Org spotlight: Vassar Ballroom waltzes into spring

Vassar Ballroom accepts dancers of all experiences. Each week, members teach a variety of social dances, including Swing, Tango and Waltz. They also host Yule Ball in the fall. / Courtesy of Vassar Ballroom via Facebook

Remember how awkward social dancing was in middle school? Approaching a stranger and clumsily stepping on their feet and avoiding eye contact, it was not a pleasant experience. Then again, it was middle school and what wasn’t awkward?

However, time has passed and hopefully healed those wounds. Dance is a liberating art. To freely twirl or step to a rhythm can be one of the joys of life. Even dancing in your room can be a good self-care. But how can you acquire such skills?

The answer is Vassar College Ballroom Club, or Vassar Ballroom for short. Starting at a basic level, members learn all types of dance, from Waltz and Swing to Contra and other less-known social dances.

Founded in 2006, Vassar Ballroom meets every Monday and Thursday for an hour of rehearsing. Their typical space is the Aula. Over the space of four meetings, Exec board members teach a dance in the style of their choice.

“Typically what happens is that we will review basic steps from the previous meeting. And then we’ll teach a new step. For the last five or ten minutes, we’ll dance with music.” Exec Board member and frequent teacher Acacia Willis ’19 said.

Whether you’ve strutted your stuff on the dance floor or embodied a wallflower at proms and weddings, Vassar Ballroom will welcome you with open arms. Many members began only with a whim to join. New members don’t need to show up to every meeting either. Each meeting begins with a review of the previous week’s steps, so nobody has to feel left behind.

Exec Board member Leon Wang ’19 explained what hooked him into frequently attending and eventually joining the Exec board: “What I’m thinking is that, with the teaching style here, we always start from the very basic stuff to build people’s confidence. When I was a freshman, I was super awkward. But my mom was telling me, ‘Son, if there’s one thing you cannot do, it’s dancing.’ So I got here and realized it’s not that difficult. And then soon I made friends here.”

Vassar Ballroom teaches a variety of partner-based dances. The Lindy Hop, based on aviator Charles Lindbergh, and the Charleston, a popular dance from the 1920s, are staples of ballroom dancing. From bat mitzvahs to weddings and other social situations, it never hurts to develop these skills and wow your friends and relatives.

“They’re all really sweet and welcoming. And it’s pretty casual. Anybody can do it whenever. Everybody’s really open to anyone coming. Dancing’s a lot of fun. There’s music and there’s people. And dancing with people is just such a cool experience, to be able to connect to someone in that way with music.” Freshman and frequent Vassar Ballroom dancer Maiel Richards ’20 described the open community within the group. “There’s other dance groups on campus but this is such a casual low-commitment thing for people who want to learn different dances. It’s cool when they switch up dances and you have an opportunity to learn dances at different times of the year.”

Vassar Ballroom has also recently started teaching lesser-known styles of ballroom dancing. Contra dancing is a folk style influenced by English country dance with an African influence. Accompanied by folk music, the dancers form a line and pair up, rotating around their partner and alternating.

Vassar ballroom teaches numerous styles of dance which vary depending on the interests of the members. Willis explained, “I love partner dancing of many forms, particularly swing. That’s what I teach. I teach swing, some Charleston and Lindy if I have the correct partner. Right now, I’m teaching Contra, which is the first time we’re teaching that in Ballroom.”

Each semester, Vassar Ballroom presents an event. Most recently, they hosted Dancing with the Professors with assistance from VCTV, OnTap, HYPE and Bollywood Brewers. The event featured both students and staff dancing to a variety of dance styles.

While there may be many dance groups on campus, Vassar Ballroom is unique. Willis elaborated: “It’s one of the only places that really focuses more classical styles of dance. A lot of the dance groups are contemporary or hip-hop or on a professional level. We’re the most beginning level group as well. Ballroom dancing is a very different atmosphere than Hype, for example. I don’t want to say it’s formal, because it’s not.”

Back in December, Vassar Ballroom hosted the Yule Ball with the Vassar College Quidditch. The Harry Potter-themed event included performances from the Vassar Jazz Band and a midnight waltz by the Vassar Ballroom members.

Besides teaching dancing skills, the org also provides a great opportunity to develop the social skills that are important to social dancing.

Vassar Ballroom goes beyond just learning a the steps to a dance. Wang believes the group to be a wonderful place to make new friends: “At the beginning of the semester is when we have the most people. So in these dances, you have to approach someone. Every time you meet a new person, you get to go ‘Hi, nice to meet you. How are you?’ and it’s at the beginning of the semester so the friendships can continue.”

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