UT students and faculty compete to win ‘Dancing with the Stars: UT’

Ballroom dancing can take a lifetime to master, but three UT students have learned it in only a few months. These students will be judged tonight on their newly acquired skills at the second-ever “Dancing with the Stars: UT,” an event hosted by Texas Ballroom and Texas 4000.

The competition is structured like a scaled-down version of the television show where a celebrity performs with a professional dancer and is then judged by a panel. Each participant must learn a social dance, such as the two-step or swing, and a ballroom dance, such as the foxtrot or cha-cha.

All the event’s proceeds will go to Texas 4000 to fund the members’ ride to Alaska for cancer research. In addition to the dance competition, the event will have social dancing and performances by various student dance groups.

“Each star has to do two dances, and for each of the dances, they have a Texas Ballroom officer or member who is going to teach them a routine,” said Caroline Suh, one of the professionals and a Texas 4000 alumna. “Dancing with the Stars: UT” will feature four “stars” and seven professionals. The stars are UT students Mina Ghobrial, Jon Cozart and Jennifer Sunshine Garrison, as well as senior biological sciences lecturer Dee Silverthorn. The professionals are officers and members of the UT Texas Ballroom club.

Similar to the TV show, most of the UT competitors are ballroom dance novices.

“This is my first time doing any kind of real ballroom dancing,” said Garrison, who is also a part of the UT improv group Giggle Pants. “I mean, I have probably faked doing ballroom dancing on the stage during a show at some point, but this is true technique-based ballroom dancing.”

The only dancer with real ballroom experience is Silverthorn, who has been dancing since she was a child, and performed with dance companies in Charleston, S.C., and Mobile, Ala.

“I grew up in New Orleans and everybody took ballroom dancing,” Silverthorn said. “In the sixth and seventh grade that was the standard thing to do, and I’ve danced other ways — jazz, modern, ballet — a lot my whole life.”

Suh said the student stars have natural dancing ability, but even so, it can be a challenge to teach them choreography on top of learning the dances themselves.

“What’s really hard is having to teach them all of the basic technique and then having a routine on top of that in like four months,” Suh said. “It’s not as bad as the real show where they do a new dance each week.”

Grasping the basics of ballroom dance, including steps, rhythm and choreography, can be difficult. Cozart said allowing himself to make errors was a learning process in itself.

“Being comfortable with somebody enough to screw up and drop them and understanding that it’s OK to fail, was the biggest challenge for me,” Cozart said. “Just getting over that mindset, I should be perfect.”

Contestants on the real “Dancing with the Stars” wear elaborate costumes that are intentionally flashy, and the stars for UT’s version will be no different. They are borrowing competition attire from members of Texas Ballroom for the event.

“I just got the dress for [the foxtrot] and it’s way over the top,” Silverthorn said. “It’s hot pink and regular pink with layers in the skirt and big sleeves. The top is totally covered in sequins and rhinestones.”

The stars and instructors have been putting in two or three hours of work per week into their routines, but Garrison said learning to dance is worth the effort.

“It can be challenging at times. But once you get [the dance] down, you feel so good that you did it, and you see the progress as you’re going along,” Garrison said. “It’s something that I hope I won’t ever forget.

By Eleanor Dearman