Athleticism guides this motivated team.
As at any athletic practice, the students here are sweaty, focused, and out of breath. They are obviously athletes at work. More impressively, they are doing it all in four-inch heels and dress pants.
They are members of the Badger Ballroom Dance Team, a registered student organization that competes in dancesport events across the Midwest. Some people may hesitate to call what they do a sport, pointing out the sequined costumes and musical accompaniment as evidence of its origins as a performance art.
But this isn’t your grandmother’s fox trot.
“When you get into the technique, it’s all athletic,” says dancer Samantha Anderson x’13. “The muscles you have to use, where to put your foot, your hands — it’s so regimented.” To the untrained observer, ballroom dance may seem like an anything-goes, freestyle performance. In reality, entire textbooks have been written about how much foot rise or heel turn certain steps require, allowing coaches to obsess over particulars of technique as in any other sport.
That’s right: the team does have coaches — professional dancers who travel from Chicago every few weeks to provide lessons. And it does hold practices, which, according to team captain Anna Nadon x’13, are every bit as intense as most held for traditional sports.
“In one practice, I can work all of my legs from my feet to my hips, my arms, my back, and my core muscles at once, stretching and working them to take steps and make them into dancing,” she says. “No matter what the dance is, you should be working so hard and performing so much that you feel exhausted after every dance — not because you’re out of shape, but because you are working so many muscles.”
The term dancesport was coined in part to acknowledge the growing athleticism of the competitive ballroom world, a trend the media have only recently begun to recognize. Though the Badger Ballroom team has been active on campus for more than a decade, Nadon says the recent popularity of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars has been a boon for the group’s registration. “More people know about ballroom dancing; more people are curious about it; more people — particularly guys — are willing to admit they want to learn and give it a try because all those ‘big, tough athletes’ are doing it. Mostly it has made ballroom cooler, more mainstream,” she says.
Last fall the group played host to its first annual home competition, bringing together dancers from several states for the Badger Ballroom Dancesport Classic.
But performances are only a small part of Badger Ballroom’s overall program on campus. The team is committed to developing the members’ technique, no matter their level of athleticism. Nadon says students are encouraged to participate whether or not they intend to compete.
Most of the members, like Nadon, had never danced formally before coming to one of the team’s practices. But she hopes their experience on the team will be the first step of a lifelong hobby.
“I know a woman who is ninety-four, and she still gets out and goes social dancing,” she says. “How many ninety-four-year-old football players can say the same thing?”