Confidence, Grace, Grooves: Social Dance Club Enters Fifth Decade In Style
Even if you believe your dance moves are worthy of the Mirrorball Trophy, there’s no way you’re an expert on every style just yet.
The Penn State Social Dance Club, which just celebrated its 40th year of teaching students how to groove, may be able to help you brush up on your favorite jive and jig.
The organization, formerly known as Ballroom Dance Club, provides the perfect opportunity for dancers new and old to let loose somewhere besides the Phyrst or a frat basement on the weekend. The club offers a variety of dance genres, and hopes its new name will help it embrace all styles and better represent itself.
Originally founded in January 1978, the Penn State Ballroom Dance Club quickly became a popular program that offered numerous opportunities for dancers to come together and try out different social-style ballroom dances. At a time when the Hustle, Bump Dance, and the YMCA dance were all the rage, the club offered people a more ~sophisticated~ way to improve their dance skills.
Under advisor Elizabeth Hanley, members were able to take classes in waltz, quickstep, and polka on a weekly basis. The club was known for hosting the Keystone Classic during the spring, an event when other college dance clubs from the area would travel to Happy Valley to compete.
According to Daily Collegian archives, prizes for the first and second place winners used to be either a $7 gift card to the National Record Mart or a $5 gift card to The Deli. The 1981 theme for the competition was “In The Mood to Dance.”
The club currently offers classes in social ballroom, salsa, bachata, and Argentine tango. Students teach all lessons to dancers at the beginner and intermediate levels. It also hosts several semi-formals throughout the semester for members to dance socially and interact with one another.
The club works with the performing arts program to host dance lessons inspired by plays or shows currently being produced in State College. This semester, it’s teaching waltz to promote an upcoming production of The King and I.
Members also have an opportunity to travel out of state to dance conferences, where they learn about the culture and history of dance.
“I think the most beneficial part of joining the club is the great dance instruction you can get while in an accepting and friendly environment. Everyone is super nice and more than willing to help by giving advice or helping learn new moves,” club president Shannon Fielder said. “They are all great people and learning awesome dance moves is a plus.”
Fielder joined the club through word of mouth about Penn State’s competitive ballroom team. She hunted down the club’s table at the involvement fair and has been an active participant ever since. The sophomore grew up in a family of swimmers, never dancing during her childhood.
When Fielder joined the club, she started by attending just ballroom lessons in her first semester. She said she likes the grace and confidence that ballroom dancers express, which were two skills she was missing when she joined the club.
“For me specifically, the club is my way of getting away from school work (and club work) and bettering myself. It is just a place where I can work on something I love doing, improve at it, and all the while
She says the ballroom part of the club is what specifically got her interested in the Social Dance Club. Another aspect that interested her is the availability for partner dancing, something unlike any other dance clubs at Penn State.
Members of all ages are involved in the club. First-year Master’s student Effie Smith is an active participant, saying the club has been a “savior” for her in her time at Penn State.
Smith began learning to dance as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, and became an instructor for UVA’s Salsa Club. Because of her desire to continue dancing as a graduate student, she did some intense Googling and went to her first Bachata lesson at Penn State last fall.
“I am not from Pennsylvania and graduate school is particularly isolating as most hours are spent in the office doing research and completing assignments for courses,” Smith said. “The club gives me a fun release and has given me the opportunity to socialize with people I would not have otherwise met.”
Having grad students participate in and host classes is a unique aspect of the Social Dance Club. There is a limited number of clubs that grad students have the time to join, but the Social Dance Club offers unique opportunities for these students to engage with undergraduates and community members.
The club stresses the importance of keeping the community active and engaged, hence its focus on local theatre productions. It also hosts classes in off-campus locations that are available to non-university affiliated students.
This semester, the Penn State Social Dance Club is seeking new members to attend its classes. Don’t worry if your skills aren’t up to Dancing With The Stars quality — no prior dancing experience or partner is required. If you are looking for something new to try this semester to step outside of your comfort zone, you can find more information on the club’s Facebook page.
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