Preserving ballroom dancing in America

PROVO, Utah — The university named for the Church president who received in a revelation the counsel, "If thou art merry, praise the Lord with. . . dancing," (Doctrine and Covenants 136:28) has become a bastion for fostering and preserving ballroom dancing in America.

For the fifth straight year, Brigham Young University hosted the event, titled 2000 United States National DanceSport Championships March 9-11 at the Marriott Center.

"We've been able to build ballroom dancing into a spectator sport," said Lee Wakefield, chairman of the BYU Dance Department and artistic director of the BYU Ballroom Dance Company.

That is borne out by the audience response at this year's event. About 9,500 spectators attended over the three-day period, including about 4,500 the last night for the United States National Professional Standard Competition, said Claudia Hill, ballroom promotion coordinator and dance faculty member at BYU.

Some 2,000 competitors participated, hailing from many states, including New York, Florida and California. Of those, about 35 couples participated in the professional competition. Overall, about 30 events comprised the three-day competition, including routines in Cabaret, Lindy Hop, Cha-Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble, Jive, Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot and Quickstep.

The bulk of the participants were in the pre-teen (age 12 and under), Junior (12-15) and youth (16-17) categories.

In fact, Sister Hill said, that is one reason that the event was moved to Provo from Miami five years ago.

"Utah is home to a large number of competitors in those age brackets," she said.

"BYU started this type of competition about 25 years ago with its students in mind, to give them a chance to apply what they learned in their class work," Sister Hill explained. "I suppose that was another reason the American Ballroom Dance Company was interested in having us host this event. They saw how well the BYU competition is organized under the direction of Lee Wakefield. As a result, the BYU competition was combined with the national competition and staged as a three-day event."

Due in part to support and influence from BYU, interest in ballroom dance has grown widely among public schools, beginning with nearby Alta and Pleasant Grove high schools and spreading to other high schools, junior high schools and elementary schools.

"One reason it became so popular in the public schools was because of the opportunity for wholesome socialization between boys and girls," Sister Hill reflected. "Along with dance, we teach a lot of etiquette."

Sister Hill said some of the parental support comes from Latter-day Saints who recall earlier days when Gold and Green balls were regularly held in wards and stakes, and spectacular all-Church dance festivals were staged every few years.

Five years ago, when the competition was first held at BYU, the professional dancers were a bit reluctant to come because Provo was a venue they were not used to, Sister Hill noted. "But once they came and they saw the spirit of the spectators, they didn't know how to define it, but we here at BYU are accustomed to it as the spirit of the Church. They felt so welcome, and the crowd was so receptive, no matter what state the performers were from."