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Dance meets sport at the Arnold DanceSport Classic

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Alexandra Lombard and her partner Louis Christensen perform Smooth Waltz at the 27th Annual OSU DanceSport Classic. Credit: Courtesy of Carmencita Slabinsky

Cheering, clapping and shouts of teams’ numbers will fill the ballroom this weekend as classical dance meets competitive sport in the Arnold DanceSport Classic.

DanceSport at OSU is a student organization for ballroom dancing that combines a competitive team and a social club. This weekend, 46 of its members will dance against thousands of other competitors from collegiate teams nationwide at the Arnold DanceSport Classic. The event is part of the Arnold Sports Festival, a national event which hosts over 70 sports events over four days.

Samantha Butterfield, a fourth-year in nursing and director of mentoring for DanceSport at OSU, said the high energy level of ballroom dance competitions often exceeds spectators’ expectations.

“I feel like a lot of people don’t understand ballroom dancing, like they think it’s just this classical dancing and stuff, but it’s really not — it’s kind of crazy,” Butterfield said. “You can feel the bass in your heartbeat, and it’s nothing like what you’d expect.”

Natalie Prischak, a second-year in animal science and director of home competition planning for DanceSport at OSU, said the Arnold DanceSport Classic will feature dancers from a variety of skill levels, progressing from newcomers to bronze, silver, gold and open. Levels below open are considered syllabus level, she said, because they each have specific restrictions regarding the moves dancers can perform, while open level offers more choreographic freedom.

“There’s actually a real syllabus, just like you’d have for classes, where it lays out, like, in silver level, you’re allowed to separate (from your partner) for so many measures, and the guy’s now allowed to spin, where as in bronze, only the lady is allowed to spin in a turn,” Prischak said. “So as you go up, you can do progressively more difficult moves.”

Prischak said the Arnold DanceSport Classic will include performances from four categories of dance: American Smooth, American Rhythm, International Standard and International Latin. Each style of dance encompasses four specific styles that are categorized based on the shape of the frame the dancers’ bodies create, the footwork of the dancers and their speed of movement, she said.

Dancers competing at the syllabus level typically perform a range of styles, while dancers at the open level may begin to specialize in a specific dance, Prischak said. However, she said most dancers have a high familiarity with most of the styles performed.

“If you just show a clip of a competition, any one of us could be like, ‘This is exactly what style and what dance they’re doing,’” Prischak said. “They’re very distinct.”

Prischak said the competition is divided into four segments — one for each category. Each segment will feature dozens of pairs performing simultaneously in 90-second intervals, or “heats,” during which judges will evaluate them and determine which pairs will advance to the next round. She said the competitors will be narrowed down to a quarterfinal and then a semifinal until there are about seven couples left in the final round.

Prischak said the level of competition is consistent throughout the day, as each round is judged independently of the performances in the previous round.

“Every single round, you’re starting fresh, so it doesn’t matter how great you did previously,” Prischak said. “You have to keep that level throughout the whole day.”

Ribbons will be awarded for first, second and third place following each of the four main styles, Prischak said. At the end of the competition on Sunday, the top three collegiate teams will be announced based on the number of callbacks their couples received overall.

Butterfield said the dancers’ competitive spirits will shine against rival teams such as the University of Michigan, but their ultimate goal is to improve with each performance.

“It’s more fun when you have little goals that you meet, so maybe you get an extra callback that you normally don’t,” Butterfield said. “Whereas, if you go in thinking ‘I need to place; I need to place,’ it’s not as fun because you get disappointed sometimes.”

The Arnold DanceSport Classic will begin Saturday at 8 a.m. and conclude Sunday at 6 p.m. in the Hyatt Regency Ballroom, adjacent to the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Tickets can be purchased online via Ticketmaster for $15 not including fees or at the door for $20. Admission to the DanceSport Classic includes admission to the Arnold Fitness EXPO.

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