A thin man wearing satin-trimmed black pants and hard-soled leather dance shoes calls out over the cha-cha music.
“One, two, three, four and one!”
His counts and direction keep a room of more than 20 couples moving in unison.
“And the New Yorker, two, three, four!”
The partners turn away from each other, arms thrust outward, palms open and fingers spread in an exhibitionistic pose. They pause for a second before uniting again. Some look more serious than others, but all beam with sheer enjoyment.
Every Saturday afternoon, junior Romaine Isaacs, treasurer of the Ithaca College Ballroom Dance Club, floats around the Fitness Center dance studio, instructing the couples and helping them improve their technique. Occasionally, he breaks into dance himself, his hips moving smoothly like a well-oiled machine.
The club has been preparing for more than a month for its competition on Saturday. The event is not only the team’s first competition of the semester, but it also marks the first ballroom dance competition ever held at Ithaca College.
More than 180 competitive dancers from 20 university and college dance clubs in the Northeast will descend on the college’s campus this weekend for the
Cayuga DanceSport Challenge, an all-day ballroom dance competition hosted jointly by the Ithaca College Ballroom Dance Club and Cornell University’s
Dancers of all levels will compete in cha-cha, rumba, swing, mambo and bolero. The competition will culminate in an evening showcase, which will include a series of dances performed by mambo and salsa world champion dance couple Carolina and Felipe Telona. The Telonas frequently perform, lecture and judge at collegiate ballroom dance competitions nationwide.
“I’m looking forward to people getting excited about ballroom dance,” said junior Jake Weinheimer, president of Ithaca College Ballroom Dance Club. “It’s an atmosphere unlike anything else you’ve ever seen.”
In the three years since the club was formed, the group has grown from about 10 dancers to a group that is now 70 members strong. Nearly half its members compete and would like to dance professionally.
When Weinheimer and senior Zach Lapidus, coordinator of the Cayuga DanceSport Challenge, began planning the event in February, they didn’t think it would come together so soon.
“We were really excited to have it here, but it wasn’t something we saw coming here this year,” Weinheimer said. “We had entertained thoughts of having one next year, but this year was not planned.”
The idea to cohost the event came when Cornell DanceSport was unable to reserve a venue for what would have been the 12th annual Cornell DanceSport Spectacular, which is usually the club’s first competition of the semester.
Lapidus has close ties to the Cornell counterpart. His dance partner is on the DanceSport team, which Lapidus was formerly a member of before a ballroom dance club was created at the college. He helped Cornell DanceSport put on the Spectacular last year, and he was able to use his experience to organize the upcoming event.
From recruiting judges to ordering ribbons, the Lapidus-Weinheimer duo has overseen every logistical detail of the upcoming event. They have also worked with the club’s executive board and many of the club members, Lapidus said.
Weinheimer said the event will be more than a typical competition.
“For the newcomers [who have never competed before], this will probably be one of the best experiences of their lives,” Weinheimer said. “Honestly, it’s not like anything else I have ever experienced.”
The organizers are most excited for the professional showcase, which will not only feature six dances from the Telonas, but also competitive open level choreography numbers.
Open level dancers, who are on the top tier of the competitive scale, choreograph their own ballroom routines and aren’t limited by which dance moves they can perform. Lapidus said that is what makes this category of dances the most fun to watch.
“At night, anything goes,” he said.
The Ithaca College Dance Team will also perform in the showcase, and Lapidus is waiting to hear from a Cornell a cappella group that may participate as well.
While Lapidus and Weinheimer agree the planning has been crazy, some of the most essential steps fell right into place.
Michelle Cole, a dance instructor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education, has been instrumental to the organization process. Cole knows the Telonas through friends and was able to put Lapidus in touch with the professional dancers.
The panel of judges, many of whom have judged Cornell DanceSport’s competition in past years, was also supportive, Weinheimer said.
Sophomore Ally Parisi, a member of IC Hip-Hop, said the Cayuga DanceSport Challenge presents a great opportunity both for performing dancers and for other students who aren’t familiar with the presence of dance clubs on campus.
“Dance is a really big part of this school, and not a lot of people know that,” Parisi said. “You normally hear of students going to the basketball games and going to club lacrosse and all of these club sports. It’s really great that the competition is here because a lot more people can know that dance is a serious sport.”
Cole said she hopes the competition and showcase will pique students’ interest in the ballroom dance class she teaches, which is new to the curriculum this semester.
“This is going to reach people who don’t always have the opportunity to watch dance live,” Cole said. “We’re lucky that we see dance on television now with the popularity of some of the TV shows, but there’s no substitute for seeing it live.”
Fans of dance-themed TV shows might think they know what to expect from Saturday’s event, but Weinheimer disagrees.
“‘Dancing with the Stars’ just doesn’t compare,” he said.