Sequins on dresses glittered as they twirled across the dance floor. The soft clack of heels was barely heard over music and audience applause. Dancers glided on and off stage, separating from and rejoining with their teams on the sidelines.
Cal Poly’s Ballroom Dance Team hosted the 10th annual Mustang Ball Saturday. The event was a full day competition for ballroom dancers from all over the West Coast. Teams from the University of Southern California (USC), University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), Arizona State University (ASU) and more joined the Cal Poly team in a battle of skill and grace.
Breaking down the lingo
There were three ballroom dance styles allowed at the Mustang Ball competition.
The first is American style where dancers step on a bent leg and straighten it. It can be smooth or rhythmic, depending on the type of dance. Popular smooth dances where dancers use the entire floor are the waltz, tango, foxtrot and Viennese waltz. During the waltz, dancers create waves across the floor, moving up and down with an effortless rise and fall of their bodies.
The rhythm dances featured more sharp and precise choreography. Popular styles like the cha cha, rumba and mambo are full of energy and usually feature faster music. For beginning competitors, the rules require dancers to stay with their partners, building trust between the leading and following dancer.
In international style, dancers start with a straight leg and bend it with each step. Like American, there are standard dances that require dancers to travel across the floor and Latin American styles which keep the dancers in place. Some dances carry over to international style, with small changes in detail.
The final style is night club. Far more causal and social, dances like the salsa, hustle, Argentine tango and merengue do not have a set range of moves or particular rules to follow. They feature more interaction and creativity.
Newcomers and seasoned pros
For some dancers, the Mustang Ball was their first time competing in ballroom dance. For others, the competition was like those they’ve seen many times before. The teams consisted of junior high school to collegiate levels. As the competition went on, more advanced dancers performed and movements went from being practiced and precise to languid and creative.
Judges critiqued the couples based on skills, presentation and showmanship. Each style was given two minutes of a song that fit the tempo needed for the type of dance. For example, the waltz had a triple meter while the jive was much faster.
The couples were surprised each time with a new song. From classical jazz to orchestral tunes to popular modern songs, the dancers had to make whatever song they were given work with their dance.
At the end of each division awards were given out to each pair. To view the awards, click here.
Time for fun
The competition was not all serious. During the “Fun Event,” all dancers were welcomed onto the floor to dance with someone new.
During the Team Dances, five schools competed in creative renditions of their favorite styles. Zombie samba had dancers falling across the floor and dancing like the undead. Variable speed Viennese caused some trip-ups as the tempo fluctuated. The themed rumba mixed styles, making contestants dance the rumba with the attitude of other dances like smooth West Coast swing or feet stomping Paso Doble.
Cal Poly’s Ballroom Dance Team President Andrew Skidmore assisted in coordinating the event and competed in multiple sections.
“The best part of ballroom, especially at competitions, is the social nature of everyone involved,” architecture junior Skidmore said. “They’re free and willing to communicate no matter which year or school or level.”
Students mixed and mingled between events. Though rivals on the dance floor, they shared amicable congratulations off the dance floor.
The night ended with professional ballroom dancers and newlyweds Kris Suakjian and Briana Haft, showcasing incredible choreography and connection. The two danced as one with their complex lifts and spins.
The Mustang Ball featured incredibly talented dancing by students from all over California and Arizona. The months of practice and preparation proved worthwhile as dancers left it on the dance floor for judges and audience to see.