Harvard Ballroom Two-stepping Between Sport and Passion

Sensation, a controversial collection of contemporary British art, caused a substantial amount of controversy when it hit the Brooklyn Museum of Art last year. The exhibit, which featured animal corpses floating in formaldehyde and several canvasses adorned with elephant dung, prompted many onlookers to ask themselves, "Is this really art?"

This summer, those who watch the 2000 Olympic Games on television may see salsas and cha-chas performed by spinning couples and feel similarly compelled to ask, "Is this really sport?"

Perhaps deeming it the athletic equivalent to Sensation seems a bit harsh, but ballroom dancing occupies a unique--if precarious--position in the sports world.


On the one hand, it's very popular. The number of ballroom dancing fanatics in America has grown sharply over the past decade, following a global trend. The International Olympic Committee granted ballroom dancing trial-sport status in 1996, and along with bowling, golf, rugby and water skiing, it is one of a handful of sports in contention for addition to the regular Olympic program in 2004.

Colleges have also fallen in love with the event. Campus crash-courses in swing and salsa are well attended nationwide. Some schools, like Brigham Young University, offer ballroom dancing scholarships to particularly promising high school prospects.

However, the NCAA has yet to recognize ballroom dancing as an official sport, and has not even included it on its list of "emerging" sports--a list that includes synchronized swimming among others. Additionally, many purists among sports fans consider it odd that an event so entirely unlike baseball and basketball would flirt with any level of athletic recognition.

The event's burgeoning popularity and simultaneous anonymity within the sports world prompt an exploration of the state of ballroom dancing today. The inquiry is made especially interesting when done with an eye toward Harvard, whose athletics program is the most diverse in the nation.

"I'm very excited about the way it's caught on," says junior Gwyneth Card, the outgoing president of the Harvard Ballroom Dance Team and Club. "It's looking good for the next few years."

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