University ballroom dance team wins 12th national title

Sunday, November 29, 2015 - 5:58pm

A few days before Michigan played Ohio State in Ann Arbor on Saturday, another University team won big in Columbus, Ohio.

The University’s Ballroom Dance Team won the national championship title for the 12th consecutive year, beating out about 30 other teams from universities across the country.

LSA freshman Anna Haynes said the competition consists of several rounds. Each time a dancing couple is called back to dance again, their team receives a point.

“Each couple gets to choose eight dances,” she said. “There are a lot of dances, but you’re only allowed to choose your favorite eight. For me, I’m a dancing newcomer so we start out with our most basic in the first round. If you get callbacks you keep going up until finals, which is a huge deal because sometimes there will be 90 couples starting out and you make it to the top eight.”

Business senior Jiaxin Zheng, the Ballroom Dance Team president, said newcomers like Haynes, coupled with a robust recruitment process, contribute heavily to the success of the team.

“We have a great recruitment system,” she said. “At the beginning of the year we go out and get people to try ballroom dancing and emphasize that anyone can do it. I think we’re able to win because of the numbers and also because we’re able to emphasize that being on this team is not just learning how to dance, it’s ultimately going to the competitions.”

Team members are professionally coached by Olympic-level ice-dancing coaches and national champion ballroom dancers Susan and Steve McFerran. Zheng said the McFerrans’ training gives the team an edge during competition.

“Our coaches have been a key drive for our success because without them we wouldn’t have had a structured team where people tryout and make a team to learn from them,” she said. “A lot of collegiate ballroom clubs are just student organized, so they have a really hard time maintaining continuity from season to season. Because we have our coaches and a structured team setting, we’ve been able to maintain a longstanding presence on campus.”

Engineering senior Andrew Simon said upperclassmen dancers assist in teaching newcomers and, alongside the coaches, are responsible for 150 to 200 dancers of varying ability in a given semester.

Simon added that because the team is broken down into different ability levels, the amount of instruction each member receives can differ based on their section. Upper-level dancers are broken into A, B and C teams while newcomers just consist of one group of beginners. Simon said the hard work of each section contributed to their success in Columbus.

“The quality of the dancing will allow more callbacks and that will build up points for our team,” he said. “Every single person matters, and that’s why at the very beginning of recruitment we work really hard to get as many people to join the team as possible and get them into it and build up a passion for it because it helps us a lot when it comes time for nationals.”

Simon said the team’s continuous success at nationals is a reflection of the different aspects of the team that allow for consistent training and strong team membership.

“It’s a combination of a couple things,” he said. “Number one, it’s in a big part, thanks to our coaches. The second factor is the amount of practice space we provide. If you’ve seen other dance groups on campus they’re always in Angell Hall or trying to find random places. I think we’re one of the only teams that has a dance studio which allows for consistent training. On top of that, we’re very well funded from CSG. This makes the team affordable for a lot of people.”

Haynes said the team's enthusiasm toward fostering learning and new membership allowed her as a freshman to feel like she contributed greatly to the win in Columbus.

“It was so exciting,” she said. “It was great because they say that the reason we win nationals so much is that we bring so many new students and let so many people try it out every year. So it’s really exciting to know that you were a part of getting a point for your team.”