Having a Ball
Students balance mind and body through ballroom dancing at MIT.Video and photo by Lillie Paquette; Written by Meg Murphy
Each spring, the MIT Ballroom Dance Team hosts the MIT Open Ballroom Competition — the largest collegiate competition in the country. Nearly 1,000 dancers from dozens of universities pack Rockwell Cage and strive to deliver, according to MIT team captain Corey Cleveland, something truly individual.
“The judges and the audience are not looking for someone who can bring perfect technique,” says Cleveland, a senior majoring in electrical engineering. “They are looking for the unique offering — for something they have never seen before.”
After discovering ballroom dance as a first-year student, Cleveland has logged countless hours on the floor. He loves the challenge of open competition, which involves original choreography. “We have to think about the expressions and emotions we want to put out there,” he says. “How do we do that through movement? What are the different shapes we want to do?”
He credits MIT’s academic courses with “waking up my mind” and the ballroom dance team — particularly its accomplished professional coaches — with awakening his artistic side by encouraging a fluid connection between mind and body.
The beauty of that connection is evident when members of the MIT Ballroom Dance Team, which includes a number of national semifinalists and finalists in the U.S. amateur division, take the floor.
“The goal of dance — of all arts — is to express what everyone is feeling but can’t yet say,” says Cleveland. “It’s such a cathartic moment when you see something on the floor that you can relate to. It is a release, and it gives everyone shivers.”