Ryan Chartrand

It is 11 a.m. on Saturday, an hour before the first dance of the day begins. Outside the rain is pouring down, but inside ,soon-to-compete ballroom dancers carefully apply makeup, secure hair, and change into elaborate, sequined and bead-adorned dresses and tuxedos – or jeans and T-shirts.

On the dance floor, couples are practicing intricate steps, warming up for their dances. In the background, Michael Bubl‚’s “Feeling Good,” Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me,” and Jennifer Lopez’s “Let’s Get Loud” play as couples glide gracefully across the floor.

In the midst of the mild chaos, Christopher Ellwood busily rushes around, practicing for one of his 32 dances and hammering out last-minute details before the competition actually begins.

Ellwood’s dream of hosting a ballroom dancing competition in San Luis Obispo finally became a reality this weekend as Cal Poly hosted its first annual Mustang Ball. The event was held in Chumash Auditorium Saturday, with members of the Red Hat Society, proud parents and grandparents, and fellow students watching from the sidelines.

Ellwood, the 2003 computer science graduate, who co-advises the ballroom dance club on a volunteer basis, but first joined the club his junior year at Cal Poly.

With a passion for music, especially jazz music (he played trumpet in a jazz band in high school), Ellwood first attended the club for fun. As time went on and he became more involved in the program, he was hooked.

“I really love music, so dancing is like the ultimate level of this appreciation,” Ellwood said. “And it’s a social thing. You can go to a dance where you don’t know anyone, but at the end of the night you’ll have 50 new friends because the dancing community is so welcoming.”

A few years ago, he saw the need for a more structured venue in which to practice for, and give advice concerning upcoming competitions. Thus, the Cal Poly DanceSports Team was formed in January of 2003.

Though still considered a club, ASI has not yet labeled the team with “sports” status. As the team anxiously await this status, Ellwood hopes that this ongoing, “frustrating process” will end soon.

Since Ellwood first joined the team, there has been talk about hosting a competition at Cal Poly; until this year, though, the idea had not progressed further than this.

Since most schools and studios generally only compete in their region (i.e. Northern or Southern California only), it has been Ellwood’s hope that, by hosting an event in Central California, this gap would be bridged.

“We’re a common meeting point for everyone to dance and compete against people they wouldn’t normally compete against,” he said.

This year’s Mustang Ball, hopefully the first of many, has been about a year and a half in the making, Ellwood said.

After looking at all the possible dates for holding the competition, the Feb. 10 date was set.

With the date and venue in place, the bulk of the preparations began in earnest last summer. The “pretty extensive process” included setting up a Web site, publicizing the event around San Luis Obispo and throughout California, and securing the judges.

In retrospect, the day of the event was full of mixed emotions.

“It was definitely stressful at times – it has been a long ordeal – but it was also exciting because it was actually coming together. In the back of your mind, there’s always worry; ‘What if something goes wrong? What if a judge doesn’t show up?’ But it was mostly exciting,” Ellwood said.

Now that the competition has been successfully completed, all the worry and stress of planning have been pushed aside – at least until planning begins again for next year.

“What made all the planning and hard work worth it was seeing everyone having such a good time. People enjoyed watching. People enjoyed dancing. And that made everything worthwhile -we achieved that goal,” he said.

Ellwood credits the team of volunteers, club officers, and community supporters who worked with him for everything coming together and running as smoothly as it did.

His dream is that these dancers – and hopefully more in the future – will be able to attend the Mustang Ball on a yearly basis, and that their love of dance will be infectious to the Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo communities alike.

Every Thursday, the club holds lessons in the Architecture building at 8 p.m. Until the end of the quarter, they will be teaching the samba and the rumba.

More information on the Ballroom Dancing Club and DanceSport Team can be found at their Web site, www.cpdancesports.org.

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