WPI professor ballroom dancer

Beyond the Classroom: Terri Camesano, Dean and Competitive Dancer

October 9, 2018
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As she will attest, Terri Camesano isn’t one to do anything half-heartedly. WPI’s dean of graduate studies, a mom of three girls, and a competitive ballroom dancer on the ProAm Dance Sport circuit, says each piece of her life balances out the other parts.

The lifelong dancer picked up ballroom nine years ago and was instantly taken with the various styles of the tango, foxtrot, waltzes, and Latin dances. “I liked it right away,” she says. Camesano works with two teachers (one for Latin style and the other for American Smooth style), both of whom are her partners in competition. On average she dedicates time five days a week to work on choreography, develop skill, and meet her next goal—she participates in several competitions annually.

How did you discover you had a passion for ballroom dancing?

I got started very late as a ballroom dancer. I danced for many years (ballet and modern) all the way through graduate school. But I was not able to maintain that once I started my career at WPI. When I was 36, I found myself applying for full professor and taking care of three children under the age of five. I realized that I didn’t have any type of fitness in my life and very few friends outside of work. I started ballroom dancing for the social aspect, and as the years went on, I grew more and more interested in learning the technique and in advancing.

You are exceptionally busy. How and why do you fit dance practice/lessons/competitions into your life?

I would not be able to do any of this if I didn’t have a very supportive family. In addition, it helps that ballroom dancing is extremely flexible. When I first started, I would go to a few group classes per week, whenever my schedule allowed. As I got more serious, I pursued private lessons. Since it's like having a personal trainer, you can set the lesson time exactly when you are available. I use weekends to train a lot, since I am so busy during the week. It is also extremely helpful to have a goal in mind. Even if my next competition is five months away, I stay focused and practice because I have that goal to work toward. We are also really lucky because the Boston/New England area has a very strong dance culture, and you can find exceptional teachers all over this area.

What does ballroom dancing offer that spills over into your other roles? Or does it fill a very specific outlet in your life that other roles do not?

There are some surprising similarities. The first would be the discipline that you need to be persistent. It's not easy to go for lessons and practice all the time. But you have to do it even when you are tired or stressed. This reminds me of how I felt as a grad student working in the lab. You have to go to the lab every day and keep trying, even when things are not working and even when you're tired. Similar to how we are always hoping for that breakthrough in our research results, you sometimes have a breakthrough in your dancing where you are able to do something that you could not do months or years earlier.

It also fulfills my need for creativity. Dance is very expressive and you are telling a story through your movement. Sometimes you experience pure joy through that movement!  

What has competition been like? What are your most memorable competitive moments?

Competitions can be a reality check to see if you're doing the right things in your training. We sometimes learn more in a day at a competition than we learn over months in the studio!  However, the best part of the competitions is when you're part of a team and you can cheer for the other dancers from your studio, or other friends you have made from prior competitions. I also love watching young amateur couples who travel from all over the US and even from abroad to compete here. They are so dedicated and talented, and seeing them is inspiring.

What are your favorite dances? Most difficult dances?

I love tango because it is so powerful and dramatic. I also love the rumba, because it may appear like a slow dance, but there are a million things that you have to do in every little beat. When that starts happening, it feels amazing.

I don’t really find any of the dances to be easy. I think everything is easy on a superficial level, and then as you learn more, you realize how many layers there are and how the technique, artistry, musicality, connection with the partner, etc., could always be better! Dancing is definitely something that you can pursue over a lifetime because there is always more to learn.

- By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Beyond the Classroom

This profile is the second of an ongoing series exploring the interests and hobbies of WPI faculty members outside of their classrooms and laboratories (read Aaron Sakulich's profile here). To nominate a faculty member for this series, email dailyherd@wpi.edu.