For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the University of Chicago is probably not dance. We’re probably better known for other things—like our economics program or our gorgeous campus. As someone who thoroughly enjoys the arts in addition to learning about the intricacies of financial markets, I was unsure if I’d be able to find something to satisfy my newly awakened interest in dancing. (I’m by no means a trained dancer, by the way. Even my two years with Chinese traditional dance in my high school club was rather casual. If you are an experienced dancer reading this, please know that you have my full respect and admiration.)
Fortunately, I didn’t have to look very far! During my first year, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of dance clubs in my search for extracurricular activities. In addition to the massive Registered Student Organization (RSO) fair during Autumn Quarter where I found a club for practically every known interest possible, the UChicago Dance Council also hosted an Open House for first years to experience the vibrant dance culture on campus, inviting over ten different groups to showcase their unique talents. I was blown away.
The first group that caught my eye was Excolatur Dance Crew, a competitive hip-hop and urban dance team. With their great music and even better dance moves, it was love at first sight, and I began fantasizing about the beginning of my journey into the world of hip-hop. Despite not having any experience with it, I dragged a few friends with me to one of Ex Crew’s weekend workshops for the public, where a few dancers would teach parts of their self-choreographed pieces. It was definitely far more fun than I had expected, so I set my sights on the next step: auditioning for the actual team. The audition process was basically the same format as the workshop— only with far more people and tension. While they had advertised the Fall Auditions to be open to all skill levels, it was obvious that the room was brimming with talent, and I unfortunately didn’t end up making the cut.
From Ex Crew, I turned my sights on another group: UC Dancers. They’re the school’s oldest dance company and focus more on modern and contemporary styles that I thought I could possibly learn more easily than hip-hop. However, much like my Ex Crew audition, I once again found myself feeling extremely intimidated by the process, despite the audition being open to dancers of all levels. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t find a place in the UC Dancers team either, and I continued on with my search. Because of my experience with Chinese traditional dance, I floated around quite a few of the Asian culture RSOs, such as the Chinese Undergraduate Students Association (CUSA) and Sensasia, hoping that at least one of them might have a dance in their annual cultural shows I could participate in. While I did end up joining a team that performed many popular K-pop songs for the showcase put on by the Korean Student Organization (KSO), nothing I came across felt like the right fit or seemed like something I could see myself committing to.
Just as I was about to give up for the year, I realized there was one dance group that gave me incredibly positive vibes and was possibly worth another try. At the beginning of Autumn Quarter, my RA, Tiffany, had dragged several of us first-years to the “Ballroom Bootcamp” that the Ballroom & Latin Dance Association (BLDA) had hosted in the International House (best dorm!) theater. Although I had never done anything remotely similar to ballroom before, I found the workshop ridiculously fun, learning the basics of waltz and cha-cha with friends before participating in a mock competition that mirrored the real ones the team went to. To close out the event, BLDA brought out pizza and drinks for us to enjoy while watching performances that highlighted all the different levels of dancers, and I was really astonished to find how much everyone shone.
When Winter Quarter came along and I discovered that BLDA was hosting another workshop, I gathered my courage and brain cells and went on over to try again. It was a lot smaller than the Bootcamp, but I found it just as enjoyable, so I went ahead and began showing up to the weekly lessons they offered (newcomers get to go for free their first quarter!). Despite being on-and-off as I didn’t have an official partner yet, the board never stopped contacting me, always being very welcoming as they tried to help me ease into this new group and the various styles of ballroom and Latin dance. Finally, after another few weeks of disappearing into schoolwork, I was once again contacted by Carol, the competition manager, who said she had found me a partner and hoped that I would be able to attend the upcoming competition at Valparaiso University.
Now, I was beyond intimidated by the concept of competing, considering how I had only been committed for about two weeks. Even after meeting my partner Andrew, who had one quarter more of experience, I had no idea if I could actually learn all sixteen different styles of ballroom and Latin dance in the span of two weeks. But then again, everyone starts somewhere, right?
The best thing about collegiate ballroom is that everyone is sorted into levels: Newcomer, Bronze, Silver, Gold, etc. As a result, I didn’t need to worry about looking like a complete disaster on the dance floor, because everyone was more or less at the same level (with just a few weeks more training than me). I ended up having a lot of fun, meeting and bonding with my team members through a three-hour carpool ride, a hair party, last-minute practice, and even a team dinner! It was truly a great way for me to forget about school for a weekend, and I’m extremely glad I decided to give ballroom a try, despite not knowing anything about it going in.
Although BLDA had to take a break from in-person events for obvious reasons, my excitement for dance has been growing exponentially. I can’t wait to get back in on the action and make up for the time the team has been apart, because I’ve truly found a family in BLDA and don’t plan on letting go anytime soon.