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A Conversation With: Joe Gilliam and Paige Hornor

March 13, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Between dancing at Studio B and MU's Mark Twain Ballroom, partners Joe Gilliam and Paige Hornor spend up to 15 hours on the dance floor every week. Courtesy of Paige Hornor

Joe Gilliam cha chas to JT’s “SexyBack” and waltzes to the riffs of rock band Theory of a Deadman. But it’s his partnership with Paige Hornor, not the music or the moves, that keeps him returning to the dance floor.

An MU engineering graduate student, Gilliam started learning ballroom dance because he wanted to try something new. Less than one year later, he has already competed and won awards with the Mizzou Ballroom Dance Club.

An instructor paired Gilliam and Hornor for a competition, and they’ve been dancing ever since.

“We’re both tall, and we kind of look alike,” Hornor says. “We’re both blond, so they were like, ‘Oh, Paige and Joe will look good together.’ That’s kind of where it started, and then after the first competition we decided to take it to more of a committed partner level.” Now the pair dances almost every day.

Gilliam and Hornor earned third, fourth and fifth place for different dances at the OSU Dancesport Classic at Ohio State University in February. Between March and April, the pair will compete in the St. Louis Star Ball before trips to Notre Dame University, the Iowa Dancesport Classic and the MIT Open in Boston.

What makes you two successful on the dance floor?

JOE: I think our commitment is the big thing. So I guess we got lucky that we’re both in that same mindset. I think the first competition really switched it for me and what I wanted to do with it. Prior to that I was kind of like, “Eh, I’ll give it a shot. Why not?” And now we’re dancing almost every day. I realized how much fun it was. Plus it’s competitive, too.

What was it like learning to lead with a dancer who is more experienced?

JOE: Oh, I was intimidated for like the first six months. I was like, “Oh man, I only know like three things.” I was like, “Alright, if she was my partner, I need to dance at least at her level, so we’re on an even playing field. I decided at that point I needed to try to get there.”

Are you both pretty calm before you hit the floor to compete?

PAIGE: I don’t think either of us really freaks out. I’m usually nervous the first couple of rounds just getting out there, but after that I’m pretty calm.
JOE: I agree. The first couple of rounds are more nerve-racking than any of the other ones. After that you’re just like, “Eh, we’re just doing what we usually do.”

What’s the weirdest song that you have danced to for a competition?

JOE: I don’t know about weird, but I think there were some good songs at our first competition that are cemented forever in our memories. “SexyBack” was pretty great.
PAIGE: We won first place dancing to “SexyBack.”

What is your favorite song to dance to?

JOE: Oh, my favorite is “By the Way” by Theory of a Deadman. Hands down. Because it’s a rock song. You can’t really dance ballroom to too many rock songs.
PAIGE: It’s a Viennese waltz, and it’s this really intense rock song. So they really contrast each other.

Do you think you’re going to pursue ballroom after you graduate in May?

JOE: Maybe socially. It’d be tough. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Paige. I think our partnership is what makes us keep going. My old teacher was my partner and an instructor. So I always joke with Paige and say, “I really like dancing with you since I don’t have to pay you to dance with me.” That’s how it would be again once college is done.

Any advice for someone who’s thinking about trying ballroom?

PAIGE: Try it. Do it. There’s nothing you have to lose. What we say in club is that if you can walk, you can dance.

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