he saw. We rounded the event out with pizza and social dancing.
"We wanted to give dancers who had joined late a chance to experience commentary like earlier in the season [at Minnesota Ballroom Blast]," said Elizabeth Anderson, vice president. "Blast was super valuable for us, and we wanted to host an event that would still have value for dancers who had gone to Blast as well, so we decided on the team notes thing. This way, people could get used to a crowded floor and have a chance to experience what workshops [working with other teachers] would be like and get used to that, too."
"In all," she continued, "I think it was a really valuable thing for the team. I think everyone had a great time and really got a chance to see how their dancing would do under pressure. I think we learned a lot. I loved seeing Luther students, too. Sometimes I feel like we get trapped in our own little bubble, and I really love getting a chance to dance with people who have grown up in a different scene. And I felt like when we then saw them at Dance Fest, we knew people already and had danced with them before and could cheer for them. It was a great experience."
The event was so successful that next year, UNI Ballroom/Swing is already planning to hold a similar but scaled-up version of the event.
"We've already reserved the date/space and we're talking about how to make it work well for more teams," said Kevin. "We're planning to keep it free, and we're also looking at ways to get a lot of video [cameras] in the room, so that we could give that footage to the team captains so they could watch later, hopefully from multiple angles. We're also looking at ways to make it an especially spectator- and parent-friendly event—a good intro event for new dancers and watchers alike. Overall, we just want to stick with the original goal: throwing a newcomer-oriented event that helps prepare people to compete while helping build a sense of broader dancesport community, and supplementing the already-stellar Blast and Dance Fest."
The event next year is scheduled for February 8th on the UNI Campus in the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area. Interested teams should contact Elizabeth Anderson, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Kevin Lam, email@example.com.
We had a great time at Dance Fest. It was a great experience competitively, socially, and instructionally. We are very grateful to the Dance Fest team for making it possible, and are excited to participate again next year.