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Dancers train for ballroom competition

| Thursday, April 14, 2016

Through its involvement of both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students, the Ballroom Dance Club proves it takes two to tango. Members will compete this Saturday at the Irish Dancesport Gala at Century Center starting at 7:30 a.m. and running to 9 p.m.

Renee Reyes, Saint Mary’s sophomore and ballroom dance club member, said learning various dance styles, such as jive, foxtrot and swing, has helped her step outside her comfort zone.

“Dancing is a way to let loose and be myself,” Reyes said. “It’s a way to escape from the world and really appreciate the art form that it is.”

Reyes said she enjoys the performance aspect of ballroom dance and the way it allows people to show off their personalities.

“When you’re on the competition floor, no one cares, and the more authentic you are, the better scores you’re going to get,” Reyes said. “You’ll be able to show your true colors.”

The relationships she has formed with fellow dancers has been invaluable, Reyes said, and it has created a support system for her on and off the dance floor.

“I love every single person in that club, and we have become such a family,” Reyes said. “We hang out outside of the ballroom, too.”

Reyes said her involvement with the club has enhanced her college experience and shaped her as a person.

“It’s made me a lot happier and more outgoing,” Reyes said. “It’s made me be more open. I’ve been able to expand my friend group.”

Ballroom Dance Club has made her a more confident and skilled performer, Reyes said.

“In the beginning, I was very scared to compete,” Reyes said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing. Now that I’m more experienced, I have more of a competitive edge.”

Reyes said her passion for dancing motivates her to give her best effort during rehearsals, which take place three times a week.

“Working on technique can be very drilling, but it’s also fun to get better,” Reyes said. “I love learning new moves and styles.”

Reyes looks forward to home competitions, especially this weekend’s, because they make it possible for her loved ones to see her perform.

“I like my family and friends to see what I’ve done,” Reyes said. “I think that’s really special. It’s such a bonding experience.”

Jonathan Unger, Notre Dame sophomore and club member, said in an email dancers must act with precision and adaptability to compete successfully.

“A common misconception is that you’re performing a rehearsed routine by yourselves under a spotlight,” Unger said. “Actually, you’re on the floor with as many as 40 other couples trying to get the judges, who are walking around the floor, to look at you while trying not to run into anyone else.”

According to Unger, competitors have to multitask, as they try to recall steps, execute movements and keep smiles on their faces all at once.

“You’re challenging yourself to actually remember the dances you learn,” Unger said. “At competitions, the social and performance aspects of ballroom dance come together.”

Unger said he has refined his dancing ability and improved his coordination since he first joined the club.

“I had no previous dance experience and, though musically inclined, was using a part of my brain that I had never used before,” Unger said. “Although it was frustrating, and still can be after almost two years, I was dancing with my friends and I knew they were having fun no matter how many times I stepped on their feet.”

Unger said he enjoys opportunities to apply skills he learned from the club in his everyday life.

“I really enjoy dancing now, and whenever I hear music, I think about dancing,” Unger said. “You can impress your friends at formals and SYRs, and go to Salsa Nights at Legends and actually know what you’re doing.”

Darya Bondarenko, Saint Mary’s sophomore and incoming club president, said she enjoys ballroom dance because it allows her to exercise while learning something new.

“Dance incorporates everything from art and studies,” Bondarenko said. “You have to think about how and where you’re moving. It’s also a good distractor from classes and stress, but at the same time we incorporate physics into how we move. We study how our body is supposed to move, why it works that way and why it’s natural.”

Bondarenko said she encourages dancers to focus on doing their best and supporting one another, rather than on earning a certain place.

“Competition is more about learning how others dance, seeing those who are better than you and seeing how far you’ve progressed over time,” Bondarenko said. “It builds a healthy competition. It’s a way to motivate yourself to do better.”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

Contact Martha