Next to the Mary Cox Auditorium in Alumni Memorial Building is a large, empty room unlike the adjacent lecture halls and classrooms filled with seats. This room boasts mirrored walls, a wooden floor and a surround sound system blaring Madonna's "Like A Virgin."
Here, social dance meets twice a week. A physical education class offered within the department of kinesiology, recreation and sport studies, the objective of social dance (PYED 235) is to "have fun with dance and show respect to your partner," according to Hope Parks, social dance teacher and professor in kinesiology.
"A lot of times it starts out with logistics, like steps and footwork, and then from there we build on the attitude of the dance," Parks said after one of her classes. "At that point, that's where it becomes fun; when you become confident and have fun with the attitude of things."
While Parks calls out dance steps like "roll, pivot, step" to roughly 40 students in the Alumni Dancer's Studio, neighboring professors discuss the importance of Greek philosophy during the Medieval Renaissance or the use of percentages in statistics.
Amid a catalog of typical courses, social dance and other classes like it are conspicuous. Even next to tennis and soccer, Parks admits the class is unusual.
"Putting dance in that category makes it stand out as unconventional when you're looking at the undergraduate catalog," Parks said.
Usually weighted at one or two credit hours, bowling (PYED 206), ice skating (PYED 213) and scuba diving (PYED 261) are just a sampling of the eccentric courses offered. Others include history of opera (MUCO 420) in musicology and history and culture of food (HIST 261) in world civilization, each counting as three credit hours.
Seemingly unconventional in nature, history and culture of food does manage to retain elements of traditional education. Amanda Bouldin, sophomore in global studies and French, is a current student in the class, now renamed "Eating Our Way Through World Civilizations" by professor Charles Sanft.
"In some ways it is unconventional because we have an upcoming project to prepare a meal from before 1,500 C.E., and we learn a lot about specific foods people ate before that time," Bouldin said. "However, it is a normal lecture class with clickers, and the conventional topics of early world civilizations are still discussed."
Classes such as these can fulfill credit hours within a major, depending on focus, but most often are taken as electives by upperclassmen like Cade Thompson, senior in Spanish and international business.
"It sounds like a lot of fun and I don't know how to dance," Thompson said of the social dance class. "I needed an elective, but it's also kind of fun. It's a lot more hands on."
The confidence sparked by dance, Parks believes, can help in areas beyond the dance studio and beyond college.
"Usually many students come in here and they haven't done ballroom before ... so approaching something that is new and to have confidence to do that and then confidence enough to do with another person, your partner, it filtrates into other areas," she said. "A lot of the students are upperclassmen, so they're doing interviews and things of that sort during the same time and they've told me, coming back, that what they gained most from this class was confidence."
Candis Boyte, senior in sociology and student in social dance, appreciates the class for its interactive component.
"You switch partners every three minutes and you have to introduce yourself," Boyte said, "so it kind of helps you outside of dance because you become more social and more comfortable approaching people."
Social dance requires both performance exams and written exams. A student is assigned to a partner, and within a minute, the duo must demonstrate knowledge of three dances.
"It sounds nerve-wracking, but at that moment the purpose is to have fun with what you know," Parks said. "It's enough pressure and surprise, to have fun with it."
Despite being outside her major, Bouldin "loves" the opportunity to take classes outside conventional curriculum.
"It allows for an opportunity to learn something different and maybe find something new that really interests you," Bouldin said. "It can change your perspective and make you a more well-rounded person."
Parks hopes students leave her class with positive personal experiences similar to her own fond memories.
"I've had students come back from vacations and say, 'Oh my gosh, dance is like an international language because it's so universal,'" Parks said. "Personally, I was in Ethiopia and danced cha-cha with a guy who was from Germany, in a little hole-in-the-wall in a great country in Africa.
"That makes my heart happy to hear... (that students are) able to go out and be confident enough to approach someone and to enjoy it in a context that is different than this classroom."