Elite Dance Team Captain Rachel Kelly arrives early to the studio to warm up and stretch, but the moment she clicks on the music and begins to move, a passion for dance shines through in her mirrored reflection. She floats elegantly across the floor. A few minutes later, her team is ready to practice. She leads them with as much passion as she has for dancing alone.
“It is a sport that requires endurance, flexibility, beauty and grace,” says Kelly. “Dancing is a way of communication for me.”
Kelly studies nutrition in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences and minors in Spanish. She started dancing at 14, and is now the captain of the Elite Dance Team at Oregon State. Kelly will soon graduate and plans to pursue dance outside of college.
“I took a modern dance [physical activity course] class when I was a freshman, and a bunch of people from that class tried out for the Elite Dance Team that year, but I didn’t think I was good enough,” Kelly says. “So I tried out my sophomore year, ended up making the team, and have done it ever since.”
Established in 2005, the Elite Dance Team practices technique and performance style in modern, hip-hop and jazz. Currently, the team has 30 members, both male and female, from Oregon State’s 12 undergraduate academic colleges. Beyond practicing twice a week and performing at several events per term, these dancers find ways to combine their studies with their extracurricular activities.
At the beginning of the year nutrition majors partnered with the Elite Dance Team to organize a flash mob promoting healthy eating, allowing Kelly to combine her passions for dance and nutrition.
“We worked with Be Well and the Elite Dance Team to create a campaign to eat more fruits and vegetables.” Kelly says. “We handed out bananas and carrots to all the people that were watching us. It was a great way to integrate both nutrition and dance.”
In addition to the performance teams that require a certain level of skill, there are also social dance clubs that anyone can join, no matter their ability.
In the ballroom
Davis Weymann, a senior Chemical Engineering major is the co-president of the Ballroom Dance Club and has been involved since his freshman year at Oregon State.
“Personally, social dance has been a major influence on being a student here,” Weymann says. “It’s been good, I’ve met most of my friends through dance. It’s a really nice stress relief, and I do it just because I enjoy it.”
While Oregon State doesn’t offer a formal dance program or degree, entrepreneurial students have been able to find ways to pursue dance outside their major and create a diverse community that is open to all.
“I had very different expectations,” Weymann says. “I was expecting very formal dancing, almost Victorian dancing, but it wasn’t like that. It’s a college campus. Anyone can do it!”
Being involved in the club as an officer has benefited Weymann in more ways than he expected. He says the teamwork and management skills he has learned through dance will help him in his future career as a chemical engineer.
“I recognized the teamwork skills I learned from what we’ve been doing all year,” Weymann says. “It sort of linked to all my professional experience as well, more so than I expected.”
A Western community
President of the Country Western Dance Club, and member of the Elite Dance Team, Allison Zumwalt never expected to be as involved in dance as she is today.
“I like to put get my fingers involved in all different departments,” Zumwalt says. “But I’m from a bigger city and would have never thought I’d be the Country Western Dance Club president. I’m defying stereotypes, I guess.”
Zumwalt had a background in dance before attending Oregon State, but she never saw herself pursuing it much further. However, the welcoming atmosphere of the country Western community made her want to stay involved.
“I’ve fallen in love with the people and stair stepped my way up to being the president. It’s really fun to be a part of the growing popularity of the club,” Zumwalt says.
Country Western Dance Club hosts four dances per term, and is associated with the PAC program classes on campus as well. Many students who take a dance class are required to fulfill time outside of class to get credit, and many students utilize Country Western Dance Club for that purpose.
“This is a really exciting time in our lives where we get to have all these opportunities in front of us, and I like to take advantage of all the ones that I can,” Zumwalt says. “When you find something that does grab your attention, it’s brilliant if you do pursue it and follow up with it.”
The Oregon State Hip Hop Student Association was established in Spring 2012, and its members are proudly diverse.
“Beyond just different majors, we have all students of all ages, grades, people of different ethnic backgrounds and different cities,” says Edward Pham, president of the Hip Hop Student Association. “Seeing that diversity all join together in dance is very rewarding and moving. “
Pham, a senior studying Biology recognizes dance not only an art form, but as a form of communication.
“Dancing here has really opened my mind and given me great insight about who people are through the personalities they express through a simple body movement,” Pham says. “I’ve been able to experience peoples’ different cultures and backgrounds just through the way they dance.”
The Hip Hop Student Association performs at many Oregon State events including Dance against Hunger, FeelGood at OSU and the Asian Pacific American Student Union’s Culture Shock event.
“The ‘Dance Against Hunger’ fundraiser is always an honor to perform for,” Pham says. “Getting to support an important organization and to dance alongside the various dance teams and their styles is great.”
Dance is everywhere
Performance groups like the Elite Dance Team are outlets for more experienced, serious dancers who want to take their dance skills to the next level, but there is an even larger community of dancers who dance for the sake of social interaction, physical movement and fun. These dancers can be found in almost every area of study at Oregon State.
The expansive dance community at Oregon State weaves a common thread that connects students across colleges, schools and majors.
Zumwalt says participating in the Elite Dance team and the Country Western Dance Club at Oregon State has enriched her college experience.
“I think the exciting thing about college is that you can do anything, you just have to decide how to invest your time, and how you are going to better yourself.”