I have been dancing since I was 3 years old. There’s a picture of me in a yellow tutu with some sort of duckbill headpiece, arms straight to the side, leg sticking out in an awkwardly cute pose, and, lastly, a smile that takes up the majority of my tiny face. I must have been delighted to be wearing such a costume and I know I was delighted to jump around and show off my fancy ballet moves.
Fast-forward 15 years, and there’s the picture of me, dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. My arms and legs are actually posed now in a graceful position, and that same smile beams across my face. Again, we can fast-forward another eight years and I am dressed in a completely different costume, a ballroom dance gown. Despite the change in appearance, I still show that goofy grin. Fast-forward one last time, and we arrive to the picture of me with the Penn State ballroom dance team.
I lack the costume, other than my official ballroom T-shirt under my ballroom hoodie and then my ballroom jacket on top of that. I pose and smile proudly amid the team members who all carry that smile that is so familiar to me. It’s that smile that gives it away: the dance bug has bitten them.
Why, after 20-plus years of other dance forms, primarily ballet, did I convert to be a ballroom addict?
I had just transferred from a small liberal arts college to the University of Michigan, and I was looking for a way to meet people. I saw an advertisement posted by the U of M Ballroom Dance Club for free ballroom dance lessons every Sunday that was then followed by a social dance. And so it began — my venture into ballroom dance. The lessons were fun, but it was the social dance that caused me to sprint the two miles home out of sheer excitement.
For two hours straight, I went from dance to dance, loving the diverse dance styles and character, and, also, from partner to partner, enjoying the brief encounters with really interesting and nice people. There was no stress involved in having a long conversation, and if I messed up, it really didn’t seem to matter. After that first social dance, I attended each week thereafter, religiously. With each new week, I learned more steps, met new people, had more fun dancing with people I had met the week before, and, somehow, I felt like I “fit in” to this massive crowd of dance enthusiasts.
The dance bug may have bit me at these club social dances but it was not until I joined the U of M Ballroom Dance Team that I became completely afflicted with this passion for ballroom dancing.
A fellow student and dance enthusiast at the Ballroom Club socials suggested I attend the team lessons and my first thought was, “Wow, a team, that’s intimidating.”
Admittedly, the first team lesson was a bit intimidating. Once the lesson began, however, all emotions were put aside and my brain and body got to work learning all sorts of new figures and technique.
What does it mean to be infected by the dance bug? The symptoms appear in many forms. With respect to one’s mind, dancing is the only thing that occupies one’s thoughts, dreams and conversations (whether the other party is interested or not). The dance bug certainly infects the body — all of one’s free time is spent practicing, whether that be in a public or private space, or both. Public music is no longer background noise — it becomes functional as to whether you can dance to it, whether that be a waltz, tango, foxtrot, quickstep, Viennese waltz, rumba, cha-cha, jive, samba, hustle or salsa. I admit, wholeheartedly and proudly, that this “infection” spread throughout my system, and I am pleased to say I have not found a cure.
Without a cure, I am left to spread the “bug” and infect all those Penn State students I have a privilege to teach. It’s exciting for me to see when the bug bites and whom it will bite. Sometimes it’s the one student I least expect. It’s also fun for me to see how the infection shapes some of my students’ future paths. I have had a number of students continue dancing beyond Penn State on the amateur competitive DanceSport circuit. I’ll see them at a competition, and I smile inside knowing that I had a part in their early dance life and perhaps, I am the one, who put the bug before them.
In this season of flu and colds you may wash your hands vigilantly to avoid contamination with those coughing and sneezing around you.
There is no need to sanitize, however, if you come across one of the 70 advanced ballroom dancers on campus. They may try a rumba walk in front of you — it’s ok, they’re practicing. It’s also possible that they hear a great jive playing on the radio and test it out in front of you. They can’t really help it: When they hear the music they feel they have to move to it. Or, perhaps, a man and woman suddenly grab each other to try out a new tango step right before your very eyes — just move out of their way, please. I assure you there is no need to worry about their sanity. These young men and women have only been bitten by the dance bug. I know these situations well, and in my expert opinion, get close to these people, ask them about dancing and maybe — just maybe — you, too, can be infected with this incurable passion to dance.
Jolene Nickel is an instructor in the College of Health and Human Development and is The Daily Collegian’s guest columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.