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Pit Stops and Performances

A Warm-Up on the Way to MichComp

By Alexzandra Enger

The weekend of April 10th, the University of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Club’s competition team took a road trip to the fifteenth annual MichComp, a one-day collegiate ballroom dance competition hosted by the University of Michigan’s team in Ann Arbor.

Early on the morning of Friday, April 10th, thirty-five dancers swarmed the parking garage on the northeast end of campus, ready to begin a trip expected to be very long—almost eleven hours one way—and fairly uneventful aside from the usual shenanigans that always happen when you put all of us together in a confined space for hours on end. Our driver, who was all too cheery for 6:30 in the morning, hopped out to help us load luggage underneath the coach bus. There was a general sense of jealousy directed towards the leads, who had very small suitcases or garment bags, from the follows, who were toting suitcases filled with dresses, shoes, backup shoes, makeup, several gallons of hairspray, and enough hair pins to build a model Eiffel Tower.

Since it was still fairly early in the morning, the main goal of everyone present was to reclaim a few hours of lost sleep, so pillows and blankets were arranged in furtive efforts to make the seats more comfortable. For the first several hours of the trip, the bus was silent; everyone was either sleeping or fake sleeping with hopes of soon becoming unconscious. Coach bus seats, however much of a step up from the classic yellow school bus seats, are not quite so comfortable or generous to yield rest to their occupiers that easily; they put up quite the fight for the entire trip.

We stopped to stretch our legs in a small town in rural Wisconsin to have brunch at the local McDonald’s. We were just in time to get our fill of their breakfast menu and had the opportunity to meet a group of retired folks who, after chatting with us about our cult-like matching team jackets and where we were going, coaxed a small performance out of us. It was a crowded restaurant, and since all our music speakers had been left on the bus or at home (we weren’t exactly expecting to whip out some fancy footwork at a fast-food place in the middle of nowhere), an iPod went into the mouth of our chosen lead—tango rose-style—which was perfectly fitting, since we’d chosen to show off some American tango to our lovely audience.

The music turned on, audible only to our dancers, and chairs screeched across tiles as people turned to watch. We knew the floor at Michigan would be very crowded, so floor-crafting around tables and chairs was excellent preparation for the next day when we would need to floor-craft around other couples in the heat of competition. Once our little exhibition had finished, our audience, now on their way to a birthday party, felt they couldn’t express their gratitude for the meal-time entertainment enough, and it was a wonderful feeling to see them leave so happy.

My place in society as a ballroom dancer is something I’ve often thought about. It’s a hobby turned sport and isn’t exactly the first thing a typical college student thinks of when they’re looking to try something new and fun. When I first leapt through the rabbit hole into the world of ballroom, I’d brought with me the misconception that the ballroom community was slowly disappearing, but it’s clear that it’s more of a hidden world that just needs to be rediscovered.

It’s a poignant feeling when I talk and dance with older people or people from different cultures, people for whom ballroom dancing was the norm while growing up. Their eyes become just a little bit brighter, their voices sound a little bit happier, and their steps get a little bit springier. The gratification that accompanies making someone’s day simply by dancing—which for me is incredibly fun and nearly effortless, and for them is a big deal—adds to my own enjoyment of ballroom. Seeing my dancing bring other people joy makes me grateful to be an active member in this wonderful community.