by Malini Gandhi
One hour before beginning their silver medal performance at the USA Dance National Championships for ballroom dancing last April, senior Caroline Nunberg and her dance partner Steven Varshavsky were far from meditating or receiving quiet advice from their coach.
Rather, they were in their hotel room, the pounding music cranked up, jumping on the beds until they were red-faced and breathless.
“The bed jumping before competitions pumps us up,” Nunberg said with a laugh. “Every couple has a routine they go through before competitions, and though we’ve tried meditation or quieter activities, nothing seems to get us in the right mindset like the fire of jumping on hotel room beds to music like little kids.”This fire and energy is what characterizes Nunberg’s approach to dance, said senior Audrey Derobert, who dances with Nunberg on this school’s dance team. According to Derobert, Nunberg is known for her bold, powerful moves and for the way she strides across the dance floor in a sparkling dress.
“Watching Caro dance is a reminder that what she does truly is a sport,” Derobert said. “She has incredible strength, agility, speed and endurance, and she does it with a smile and heels. Caro’s the ultimate athlete.”
And this fiery athletic approach to dancing has taken Nunberg far. The second place finish at the USA Dance National Championships last April was just the culmination of a long string of accolades at countless competitions, and this year, Nunberg said she has her eyes set on qualifying for Worlds.
Yet long before the competitions, awards and fiery performances, Nunberg was a three-year-old attending weekly ballet, jazz and tap lessons.
According to Nunberg, dance has always been a part of her life. Yet it was not until sixth grade, when she was first introduced to ballroom dancing, that she “really started to get into the sport,” she said.
After a few years, she found a partner, Varshavsky, to dance with. They worked their way up to larger and larger competitions, where they began to receive positive attention from judges, she said.
According to Nunberg, she and Varshavsky train at the Savaria Dance Studio in Norwood, and their training schedule is unconventional. Their coach is from the Czech Republic and only comes to the United States a few months a year, so when he does come, her weeks are packed with dozens of hours of lessons.
When their coach is absent, the duo practices together in the studio for about 20 hours per week.
Nunberg said the situation with their coach is a challenge.
“Most couples with coaches that stay in the studio can receive advice on technique on a regular basis,” she said. “Steven and I are at a disadvantage because we are not always certain when our coach will come next, so the information we can get is limited from time to time.”
Despite this obstacle, their hard work paid off with their second place finish at Nationals last year out of a total of 44 couples, an experience Nunberg described as “thrilling.”
Nunberg said she sees competition not as a distraction from the joy of dancing, but rather as an essential component that pushes her to take risks and challenge herself.
“If there weren’t any competitions, there would be no fire for me. The goal of acquiring titles pushes me to be a better dancer,” she said.
Nunberg’s drive and passion for dancing has also led her to explore dance beyond ballroom dancing competitions. For the past four years, Nunberg has been an active member of this school’s fall and winter dance teams, which perform hip hop.
This year, the fall dance team placed first at States and second at the New England Cheer and Dance Competition, both in the hip hop category.
Nunberg said she never thought she would enjoy or excel at dancing hip hop with a group of students, which is “on the opposite side of the spectrum from ballroom dancing.”
However, she said she has come to appreciate the different dynamic and intensity in each dance form.
“When dancing hip hop with a group of other girls, there is much more collective energy. We all are moving together, and we build energy off each other in a sort of wide, dynamic way,” Nunberg said. “However, in ballroom dancing you have a very focused, face-to-face interaction with your partner, and you create a different sort of energy that way.”
In addition to providing her with another perspective on dancing, participating in this school’s dance team has also allowed Nunberg to pursue leadership opportunities. Nunberg was captain of the fall dance team this year and is currently the captain of the winter team.
She said the experience of organizing and inspiring other dancers as well as simply dancing herself was “very exciting.”
“I learned so much about how to work behind the scenes and how to lead and motivate a team,” Nunberg said.
Derobert said that Nunberg’s passion for dance and leadership skills has made her a “phenomenal role model” for the team.
“She’s a strong leader because she’s so driven, and she won’t let anyone else slack off. She makes the team better through example and hard work,” Derobert said.
“This past season she was always willing to pull someone aside who had trouble with choreography, organize a team event or just get everyone excited. She showed how passionate she was time and time again.”