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Celebrating 40 years of ballroom dancing at MIT

MIT’s Ballroom Dancing Club celebrates its 40th anniversary on Aug. 9.
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The MIT Ballroom Dance Club celebrates its 40th anniversary on Aug. 9.
The MIT Ballroom Dance Club celebrates its 40th anniversary on Aug. 9.
Courtesy of the MIT Alumni Association

MIT might not seem like a place that would have a thriving ballroom dance community. In reality, though, the Institute’s Ballroom Dance Team is perennially top-ranked, and the noncompetitive Ballroom Dance Club celebrates its 40th anniversary on Aug. 9.

“I’m sure some people are surprised that MIT has good ballroom dancers,” says Allison Chang PhD ’12. “It can be a rigid place to be, but ballroom dance fits that image better than any other kind of dance. There are techniques and rules about movement. A big reason MIT students excel at it is because it gives you structure.”

In fact, a few MIT alumni have gone on to notable success in ballroom dance. The club’s first president, Jeff Alexander ’74, SM ’76, PhD ’78 and his wife, Janelle, have won high-level dance competitions in the U.S. and England; Daniel Radler ’79 and his partner, Suzanne Hamby, were a top-ranked amateur team and, as professionals, were ranked third in the U.S.

“When I first arrived at MIT in 2005, I was surprised to find out MIT even had a Ballroom Dance Club,” says Media Lab visiting scholar and club vice president Attila Forruchi. “But it’s been a great way to meet people across campus. Our monthly social dances feature alumni who are in town for a visit and community dancers from Greater Boston.”

MIT’s ballroom dancing origins date back to 1974 as a joint effort between students from MIT and Wellesley College, who met informally a few times per week. Membership grew throughout the 1980s; as more members became interested in dancing competitively, the offshoot MIT Ballroom Dance Team was created in 1991.

“All of our events are open to the general public,” Chang says. “We want to share ballroom dancing with everyone, and make it feasible to take high-quality classes for a low cost.”

Today, the Ballroom Dance Club is a cross-generational club that holds instructional workshops two to three times per week and Saturday-evening social dances once per month. The club's primary membership is MIT community members, but the group is open to all.

“It became my primary extracurricular activity when I was at MIT,” Chang says. “It was an important part of my life and created a nice balance with my academic work I was doing.”

The classes are taught by professional instructors located in Greater Boston, and club members have varying levels of experience. The Aug. 9 anniversary celebration is open to all — current students, alumni, and nondancers curious about the art form.

“It’s very addictive,” Forruchi says. “Everyone starts without a formal dance background — almost everyone is a beginner of some sort. I used to play soccer in semiprofessional leagues, and I was looking for something healthy but noncontact. Ballroom dancing was perfect.”

The MIT Ballroom Dance Club’s 40th Anniversary Celebration Social Dance takes place Saturday, Aug. 9, from 7:30 p.m. to midnight in La Sala de Puerto Rico in Building W20 (Stratton Student Center). RSVP in advance for a reduced price; for more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.

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