Often, when I mention to young people that I watch Dancing with the Stars, they reply” Oh, my grandparents like it, too.” Am I to assume elegant dancing is only of interest to older people? Wrong! After all, Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez is only 16, and a clear favorite in this DWTS season’s competition for the mirror ball trophy. And then there’s collegiate ballroom dancing.
Last weekend we drove to the University of Illinois to watch our neighbor’s daughter compete in the Illini Dancesport Invitational. We arrived before 9 a.m., to get a front-row seat, and remained riveted there most of the day watching dozens of young people compete in the Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Cha Cha, Jive, Paso Doble, Samba, Viennese Waltz, and more. Teams from Michigan State, the University of Illinois, Indiana University, the University of Chicago, Purdue University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Michigan, Valparaiso University and several private dance clubs filled the floor.
Newcomers (first-time competitors) took the floor early in the day, nervous and focusing on their feet and the count. Some of them had only been dancing for four weeks! Their costumes were simple, black trousers and white shirts for the men, leotard tops and full skirts for the women. It was fun watching them relax into the recorded music as the day progressed.
Each round of competition began with a large number of couples taking the floor. At times, dancers collided with each other, and the dance floor resembled a bumper car ride at the county fair. As eliminations occurred, it became easier to appreciate each couple’s kicks, flicks, and rhythm. People in the audience called out what seemed like random numbers, but then I learned they were encouraging their favorite teams.
As in any sport, participants must have a special attire. The Newcomers dressed in plainer clothing, but as dancers advance through the ranks of Bronze, Silver, and Gold categories, their costumes acquire more bling. They wear special shoes, sequins in their hair, and their make-up and jewelry are perfect.When there are not enough male dancers to go around, females compete as couples. One of the IU dancers competed with her male partner, then put a black vest over her ball gown and danced with a female partner. As someone with two left feet, I’m in awe of her ability to lead and follow.
I’ve been playing waltzes on my French horn, learning how to place the accent on the first beat of each measure. As I watched dancers glide around the room, rising and falling to the beat of a waltz, I had an epiphany–the dancers represented notes on my page of music, rising and falling in unison.
And how did my neighbor’s daughter dance? Beautifully! I know I’m biased, but she did leave the competition with 7 first place ribbons and several seconds. I’m inspired to put on my dancing shoes. How about you?