Dancesport – from novice to prize-winner in one term

28 February 2017


By Rachel Dlugatch

Rachel Dlugatch is an Anthropology DPhil candidate and Kellogg College Progress Scholar. This article originally appeared in the Hilary Term 2017 Kellogg College News.

Rachel Dlugatch and partner Nick Jennings with their trophies           Rachel Dlugatch and partner Nick Jennings with their trophies
Rachel Dlugatch and partner Nick Jennings at the 2016 Beginners Ballroom Competition

On a whim during 0th week of Michaelmas Term, a friend and I took a free ballroom class with Oxford University Dancesport Club. I wasn’t expecting much from the lesson, but I left twirling down the streets and back home in my kitchen (as my housemates will attest.) I had recently returned to Oxford after my sixteen months of fieldwork in the US and I was eager to get started with writing my dissertation. But one of the women on the Dancesport team handed me a flyer with audition times for the Beginners Team, and throughout the following week at the library, I kept imagining myself spinning around on the dance floor.

I was nervous about trying out. What if I embarrassed myself? Was I fooling myself, thinking I could learn something new? Would I look ridiculous dancing next to undergrads, who were potentially ten years younger than me? I had considerable training in ballet, but I hadn’t danced in a decade, and I wasn’t in great shape.

Despite my nerves, I followed my gut and went to the audition. At the audition, the coaches had us trial with some quickstep and cha cha cha – neither of which I had ever danced before. My taster session had been in waltz, and I felt completely unprepared. I looked around and realized that there were so many people auditioning, only half of us could make the team, at most. Then I saw a familiar face – a friend I’d met recently at Peer Supporter training – and I relaxed. I found myself especially exuberant when dancing the cha cha cha. I wasn’t sure my hips were moving just the right way, but I did feel electric when the music was on and I could perform, even if it was only in front of a few coaches and other students auditioning.

After an anxious day of waiting, I received a congratulatory email. I’d made the team! But the commitment was going to be serious if I wanted to join: three-hour sessions on Monday and Wednesday evenings, two hours on Saturday mornings, and optional classes and practice on top of that – not to mention half a dozen competitions throughout the year on weekends. Would I really be able to set aside that much time while doing my degree and trying to have a social life?

My excitement overrode my concerns, and I made a rather quick decision to join. Without sounding hyperbolic, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made since coming to Oxford. Throughout the last few months, I’ve developed some close friendships with people from other colleges and departments, learned something new, and most importantly, I have had so much fun. I find that because I look forward to dancing so much, I’m more motivated to get to the library early and have my work done in time. When I’m at practice, I’m so focused on dancing that I can’t possibly stress about my dissertation; it’s one of the only times I really feel like I can easily let go of my work.

Joining the OUDC Beginners Team has also improved my confidence. Every practice I can see the improvements I’m making, and slowly but surely I’m starting to look like an actual Ballroom and Latin dancer, not just someone who’s impersonating the “real” dancers. Apparently the judges at my first competition in Nottingham thought so, too, because my partner and I placed first for Beginners Cha Cha Cha, beating 94 other couples. My team also placed first in our division on our team match, where my partner and I danced jive and scored top marks for our team. Another one of the beginners couples placed second for Beginners Cha Cha Cha, so it was celebrations all around. Since then, I’ve also become captain of the OUDC Beginners team.

I always say this to people, but I can’t emphasize it enough—Oxford has so much to offer us beyond academics, and we are lucky we can take advantage of these opportunities. I know that being surrounded by accomplished people all the time, it can sometimes feel like it’s “too late” or a waste of time to start something new. But it isn’t. Put yourself out there and pick up a new sport, language, or skill while you’re at Oxford. Well, preferably, join Dancesport, and I’ll see you on the dance floor.