Last Friday evening, I had the pleasure to experience a first taste of the ballroom dance scene at RPI. As both a new transfer student and a former professional ballet dancer, I was eager to participate in the social event designed to acquaint students of all experience levels to the various genres of social dance offered by RPI’s Ballroom Dance Club.
When I walked into the McNeil Room at 7 pm, music was already playing and several students were already engaged in “open dance” on the floor. Some couples, clearly already proficient in various styles, moved with ease and confidence, while beginners were coaxed onto the floor by current Ballroom members to be taught a few moves at the spur of the moment. Barely five minutes had passed before I was pulled onto the floor by one such member (who, later in the evening, was the instructor for the salsa portion of the night). Though I have over ten years of professional ballet training, I have to admit that I was nervous that I would make a fool of myself in such a different style of dancing. I was quickly put at ease by the music and my steady partner’s masterful leading, though.
Several minutes later, the formal portion of the event began with the introductory lesson to the basics of the Lindy Hop, a subset of Swing dancing, which is recognized by its jazzy, springy style. Instructors co-terminal student Sarah Boyd ’12 and the Poly’s own graduate student Wesley Mounts ’12 separated the room by gender to first introduce some basic steps before allowing the room to pair into couples to “get our feet wet” with the dancing itself. After a few minutes, the pairs were broken up to rotate partners, which I thought was beneficial to the social aspect of the event. How better to form new acquaintances than through dancing?
The carefree and bouncing rhythm of the dance was very different from the graceful structure of ballet with which I am familiar, and I found it difficult to loosen up my body to allow myself to really relax. My first partner off-handedly teased that I looked like “a swan out of water,” but by the end of the lesson I felt that I was making at least a little progress. Either way, it was definitely a lot of fun trying to break out of my comfort zone.
After allowing us the opportunity to practice the Lindy Hop with several different partners, we cleared the floor as Boyd and Mounts demonstrated a much more advanced Lindy routine, which was nothing short of exhilarating to watch.
The second portion of the event, the introductory lesson to Argentine Tango, was quite different. Where the Lindy Hop was lively and springy, the Argentine Tango was passionate and intense. The lesson itself followed the same format as the previous, and after, the attendees, including myself, fell silent as the two instructors demonstrated an awe-inspiring routine of the elegant tango.
At least for me, the demonstration of the Argentine Tango was by far the highlight of the evening. I was stunned and more than just a little impressed to hear that both instructors of the Tango began their study of ballroom dance as novices at RPI. As a seasoned ballet dancer myself, I was under the impression that, like ballet, ballroom dance must take more than a decade of 8 hours per day of instruction to reach the level of mastery to be able to move an audience the way that the Tango dancers accomplished. If any beginner at RPI is hesitant to give ballroom dance a try due to worries that they need prior experience, the example of these two dancers should certainly serve to be reassuring.
The final lesson of the evening taught the basics of Salsa dancing, which was definitely a crowd pleaser, due at least in part to the choice of music and the throngs of girls eager to shake their hips. By this point of the evening, I had thrown all shyness and apprehension aside and finally managed to truly let the music take control.
In what seemed like no time at all, the lesson portion of the event was concluded and the dance floor opened to anyone brave enough to show off their newly learned sets of skills in the Lindy Hop, Argentine Tango, and Salsa. Beginners and advanced dancers mixed together on the floor, and all sectors seemed to enjoy themselves immensely.
During the conclusion of the event, I had a brief conversation with one of my partners from early in the evening, William Steinberger ’16, about his interest in ballroom dancing at RPI, which was first piqued at the NRB Ballroom event for freshmen.
“Being in ROTC and a dual major, there needs to be somewhere I can go, have fun with people, and be as relaxed as possible…. Ballroom will help me get away just a little bit from the extenuating world of RPI,” said Steinberger, who plans to attend the Argentine Tango lessons offered this semester.
For other students who feel the same way, from what I observed at the Intro Dance, I would wholeheartedly recommend the variety of classes offered by RPI Ballroom this fall. Beginner classes in the Argentine Tango and the Lindy Hop are offered in the Student Activities Room in Academy Hall on Mondays from 6–7 pm and 8–9 pm, respectively. The beginning lessons for Ballroom and Latin are offered in the same venue from 6–8 pm on Thursdays. In addition, RPI Ballroom offers intermediate lessons and a competitive team for students looking for a more intensive experience. For full details, please refer to their website at ballroom.union.rpi.edu. Happy dancing!