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Observations of a Competitor

Dance Fest 2015

By Hannah Alyea

Hannah Alyea dancing at Dance Fest
I have a confession to make: I love watching everyone and everything around me. It's a small enjoyment of mine. Sights, sounds, and the behavior of people in different circumstances can intrigue me for hours at a time. March 7th and 8th, I competed at Dance Fest, which turned out to be the perfect event to let my observational skills take a stroll around the dance floor.

The morning of Saturday, March 7th, I was able to observe the competition as an audience member rather than a competitor, taking in the full sights and sounds of the ballroom. The room was filled with a wonderful sense of brightness, not only from the weather teasing us with a hint of springtime, but even at 8:00 a.m., there was a wonderful energy that seemed to light up the room the longer you stood there. There were competitors already giving it their all on the dance floor, looking like they were having the time of their lives. Though the early-morning crowd was a bit sparse, it was made up for by the loud cheers of those who were eagerly backing up their teammates and friends.

"Go, number 453!"

"Looking good, 392!"

"Yeah, 4­1­8!"

The room was a cacophony, each spectator convinced that the louder they yelled, the more support they were giving their teammates, making sure the judges marked the correct couple on the floor. There was a constant clicking as the appointed photographers rushed around trying to catch the perfect moments on their memory cards. Even though I was not competing at the moment, the music playing made me want to get up and dance with those on the floor. If you were looking for excitement, the ballroom was exactly the place to be.

Making my way out of the ballroom and into the vendors’ room, I saw the photographers working hard to get the latest images online to show those on social media what they were missing, inviting them to join the party. In the other corner of the room was one of my favorite people to pop in on on throughout the day; Jana Rose was always busy creating works of art per the medium of someone's hair and makeup.

I wandered up to Jana's booth up to ten times an hour, because a mass of hair becoming a beautiful, hand-crafted sculpture was incredible to witness. One moment, one of her clients would be seated with mounds of clips holding sections of hair or Jana's molding clay exactly where she wanted, waiting for the perfect time to release her creative genius on the rest of her material. The next time I’d happen pass, the hair would be a completely blinged-out, dance-ready masterpiece. The outcome of this process was completely breathtaking and unique each time. It was as if I was watching an episode of Extreme Makeover: Ballroom Dance Edition,​ because it would take her no time at all to create magic out of ordinary hair.

I then headed over to the dressing room to make sure I, too, was ready to hit the dance floor. Imagine with me for just a moment: a bustling beehive, the constant sound of buzzing communication amongst fellow workers, honeycomb spread as far as the eye can see, and an extraordinary number of bees all sharing same small workspace. This is what it’s like to be in a ladies’ dressing room an hour before American smooth rounds begin.

"Excuse me.”

"Pardon me."

"Coming in right behind you."

Making the trek deeper into the lionesses’ den, the number of activities occurring at a given moment was impressive. There would be a girl in the corner munching on a granola bar while slipping into her dress, clouds of hairspray filling the air in attempts to settle flyaway hairs that refused to stay put, and a chorus of voices asking, "Do you know how to put on fake eyelashes?"

These dressing rooms are not for the claustrophobic or the faint of heart. One moment I’d have a personal space bubble, taking a mere five seconds to slip my feet into nylons, then—bam—there were three girls from two different schools asking if I could zip up their dresses. Although this confined space was a crowded hangout, there was always someone willing to lend a hand, even if they were from a different school or state. Knowing that people who might end up being among your competitors were still more than happy to help gave this room a strong sense of community. If you could handle breathing in the hairspray-concentrated air for more than thirty seconds, it was a home away from home.

After getting prepped and ready to go, it was time to make my way onto the dance floor to compete. This was a quite a different experience from watching others dancing. Adrenaline pumping as the deck captains called out numbers, I talked to my partner to make sure we remembered to fix a few of the little details we’d practiced the night before, and to ensure we were in the zone to have as much fun as humanly possible.

Then the MC called the couples onto the floor. As soon as my foot hit the dance floor, there was a rush of energy that started flowing throughout my entire body, and the crowd of people that had been there five seconds previously seemed to vanish. All I could think about was putting that newfound energy into the dance and making it the best—

“Thank you, couples. If you will find your way off the floor…."

Wait, what? It's over already?

That’s what it feels like on the floor: a rush of energy and then, in a flash, it's over. Some people may wonder why I would put so much time, money, and effort into something that only lasts a short moment. For me, it's not just for the dance (although that happens to be a large portion); it's for the experience as a whole.

The dancing, the ambience, the hair and makeup, and the people all play pivotal roles in the success of competitions like Dance Fest. As a competitor and an observer, I would not trade any of these experiences for the world. Dancing has been and will continue to be a huge part of my life.

If you haven’t put ballroom to the test quite yet, take it from me: you don't want to miss out.