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people smiling for a group photo
From left, Synthia Sumukti, Elijah Saloma, Michaella Villanueva, Gregory Snyder, Yuewen Ding, Alex Picken, Sydney Kim, Chris Ramirez, Andrea Siochi, Yong-Sung Masuda, Michelle Leano and Ravi Narayan (Photo courtesy: Synthia Sumukti)

With waltzes, foxtrots and chachas, the 10-student Ballroom Dance Club at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa captured a national championship, just 18 months after the organization’s inception. In March, they won the National Collegiate DanceSport Championships (NCDC), in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

two people dancing
Yong-Sung Masuda and Yuewen Ding (Photo credit: Gregory Snyder)

Out of 39 colleges with more than 330 students, the UH Mānoa team won first place for “highest team average” and fourth place overall.

This was the first year the club competed at the national competition. According to the team’s co-instructor Ravi Narayan, who is also an adjunct faculty member in the UH Mānoa Information and Computer Sciences Department, most members of the team had around 6–12 months of experience with the club and many had no prior ballroom dance experience.

“It was amazing, really worth it for my last year of college,” said UH Mānoa student Yuewen Ding.

On the final day, when it was time to announce the results, the UH Mānoa team was optimistic that they would place in the top eight, according to Narayan. When the team wasn’t called for eighth through second place, the team members didn’t think they won.

“And then came the announcement. ‘The top team for this year, 2024, with the highest average placement is the University of Hawaiʻi.’ We thought, ‘What?! Was this really happening?!’ We were the champions!” Narayan said. “The team screamed and even several members of the audience jumped up for joy. Over the three days of competition, the UH Mānoa dancers had become the crowd favorite not just with their dancing but with their exemplary behavior, discipline and friendliness—traits of true champions. Our students were the perfect ambassadors for the University of Hawaiʻi and the state of Hawaiʻi, displaying our Aloha spirit!”

Persevering through tough competition

two people dancing
Elijah Saloma and Sydney Kim (Photo credit: Gregory Snyder)

Narayan said it was a grueling competition with events starting at 7 a.m. every morning. The national competitions consist of multiple events based on skill level (bronze, silver, gold, etc.) and age level (collegiate, adult, senior 1, senior 2, etc.). Each student competed in approximately 15 to 20 different events in both the collegiate and adult levels at the bronze skill level in the International Standard (waltz and quickstep), American Smooth (waltz, tango and foxtrot) and American Rhythm (chacha, rumba, swing and bolero).

Most events had about 20 to 50 couples competing against each other in the first round. Each event had multiple rounds with half the number of couples advancing to the next round, culminating in a final round with only about six to eight couples. In multiple events, all five couples from the Hawaiʻi team made it into the final round.

The NCDC trip was designed to give the team exposure to a collegiate competition since Hawaiʻi has no statewide collegiate ballroom competitions.

The dancers are trained and coached by Narayan and Synthia Sumukti (choreographer and instructor). Narayan and Sumukti also represented Hawaiʻi in the amateur USA Dance National DanceSport Championships in the senior age division.

two people dancing
Elijah Saloma and Michaella Villanueva (Photo credit: Gregory Snyder)

The Ballroom Dance Club offers beginner classes to all UH Mānoa students, faculty and staff in studio 2 of the athletics department from 6–7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. No dance experience is required. For more information, visit this website or visit their Instagram page @bdcuhm.

The team would like to Mahalo the Department of Information and Computer Sciences for giving them a home, the UH Mānoa athletics department for the use of its facilities, and to the Student Activity and Program Fee Board, Associated Students of the University of Hawaiʻi and USA Dance, Inc. for their funding.

UH Mānoa team members:

  • Alexander Picken, Earth science
  • Andrea Siochi, psychology
  • Christopher Ramirez, linguistics
  • Elijah Saloma, computer science
  • Gregory Snyder, mechanical engineering
  • Michaella Villanueva, computer science
  • Michelle Leano, computer science
  • Sydney Kim, computer science
  • Yong-Sung Masuda, computer science
  • Yuewen Ding, biology
two people dancing
Ravi Narayan and Synthia Sumukti (Photo credit: Gregory Snyder)

—By Marc Arakaki

UH Mānoa formation team

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