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A Look Back

My Journey as a Collegiate Dancer

By Melissa Baddin

I’ll never forget finding my way to the Bierman gym for the first time.

Walking down the stairs searching for people who look like they could be ballroom dancers, I have absolutely no clue where I’m going. I’m alone, and while I’m not scared, I’m not exactly feeling confident, either. But one short forty-five-minute lesson later, I’m falling in love! I’ve been a tap dancer my entire life but have never felt a love for dance like this before. I ask an officer if there’s any way to get more involved than just taking beginner club lessons, and am directed towards the University of Minnesota’s competitive ballroom team.

Two weeks later, I’m training for my first competition.

Fast-forward three years and I confidently march into the beautiful new recreation center at the university. It’s the first night the competitive team meets this school year, and the room is filled with fresh faces. The team has expanded considerably since I first joined, and I realize there are fewer than ten people in the room who have been around since I started and a large portion of the team are brand-new dancers.

Fast-forward again to this past March and I am at perhaps my last competition as a collegiate dancer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Somebody from Michigan’s team asks if I know their pen pal, a girl who said she was part of the University of Minnesota ballroom team at one point, and I do! But it dawns on me that very few of my teammates would have ever even heard her name before. I spend a good portion of the bus ride home on a nostalgia trip with fellow long-time members thinking about our humble beginnings back in Bierman.

It’s an interesting perspective. I started ballroom dancing with no knowledge or experience aside from a very limited amount of swing dancing. I looked up to everyone on my team and asked as many questions as I could come up with, whether about syllabus and styling or advice on hair and makeup. But then I slowly found the balance shifting from being the asker to being asked. As old team members left and my seniority grew, I found myself feeling more and more like a big sister or team mommy wanting to take care of every new dancer that came into my life. And while, each semester, I lost a couple of these dancers I had come to see as family, I also gained new ones.

With my own progress in mind, it’s crazy watching how quickly new team members seem to grow and gain new skills. As a dancer who has never had a very permanent partner, it’s especially encouraging to see new partnerships form that seem like they will last a very long time. As I started to feel like I was blooming as a dancer, the team began blooming as well. With a new practice space that was infinitely nicer than our old one, beautiful partnerships being formed around me, the team growing in size, and all of our scores continuing to improve, my pride in this team really skyrocketed.

It’s sad realizing half my stories start by explaining whoever I’m talking about used to be part of the team, but at the same time, the amount of change and growth I witnessed over my four years dancing has been extraordinary. Our team that was once small enough to share buses to competitions with other teams has nearly doubled in size and become one of the top collegiate teams in the nation. We have produced many lifelong ballroom dancers that will become (or already are) huge assets to the Twin Cities ballroom community, as well as members of dance communities nationwide.

I will forever cherish the foundations, friendships, and love of dancing this team has instilled in me and in many of my fellow dancers, and I can only hope the next generation of young dancers will grow to love it the same way I have. I am confident that the future of this team is bright and am happy that, even though I will be moving on, I know I’m leaving the team in the hands of unbelievably capable people that will only continue to do wonderful things.