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Move to the Groove

Popular Campus Club Teaches the Steps to Aspiring Freds and Gingers

by Proom, Public Affairs
posted December 09, 1998

In felt-bottomed shoes, cummerbund and a tuxedo shirt with a number pinned on the back, Greg Butera elegantly twirls his partner across the floor. The room is filled with perfectly-postured couples who glide and sway to the music. Poker-faced judges walk among them, watching and scribbling notes.

Aware of the cheers of Berkeley supporters in the audience, Butera, a senior editor for the College of Chemistry, ignores them so he can concentrate on his moves and stay focused on the competition. After 22 grueling events at the San Jose State-sponsored competition, Butera and his partner place second in Newcomer American Waltz and third in American Rumba.

Not bad for someone who began dancing only six months before. After joining the UC Ballroom Dancers club last January, Butera took every class they offered, started competing and became a club officer.

With more than 260 members, UC Ballroom Dancers is Berkeley's largest sport club, offering lessons, social dances and opportunities to compete. Its ranks include students, staff, alumni and community members of all ages.

"I joined the club because it provides inexpensive lessons in a no-pressure environment," said Butera. "Plus, you don't need a partner."

Before learning to dance, Butera was always jealous of the older people he saw cutting the rug at weddings and other social functions. "It seemed like a lost art," he said.

After viewing the critically-acclaimed foreign films, "Strictly Ballroom" and "Shall We Dance," Butera decided to attend a UC Ballroom Dancers meeting. He was hooked after the first session.

Anyone with $2 can come to the weekly Wednesday night lessons at 7:30 p.m. in Hearst Gym. The class is divided into three sessions -- beginning, intermediate and a general dance portion in which everyone can practice the steps they've just learned.

Instruction covers standard ballroom dances such as waltzes, fox trots, cha cha's and rumbas, as well as salsa, polka, hustle and swing.

"Because of the movie 'Swingers' and the Gap ad featuring khaki-clad dancers, Swing dancing is quite a fad now," said Sarah Mansfield, president of UC Ballroom Dancers. "We had 400 people show up for an East Coast Swing class this past fall."

A native New Zealander, Mansfield came to Berkeley to do graduate work in entomology. She joined the club as a way to meet new people and relieve the stress of studying and lab work. "It's great exercise and a chance to use a different part of my brain," she said.

Mansfield had always loved dancing butworried that her tone deafness would make it difficult to keep the rhythm of the music. But since the leader of a ballroom dancing couple is responsible for staying on track, Mansfield can follow without missing a beat.

Particpants are encouraged to change partners periodically during general dance sessions so they can learn to accommodate individual dance styles while getting a chance to socialize.

"Beginniners usually talk to each other about the dance itself," she said. "Advanced dancers can perform complex steps while chatting on about the kind of day they had."

One such pro is Gurnam Brard, a member of the UC Ballroom Dancers for 15 years. On the dance floor, the 68-year-old physicist keeps up with even the youngest students. "I joined the club after retiring from Lawrence Livermore Lab in the early 1980s," said Brard. "It's certainly better than golf."

For information, see http://www.OCF.Berkeley.EDU/~ucbd/ or call 845-9894.


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