UAF Students Place at Annual Ballroom Dance Competition

Sarah Manriquez / Photo Editor

UAF sophomore Robyn Heineken’s bright pink dress flared out as freshman Ben Carstens spun her past his body in the final round for Novice Hustle on Friday, April 15 at The fifth Annual Fairbanks Open Ballroom Dance Competition. Onlookers cheered and shouted the couple’s competition number, 61, as they showcased the moves they learned this semester in a university swing dance class. Heineken and Carstens placed third in the Novice Hustle, third in the Open East & West Coast Swing and seventh place overall.

“It feels amazing,” Carstens said as he walked off the dance floor, his hand on the third place medal around his neck after the awards ceremony.

“We just came tonight to have fun,” Heineken said.

“We never thought we would place,” Carstens added.

The competition was hosted through the Ballroom Dance Club of Fairbanks, specifically by instructors Melanie Payton and Rulon Jensen. Payton and Jensen began the Fairbanks Open Ballroom Dance Competition five years ago to offer the ballroom community a taste of the National Ballroom experience. They hope the competition will offer a goal for their students to work toward and serve as an incentive to always strive to further their passion for dance, according to the program.

Many of the competitors are UAF students, members of the Latin Dance Club on campus, students of the Ballroom Dance Club of Fairbanks or a combination of the above. UAF art major Byron Thorne who has competed every year since inception, serves at the president of the Latin Dance Club and treasurer of the Ballroom Dance Club of Fairbanks.

“It’s fun to get out there and measure my skills against other people, its mainly a fun thing. Its cool when I win a medal but that’s secondary for me,” Thorne said.

A typical dance competition consists of a preliminary round for each category. Judges can only physically watch so many couples dance at one time so the purpose of the preliminary round is to narrow it down to the strongest dancers for the final round. The couples that make it past the preliminary round are invited to the final round. Ideally, the final round has eight couples or fewer. In the final round the couples are ranked by each judge, which determines how they are placed.

Onlookers are encouraged to cheer and shout for their favorite couple. The master of ceremonies and host, Rulon Jensen egged on the crowd all throughout the night and kept the energy high, explaining that it is more fun for the couples competing when they perform for an high-spirited crowd.

“This is not a high brow event, we want you to cheer for your favorite couple as loud as you can,” Jensen said.

Judges score competitors on rhythm, styling, footwork, floor craft, showmanship and audience appeal. At this year’s competition four judges scored the competitors: Stefani Borrego, Margo Matthews, Melanie Payton and Sarah Pherson.

“I am mainly looking for the things that I teach,” Matthews said. “We have got some good dancers here tonight and I am really impressed with the quality of the dancing.”

Matthews has judged the competition every year. She also teaches a swing dance class alongside David Leslie at UAF and enjoys working with new students to dance.

“I just love it when they really start to get it and they get these really big smiles on their faces,” Matthews said. “You look around the room and everyone is laughing and smiling and having a wonderful time. And there is just a magic about a room full of people who are all learning and catching onto it at the same time.”

The competition is every year and open to anyone who wants to participate. Everyone is highly encouraged to come.

“Nobody is born knowing how to dance,” Matthews said. “Everybody starts out with two left feet and you have to come to dance class to learn how to dance.”

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