NMSU’s DanceSport Company offers free (and fun!) community classes for all ages
Written by Isabel A. Walters
Photography by Steven Kavanaugh
New Mexico State University DanceSport Company has been helping students improve their dancing skills since 1999. Through the years, students in the group have competed in national competitions and brought home several championship titles.
And thanks to the DanceSport club, even those of us in the community with two left feet no longer have to feel like Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes when we step out on the dance floor. Every Tuesday night, the group hosts free community dance lessons open to the public. “The classes are a fun and unintimidating way to learn social dance,” says Ann Gavitt, dance program director in the Department of Kinesiology and Dance. “It is a nice way to meet others and a great way to get some exercise.”
Dance Like A Star Lessons cover styles you’ve probably seen on Dancing with the Stars and wished you could master, including the foxtrot, rumba, country two-step, merengue, tango, and more. “Classes spend two consecutive weeks working on the same dance style. However, community members do not have to come every week. They can drop in for any class. Classes are geared toward high school age and above.
In a typical lesson, students can look forward to an introduction to the basic step, followed by practice. Then elaboration and variation on the basic step. After each is introduced, students rotate through a circle of partners to practice. Lessons are taught by certified NMSU dance majors and minors. These classes serve as a teaching practicum for them, helping to improve their teaching skills so they are better prepared to seek employment upon graduation.” Ann says.
The Next Step
Instructors introduce the basics during the free lesson, but students can participate in Level 2 lessons, which take basics a step further, immediately following the first class for only $5. Partners are not required to participate in classes.
Elizabeth “Betty” Burgess is founder and director of the NMSU DanceSport Company. It is under her direction that the program has grown into what it is today. Since earning her master’s in teaching from NMSU in 1978, Betty has worked as a physical education instructor in public schools, taught at Michele’s Dance Academy, and worked in Bahrain as a strength and conditioning specialist to national athletes in the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs. She has seen individuals of all ages learn the art of dance through the free community classes, which include a brief history of the evening’s featured dance.
“What I like about our dance style is that more people can relate to it,” she notes. “They can look at it and say, ‘I think I can do that.’ A lot of this Dancing with the Stars hype has allowed Americans to tune in to what partnered dancing is. It has helped build ballroom dancing. Kids start watching it and wanting to participate, too. If our kids don’t do it, it’ll fall by the wayside. We want to get young ones interested so the sport will continue. We’ve had kids in there as young as eight years old who have had no problem at all. You can go in without any knowledge.”
Modern KinD of Moves
The NMSU KinD Motion Dance Lab offers other contemporary dance classes, such as ballet, hip hop, and Latin-style, geared specifically towards children. NMSU kinesiology and dance sophomore Hannah O’Hara teaches modern dance to kids ages seven to 10 years old. She describes the KinD Motion Dance Lab as a wholesome environment where young students can experience a transformation in both their dancing skills and themselves overall.
“It’s transformative learning,” she explains. “I want to instill in them a passion for becoming their own best teacher. I want to stress coming out of their comfort zones, becoming more confident, and thinking outside the box, and then bringing it all back to dance.”
Hannah recommends the classes to families as a means to help their kids improve their creativity, balance, and social skills. “I’ve experienced it in my own personal life,” she confirms. “I have a student who is homeschooled and, in her time in class, she gets to share and collaborate with other students, and develop other life skills that she wouldn’t be able to practice from home. I’ve seen that it really has transformed the way she interacts.”
When asked which dance she recommends to beginners, Betty cited the merengue, but says it’s ultimately up to the individual and what they’re interested in. The free Tuesday evening lessons are the perfect opportunity to try something new and decide what you like.
“There’s a basic step that goes with every single dance and you have to learn that first,” she says. “It’s a good evening with some great folks, and you’re learning life skills. You can dance forever—Fred Astaire proved that. It’s a great social outlet, and in my opinion it keeps you young. I think that’s what life is all about.”