A publication to engage the dance community. Learn. Discuss. Contribute. Enjoy.

Making a Big Campus Seem a Bit Smaller

Finding a Family with the UMN Ballroom Dance Team

By Eveline Murphy-Wilson

The University of Minnesota is no small school. Being the type of person who takes every possible wrong turn, it hasn't been easy to find my way to the one class I take on campus. Fortunately I meet many kind strangers who point me in the right direction.

At the initial Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) meeting, along with parking advice and the "how to enroll for classes" tutorial, I heard that as a PSEO student, you're allowed to participate in clubs. Initially I ignored this bit of information, thinking, "What college student would want a sixteen year old in their club?"

Cinema Ballroom has been my dance home since my "Tia" dragged me along to salsa night when I was about twelve. I began taking private lessons and attending dance parties at thirteen. To my surprise one night, I saw a large group of young people flocking to one side of the large, mirrored ballroom. Upon asking, I learned it was a portion of the U of M Ballroom Dance Club Competition Team.

I was reminded that "as a PSEO student you're allowed to participate in clubs." I was so excited I shook. I introduced myself to their charismatic coach, Nels Petersen, and he turned me over to the vice president, who gave me her business card. It was a whirlwind of connections at the end of the night as I allowed my posture to relax in mom's car and explained everything to her. I explained everything twice as the excitement ate half my words the first time.

Before I could join the team, I had to audition. My stomach balled up when I entered the U of M Rec Center for my very first audition. I danced, people watched, I left and waited. The next day, the president (of the club, not the country) called to tell me I'd made it.

Practices for the team were long, and it took three solid months for me to match names to the faces of all forty-eight dancers. I was partnered with two of the male dancers for Minnesota Ballroom Blast, and before I knew it, I had embarked on the fifteen hour bus ride to the USA Dance National Collegiate DanceSport Championships in Columbus, Ohio.

Though I'm not usually socially awkward or self conscious, I was nervous to go to Ohio with the team because of my age. I worried about who would actually want to sit with me, a high school kid, on the bus or room with me at the hotel. Dance performance isn't typically a stressor, but who doesn't get scared when entering new social situations?

The morning we left I boarded the bus and guess what? No one sat with me! I was right, no one wanted to sit with a high school kid. I wondered if sitting by myself was a bad first sign, but within two hours I had someone braiding my hair. Seven hours later during our lunch break, I was shopping for coloring books at Barnes and Noble with one of my future roommates. Fifteen hours later, I was watching Beyoncé videos in the hotel room with the greatest, kindest roommates I could ever ask for.

Everyone on the team performed like champions, and bonding was inevitable. Never have I ever been on a team, much less one that travels together, and it was both exciting and powerful to feel part of a huge, trusting group of such kind, welcoming adults.

The next time I was on campus, I saw three ballroom teammates on my way to class. We waved and talked, and all of a sudden the great big college campus seemed a little smaller. Somewhere along the way, I knew I must have taken the right turn.