Ballroom Dance Club works through funding cuts

by Elise Reuter

“One- two- three- four, and one- two- three- four…”

Upstairs in the Kansas Ballroom, Christie Curtis counts out the rhythm to a cha-cha. A group of students and adults follow behind her, trying to keep in step as she demonstrates more advanced moves. This is Curtis’ seventh year teaching for the Ballroom Dance Club, and the first year she has done so without pay.

“We’re kind of in limbo right now,” said Curtis. “We’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do next semester.”

The club took a hit to funding this year, after Student Senate passed a new rule stating that student groups cannot charge a fee and receive Senate funding. In previous years, the club relied on both these $35 fees and Senate funding to be able to pay for teaching and rent out a ballroom. Now the club is drawing out a new plan for next year.

“Economically, we would be better off if it was just free,” said Steve Curtis, another ballroom dance instructor who hopes that by cutting the student fee, they will be eligible for the needed funding from Senate again. He also thinks this will draw more students to the club, which has suffered from a dip in attendance since its creators graduated.

“The whole idea when it was first started is it was organized by students, and then over the years the students haven’t replenished themselves as they probably could have,” added Steve Curtis. “So then we went in and kind of took over; now we have a few more.”

At the club’s beginnings, about 50 students would dance every week. This year, that number has dwindled down to between 15 and 20 students.

“They were enthusiastic dancers and they built it up into quite the club,” said Kirk McClure, the club advisor. “Unfortunately, they all graduated. So that’s why we have the whole attendance problem.” 

A group of Lawrence “regulars” also attend; some of them have been ballroom dancing with the club for five or six years. The club is drawing out plans to recruit as much as possible to make up for the gap in attendance.

Unlike many other ballroom dancing clubs on campus like KU DanceSport, the Ballroom Dance Club is directed at beginners, so students need not have any prior experience to come and dance. For students who catch on quickly, Christie will mix in a few advanced steps, with some twists and turns to keep them on their toes.

“If they get the basics and are comfortable with them, then we go on to adding an intermediate step, and we call it an add-on,” added Christie Curtis.

Video transcript

Senior and club president Betsey Klee just started ballroom dancing last year, and now she keeps up with some of the more experience dancers of the group. After transferring to KU to finish off her degree, she picked up the club on a whim, and has stuck with it ever since.

““I had done a lot of swing dancing in high school, and danced up until I graduated,” said Klee. “After we lost funding for the semester, Christie’s been wonderful and just been doing lessons for free.”

Considering the costs of regular ballroom dance classes, this is a bit of a sacrifice. For independent teachers like Christie, the cost of a lesson runs anywhere between $50 to upwards of $200. This is in part because ballroom dancing takes so long to learn, with most certified instructors requiring competitions wins, many years of teaching, and passing a series of exams, according to an article by the Herald-Tribune. Add in overhead costs, including studio space, and it becomes quite the production. Christie manages to work through these costs by hosting her classes at an in-home studio.

“I teach at the Lawrence Arts Center with my dad, and I teach private lessons out of a studio in my home,” said Christie Curtis.

For the club, practice locations has also become a question. In previous years they were able to rent out the Camelot Ballroom downtown for $200, with a live band for musical accompaniment. Unfortunately, the ballroom was replaced by Fuzzy’s tacos, leaving the only remaining ballrooms downtown with rental prices upwards of $500. Right now, they are holding club meetings in the Kansas room of the Union—one of the few rooms with a dance floor.

This upcoming Wednesday, they are holding practice in the Union, and then dancing downtown as part of their annual Christmas celebration.

“We’re trying to upgrade, and get it to where more students will come, get them excited about it again,” said Christie Curtis.


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