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'It's therapeutic': Inside the MSU Ballroom Dance team

September 27, 2018

The span from 10 p.m. to midnight four days a week might not seem like an athlete’s ideal practice hours, but dancers on the MSU Ballroom Dance team practice at that time with little complaint. 

According to members of the team, there are plenty of people willing to undergo the late night practices. In fact, there’s almost an eagerness about it. 

Accounting senior Jasper DeJesus, the team’s competition chair, first found MSU Ballroom Dance at Sparticipation. After two years on the team, dancing became a sort of therapy to her. 

“It’s a way that I get to express myself really creatively and freely,” DeJesus said. “It’s therapeutic, where I can have a really long, hard day, and then come to ballroom practice and it’s like I’m fine.”

DeJesus isn’t alone. The team’s creation dates to 2004, and according to its members, students can take up competitive and recreational ballroom dancing for simple fun — or even security.  

International relations senior Josephine Auchterlonie is the president of MSU Ballroom Dance Team. She’s pursued ballroom dancing as a career. 

“The purpose of our group is to not only spread the sport of ballroom dance to MSU students, but also spread it to the community,” Auchterlonie said.

The team offers classes for different levels of students, and no audition or prior dance experience is needed. The teachers — a mix of older members who dance at a more advanced level — teach the newer members. 

“We also bring in professionals several times during the semester and then many times during the year to teach our team members more about dancing and give them a professional training, essentially,” Auchterlonie said. 

Auchterlonie is one of the team’s instructors. Her eight years of dancing experience led her to be elected president of the team for the fall semester.

“Ballroom dance is pretty much my whole life,” she said. “I really wanted to help the team in any way I can.”

Public policy sophomore Zoe Schultz, a recent addition to the team, said she has always been interested in ballroom dance. It works like meditation for her, enabling her to focus.

“At first it was difficult. Like learning all these new routines on the first week and then now we’re choosing one dance routine we are kind of focusing on, so make sure you cover all the basics down on technique and frame,” Schultz said. “I can just relax and if I had, like, a stressful day at school, I can come here and just focus on dance and not have to think about that stuff and just releasing,” she said. 

The team also provides open dancing, which is a time set aside for general dancing and making friends with other members of the team.

“Everyone gets along and then we have multiple partners,” Schultz said. “We’re switching partners and you’re getting comfortable with everyone and it’s kind of become like a family unit already.”

Mechanical engineering senior Philip Wandor is the community outreach coordinator of the team. Wandor said the role has helped him to grow in his ability to communicate with people, especially with his fellow team members.

“It’s really helped my communication skills,” he said. “I did it before to really step out of my box and like connect with them.”

As a freshman, Wandor joined the team at the encouragement of his older brother. He wasn’t sure about the whole thing at first. 

“For me, it’s definitely out of my comfort zone a little bit,” he said. 

But after trying out, Wandor found himself viewing ballroom dance in a different light.

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“It is like a sport to where you can get up a good sweat, you can really get working,” he said. 

Since the team meets four times a week from 10 p.m. to midnight at MSU Demonstration Hall, Schultz is no stranger to the odd practice hours. She said the time could be difficult to manage with, especially if a student has a morning class, but the payoff in the end is worth it.

“I think the sacrifice is worth it in the end,” she said. “I really do enjoy this and I believe that what I’m doing will pay off in the end. I don’t mind like sparing a couple hours of sleep in order to dance, to be honest.”

Auchterlonie said ballroom dance is registered as an Olympic sport, but not a lot of people know about it.

In the Midwest, universities have established ballroom dance competitions for teams like MSU to compete in. MSU’s team is going to three competitions this semester. Their next coming competition is Sept. 29 in Washington, according to a calendar on the USA Dance National DanceSport Championships website.

“It’s just a great chance for you to learn because when you go and you watch other people, especially higher level dancers dance, you can actually learn a lot just watching them,” Schultz said. 

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