Turning smoothly on her toes, Hannah Alyea aimed her outstretched fingers at an ensemble of onlookers.
In perfect time with the music, Alyea and her partner weaved across the floor — all eyes were on the pair as they parted from their hold and acknowleged the crowd.
Alyea is president of the Ballroom Dance Club at the University of Minnesota, which has more than 100 participants this year. She and other experienced members teach all levels of ballroom dance.
“There’s this one thing that brings us together, this love for expression, or dance,” Alyea said. “Everybody has to try and find their way of expression.”
A component of the club that has seen the most noteriety is the competitive team; each semester 50 members enter in DanceSport, a tournament put on by USA Dance.
Members of the competitive team will train for, and travel to two meets each semester, Alyea said.
Last November, the team entered the organization’s largest competition — the National Collegiate Dancesport Championship — in Columbus, OH, where they placed third.
For most competitive members, success comes through laborious practice schedules; they train for five hours together each week, and some said they add on 10 more hours to keep their edge.
Competitive team member Thomas Stastny is trying to finish his graduate degree, and has a 19-credit load this semester. He said it’s hard to strike a balance between his academic work and love for dance.
“There are times where it feels stressful . . . there are moments where it does feel stressful practicing,“ he said. “But you just need to remind yourself that we’re doing this because we enjoy it.”
Seth Westlake, Ballroom Dance Club vice president, practices up to an additional 12 hours a week and works as a statistician for True Analytic, he said.
“If you want to excel in this sport, you do have to be able to practice what you learn in a lesson,” he said.
But for some, the love for the art doesn’t dampen their ambitions – Nicola Beilman, a neuroscience sophomore, said she has no regrets with the extra commitment the competitive team has asked of her.
“When I’m in a bad mood, I go there and I dance for 10 minutes . . . and I keep dancing and I forget everything,” she said.
Typically, each member has two dance partners, Beilman said. One is treated as a serious partner and the other, a casual partner.
She said the serious partner is someone with a similar skill level, and the pairing is maintained while they are both on the team.
The casual partner changes often, and has a different level of experience to help teach the less-skilled partner, Beilman said.
Developing a productive connection with both of these partners is instrumental in being successful in dance, said Alyea’s partner Kyle Condiff.
“Personalities have to mesh well enough that you don’t get mad at each other,” Condiff said.
Condiff and Alyea said they work well together because they both have easy-going personalities.
They now live together, with Westlake and others they’ve met through the dance club.
On Sunday, the club held their annual “Fall into Dance” event that is attended by nearly 200 people each fall who’re interested in joining the team.
They come to take a short, one-hour lesson and watch some of the competitive team perform, Alyea said. The event is designed to expose people to ballroom dance and stimulate interest, Westlake said.
Noam Scheepens graduated from the university in 2014 and stumbled across the event – deciding to participate after showing her husband around the university’s campus Sunday afternoon.
Scheepens, who earned a music theory degree, found synergy in her interests and the dancing.
“I really enjoyed the music, it just makes me feel free out there on the floor dancing,” she said.