Universities traveled to compete in Cal Poly’s 13th Mustang Ball, an annual ballroom dancing competition, Feb. 1. More than 230 couples competed in total, dancing dances like Cha-Cha, Samba and Rumba. 

While this was wine and viticulture sophomore William Gray’s first Mustang Ball, he said he was not nervous. He credits this to his partner, with whom he has developed a strong connection with since first dancing together in Fall 2019. Gray and his partner competed in the Newcomer category, placing first in the Rumba and Samba events. 

“At the end of the day, it’s just you and your partner out there,” Gray said. “And I’m really proud. I danced my heart out.” 

Ballroom dancing teaches life lessons as well, according to Gray, who said he has been better able to navigate his interpersonal relationships since joining the team.

The push and pull of the dance between partners, between staying close and taking steps back, has taught him that creating a little bit of distance in relationships is healthy. It allows a pair to then come back together, he said. 

“That’s just a part of life,” Gray said. “You shouldn’t resist needing space for yourself or being uncomfortable with someone else needing space.” 

Cal Poly Ballroom Team Vice President and economics junior Gianna Garza placed first in the novice category and third in the pre-championships alongside her partner. She said the special connection with her partner was a dynamic and special bond, one of the most unique aspects of participating in the sport. 

When she is not competing, Garza said she enjoys watching the audience react to the different styles of dance. 

“You see anything from huge smiles on people’s faces to literally mouth open, jaw dropped because they’re in awe of what just happened,” Garza said. 

According to Cal Poly ballroom team coach Christopher Ellwood, this camaraderie felt between partners is also felt both with other universities’ competitors. Inviting ballroom teams from other schools, he said, encourages meeting fellow students who are passionate about ballroom dancing. 

After an evening of competition, the competitors all came together to watch professional Latin dance competitors Roman Drobotov and Liya Kazbekova perform.

The ballroom team hosts dance lessons every Thursday night for $3 per lesson, or $15 for a quarter.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Cal Poly ballroom team lessons now start at $3. 

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