At Thomas Nelson Community College a new type of team is taking off: ballroom dance.
Students at TNCC are starting to make a name for themselves on the collegiate ballroom dance circuit as the school’s team returned from a competition in New York City with a number of awards for various team members.
“We are the only community college to have ever competed in the national collegiate ballroom circuit,” said Pamela Roberts, the faculty adviser for the team. “When we first came onto the scene they didn’t know who we were or what we were about because we were going against schools like Yale and Harvard. Now, we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
Recently, the team competed at Columbia University where they took home first place in their division overall in Latin newcomer and won second place in rhythm bronze division overall. Roberts said this is quite the achievement because each division has to compete against 80 other couples and colleges from all over the country, totaling around 900 competitors this year.
When Roberts first started as director of the team, she didn’t realize how important and fun it would become to her. She said she decided to take the opportunity because she loved dance and the students needed a new director.
Roberts started with ballroom dancing at the college as a director to the club in 2014. But she quickly realized students wanted more opportunities to compete so she started a separate team that could travel and train for competitions in 2015.
“I started and I just saw all the talent these students had and decided they deserved to show it off,” she said.
Amilia Thompson is one of the newcomers and participated in her first competition this month. She said the experience was one she would never forget and that ballroom dance has opened a new perspective on dancing for her.
“I hadn’t danced in years,” she said. “I’m from Jamaica and used to compete with my school in folklore dances so this is very different. It has its own challenges in terms of learning techniques.”
Both Thompson and Roberts agreed ballroom dancing can be grueling on the muscles because it uses parts of the body in ways different from other dance sports. In ballroom dancing, team members are partnered together and practice moves from the salsa to the waltz, over and over again.
In competition, that can be extremely daunting, Roberts said, because the team has to keep performing dances for 90-second intervals over and over again until a set of judges narrows it down to the final 10 or five pairs.
“It’s 90 seconds of dancing which doesn’t sound like a lot until it’s your 10th or 11th dance that you’ve done the same thing over and over,” Roberts said.
But before a competition, the team is the most in shape they’ll ever be. They practice at least four days a week as a team and then separately with their partners. Practices also take place with professional dance coaches Riccardo Pacini and Sonia Spadoni.
With the team being so young, Roberts said she is proud of how much they have accomplished. Both Roberts and Thompson said a large part of the success is the team’s morale.
“It’s all very competitive but very supportive,” Thompson said. “I have my own drive to keep getting better, but the team helps me get there.”
Currently there are 14 people on the school’s competitive team, but Roberts said she expects to see that number grow. While ballroom dance isn’t the first sport that comes to mind when thinking of college students, Roberts said more TNCC students are recognizing the benefits and some are even starting to come to the school to be a part of the team.
“We’ll take anybody and work with them, most of them don’t have any experience when they join,” Roberts said. “It’s been a really good experience seeing them all together now and knowing where we started.”