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Strictly Ballroom Across the Pacific

Harvard ballroom dancers take on China during winter break

By Emily S. High, Contributing Writer

Touring a foreign country, signing autographs and dancing all day—not a bad way to spend two weeks away from Harvard.

And over winter break, 17 members of the Harvard Ballroom Dance Team did just that, traveling through four Chinese cities hosted by the U.S.-China Media and Publishing Association.

The trip was the vision of Tufts University Professor of Chinese James Wang, who was struck by the idea of ballroom dancing as a medium for cultural exchange. Wang, who helps with the ballroom team at Tufts, said he was most impressed with the dynamic of Harvard’s team.

“They’re Harvard students. They’re the best,” he said at the team’s pre-tour December performance in Lowell Lecture Hall. “My greatest experience has been working with them.”

The December show gave Harvard a preview of the routine the dancers performed for Chinese audiences.

Catcalls erupted as the first choreographed mambo took the stage. The partner dances ignited the audience as the couples skillfully sashayed across the floor in sparkling costumes.

The China tour culminates a season of impressive achievements for the dancers, who took first place in the team match at the National Collegiate Dancesport Competition this fall.

Team Captain Jordan M. Vanlare ’04 emphasized the “balance between the artistic component and the competitive aspect” of dance. Because the Chinese tour was not a competition like their season touring the Northeast, the team was able to enjoy dance’s more inventive and relaxing aspects in China.

The team spent its first 10 days abroad in Shen Zhen, a commercial center on China’s southern coast, before performing in Hong Kong, Xian and finally Beijing.

Aided by their translators—Tufts Professor Wang and Z. Navlyn Wang ’04—the team toured the cities, spoke with students and the media about life at Harvard and, of course, danced.

The performances, mostly geared toward student audiences, often took place in school gymnasiums and auditoriums.

Maria M. Ceballos ’05 said the students’ reactions amused her.

“The first half of the performance was really quiet and then the second half, they’d be screaming their heads off,” she said.

Aaron L. Hatcher ’05 said he signed numerous autographs.

“In general, we were treated like rock stars,” he said. “‘Excited to see us’ is the understatement of the year.”

While Hatcher called their schedule “fairly packed,” they found time to climb the Great Wall, see parts of the Forbidden City, visit the Peking Opera and tour Tiananmen Square.

“It was total culture immersion,” Ceballos said.

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