Arts & Culture

Students, professors to showcase dance skills

Nine student-professor couples to compete in return of “Dancing With the Professors”

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 2016

Natasha Nguyen ‘15 MD‘19 and Associate Professor of Ecology Daniel Weinreich rehearsed their swing piece in preparation for the “Dancing With the Professors” competition to be held Friday at 7 p.m in Alumnae Hall.

Students and professors alike will waltz, rumba and tango their way into Presidents’ Day Weekend at the “Dancing With the Professors” ballroom dance competition Friday  at 7 p.m. in Alumnae Hall.

Presented by the Brown Ballroom Dance Team, the night will feature nine students from the team paired with Brown professors and each couple will perform a 90-second piece.  Scores are based on marks given by both audience voters and the three judges: Christine Harvey, a ballroom dance expert and coach of the Brown Ballroom Dance Club and Team; Michael Littman, professor of computer science and the “Dancing With the Professors” champion of 2015; and Sorin Istrail, professor of computational and mathematical sciences and computer science as well as a ballroom aficionado and dancer.

Judges will assess performances from both a technical and aesthetic perspective, said Jasmine Liu ’17, a member of the BBDT who is paired with Professor Joseph Bliss, neonatologist and associate professor of pediatrics. Following the competition, students from the BBDT, Mezcla and ImPulse will perform.

Liu added that students and professors were paired up based on height, previous dance experience and dance style preference. Bliss said that like the other competing couples, he and Liu began preparing for the competition in the first weeks of September. Liu choreographed the piece, a “Latin dance that’s morphed into rhythm,” and the couple began practicing for one to two hours each week, Liu said. “Since then, we’ve built up to practicing whenever (Bliss) doesn’t have hospital teachings,” she added.

Dancing couple Melinda Rabb, professor of English, and Kevin O’Farrell ’16 followed a similar practice regimen for their East Coast Swing piece. “We started out once a week, but we’ve been practicing three times a week for the past couple weeks,” O’Farrell said. “It’s been pretty great. We both really enjoyed the experience.”

For Rabb, dancing in the competition is a personal accomplishment, as she enjoys the sport of dancing and recently returned from an injury. “Last year I couldn’t dance because of a back injury,” she said. “Now I can move again.”

Students acted as coaches throughout the process, choreographing the pieces and providing feedback on technique and style. “The most fun is that the students are the teachers here,” Rabb said. “We — the faculty — are doing the best we can.”

Skill levels range from professors who have some background experience dancing — like Bliss, who “used to square dance as a kid,” he said — to those who “haven’t danced since high school prom,” said Professor John Gemmer, postdoctoral research associate of applied mathematics and partner of Angelia Wang ’16.

Despite their experience gaps, preparing for the competition has been rewarding for the students and professors alike.

“I’ve always been interested in learning more about ballroom dance, and this is a great opportunity to learn from someone who knows what she’s doing,” Bliss said.

“It’s nice to see ballroom as a purely fun performance, as opposed to how I used to look at it — as more of a measure of technical ability,” Liu said.

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