Caution: students may be waltzing to class Updated on September 25, 2008
Last year, a Calvin junior asked a Calvin sophomore to dance, and that partnering led to the formation of the college’s Ballroom Dance Club.
The junior was Kat Stahl, 23, now a senior psychology and interdisciplinary studies major from Germany. Her dance partner was Cloud Cray, 20, now a junior business and economics major from Tucson, Arizona. "A friend recommended me to her,” said Cray. “She called me up and said, ‘I’ve heard you can dance.‘ ”
Formal and informal training
Stahl, who had been learning and competing in various forms of ballroom dance for 10 years, was looking for someone to help her choreograph a dance for a Dance Guild show. Cray’s training was a little less formal: “I had been to two dances, maybe four dances in high school,” he said. “Whenever I saw somebody do something cool, I went over to whoever did it and said, “How did you do that?”
After collaborating on the dance, the duo collaborated on the club, which was Stahl’s inspiration. Cray reminisced about their first event, an hour-long merengue lesson held in February of 2008: “We had reserved the Chapel Undercroft, which is huge. She was freaking out—‘What if nobody shows up?’ I turned to her and said, ‘If we have less than 80, I’ll be surprised.’”
The premier ballroom event attracted 120 wannabe dancers, split fairly evenly between girls and guys. “It was a blast,” said Cray. “Everyone got the steps down; everyone had a good time; everyone didn’t want to stop at the end of the night.”
Other events held last spring by the Ballroom Dance Club attracted similar numbers. “The average was about 80,” Cray hazarded, “and, like, the week before finals, we had 30 people show—which was not bad. Swing dance, we had about 150 people show up.”
Ballroom Dance meets every Wednesday evening from 9:15 until 11 p.m. Each week, the two leaders spend part of the session teaching the basic steps of a dance: cha-cha, salsa, waltz, foxtrot, merengue, swing, rhumba, European tango, even line dancing. “Kat’s taught me a lot,” Cray said. “This year, we’d like to teach some Argentine tango, which is a lot of fun.” After 45 minutes of teaching, attendees are free to just keep dancing.
The mission of the club is not to achieve terpsichorean perfection: “It’s not about performing in front of a bunch of people and being the best. It’s about having a skill you can do, and it’s about having fun ... ,” Cray said. “If you want to learn how to dance competitively, Arthur Murray is right down the street, and they’d be happy to give you four private lessons and a couple of group events for 600 bucks.”
And students who want a little ballroom action don’t have to worry about bringing a partner along with them to a Ballroom Dance event, Cray said. “Bring a group of friends because it’s a social club,” he said. “We rotate partners until the end of the night.” The rotation not only keeps the scene lively, it prevents mishaps, he said: “On swing dance night, we don’t want a five-foot-two guy dipping a six- foot-two girl and smacking her head into the ground.”
The Ballroom Dance organization has some new events in the works this year. One is a Homecoming dance, held in collaboration with the alumni organization Knights for Life, where students and alumni will share the dance floor. The group will also be conveying groups of students to take part in the regular Friday night swing dances at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids.
The popularity of the Ballroom Dance Club has held steady this year. The organization gained 200 new sign-ups at Cokes and Clubs, and a Facebook group dedicated to the group has 160 members.
"I think a part of the appeal is that—where does the average college student go to learn this kind of thing? There’s really no other venue for something like this, unless you want to take private lessons, and that costs a lot of money,” said Calvin coordinator of student activities Erin O’Connor. “People feel like they can show up and have a great time, and even if they don’t do well, it’s okay. It’s not like a sports team where you’re letting anybody down.
Fun and lively
Fun is key, Cray agreed, and he compared the liveliness of Ballroom Dance Club with a Calvin event that is both perennial and popular: “When I came to Fridays at Calvin, I got to see Rangeela, and that was probably one of my fun-nest memories at Calvin—getting to see this show with all this energy—and I thought, ’Wow, Calvin’s a fun place to be.’”
~by Myrna Anderson, communications and marketing