Ballroom dance is a club of champions


Three couples from UNC's club ballroom dance team competed at a national competition in 2017. Photo courtesy Elle Kehres.

UNC's ballers get a lot more attention, but its ballroom dancers also win national championships. 

This year, three student pairs from the UNC ballroom dancing club competed at the USA DANCE National DanceSport Championships 2017 in Baltimore. Jordan White and Alex Cordaro placed first in novice Latin, while  Brandon LaRue and Ari Janoff placed second in silver Latin. 

LaRue, a junior who serves as the club's treasurer, said he wasn't always a good dancer. 

“I was the kind of person where you would go to a bar mitzvah or party and the dancer, or the people they would hire to liven the event, would pick me up and carry me onto the floor and I would just stand there, but I decided that’s something I didn’t want to do anymore,” he said.

LaRue said the majority of people who join have no dance experience.

"I'm very tall and so I never was really that confident in my dancing abilities, because I felt that I had too much arms and legs," captain and senior journalism major Elle Kehres said. "Joining the team kind of proved me wrong and that I can look good dancing."

Club President Heather Ortega, a senior chemistry and psychology major, said that most people who stay past their first year will stay for the rest of their time at UNC. In some cases, they stay beyond that.

Last year, the team had 38 student and 29 non-student members. Non-student members include UNC alumni, employees and community members.  

“We have a lot of members who started as undergrad and then they graduated in May and they’ll still come and participate in our team activities,” Ortega said. “It’s actually great to see people who were on the team 10, 15 years ago that come back and hang out with us.”

On Mondays, the team goes off campus to Elite Ballroom Dance in Morrisville for professional lessons by two world renowned competitors. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, the team has lessons on campus held by two hired coaches, which change depending on the year. 

Each practice have newcomer, intermediate and advanced lessons. Members can practice as much or as little as they want, LaRue said. 

Kehres said during the practices, dancers are split up into two categories: standard and latin. Standard includes foxtrot, waltz, quick step and tango, and latin includes chacha, jive, rumba and samba. 

“You kind of just partner up and trial and error throughout the room for an hour until you get it,” she said.

Kehres said the team's biggest competition, DC DanceSport Inferno, holds hundreds of couples and lasts an entire weekend in Maryland. 

For the higher levels of competition, couples prepare a minute and thirty second routine, but don’t know what song will be played. But for the beginner levels, the couples don’t have a practiced routine and they don’t know what song will be played or how many people will be on the dance floor with them.

“You’re just kind of tossed out there, you know the moves that you can do to a certain dance, and you pretty much just go for it,” she said. 

After the competition, the team goes to the IHOP next to their hotel as tradition.

“One of my favorite memories is that (Brandon) pretty much had his face passed out in the water cup at the IHOP because he had danced his little heart out,” she said.

Ortega said the team is very tight-knit. 

"I really love to dance, it's part of my self-care and balancing my school life," she said. "I made three of my best friends on the team that I probably wouldn't have made otherwise and I see them pretty much everyday."

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