The Ohio Star Ball

So, for our second competition the UMD Ballroom society (BAM – Ballroom at Maryland) headed west across Maryland and Pennsylvania to Columbus, Ohio for the Ohio Star Ball. Unfortunately though, we didn’t really get much of a chance to explore the city itself, as most of our time was spent in the convention centre either dancing, waiting to dance, or watching people dance.I didn’t really write anything about DCDI (the DC Dance Inferno competition at the University of Maryland) in the end, so I’ll write about Ohio now for anyone who’s interested.

After the seven-to-eight hour coach-ride up from Maryland we arrived at our hotel. Well, that was after registration at the convention centre, which was an experience in and of itself. We had to give our names, pay, and receive our tickets for the competition, but there were about four people trying to serve two hundred. There were also double the amount of queues than there needed to be, and few in any one of these lines knew exactly where the line was going exactly, or what its purpose was in life. We also failed to get access to a show that was going on, even though the tickets for said show were included in our registration. We questioned. We argued. We didn’t succeed. After a fair length of time we got back on the coach and headed for the hotel.

It wasn’t the nicest hotel in the world, but at least it didn’t feel like you’d have to barricade your door with a chair come nightfall. So, tired and in need of rest we all went off to our rooms. Shortly after I heard a faint boom, and opened the door to find someone explaining to a BAM officer that the heater in his room had blown up, leaving black smoke to billow out. Feeling slightly less confident in our surroundings, the rest of us soon got to bed. We had heard of great parties at the hotel during the Ohio competition in previous years, but at this point we were all so tired after the journey and the registration that a detonated heating unit was all the excitement we could stomach.

If you’re not involved in Latin & Ballroom dancing you might not know the level to which, excuse me, tarting yourself up is encouraged. The higher up in levels you go the more people do this; from fake tan to dresses that barely meet the lower requirements of lingerie. In Standard Ballroom this is rather toned down, for obvious reasons, but once we get to Latin, well, things change. Even the men’s shirts in higher-level latin seem rather choice. At our level all that’s really asked for is for the woman to style her hair, and the man to nuke his own hair with gel.

Saturday was the day for Latin, and Sunday the day for Standard Ballroom. In the morning we all practiced, and watched some of the other categories dance. Then it was our turn. And my partner and I had a great time, and did surprisingly well. At DCDI we got called back in two dances out of three for Latin (the Cha Cha and the Rumba, but not the Jive), but didn’t get past the second round in anything. This time we got called back to the second round in all three dances, and even somehow got to the quarter finals in Rumba and Cha Cha. The quarter finals had about twenty five couples out of the original one hundred and twenty something, so we were obviously pretty damn happy to get that far. After that they cut down the number of couples by about half, and we didn’t get through to the semi-finals. We really didn’t mind though; we were happy enough to get as far as we did. Later, I had an hour-or-so nap across a row of chairs while everyone else watched people dance. I was really tired, but felt kind of bad about sleeping so blatantly, until I saw that someone had had the foresight to bring an entire travel matress and lay it under a table. It looked really comfortable from up on my hard-back seats.

On sunday we danced Ballroom, then. Our newbie dances only include the Waltz, Quickstep, and the Tango, although we’re slowly starting to learn the Foxtrot (which is awesome as it means I’ll be able to dance to Frank Sinatra songs). The Viennese waltz isn’t included in Bronze level either (the level above ours), but that looks like a hell of a lot of fun, so I’m eager to learn that. Again, we were really happy with how we danced, but for various reasons we didn’t get called back in the Quickstep or the Waltz. I really like those two dances, so it was a shame. Still, we’ll have the chance to work on them some more before our next competition . We got called back in the Tango, and though our second round Tango was pretty ropey we got through to the quarters based, I’m sure almost entirely, on our presentation. There’s one or two pictures floating about in the ether showing my partner and I looking suitably fiery in the Tango, and I’m sure that helped us. The quarter-final dance was less than successful, and as we left the dance floor I exchanged pretty mortified looks with more than a couple of other BAM newbies. The song they used was really difficult to keep time to, and though that didn’t help, I didn’t feel at all cheated to go out at the quarter-finals. We did really well to get there, and we were really happy to have done so.

one of the BAM officers approached my partner and I as we practiced and asked us if we wanted to be in the team match. This is basically where each university competing puts forward a couple for six dances across Latin and Ballroom, and they all dance against each other. There were eleven universities competing, and two rounds for each dance; after the first round about half of the couples are eliminated, and the rest have to dance again. After that no individual winners are announced; they’re merely used to tally the scores of the universities. We said yes, and soon enough we were striding onto the dancefloor with our teammates, resplendent in our formal attire and our hair products. My Partner and I were dancing the Cha Cha, and as it turned out we were the only newbie couple. Each university can put forward a couple of any level to take part in each dance. So in our case it was us two, both having never danced before around three months ago, dancing against six or seven pre-champ couples, and a few other gold-level couples. We really had no idea of this until we got off the dance floor; we were too focused on dancing well to notice any of the other couples. Apparently watching us was a great sight; us doing New Yorkers, and Cha Cha Chas in our newbie routine as everyone else on the floor did move after move that flew so far above our level we could barely understand how they work if we saw them. Somehow though, perhaps due to the comedy value of watching us dance against pre-champs, we got through the first round to the final five couples. That was pretty awesome, and it definitely marks the highlight of the weekend for me in terms of dancing. Apparently someone took a bunch of videos of the team match, so I have to get a hold of them. I may post one or two if they don’t embarrass me too much.

The journey back was pretty uneventful, although everyone at the back of the bus, myself included, did manage to spend over an hour singing every song we could think of. Most of these only got as far as a few lines in, and our rendition of Mulan’s I’ll Make a Man Out of You sadly died almost before it started. But we did manage to belt out some real show-stoppers, including our obligatory but still weirdly-inspiration Don’t Stop Believing, complete with a capella guitar solo. The people elsewhere on the bus hated us a lot. After all that fun died down we watched a few films (including the surprisingly great Over the Hedge), and later, in a failed attempt to put myself into a food coma in order to sleep away the last few hours of the trip, I ate way too much at KFC during our rest stop. It was fun!

I’ve been listening to a lot of music recently, but only some of it new. I was linked to a newly-released album called Uvula from a music-project called Allele Memetic, and it’s fantastic. It’s mostly layered electronic bleeps and bloops, but I think it has some real depth to it (whatever that means). Listen to it, and if you really like it why not give it a download?

Also, I know I’m a huge nerd and whatnot, but this soundtrack to the curious little Czech adventure game Machinarium is more great listening, a good part of it electronic bleeps and bloops. Listen to a little bit of it here (one of my favourite songs is Mr. Handagote), and a little bit more of it here (By The Wall especially). Again, I’d say it’s worth a download if you’re into that sort of thing.

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