Standing on the field at McKenzie Stadium in Vancouver, Wash., 14-year-old Adam Peterson of the Grass Valley Ward, Vancouver Washington East Stake, knew he had worked more than six months for this moment.
In preparation for “A Firm Foundation,” a dance festival held June 25 and 26, Adam and nearly 2,000 other youth from his and six other stakes had been asked to memorize the first, second, third and seventh verses of “How Firm a Foundation” for the grand finale.
“The first two verses were pretty easy, since we sing those all the time,” Adam said, “but those last two were really difficult.”
Having already performed four dances, including the swing and the hand jive, Adam mustered all his mental might to sing the words perfectly and convey the spirit of the hymn.
“It was a great message to all the youth of how powerful the Church is when we all stick together,” he said.
The dance festival included youth from all four Vancouver stakes, as well as stakes in Longview and Centralia, Wash., and The Dalles, Ore. A regional youth conference coincided with the festival.
Adam’s mother, Laurie Peterson, experienced the festival as both a parent and a ward Beehive adviser. She said she didn’t know what to expect, since she had not participated in a dance festival before.
In the end, she said she hopes the youth realize how much fun it is to be a member of the Church.
“The youth really loved being with those from different wards and stakes,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see them spending time together doing the same thing.”
As preparations continued, a friend of Sister Peterson’s who is not a member of the Church took great interest in the production. Sister Peterson said her friend asked to come to the show, even before Sister Peterson had planned to invite her.
“When we were at the show, she said, ‘I can’t believe how much fun these kids are having and the great things you have for youth,'” Sister Peterson said, adding that her friend found the performance “powerful” and “moving.”
Regional organizers Richie and Erin Gillespie of the Cascade Park Ward, Vancouver Washington Stake, said the opportunity to be caught up in this event was spectacular.
“We still pinch ourselves that we got this opportunity,” Brother Gillespie said.
Sister Gillespie said she experienced the “full spectrum” of reactions from youth during the six-month preparation process. Some had been excited from the beginning, and others took more time to become willing participants.
“We invited the youth to write down their feelings about the festival half-way through, and they weren’t all positive,” she said. “Before the last performance, we invited them to write their feelings again. Going through those responses now, we can see hearts changed and testimonies built.”
Brother Gillespie related a story of teary-eyed parents who approached him after the final performance. The parents told him how their teacher-age son did not want to participate in the festival when it first began. As preparations came to a close, the parents held a family home evening in which the young man said he would tell others that the festival experience was worth it.
The Gillespies admitted they aren’t sure why dance festivals have such a spiritual impact on youth, but said they know it is real.
“The Lord had His hand in everything,” Sister Gillespie said. “We were just along for the ride.”