Dancing with the Geographers


Geography alumnus Ross Gerrard knows a lot about spatial relations, on and off the dance floor! Ross got his PhD in 1995 (“The Location of Service Facilities Using Modeling Sensitive to Response Distance, Facility Workload, and Demand Allocation”), worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher at UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis until 1998, and is now an Assistant Researcher in the Department of Geography.  When he’s not doing research on conservation planning and spatial analysis of habitat with grants from the US Forest Service and the US Geological Survey, Ross enjoys ballroom dancing and gives us a glimpse of his passion and progress as follows:

“I got started ballroom dancing in winter quarter 2004. Mainly I was looking for something to do and thought I might like it as a hobby and social activity. I started attending Ken Ota’s classes at UCSB in Rob Gym. They teach possibly too many different dances: waltz, foxtrot, tango, Viennese waltz, quickstep, rumba, cha cha, mambo, samba, and swing. So I guess that’s 10. I was terrible at first (ladies, go easy on those pathetic beginning guys, because I used to be one of them). It’s a little bit of a sink-or-swim philosophy that prevails there. Anyway, I wanted to quit but didn’t let myself, and to augment the classes joined the Cotillion dance club/team (which is affiliated with the classes). Being in the club helped because of the review I got there. I attended club and went to the beginning level classes for a year+ before I could hold my own with all the steps taught at that level. Then I started going to the intermediate level UCSB ballroom classes and improved some more from doing that. I made sure that I went to almost all of those classes from January to June 2006 and so basically can hold my own with all of the steps taught there. (As an aside I went to Jonathan and Sylvia’s swing (smooth step Lindy) classes for 6 months in 2005). More recently I’ve been attending Nigel Clarke’s ballroom classes at Carrillo St. Gymnasium.

The Cotillion club/team has a number of people who attend competitions so I decided to go to the recent San Jose State University Ballroom Classic along with the team. One big challenge at competition is to navigate around the floor and avoid the other couples. For this competition, my partner was Ingrid Tseng (also in the Cotillion club). It’s different getting judged, sometimes a little disappointing and sometimes a little surprising. We ended up doing worse than we thought in the dances we practiced the most, and better than expected in the ones we hardly practiced for (we made the finals of foxtrot—newcomer and bronze—and of rumba—newcomer).

In ballroom, there’s endless learning and re-learning, either a new step or improving your posture, correcting (often re-correcting) mistakes. (You have to be willing to make a lot of mistakes — it can get frustrating at times). I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to compete again, but mainly it’s about trying to get better, and to keep having fun, and keeping in contact with people as well as meeting new people. The people I’ve met in ballroom are great, some of the best I’ve ever met. Several of them have worked very hard and have become incredibly good, outright winning several categories at many competitions.”

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