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By Kimberly Parody
The old saying “it takes two to tango” has a new meaning when college students take the dance floor.
There is a new trend that many young people are learning. Ballroom dancing is becoming increasingly popular at colleges and universities around the Baltimore area.
The stereotypical college student goes to parties and clubs to socialize and relieve stress from the busy week. There is a group at the University of Maryland Baltimore County that is stepping out of the stereotype and dancing at the same time.
“Ballroom is different because it is a really social thing in a smoke-free, alcohol-free environment,” said Erin Loeliger, president of the UMBC Ballroom Dance Cluband senior biochemistry major.
Loeliger has been ballroom dancing for about three semesters, but the club has been an organization at UMBC since 1997.
“We are just people who love to dance,” said Loeliger of the members. “It's a good place to learn.”
The club is one way for students to experience ballroom dancing. It offers classes to the community at inexpensive prices for students. According to Loeliger, there are currently 250 students who actively participate in the classes, but 600 have shown interest. In the past year, she has been “more and more successful getting people to come out.”
Classes are offered by professional dancers twice each week. There is a jam session at the beginning of every semester where lessons are taught in salsa and swing to introduce the community in hopes of attracting more people.
“We honestly have it open to everybody,” said Loeliger of the classes. Dancers from Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland College Park, UMBC alumni and even high schools come to participate.
Another school, Towson University, is also taking strides to put ballroom dancing on the map. Towson offers a two-credit course, one day per week, on the basics.
“It's like opening a whole new door to the kids,” said Jacqueline Marhefka, ballroom dance professor at Towson University. “They can experience the dancing world that they normally would not if they did not take this course.”
Marhefka has been dancing since she was in college at Towson. She has been teaching for 40 years and says that college students have the most enthusiasm to learn new dances. The course covers seven dances, including the waltz, foxtrot, tango, swing, cha-cha, rumba and merangue.
“It is a little exposure to a lot of dances,” said Marhefka. “College students pick-up pretty easily.”
According to Marhefka, the number of girls in the class typically is higher than the number of boys every semester. Students take turns switching partners to make sure everyone gets a chance. Previous students even attend the class to assist girls in dancing.
“I want to spark interest in someone,” said Joe Norris, senior biology and chemistry major at Towson, who regularly participates in Marhefka's class. Norris took the course for credit two years ago and has since danced in his free time.
Loeliger and Norris are examples of students who have stayed with ballroom dancing for the usual, simple reason that it is fun. Sergio De-Souza Machado, co-faculty advisor of the UMBC Ballroom Dance Club, feels that college students now think that ballroom dancing is in style.
“It goes up and down in cycles,” said Machado. “Ballroom dance rode the wave for a while and now is going back on the upswing.”
Machado has been with the club since the beginning. He remembers how popular ballroom was a few years ago when students wanted to learn the lindy swing that was featured in Gap commercials.
Both UMBC and Towson mainly focus on social ballroom dancing or American style. These dances are fairly basic and more relaxed, as opposed to the international style used by more advanced and competitive dancers.
“Most of the time in the college environment they want to have fun and not get caught up in doing the right moves,” said Loeliger.
The opportunity to gain experience in ballroom dancing is abundant. Not only are students learning in the classroom, but they are taking their knowledge of American ballroom out in the public.
Marhefka requires her class to participate in three outside venues, where they dance and report on their experience. Many dance facilities offer student discounts or even college nights. Within 20 minutes of each school are numerous places and opportunities to take lessons and/or open dance.
The Promenade Dancesport Facility, the Belvedere Hotel and the Friday Night Swing Club are a few popular places students at UMBC and Towson frequent.
“I kept coming back to the Promenade,” said Loeliger, “There are always college students there.”
Loeliger prefers to dance with a constant partner, but not everyone in college has a partner. Singles are always welcomed, even though ballroom dancing is a partner sport.
“People know to look for new faces and take the time to teach you,” said Loeliger.
The old-fashioned way of dancing is evolving to a new era that is both traditional and modern. It does take two to tango and college students, whether single or not, are now learning, dancing and socializing to their own beat.
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