Anyone who knows me will know that I am not a dancer. Anyone who knows what I look like will also be able to testify that I don’t appear particularly agile and, most certainly, that I am anything but dainty.
Asides from the obligatory jiggle on the revolving dance floor in Popworld, I can honestly say that I haven’t danced since the mandatory lessons that I had to take during Key Stage 3.
So you can understand my apprehensions when I was asked to investigate the realm of DanceSport, one of the lesser known (and lesser recognised) physical activities at the University of York.
Despite the word ‘sport’ being included in the title, I was shocked to discover that DanceSport isn’t part of YorkSport and, instead, it is labelled as a society.
“The name DanceSport is the international name for competitive ballroom and Latin America dancing, so that’s where the name comes from,” explains the society’s president, Chloe Francis, “It’s not even an amalgamation of dance and sport really”.
“It depends what you define as a sport,” she adds, and she makes a good point, “As far as this goes, it’s hard work, physical hard work, so I would call it a sport. I don’t do anything apart from dancing and I’m reasonably fit”.
As several pairs of students blissfully float around a music-filled room in an otherwise deserted Physics department, I can definitely see her point.
Although not all of the dance is fast and energetic, each dance certainly requires a huge degree finesse and balance that stresses and tones the entire body. You are certainly going to burn more calories than you would playing darts.
And, like every other sport, DanceSport is certainly competitive. However, competitions take a different form to what I was expecting, which was having Len Goodman shout numbers between one and ten from the sidelines.
Thankfully, I couldn’t have been further from the truth, as team captain Anthony Grantham explains: “What will happen is that in a competition at the beginner level, all the beginners from all universities will dance in a series of heats.
“Say there’s 120 beginners; in that heat they’ll be about four or five judges wandering around and they’ll pick the top 80 to go through to the next round, and this progresses through and through.
So they’ll be looking at things like technique, timing, general dance contents; whether you’re dancing basics or whether you are doing something fancy”.
“How you look on the floor,” adds Chloe, “how you’re dancing with your partner. Posture’s very important”.
Anthony continues: “In the earlier rounds, it gets you through. Because there’s so many people on the floor, they don’t often have time to look at what people are doing with their footwork, where their heel leads of anything like that.
“You’ve got to catch their eye quickly because the judge is looking for just three seconds sometimes.
Sometimes you’ll be really lucky; sometimes your routine will go horrendously badly, but if it’s been good for three seconds and the judge has looked at you they could put you through”.
Chloe added that there was more to the competitions than just dancing: “It’s important to look good when you step onto the floor. People dress up a lot and do their hair and make-up, but posture and the way you stand with your partner is really important for the first few rounds.
This academic year, the team has seen mixed results in the various competitions that the team have to travel, including the national tournament held in Blackpool which is attended by all the university DanceSport teams in the country.
“As a university, we’re not in Oxbridge’s league,” says Anthony. “It depends what competition we go to,” ponders Chloe, “in the last couple of competitions, we’ve had people in semi-finals.
You’re talking, actually, to a rock’n’roll champion as of last term,” pointing to winning team captain sat next to her.
“Oh yeah,” interjects Andrew, as if his fabulous win had somehow slipped his mind. “A lot of the winners are always Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, but then again they’ve got the funding for it, they can fund teachers for their sessions for many, many hours a week”.
So how does the society run at York?
“On Tuesdays we have our generic lessons taught by a professional teacher,” Anthony explains, “they’re three hours. Then on Saturday morning we have two hours of general practise and then our teacher comes in for two hours”.
Socially, there is nothing better than going out with your club or society and going for a dance in the town. But when your society does is dance, how do they spend their nights out? Or do they just show up all of the other of York’s drunken revellers with their superior dance?
“When it comes to the socials, you want to be able to dance with anybody,” smiles Chloe, “We’ve cha-cha’d up the Willow steps, which is good fun.
We’re quite the fans of Ask Italian and we have our end of term meals there because we just look up and think that this would be a perfect ballroom if they could just move all the tables!
“We’re planning some bowling socials for this term and we have Strictly Come Dancing socials in Alcuin JCR, we just get together eat pizza and watch Strictly.
However, having a room full of dancers watching a celebrity trying to dance can act as another learning curve for the beginners, notes Anthony: “they’ll often see things that they’re learning and to them (and to us as well), when you see a professional with a celebrity doing the sets that you know how to do on TV. My parents don’t let me watch Strictly with them”.
As for the future, DanceSport have a lot to look forward to, including three major competitions this term and the big fixture against Lancaster in Roses during the summer term. There will also be a performance in the summer term at Woodstock.
After losing 3-1 at Roses last year, both Chloe and Anthony are hoping that they can pull off an away upset at this year’s competition. Andrew elaborated: “this year we’ve got a lot of beginners, which is very hopeful, but we’ve also got a lot of novices. Lancaster haven’t been at many competitions so we don’t know what their team is like, because last year they had some very good couples. But we’ll see. With the beginners, I’m hopefully of not just getting one but maybe two points”.
Regardless of what the future holds for the DanceSport team, the society is always open to new people who want to try out dance or, as Chloe notes, “some people just come to the Tuesday session so that they can learn the Waltz for whatever wedding they’re going to, or just for the fun of it”.
“There’s no pressure to join the team,” Andrew concludes nicely, “it’s completely voluntary and you can come along for lessons and learn loads of routines and learn how to dance. That’s what a lot of people love doing really. We’ve had people come to lessons who end up joining the team, which is something they never thought they’d be doing before they came to university”.
And there we have it. Never again will there be any confusion as to what DanceSport is.
All I can add is that, in truth, this is a sport that should probably be recognised as one. Although I would like to offer the team an apology for never having the guts to get up and dance with them; seeing the infectious smiles on their faces and the camaraderie between its members made me feel that I was missing out on something a little bit special.