Synchronized stepping: Students embrace ballroom dancing

It’s almost midnight on a Wednesday, and the Health and Wellness Center second floor multi-purpose room is packed. But there’s not a sweaty T-shirt in sight. No spandex shorts. Not a mat or exercise bike either.

Three boys stand close to the full-length mirrors lining the walls in garb not traditionally seen in the campus gym: collared shirts, ties and slacks. Three girls stand next to them in skirts and high-heels. A crowd of about 50 sits in front of them as they spin, dip and move in perfect synchronization across the floor.

It’s the GW Ballroom Dance Society’s competition team – about 75 students strong. The society has about 100 members, nearly double the number of students in the club last year.

The popularity of ballroom dancing has skyrocketed in the past few years, spurred by an onslaught of media attention. Suddenly, dances such as the fox trot, rumba and quickstep are “in” again.

“We’ve definitely seen a pickup,” said Ron Bennett, owner of Chevy Chase Ballroom, where many GW Ballroom Society members take lessons. “In the last six or seven years we’ve have a huge influx of kids from (Capitol) Hill and all of the ballroom clubs in the colleges.”

The popularity boom isn’t only among the younger generations.

“I think a lot of it is the wives now are getting the courage to drag out their husbands with them,” Bennett said. “I think people are also finding that it’s a great way to exercise.”

According to www.WeightLossInternational.com, depending on your weight, it’s possible to burn roughly 130 to 200 calories from half an hour of ballroom dancing.

In addition to literally making people lighter on their feet, Bennett said dancing with a partner provides a basic human need.

“Humans need to touch, and it’s a great way to touch without getting fresh.”

Before the recent boom in popularity, ballroom dancing was popular mostly among couples in their 30s, 40s and 50s, Bennett said, but now groups such as ballroom dancing societies have encouraged college students to get more involved.

“Pop culture has once again decided that dancing is cool,” senior Loren Clark-Moe, an advanced dancer, wrote in an e-mail. “‘Dancing with the Stars,’ ‘Shall We Dance’ and ‘Mad Hot Ballroom’ have upped the exposure of ballroom to make it fun and modern, and not have the image of our grandparents barely moving to Frank Sinatra.”

ABC’s summer hit “Dancing With the Stars” pitted celebrities including reality star Trista Sutter and boxer Evander Holyfield against each other in dance competitions each week. The stars, who trained and danced with professional dancers, learned and performed dances that any grandparent would have loved: the tango, cha cha, waltz and even the hustle.

Members of the GW Ballroom Dance Society watched the show religiously.

The club’s vice president, Courtney Loring, said competition is generally friendly among dancers from GW, Maryland, Georgetown and other schools in the area, who hang out and have parties together – with dancing, of course – between competitions. Loring said the fact that couples, rather than schools, compete against each other helps to keep school rivalries to a minimum. Pairs from GW will even compete against each other.

And GW is a force to be reckoned with on the dance floor. In their last competition, the 24 dancers from GW took home 167 ribbons. The number of competitors has tripled this year and expectations are high for a successful run. The team will be competing in five contests this year. The first, D.C. Dance Inferno, will take place in early November.

Of course the occasional foot is stepped on, dances are forgotten under pressure and dancers are sometimes stranded on the floor when their partners can’t hear their number being called out over the loudspeaker because he or she is in the bathroom.

“There’s always things that happen,” Loring said. “Everyone has their own horror stories.”

Clark-Moe attributes the success of the GW ballroom team to the passion and enthusiasm of the most recent incoming classes.

“The incoming classes of the past two years are remarkably different than when we came in,” she said. “There is a drive to be really involved in something, and not just politics. I think it speaks to the diverse group GW is pulling in, rather than just the typical ‘I will be president some day.'”

This doesn’t mean students with presidential aspirations and only a passing interest in ballroom dance can’t give it a spin.

On Friday, the Ballroom Society will hold a costume ball with mini-lessons from 7 to 9 p.m. and dancing from 9 p.m. to midnight.

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