Music, laughter, and the unmistakable sounds of ballroom dancing filled the H-Wing auditorium Thursday night for the first annual Dancing with the Staff competition. Hosted by the Beta Kappa Sigma Black and Latina Sorority and the College Programming Board, the event featured six groups of student/faculty pairings whose routines included everything from the paso doble to the waltz.
"If you watch 'Dancing with the Stars,' this is nothing like that," host Adlyn Maldonado joked at the beginning of the night.
But fans of the popular ABC reality show did not leave disappointed, and echoes of "Dancing with the Stars" were found throughout the competition. The contestants were introduced by a short practice video, the judges were spirited and funny, and the whole thing ended with a trophy ceremony. (Though the awarded trophies weren't the mirror balls of "Dancing with the Stars," they were eagerly coveted nonetheless.)
Not unlike Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke, Maldonado and her co-host Wendy Castro joked easily with the contestants, judges, and audience. In fact, the whole event was surprisingly interactive, with people in the crowd loudly voicing their approval and disapproval throughout the show. A Kindle E-reader was raffled off to a lucky winner, audience members danced the Tootsee Roll and the Macarena on stage, and crowd reaction was one of the main elements the judges were asked to evaluate.
The judge's table featured five judges with varying levels of dance experience and knowledge: Ramapo College faculty members Nicole Pacheco and Rick Brown, makeup artist Tiffany Franklin, and competitive dancers Eli Rosenstein and Nicole Heisler. In addition to audience interaction, the couples were judged on chemistry, musicality, posture, energy, enthusiasm, enjoyment, creativity and use of props. The judges teasingly bickered with one another and played with the tropes of reality competition shows.
"Well, we were trying to figure out who was going to be the mean judge up here, and I guess Nicole has set the standard for that," Rick Brown joked after fellow judge Pacheco called a performance "flat as a pancake." But the audience's enthusiasm was infectious, and, despite some constructive criticism, the judge's comments were largely positive.
"I knew I'd have fun, but I didn't think I'd have this much fun," judge Eli Rosenstein said after the show. Rosenstein, a competitive dancer for over 11 years, was asked to participate by his friend Castro.
"I thought I knew what to expect, but I was surprised by how seriously the whole thing was run," he added.
Rosenstein also revealed that, although there was some disagreement over the final rankings, nearly all the judges placed champions Eddie Seavers and Laura Vigliarolo on top. Seavers, the associate director of the Center for Student Involvement, and Vigliarolo, a senior graphic design student, won both the audience and the judges over with their flirty swing dance routine.
"I had heard about the show a while ago and thought, 'Oh well, whatever, sounds like fun,'" Vigliarolo said. "But then Eddie made an announcement that he was looking for a dance partner, and that he knew swing, so I was like, 'Well, you know, why not? I'll give it a shot.'"
And while that shot definitely paid off during the show's trophy ceremony, Vigliarolo said that her favorite part of the competition was learning swing and watching everyone else dance.
"I really like Amanda Beecher and her partner's performance," she said, referring to second-place winners Beecher, assistant professor of mathematics, and Rafael QuiÃ±ones. QuiÃ±ones, a psychology major, was a fan favorite and had his own cheering section in a corner of the auditorium.
The event also featured opening, closing and intermission performances by other students. Tahir Register, a senior contemporary arts student and talented singer, came out twice to sing and dance with the crowd. Joshua Guillaume, who competed in the competition with Graduate Assistant for Fraternity and Sorority Life Naima Ricks, performed a freshly written rap and the campus a cappella group 4gotteN SuitCase ended the show with renditions of "In the Jungle" and "Are You Gonna Be My Girl."
"I thought that this was a great event. I've been talking about having events like this on Ramapo's campus to get more students involved, and it was an amazing turn out," Register said after the show. Register had agreed to perform at the event before he even knew it would be called "Dancing with the Staff."
"When they revealed what the show would be, that was what prompted me to pick my song choices so that I could get the crowd involved and excited about seeing professional staff dance with the students," Register said. "This is something they need to do annually because it's just so much fun."
Beta Kappa Sigma already has plans to continue the tradition.
"This is season one, and every spring semester, we're going to do season two, and so on," Castro explained. "We've been wanting to do 'Dancing with the Staff' since last year, but it was so much work that it took us like a year to actually come up with the ideas and logistics. And then in the fall, we actually talked to the College Programming Board so we could have enough money to do this and have prizes and trophies and things like that. So my sorority came up with the idea, and we asked CPB to co-sponsor with us."
Though it looks like Dancing with the Staff will become a Ramapo College tradition, it also stayed true to its reality show roots with a touch of lighthearted drama.
Third-place winner Lester Troncoso jokingly questioned whether the competition was rigged after a technical issue disrupted his paso doble with EOF Student Development Specialist Nicole Baker.
"I'm surprised that our music got messed up and everyone else's was fine," Troncoso, a business management major, quipped. "But I loved the part where the audience supported us and kept on clapping for us and let us continue without the music."
Although he didn't take home the first place trophy, Troncoso is holding out hope for next year.
"Maybe next time I'll get first place and be a champion the second time around," he said. "I might be here next year; I could make a comeback."