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St. Olaf Ballroom Team Places Well at Dance Fest

By Julia Pilkington

This article was reprinted with permission from Manitou Messenger, www.manitoumessenger.com

St. Olaf's Ballroom Performance Team participated in their first competition this past weekend at Dance Fest in St. Paul, Minnesota. The event brought together dancers from regional universities and colleges of all sizes to face off in team matches and various skill level heats.

Traditionally known for their performances during the dance breaks of the President's Ball in the spring, the student-run dance team specializes in these types of formations (choreographed dances), performances, and now national competitions. In addition to the Ballroom Performance Team, St. Olaf also has a more informal social ballroom dancing club.

The competitive group's dance styles span Latin, American rhythm, smooth and international standard, enabling the team to expand their sphere of performances.

"There is a set of dances in each style, and we take turns, depending on how many people there are, doing each of the dances," said team member Caitlin Churchill. "We're then judged and can earn our way into additional rounds of competition."

The team is led by coaches Sijia Wei and Jacob Borg, who both have previous experience in competitions with the Carleton team. After one especially successful competition, the two realized that they could bring the sport back to St. Olaf.

"It felt like we had potential here," Wei said. "We have dancers who could easily start to do something different, even though it would be new."

In preparation for Dance Fest, the group began learning samba and foxtrot early this semester, a short turnaround time given the complexity of the dances. However, the team's resilience paid off. Borg and Wei led the team with first place wins in championship Latin and silver smooth. Churchill and David Matetitch made it to the finals of newcomer samba. Thomas Bearrood and Dorontinë Berishaj made it into the quarterfinals for bronze samba. James Rehwaldt and McAllister Stevens went to the second round of bronze tango. Later, Churchill and Bearrood were called back in newcomer waltz and bronze tango and foxtrot.

"It was very good, considering this was their first time at a competition. Most of the people they competed against had had experience before," Borg said.

The team aims to be seen as a bona fide sports team. Technically, ballroom and Latin dance is a certified Olympic sport; however, it has yet to be televised to audiences in the United States.

"We have rules, we have judges, judging criteria ... everything just like other sports. But dance also has an artistic side," Wei said.

Despite these regulations, "ballroom is less intimidating than you think it would be," Stevens said. "A lot of people are intimidated by the possibility of partner dancing because that's not something most Americans have experience with."

The team looks forward to a performance in the spring international dance event Vesalica and their traditional appearance at the President's Ball. The club will announce audition dates for the following season then. For interested parties, it is worth knowing that the team's three main pillars are commitment, potential and hard work. If one abides by these, one may indeed find success in the competitive ballroom scene.