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Avery Rogers
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

The Ballroom Dance Team at Columbia University

by Avery Rogers
April 1, 2002
New York, NY

The Ballroom Dance Team at Columbia University

by Avery Rogers

The Columbia University Ballroom and Latin Dance Team was created in 1998 for the purpose of representing Columbia University in collegiate and amateur dance competitions.

The team offers competitive and social dance classes in Latin and Standard Ballroom including Rhumba, Cha Cha, Waltz, Tango, Quickstep, and more to Columbia University students. Social classes are held once per week where students can learn Swing, Salsa, and other types of dance. Competitive classes are held once per week with two other practice times and are geared for the purpose of competition in the intercollegiate dance circuit in the Northeastern United States. Competitive classes are $70 per semester and social classes are $50 per semester.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marimba Gold-Watts, a junior at Columbia University and the president of the Columbia Ballroom Dance Team, who was kind enough to give me some of her time.

Avery: Who is eligible to take classes through the Columbia University Ballroom Dance Team? Who can join the team?

Marimba: The classes are mostly for Columbia students. Any of the graduate schools and programs [are welcome to attend]. We have a few people on the team that are Columbia graduates who joined the team and wanted to stay on the team, but it's really geared towards Columbia students. Anyone in the Columbia community can join the team. We have people of all kinds of ability [levels]. Some people have had a lot of dance training. Some people don't have any. Some people come in [saying] they have two left feet and they won't be able to learn anything, but then they do. So, it really doesn't matter. The majority of people have never danced.

Avery: What kinds of classes do you offer?

Marimba: We only teach International Standard and Latin styles of dance. The Latin dances are Rhumba, Cha Cha, Jive, Paso Doble, and Samba. In standard, we begin with Foxtrot and Tango. Initially, everybody learns a little bit of Standard and a little bit of Latin. As people get into higher levels, they [may] decide that they want to specialize.

Avery: How long has the team been in existence?

Marimba: It got started four years ago by some students who are graduating this year. All of the Ivy League colleges and almost every college in the Northeast has a ballroom team, and Columbia didn't, so we kind of felt left out. The team is run by only undergraduate students.

Avery: Is the team associated with a dance department?

Marimba: There is a dance department over at Barnard, but the ballroom team is actually a club sport.

Avery: Can you tell me about any recent competitions or upcoming competitions?

Marimba: This past year and the year before we held our own competition here at Lerner Ballroom. It's a Manhattan Regional Classic, and we co-sponsor it with the United States Amateur Ballroom Association, and this past year it ended up being the largest dance competition in the United States, which is really a cool thing for us because we're only a four year old team. No other colleges have anything even comparable, so it was good. We got top level competitors from around the country to fly in just to compete because it was a qualifier for the national competition. So it was very exciting. Other than that, we try to do a little bit of community outreach. We have ballroom socials and we perform a little bit sometimes. We mostly go to competitions almost every weekend. People [on the team] have been placing really consistently. We have a lot of really good couples.

Avery: Do you have anything specific coming up?

Marimba: Next weekend, we're going to RPI, Rochester Polytechnical Institute. They're having a competition, and the weekend after that, [we're going to] MIT. That's a two day competition in Boston. Two weekends after that, we're going to the Rutgers competition.

Avery: Wow, so you are just a little bit busy.

Marimba: Yeah. Competitions usually start at 7:00 in the morning and they're usually 3 hours away, so we leave at 4:00 in the morning and get back around midnight or 1:00 in the morning. But it's really fun and totally worth it.

Avery: How long have you been dancing?

Marimba: I've been dancing since I was two years old, but I've been doing ballroom for three years.

Avery: What kind of dances do you do or are you most interested in?

Marimba: In terms of ballroom, I do both Latin and Standard, but I'm kind of inching towards competing more in Latin because I really like it. I do other types of dance too. I do modern dance and ballet.

Avery: What inspired you to begin dancing?

Marimba: Well, my parents put me in dance classes when I was two, but to begin ballroom dancing? I saw the movie Strictly Ballroom in seventh grade and I thought it was the coolest thing in the entire world, and I really wanted to start doing ballroom. It's so glitzy and it's like dress up and very glamorous. When I got to Columbia, I found out that they had a ballroom team during orientation week…so then I joined.

Avery: Do you have any influences, such as choreographers or dancers, that inspire you?

Marimba: Well, it doesn't really apply to ballroom, but we had the chance to work with Tony Meredith and Melanie LePatin, who are the national champions fifteen years running, so that was really exciting. We have a little relationship with their studio, which is Dance Times Square. We've also gotten a chance to see some of the top amateur competitors and amateur youth competitors in the country at out competitions, which is really exciting. Also, the international youth competitors. These people are just phenomenal dancers, so they are definitely major inspiration.

Avery: Do you currently dance anywhere else besides here at Columbia?

Marimba: I dance at the Alvin Ailey school. I'm in the scholarship program there, and I study modern and ballet.

Avery: Thank you. Do you want to add anything else at all.

Marimba: We're having a little demonstration at I-House (International House) on Friday, April 12th. It's an American celebration. Also, if you want to see pictures from competitions, you can download them from our web site at www.columbia.edu/cu/ballroomteam.

Marimba Gold-Watts, Columbia University Ballroom Team President

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