Puttin’ on the Ritz
On November 8, 2010, Student Senate ratified the Blugold Competitive Ballroom team’s constitution to officially recognize it as an on-campus organization.
Just over one year later, the team has had members compete in events at UW-Madison and Purdue University, among other large universities, and the team continues to expand.
Laura Szymanski, a junior and a founding member of Blugold Competitive Ballroom, said the group’s expansion to nearly 20 members after just one year is phenomenal.
“Before we started, ballroom competition was not accessible to students in Eau Claire at all,” Szymanski said. “The social dance scene is great, but the competition outlet wasn’t there, so we were trying to make it more accessible.”
Zjen Thak Chua, a junior exchange student from Malaysia, will be competing at the Ohio Star Ball Championships in Columbus from Nov. 15-20. Chua said being a part of BCB has allowed him to improve his dance abilities and put them to the test.
“BCB is more competition-driven,” Chua said. “Competitive ballroom is very fun, but it’s not something you can master in a few days or a few weeks. You have to continuously work with your partner and achieve some perfection.”
“Façade and humility”
Szymanski said each person is judged on a much more personal level than a simple evaluation of raw skill that combines “an odd balance between façade and humility.”
“When we bring on new members, we aren’t looking necessarily for dance experience, but ability to learn,” Szymanski said. “We let our coaches teach them, and then at practice time, everyone dances with everyone. If something doesn’t feel right, regardless of who you’re dancing with, you just try to figure it out.”
The team meets with ballroom coaches Jessica Madson and Nicholas Westlake in Minneapolis once or twice per month for what Szymanski called “an all-day affair.” Szymanski said that without their coaches, none of this would be possible.
“The coaches come in after we’ve chosen our new members, and they give a five-hour dance workshop,” Szymanski said. “The new members go into that workshop looking and feeling clumsy and not confident at all, and they come out looking like dancers, because that is how amazing our coaches are.”
Madson and Westlake took first place in the Adult Silver Standard category at the 2011 USA Dance National DanceSport Championships.
“It’s very nice to have (Madson and Westlake) as our coaches,” Chua said. “They are quite professional and nice people. To get coaching from good dancers or good teachers would be very costly, but they didn’t want us to pay a lot for that.”
BCB also incorporates a “provisional membership,” where new members spend the first semester learning the steps and working closely with the team before being allowed to compete in their second semester on the team.
Gearing up for competition
Ballroom competitions are broken up into four separate categories: International standard, Latin, smooth and rhythm. From there, the categories are broken up into skill levels ranging from “Newcomer” to “Champ.” Chua said progressing from one level to the next could take a significant amount of time.
Chua compared the anticipation of an approaching competition to getting ready to take an exam, saying that “you’ll be more tense as competitions are coming.”
Mark Salzman, a senior and founding member of BCB, said he feels the excitement and adrenaline of competition once he sees the dance floor and other competitors perform.
“At the end of the day, I kind of reflect, but I try to think back to specific details and most of them won’t come up because I am so excited during the events,” Salzman said. “When I start reviewing the tapes, that’s when the information kind of falls back in, but usually I’m just so excited that I don’t remember most of it.”
Salzman said that at the competitions, there are many opportunities to talk to competitors from other teams and universities.
“Everyone I’ve met there is just super friendly,” Salzman said. “When you start getting into your events, everything gets rushed. You’re constantly moving. You’re constantly doing something. Having that kind of atmosphere is great for putting you at ease right before you compete.”
It’s not all serious business, however. Salzman said BCB will most likely attend an upcoming masquerade ball that is being hosted by the University of Minnesota’s ballroom team.
“Like a family of dancers”
Salzman said his experiences with BCB have carried over into other aspects of his life and the same is true for other BCB members as well. .
“I feel that the adage ‘you get out what you put in’ has been extremely true,” Salzman said. “Every single member, whether founders or newer members or anywhere in between, have put in a lot of time and energy into the club, and I see it paying dividends for them, whether on the dance floor or in other areas.”
Ultimately, Szymanski described BCB as “a family of dancers” that continues to grow closer as time moves forward.
They encourage any men and women who are interested in joining BCB to attend the auditions in the beginning of next semester.
“Every semester that we take on new people, the family grows,” Szymanski said. “It’s the most amazing thing for the founding members because this is exactly what we wanted to see in Eau Claire a