University Dance: Community and Competitions

Apr 30, 2021

Martha Buss

Martha Buss


As a wide-eyed fresher I made my way up and down the makeshift marquee with my two new flat-mates, taking in the promotion of all sorts of clubs and societies the University had to offer. The shameless amount of freebees and excitable energy made my embarking on the next chapter that bit less daunting. I had a focused intent to find the Dance Squad stall after researching their social media channels prior to arriving. Admittedly, I was nervous they’d be a touch of brash assertiveness to the team, as the stereotype goes, but in actual fact felt welcomed. This was especially due to the high correlation of fellow BA Dance students that were members: however once the initial socials, auditions and rehearsals were underway, the joy of making friends with those from other courses lived up to its cliché. Being fortunate to make it onto a competitive team I discovered quickly there was a ‘train hard, party hard’ approach! Committing to rehearsals two/three evenings a week provided a regimented yet comforting routine in a time of homesickness, heartbreak and hangovers.

Competition season for University Dance runs in the spring semester giving new members time to establish team spirit each year. An undeniably strong sense of community was present on competition days, starting early when devising a rallying chant on the long coach journey and ending late with an indulgent fast food stop. The standard of dance was always surprisingly high considering the amateur level which added anticipation to pre-performance jitters. I immediately invested in the jovial varsity rivalries and the politics of rule-bending routines. Even though all choreographers lusted after the cheap (but meaningful) plastic trophies, when falling short of the winning goal the day was never in vain as pride and resilience always prevailed.

Seeing how older students ran the squad almost like a business piqued my interest. I wanted to push myself to be part of the committee and so in my second year pitched for the Vice-President role, which I secured after facing a barrage of questions at the AGM. This position aligned with my arts administration interests and allowed me to gain experience in leadership, financial planning and event management. The latter was most notable in the decision to host our own competition. With blind confidence and a self-starter attitude, we calculated costs and pitched the event steadfastly to an initially doubtful local venue, all whilst managing teams of choreographers, fundraisers, marketing executives, social secretaries and nearly eighty members. The event went ahead, successfully hosting five other University teams, a local dance school and a good-sized audience. The competition was voted ‘Best Student-Run Event of the Year 2017’ by the Students Union and has gone on to expand significantly in subsequent years.

On a different note, returning to University after working in the dance industry on a Professional Placement Year presented its own predicaments. I simultaneously felt I was taking a step backwards whilst being given a precious last chance to enjoy the student lifestyle. Reinstating my membership with the Dance Squad was a decision fueled by familiarity. In some ways I wish my curiosity were strong enough to instead experience other clubs and societies available to truly make the most of the University scene. Yet, even as a tired and stressed final year student, I knew if I wasn’t a part of the Dance Squad community I would miss it.

The excitement had burned off slightly, and whilst competition days were still highlights of my year, I attended rehearsals out of duty rather than desire. Perhaps this feeling of disconnect was part of a natural cycle or perhaps I was just numbed by dissertation-dread at this point. I must still say that there was genuine relief to be found in evening rehearsals that broke up late library sessions.

I am grateful for the opportunities the society provided me with over my three years of participation and for those interested in dance within a University setting, it’s worth noting that it doesn’t always have to be undertaken in a competitive way. Many clubs run open classes or skill-specific training for those seeking a more casual commitment and in actual fact, the performance memories I hold dearest exceed competitions to include dancing at charity events, shopping centres and nightclubs which were opportunities open to all.

I would strongly encourage those curious to jump in the deep end and discover the joys of joining a dance community of peers. If you push yourself, your confidence will grow and your skills will bloom. Make the most of student living before the dreaded ‘adulting’ begins!

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