College is a time for newly-minted adults to try new things and discover themselves. Maybe they’ll rush a sorority or fraternity, pick up an intramural sport or even join a quirky club, like Quidditch. But one club and team that isn’t expected, is ballroom dancing.
Most people will first imagine sparkly dresses and the TLC show, “Dance Moms,” rather than a competition at the collegiate level. But, all over the country, colleges have two teams for ballroom competition: one for fun, and the other as a formal group that competes together.
In North Carolina, schools like UNC Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, Elon University, UNC Charlotte and East Carolina University all have competition teams. They’ll travel to Raleigh to compete at NCSU, Charlotte to compete at UNCC and even beyond the Eastern Seaboard to partake in competitions all around the country.
Dancers and juniors at Elon University, Hannah Fernandes-Martin and Charles Hawes agreed to share their experiences with ballroom — both as a partnership, and as individuals.
Both have been dancing ballroom together as partners at Elon for all three years of their college careers, and have also competed in competitions each year.
On her life dancing before college, Fernandes-Martin described taking part in what she called, “Pensacola Swing.” Fernandes-Martin said, “The swing dancing that occurs at the clubs I went to, branded as ‘Pensacola Swing;’ it is unique to Pensacola,” where she is from.
Fernandes-Martin elaborated that, “The instructors teach a basic single-step East Coast swing, but after that, there was a lot of improvisation and learning things on the side. [Which was] fun, but by no means very technical.”
While not helping with her technique, she emphasized it helped her become more comfortable with dancing.
Beyond their activity in the mandatory dance team work — such as practicing with just your partner and being present at club events — the two of them are also active in other areas of the arts.
Fernandes-Martin described herself as, “Really involved in the art and art history community” on Elon’s campus. She also takes part in intervarsity sports.
Last year, Hawes was in the Community Theater of Greensboro’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” as Fyedka.
This, along with their course loads, makes for a very busy schedule. Between practices and competitions, the bond between the two extends beyond dancing.
When asked where they think they would be if they hadn’t been partnered, Hawes said,
“Hannah has been a blessing in my life both as a partner and a friend. She is the most congenial, understanding and hardworking partner I could ask for, and we were so excited when we found out that we were partnered, since we lived right across the hall from one another. It has been the best three years of my life, and Hannah has been a huge part of that…If we hadn’t been partnered I don’t think I would be having as much fun or be as dedicated as I am to ballroom.”
Fernandes-Martin concurred, “Yes, the night we found out that we both made the team, I was in our hall and literally screamed and jumped on Chuckie. I could not have possibly asked for a better partner or friend. We have grown so much, and our dancing has improved more than I could have ever imagined. Sure, I love ballroom dancing, but I love it most of all because I get to dance with the best partner a girl could ever ask for.”
Both Hawes and Fernandes-Martin cited ballroom as a huge part of their lives. They talked about their favorite competition memories, like how they would place highly in dances they didn’t feel they were good at, which, according to Fernandes-Martin, “Happens often more than one would think.”
Hawes agreed, “Yeah, we always seem to get the highest ribbons in our worst dances at competitions.”
Hawes and Fernandes-Martin explained that while many people associate dance competitions with catty girls, petty fights, glamour and pretty dresses, the reality of competitions is that no matter how groomed partners are to perform, success doesn’t happen without a strong bond of trust between the partners.