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My First Nationals Experience

By Talia Rudahl

Wow, what an experience! I had the joy and pleasure of attending the USA Dance National DanceSport Championships for the first time during the last weekend of March. I have to admit, I've been around the block a few times on the competition circuit, so I was not expecting too much when I landed in Baltimore. I was surprisingly and terrifically mistaken.

Nationals really does live up to its name. Everything seemed a little bigger and a little better. There was a beautiful floor and practice room to use, and many different vendors selling gorgeous dresses, beautiful jewelry, shiny new shoes, and anything else a ballroom competitor could possibly need. Then there were the competitors themselves. Many of the dresses I saw were similar to those worn by the top-level dancers I watch online. I was introduced to all of the new hairstyles and ways to do makeup as well.

Finally, of course, there was the dancing. No matter what style or level of dancing I happened to be watching throughout the weekend, I couldn't help noticing that everyone seemed to be top-notch for their level. I am used to the collegiate circle of competitions, which is consistently across-the-board for skill, especially at the syllabus level. For example, if you consider yourself a solid bronze or silver dancer, you usually go to a collegiate competition with the expectation of receiving a few callbacks or maybe even finaling without worrying too much beforehand. It was very different at Nationals in the sense that everyone was already a solid dancer for their level at home, so everyone truly needed to bring their A-game to have a shot at the finals.

My partner, Seth Westlake, and I have been dancing together for about six months and were lucky enough to semifinal our very first year, with only a five-person final. We are very excited to work hard this upcoming year in the hopes of making a good stab at bronze and silver at 2015 Nationals.

The last thing I wanted to mention about my observations at Nationals was the camaraderie. Nationals was similar to collegiate competitions in that everyone had their own personal fans that had come with to cheer them on, but Nationals seemed to go a step further, and many spectators cheered for couples on the floor just to show how impressed they were with their dancing. I had a lot of fun joining in on this, especially at the open levels. I have always had favorite couples to watch for one reason or another—dancers with wonderful choreography, a beautiful frame, or just a great smile—but for some reason I always felt out of place cheering for these couples if they didn't know who I was. All of that fell away at Nationals, though, and I gladly cheered my heart out for any couple I fancied. I hope I can bring this to collegiate comps in the future and expand the bonds of camaraderie beyond school allegiance.

Nationals was truly a spectacle. It contained some of the best dancing I have ever seen, including our first-place open smooth champions, Nels Petersen and Theresa Kimler, who truly embodied beautiful smooth dancing. I cannot wait to get back on the practice floor and improve myself as quickly as possible for next year. I would encourage anyone who has never attended nationals to try it out next year. It can serve many different purposes, whether you want to be inspired to become the best dancer you can be, as I was, to see where your dancing places in the national field, or to have some beautiful dancing right at your fingertips. You won't regret it!