By Elizabeth Lee '16
Copy Editor & Film Columnist
Celebrating 17 years, the Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Company (CCBDC) held its annual spring Concert this past weekend, May 2-3, at Pomona’s Bridges Auditorium. This year, entitled “Icons of Music: Legends, Divas, and Superstars,” the performance featured some of the most widely-known and danceable pop music. Highlights included a fierce tango to Cher’s “Welcome to Burlesque,” a sassy all-follow duet--one of the first of its kind in CCBDC’s history--to Madonna’s “4 Minutes,” and an amusing interpretation of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” through a medley of jive, contemporary, a handful of dramatic lifts and some impassioned pantomime. A particularly enthusiastic section of the audience during the Saturday night showing indicated Claremont’s Alumni Weekend had brought together an impressive amount of CCBDC veterans. Members of this ever-expansive community came from all across the country and generations to cheer on its current dancers.
Throughout its 2014-2015 season, CCBDC has also developed several new programs. Having recently returned from a semester in London, current President Lazaors Chalkias spearheaded the creation of a scholarship to fund members seeking to continue their dance training while studying abroad. Chalkias was also the first recipient of the scholarship, opting to train with British Nationals Ballroom Vice Champion, Craig Shaw, who during a visit to the U.S. led a series of workshops offered to dancers on campus this past March. CCBDC’s Artist in Residence program was also put into effect this year, bringing in local artists such as U.S. National Smooth Pro Lorena Bravo as well as University of California Riverside Ph.D student and Collegiate Dancesport founding member Denise Machin to work with students, helping to create some of the work that appeared in Concert.
When creating these dance pieces, CCBDC makes use of its Director, Paul Roach, and Artists in Residence to choreograph and run training; however, members of the advanced Tour Team also have the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with newer members of the community by coaching CCBDC’s Campus Team. This year, Julius Kellinghusen (PO ‘16), a three-year member and former Major Events Coordinator, worked with Campus Team members to create a lively quickstep to Lady Gaga’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing [if It Ain’t Got that Swing].”
“We are all super supportive of each other, and older dancers love to share their experience and skills [...] and encourage the new dancers to reach their full potential,” says Kellinghusen. “I was one of these new dancers that benefited from the care and kindness of others, and now I get to do the same for others. [...]There is nothing better than when dancers are invested in their routine and really feel like it belongs to them, and I hope to create that feeling for everyone I work with.”
Being the company’s culminating event of the season, the spring Concert requires a great amount of personal investment and team collaboration in preparation. As described by Kellinghusen, “Concert brings together all the dancers in Campus and Tour and sometimes Beginners Teams to one of the biggest productions on the 5Cs. Dancers practice and prepare for most of the semester, many investing 10 hours a week or more.”
One of these dedicated dancers was Scripps first year student and Beginners Team member Grace Thieme. One of only two Beginners Team members to participate in Concert, Thieme danced in the Opener piece in addition to acting as Stage Manager.
“I think my favorite part of Concert was partially the dress [for Opener]. I looked like a fluorescent toucan or something,” Thieme laughs. “I also really thought it was awesome to be able to see the show come together. Being able to hear everything going on in tech land through the headset really made me appreciate all the stuff that goes into it behind the scenes. It was also fun to see people perform. There’s all this extra energy!”
When asked how she became a part Team, Thieme replied that she knew she wanted to join before arriving on campus. “I totally Youtube stalked [and] was really impressed with the quality of dance...Laz[aros] and Paul did a great job working in an environment where a lot of us had never danced before; however, I was interested in more of a commitment--time and effort wise--than Beginners Team offered, and so I decided that I wanted to compete.” In addition to working with CCBDC, Thieme has also joined a community of over forty other competitive dancers on campus, competing with her partner Tom Lin (PO ‘18) in both International Standard Ballroom and Latin styles at a collegiate level.
Although CCBDC is rooted on Pomona’s campus, Thieme is far from being its only Scripps member. Noelle Kimiko (SC ‘15) is a Scripps senior and Computer Science Major on Tour team. A three-year member of CCBDC, Kimiko is part of a long history of Scripps ballroom dancers.
“I think many Scripps students are interested in engaging with the consortium as a whole, not just life at Scripps,” said Kimiko. “In the years I’ve been involved, CCBDC seems to be mostly students from Scripps, Pomona and Harvey Mudd, so it is a good way to meet students from other colleges. Also, if there are students with a background in dance, I think they are drawn to Team, because it is one of the most vibrant dance communities at the 5Cs. Scripps students are dedicated and organized, and this has certainly benefitted Team. Many Scripps students have been involved in leadership for CCBDC during my time on Team, and there was a stretch of at least three presidents who were all Scripps students.”
As currently one of CCBDC’s longest standing members, Kimiko is among one of many who points to the sense of community as a significant reason for having remained on Team for so long: “Initially the performance opportunities CCBDC provides were my main motivation for participating. I still love performing, but what’s kept me on Team is definitely the other dancers...I personally find the CCBDC community to be very supportive and encouraging. The dancers want to help each other succeed.”
As a graduating senior, Kimiko had the opportunity to perform a solo, and was one of the first dancers on Team to create an all-follow (the traditionally female role in ballroom dancing) duet with friend and fellow Scripps senior Sarah Hiller. Sporting a winning combination of fishnets and tail coats, Kimiko and Hiller successfully faced the challenge of choreographing something unique to the CCBDC scene, melding a contemporary and jazz dance background with latin styling.
About graduating from the CCBDC community, Kimiko says “I will miss spending time with my teammates, all of their support, encouragement and patience during 7am rehearsals. I’ll miss the excitement of working on a common goal of improving and preparing for the next show” Having spent several years on Team, she reflects on how the company has changed over the years and the challenges it has faced: “In the past year, the CCBDC community has definitely shrunk. We had a lot of graduating seniors and advanced dancers who left for a variety of reasons. I know there were problems with the way that the leadership system is structured for some people also. It was a bit hard to continue with Team when many of my friends had left; it didn’t seem as enjoyable or energized as a space.”
Moving forward, however, these dancers have several ideas for how they would like to see the community continue to grow: “Because there are so many dancers on Team, it can be difficult to meet everyone’s needs and desires,” mentions Kellinghusen. “It would be great to see CCBDC’s resources expand to satisfy the entire community.” Adds Kimiko, “CCBDC bills itself as supporting social dance, performance, and competition, but it’s been primarily performance in my experience.” More specifically, Kimiko mentions that she would like to see CCBDC pursue a goal of being a positive space. “This includes getting costumes in a larger range of styles as well as watching for microaggressions in how dance technique is discussed.”
Reflecting on the beginnings of her own experiences with CCBDC, Thieme remarks, “As far as my first semester on Team, I had an awesome experience…[I] totally plan on continuing being part of Team, both as a dancer and a community member.”