Ryan Chartrand

Still sizzling from the success of last year’s competition, the Cal Poly Ballroom Dance Club is hosting its second annual Mustang Ball dance competition Saturday.

The dance floor is expected to heat up with both first-time nerves and seasoned talent as the event has now expanded to six different levels of competitions, ranging from newcomer to open-level. For most of the newcomers, it’ll be their first time competing or performing before a large crowd.

Dancers from more than 20 collegiate teams and studios from across the nation have been invited to come and show what they’ve got on the dance floor, in everything from Salsa and the Hustle to the Waltz and Foxtrot. As before, the competition is open to all amateur dancers and will have dances in International Standard and Latin, and American Smooth and Rhythm. Top Mustang Ball couples will have the chance to compete for $500 in scholarships.

The Mustang Ball – or the Cal Poly Ballroom DanceSport Competition – was started last year by Christopher Ellwood, a 2003 Cal Poly alumnus who began ballroom dancing while going to school. Now graduated and working at a local software company, Ellwood still advises the club and continues to organize the Mustang Ball.

He said that while many schools host ballroom competitions, Cal Poly’s is unique in that it’s the only one on the Central Coast, and has dancers from both Northern and Southern California competing.

“We’ve made it possible to meet in the middle,” Ellwood said. “Before we had to travel over 200 miles for a competition.”

Dancers will waltz, swing, cha-cha and tango their way through the daytime session of the competition, only to heat up the floor in the evening with nightclub dances like the Salsa, Merengue and Hustle.

Cal Poly’s first Mustang Ball, held last February, had 159 dancers competing in 65 separate dance events, as a crowd of several hundred turned out to watch. This year, Ellwood said there’s been a 25 percent increase in the number of entries; 98 couples are currently signed up to compete in 695 separate entries.

Those dancers will be judged on several criteria, the most important being timing and technique. Ellwood said judges also look for couples who have a good connection with each other and understand what the particular dance is all about.

Like many of the competitors, Ellwood said he became hooked on ballroom dancing after taking a few lessons from the club.

Business senior Danielle Sanzari, who’s been dancing since junior high, will be dancing with Ellwood in the advanced category.

Sanzari, a club officer, said she’s most looking forward to getting out on the floor to dance the Salsa. “It’s faster, and it’s fun,” she said. “It makes you get out there and move.”

Local dancer Hallie Scott performed in last year’s ball as a newcomer, but is looking to dance in both the bronze and silver categories this year. She said her favorite dance is the Tango, because “you get to be dramatic … it’s a good artistic expression.”

Johnathon Jordan, an industrial engineering senior, will compete with Scott tomorrow, and agreed that ballroom is a form of self-expression.

“Whenever I get out there on the dance floor, I feel like I’m really free to be myself,” he said, adding that it’s the “fun, flirtatious” Cha-Cha that he most enjoys dancing.

“Ballroom dancing is its own culture,” Jordan said. “There’s an instant connection when you meet other dancers.”

In addition to the competition, professional dancers Leonidus and Aliona Proskurov will get out on the floor and perform a five-dance Latin showcase at the end of the evening.

Saturday’s competition will go from noon to 10 p.m. in Chumash Auditorium, and spectators are welcome. Admission is $5 for the general public or free with a valid Cal Poly ID.

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