Christendom students strut their stuff

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The entrance to St. Lawrence Commons at Christendom College in Front Royal was crowded with people waiting for the show to start. The air smelled lightly of hairspray. Strings of lights hung above, and dancers in costume chatted with the many spectators. Rows of chairs lined the edge of the room, and the hall’s hardwood floor was cleared for dancing. 

The annual waltz and swing competition, held Feb. 19 this year, is  part of a larger competition known as Dorm Wars. The evening of dance was a chance for winners to accrue points for their team. It all began with the waltz. 

All the couples choreographed a dance to “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, and performed it as a group. Based on timing, teamwork and technique, the judges narrowed the field to four pairs, and each then performed their routine as individual couples. 

The tone of each dance came from the couple’s choice of music, and the dance usually involved a backstory woven in. One pair began their dance with a song reminiscent of a music box melody.  The man slowly rose from the ground, as if from inside the box, while the woman slowly revolved around him. Another couple danced in all blue to a dreamy tune; in their closing dip, the woman kicked her leg sky-high, sending her flat flying. 

Most of the competitors had a long history with the many traditional types of dances popular at Christendom, including waltz, swing and contra. Charlie McKenna, a junior, danced competitively in high school and taught his partner Maria McFadden while at Christendom, where they have competed together since freshman year. 

McFadden danced in a black floor-length dress, with a bright flower tucked into her brunette hair, complementing the yellow of McKenna's shirt. The two glided elegantly across the room, occasionally adding in a lift or dip to the crowd’s delight. They took first place in the competition for the second time in their partnership. 

Each waltz was performed skillfully and creatively, though many dancers said they only spent a few hours rehearsing. “We both enjoy waltzing a lot on our own, so we didn't spend a lot of time practicing,” said Joseph McMahon, who placed second with his partner, Sophia Guerrero. With their base of good fundamentals, it took them two hours of playing off of one another’s ideas to come up with their choreography. 

After a free dance period, swing dancing began with the energetic “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis. As with the waltzers, their faces betrayed joy or concentration and occasionally some singing along. Their costumes ranged from all-black, to a man with suspenders, ripped jeans and a partner in pigtails. Another woman wore an A-line dress while her partner sported a vest and fedora. 

Though all swing routines, the dances varied greatly, too. One performance, as much a skit as a dance, involved elements of hip hop and Irish dance. Another team danced to a romantic tune while acting out a classic “boy meets girl” flirtation. The winning team, Michael Mazzara and Jeana Morgan, opened their dance with “A Lovely Night” from the popular movie musical “La La Land.” 

Both Mazzara and Morgan have been dancing since high school, and they were happy to find that traditional dances were popular at Christendom. “I wouldn't know half as many people as I do here if we didn’t have this really cool swing culture where it’s seen as a social dance,” instead of a romantic one, said Mazzara. 

Waltzers McKenna and McFadden echoed that sentiment. “Honestly, I wouldn’t have met him if it hadn’t been for this,” said McFadden. “Now we’re best friends.” 

Besides the friendships formed through competition, the evening is a chance to showcase the skill and talent seen at dances year-round. 

“You get to see two people practicing, trying hard, getting to perform something that is, in sense, a lost art,” said Mazzara. “So it’s this revival of something beautiful. As Catholics we want the true, the good and the beautiful.”

Buy photos from the dance competition at catholicherald.smugmug.com.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

@zoeymaraist