Dancing At UniversityBy Justine Hollyer - Added 28th of February 2007
Whilst many British dancers bemoan the decline in the popularity of ballroom dancing in the UK, there is one area where it is growing in numbers and that is at universities. Most universities have a ballroom dancing society or club, and of those over 20 compete regularly in competitions both organised by host universities and increasingly on the Sunday circuit. Cambridge Dancers Club boasts the biggest membership of any dance club in Europe with around 2000 members and in many universities the ballroom dance club in its many guises is one of the biggest of all the societies, sporting or otherwise. In Bath one year, the membership outnumbered that of Rugby, Rowing and Tennis!
The reasons someone first comes along to a lesson are diverse: ranging from wanting to meet members of the opposite sex, being dragged along by a friend who wouldn't go alone, wanting to try something different, in addition to a love of dance. Ballroom clubs are very sociable with most holding 2 to 3 black tie balls a year as well as social dances and other events. It is an instant social life for new members which is very attractive for freshers and foreign students who often know no-one else at their establishment at the start of term. Virtually every country in the world has been represented at some time in the university circuit and many clubs have a large contingent of overseas members.
Whilst not all university dancers compete, those who do tend to be the most dedicated members and go on to hold committee positions and run the clubs. In the big clubs, there is fierce competition for team, trials are held for places which are jealously guarded against up and coming dancers, complacency is not an option! Conversely, smaller clubs struggle to put out full teams but are filled with just as dedicated members.
There are 6 main university competitions a year, several smaller and friendlier affairs, and of course the notorious, ultra competitive Oxford-Cambridge Varsity match which has even received coverage in The Times. Ballroom dancing has a full blue Status at Oxford and a half blue status at Cambridge. Many dancers elsewhere are eligible for their own university sporting awards.
University competitions have 2 main sections: individual events divided into beginner, novice, intermediate and advanced grades for both ballroom and latin, and then the prestigious team match. The roar of the crowd during the team event is comparable to Blackpool and the atmosphere is just as tense.
The Inter-Varsity Dance Association (IVDA) is responsible for organising the national student championships. Each year this is hosted by a different university and has been held in venues such as the Kings Hall in Stoke, the Guildford Spectrum and the Watford Colosseum, however, it is outgrowing even these venues with 700 competitors and 400 spectators in March 2004. The constitution governing the competition is continually under discussion and evolving to represent the views of the students. Much of this debate is carried out online at www.universitydancesport.com which has over 300 members and 5000 articles since its inception in November 2003.
Many ex-students are still involved with their former clubs as well as dancing on the open circuit. The most successful couple so far must be the latin couple Satin Gungah and Mansi Amin who danced for Imperial College and have partnered each other since beginners over 10 years ago. They are currently ranked 9th in the EADA Amateur Latin Chart. More student dancers are dancing on the open circuit after graduating now, but the transition is hard: costs and partnership issues aside, the social aspect is removed especially in London where lessons and practices often involve long commutes. There is no popping to the bar afterwards for a bit of karaoke or student night at the local nightclub because of work in the morning! Serious dancers forego much social life in pursuit of their dreams. It is a very competitive environment and whilst people are not unfriendly, dancing is treated quite as seriously as a career and for many it is their career. This can come as a shock if not forewarned!
University dancing has recently forged links with EADA and has negotiated a discounted membership rate for students. Working closer together will be mutually beneficial as more students realise that the Sunday circuit is enjoyable, with more events and usually a shorter programme than the university circuit allows because of its sheer size. There are already a lot more students competing on the open circuit than a few years ago and this trend should be encouraged.