PROVO, Utah BYU's Ballroom Dance Company took first place at the United States Formation Championships in California Aug. 29 through Sept. 1 an honor they have claimed now for 20 consecutive years.
Lee Wakefield, Ballroom Dance Company director and chairman of the BYU Dance Department, attributes the dance program's success to intensive technical training, dedicated staff and students, and a culture where community members enjoy the arts and harbor an appreciation for dance.
BYU holds claim to sponsoring the largest university ballroom dance program in the world. Today there is only one class on the BYU campus that has a higher enrollment than beginning social dance beginning Book of Mormon
Each member of the BYU's Ballroom Dance Company is required to take a ballroom technique class each semester. With more than 11 classes to choose from, students may select American, Latin American and International Standard in four levels of expertise.
While other programs focus more on performance and design, BYU focuses on technique and strength. The difference seems clear, since the ballroom tour team has not received a judge's rating lower than first place in the last 20 years in the United States.
Brother Wakefield and his wife, Linda, can also credit some of the program's success to their personal success. The couple, both BYU dance graduates, returned to the university in 1980 during a successful professional dance career. The pair holds two U.S. titles and together they have judged numerous international events, including six world championships.
But, emphasized Brother Wakefield, the greatest successes of the university's ballroom dance program can be measured only in the lives of students.
BYU began teaching social dance in 1953. A dance team was formalized 11 years later and began traveling around the world. By 1967, the BYU teams were trained in the style of dancing used in international competition. The teams of the early 1970s put the school's program on the map internationally, attending the prestigious British championships and even winning that event.
Soon the university had more than 7,000 students enrolling in ballroom dance classes each year.
Because of BYU's success, Brother Wakefield said to meet much competition they have to compete internationally. In national competition, "BYU has been able to establish dominance that is consistent," he said. "We have been able to establish a real presence that is continual."
Brother Wakefield said that by going each year to the US championships and being fortunate enough to win each year the team has also fostered awareness of the Church. And even though BYU has not lost a national ballroom dance competition in 20 years, members of the dance company still take their preparation seriously. "There are some years it is a cake walk; on other years it is a dog fight," he explained. "Some day, maybe, we are going to lose."
Because of funding, BYU cannot compete internationally each year; it will compete in the British Championships again in May 2004.
Brother Wakefield looks forward to those competitions, where his teams are definite competitors. "We have won 16 titles there," he said he said of the international competitions.
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