Jonathan Swann ‘19
Savannah Kennedy ‘19 has dedicated the past eight years of her life to a sport that few know much about, let alone actively follow or watch. Deviating from the typical experiences of Davidson’s student-athletes, Kennedy has maintained strict training regimes and travel schedules, all while traveling off-site multiple days a week to pursue her passion. As she looks to the next stage of her life, Kennedy continues to incorporate the sport with which she fell in love: ballroom dancing.
A national champion in ballroom dancing, Kennedy has won the Gold National Championships at US Dance Nationals and the Open Gold Champions at Washington, among other titles. Her passion for the sport has greatly impacted her Davidson career. Although Kennedy began ballroom dancing at fifteen, relatively late compared to others who generally start in early childhood, she has never looked back. According to Kennedy, “ballroom dancing has always been a priority for me since I started.”
Kennedy is a native Charlottean and danced ballet from age 3 to age 13. Because of the economic recession, ballet lessons became too expensive and she was forced to quit. However, she heard of a free teen ballroom dance class given at a local ballroom studio in Charlotte and “ended up falling in love with it after the first class.”
Ballroom dancing is an umbrella term for any partnered dance done where one person is the lead and the other is designated to follow. There are various overlapping categories of ballroom dancing, such as Social, Competitive, or Exhibition; Latin or Ballroom; and American or International. Latin or Ballroom fall under the International category, which is more popular, versus the American style practiced by some dancers in the U.S. Latin dances include the cha-cha, rumba, samba, paso doble, and jive/swing. Ballroom dances include the waltz, tango, foxtrot, Viennese waltz, and quickstep.
In competitive ballroom dancing, dancers find a partner and then exclusively practice and compete with that partner. For example, Kennedy and her partner Steven Freinstein, who is a professional ballroom dancer, have been long-term partners on the dance floor. They primarily compete in the aforementioned five categories of ballroom dances.
A distinct feature of ballroom dancing is that, “unlike other sports, men ballroom dancers are expected to dress formally for competitions. Men are expected to have short, perfectly sprayed hair and dress in either black trousers and a formal dance shirt or a full tail suit. Women wear long dresses that are decked out in crystals and must have intricate hairstyles and elaborate makeup and jewelry to be considered ‘serious’ competition.”
Kennedy chose Davidson in part so she could continue ballroom dancing in Charlotte, and she balanced competitive ballroom dancing and schoolwork at Davidson for her freshman and part of sophomore year. She “used to drive to Charlotte every day for practice and spend some nights in Charlotte and some nights on campus.”
Kennedy admitted that her schedule “was very difficult,” and as a result she had to stop competing because “it got too expensive and too overwhelming to balance school work, practice, and competing.” When Kennedy was competing, she and Steven practiced three hours a day, seven days a week. “For dancers, competition season [is] all year long,” commented Kennedy. “There are no breaks.”
Because of her commitments to ballroom dancing, she organized her class schedule at Davidson so she had class only three days a week. Even though she has stopped dancing competitively, she has maintained that schedule every semester because she still dances infrequently in Charlotte, works at her long-time studio, The Ballroom at Quail Hollow, and practices with her fiancé Roman Nagibin when possible. Both last year and this year, she has lived off campus in Charlotte about five minutes away from The Ballroom at Quail Hollow. She drives to Davidson the three days she has class and drives back to Charlotte after class is over to spend her off-days or no class days in Charlotte.
Kennedy is graduating early this December with a double major in sociology and communication studies. She says that many people have asked her why she didn’t major in Dance; she explained that, “in ballroom dancing, it isn’t necessary to have any formal academic education to be successful so I thought it would be best to do something different.”
Kennedy found her majors to be the most interesting areas of study at Davidson and found a way to incorporate ballroom dancing through her thesis, which examines Russian immigrants and ballroom dancing.
Kennedy’s motivation for graduating early comes from her experience working with her dance coach, who founded a dance studio in Charlotte two years ago. Through this experience, Kennedy has learned the importance of advertising for businesses and has developed a passion for marketing. She is looking forward to utilizing her skills she has acquired once she graduates.
Despite not fitting the mold or schedule of most student-athlete experiences, Kennedy has nonetheless reached success and accomplishment through her sport. While not widely known as a competitive activity, ballroom dancing has pushed Kennedy to redefine her limits and make sacrifices in other aspects of the Davidson experience. Kennedy, who has chartered a unique journey through Davidson, may not be featured on athletics posters across campus, but her experience and accomplishments are nonetheless valid as physical feats of competition.