Hundreds of UNC students lined up outside Fetzer Hall's gymnasiums Saturday to be among the 2,000 participants in the UNC Dance Marathon and to cut a rug to a steady stream of danceable tunes.
Two-hundred yards to the west, in a Student Recreation Center exercise room, dozens of dancers at an open practice for UNC's new Ballroom Dance Club twirled and tangoed to the sound of, well ... nothing at all.
No one missed a step at the open practice, as Spanish guitars hummed and violins swelled - silently - evident only in the grace, precision, and soulful expression of these committed artisans.
Chartered in the fall, the UNC Ballroom Dance Club joined around 45 fellow club sports to provide a social and competitive environment in which to learn and practice the art of ballroom dance, the club's website at unc.edu/ballroom
Practices are ramping up for club members, who will compete at the Mid-Atlantic Dancesport Championships in Bethesda, Md., this weekend.
"Bethesda is our last competition before nationals," UNC junior Ellen Porter said, "so we're all getting ready for that."
The national competition will be held in Baltimore March 30 and April 1.
While the growing popularity of ballroom dancing had given rise to the student activity at UNC, the competitive Ballroom Dance Club was formed just recently.
"We had been loosely affiliated, and we'd have smaller groups of people coming in," Porter said, "but now we've become a lot more structured as a team since we applied for sports club status. We're organizing all of the competitions we're traveling to and coordinating all of the practices."
Increasingly popular due to TV's "Dancing with the Stars" and the UNC organization's visibility, Porter said the club enjoyed a crowd of 200 students at the club's initial interest meeting.
"Once you go to a competition though, that really sucks you in, with all the costumes, and all the dancers at different levels," Gott said. "You really see what you can become with practice."
"There's also a bit of a dancers' high," Porter said, "kind of like a runners' high."
Growing numbers also helps with financial challenges inherent to sports clubs.
"As a growing team, we're starting to get discounts," Porter said.
"We do our best to try to minimize costs," Gott said. "We have people who can actually make costumes, like Ellen, who has made several costumes for us."
Visibility is key to continued interest however. The group has performed at such venues as UNC's FallFest, Chapel Hill's FestiFall, at Fred Astaire Studios, UNC's Dance Marathon, and others. Those interested in arranging a performance or private lessons can email Gott at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, those interested in different ballroom dance events in area can visit the local USA Dance chapter website at triangleusadance.org
While UNC's Dance Marathon was a 24-hour event, it's the popularity of ballroom dance at UNC that organizers hope has marathon-like staying power.
"I want to see it become sustainable and maintained - to see that we have people who will bring in new members every year," Porter said.
In addition to the club, Gott and Porter would love to see role of dance elevated at UNC through an organization called the Carolina Dance Initiative.
"There's no real course of study in dance here," Gott said, "and we're working to try to get there to be a minor in dance. There's a large dance population on campus right now."
In the meantime, dancers are discovering a community beyond the campus of kindred spirits all dancing to similar tunes, and that's music to organizers' ears.
"It's really made the world a smaller place," Porter said.