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Camaraderie and Excitement at MN Ballroom Blast

By Libby Ryan

The North Star Ballroom was packed like I’d never seen it before. Dozens of costumed couples danced the last song of the night, groaning when the MC of the evening announced there would only be one more dance. The dancers were not ready for the day to end, even after dancing all day long.

Minnesota Ballroom Blast took over the Saint Paul Student Center on October 25th, with adult, collegiate, and youth participants from across the Midwest. There were dancers everywhere. The hallway leading to the ballroom served as a practice floor for couples about to dance in front of the critiquing panel which included several leading ballroom experts in the Twin Cities.

Inside the ladies' dressing room, where girls applied last-minute coats of lipstick, it was a love fest. Girls from different teams talked about costuming choices, complimented each other’s outfits, and shared tips for do-it-yourself ballroom gear. More experienced ladies helped the newer dancers decide which skirt to wear and helped pin lose hairs into place. Hairspray was passed around with no regard to team boundary lines.

That camaraderie extended to the dance floor. Ballroom Blast has no winners or losers; each couple only has to dance their own personal best. Maybe because the competitive edge was taken off or maybe because collegiate dancers enjoy finding likeminded students from other schools, couples chatted on the sidelines with strangers about dance and school.

In between rounds of Latin, rhythm, smooth, and standard, MC Gene Bersten pumped up the crowd for Jack-and-Jill dances. Couples jumped on the floor for spontaneous salsa, west coast swing, and tango dances with partners from different schools. Some lucky girls even got dances with Bersten and many-time national champion Robert Foster—though Bersten and Foster were both disqualified, some problems of too many turns (Foster) and too-flashy boots (Bersten).

After the day session wrapped up and all the critiques were given out, dancers returned to the ballroom for a night of Halloween dancing fun. The annual costume contest offered a bigger prize than bragging rights this year. A puppet and puppeteer snagged $100 for the funniest costume, while Sweeney Todd was awarded the same for the scariest. The Calvin and Hobbes duo and a Power Ranger both took home $200 for the best overall costume. A dance-off clinched the tie. How could you choose between a Power Ranger doing the worm and the coordinated freestyling of Calvin and Hobbes?

The contest judges were also part of the spectacular evening show. Ballroom Blast chairs Michael Kasinkas performed a mambo with his partner (and volunteer coordinator) Taylor Wall, while shortly after, marketing coordinator Daniel O'Connell and his lovely wife, Rosemary, danced bolero. Next up, Nic Westlake (graphics and web designer) and Neli Petkova (social media marketing coordinator) danced a dramatic standard tango followed by Andy and Janie Nordberg performing their breathtaking smooth waltz. Many-time national smooth champions Nels Peterson and Theresa Kimler ended the evening showcase with a sassy foxtrot that brought down the house.

Even after a day full of dancing, the floor was packed during the Halloween Ball. I’d never seen a Halloween dance filled with so many enthusiastic dancers ignoring their sore feet and exhaustion to do just one more dance. Down to the last song, costumed dancers smiled and kept their energy high, not quite ready for Blast to end.