When Alma Heaton began the Ballroom Dance Company at Brigham Young University in 1953, it is unlikely he had any inclination as to the destiny of the now world-renowned program. Nor did he realize that BYU and the current directors, Lee and Linda Wakefield, would be honored by the National Dance Council of America (NDCA) to host the United States National Amateur DanceSport Championships.
On March 6th-9th 2013, 14,349 spectators and 33 national judges descended upon the Marriott Center to watch as 2,953 registered couples and teams joined in the national competition. Some were locals, while others travelled across the country to contend for a United States Amateur title, $48,450 in total prize money, and a chance to represent the United States in this year’s World Championships in Paris, France. Vibeke Toft, a former world champion and visiting judge, regarded the occasion as one of ballroom’s “most anticipated events…truly an experience that cannot be found at any other event in America.”
While each year the competition is exacting, BYU students are strongly represented. Two of the four National Amateur titles, American Smooth and Cabaret, have been dominated by an unbroken string of members from the Ballroom Dance Company for over 10 years. Many of these competitors have continued their careers to compete professionally – six recent BYU students have become national finalists in four separate professional events, three of which were crowned champions.
Yet perhaps more important than any accolade is the immense influence BYU has established within the dance community. Brian McDonald, President of the NDCA, commented, “BYU is, without question, the most influential school in the nation in terms of identifying dance as both a sport and a respected curriculum." John Kimmins, President of Arthur Murray International echoed this opinion, describing BYU as, “a major factor in the development of ballroom dancing in the USA.” The prominence that the Ballroom Dance Company has achieved in regularly hosting the United States National Amateur DanceSport Championships has not only promoted the art and precision of dance, but has also exposed the entire ballroom world to the influence and standards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, providing a sterling example of the aims and values of BYU in everything from the opening prayers to the music selection and modest costume regulations.
“BYU has a strict moral code and a sense of spirituality which promotes good will to others and purity of thought,” noted Denys Drozdyuk and Antonia Skobina, the current National Amateur Latin champions. They continued, “It is nice and refreshing to dance in this atmosphere which is unique amongst the ballroom dance competition in the USA…It is motivating and conducive to the creation of art."
Donnie Burns M.B.E., President of the World Dance Council (WDC) and the most influential figure in ballroom dance, also attended last month’s event. Impressed by the experience, he offered a renewable scholarship on behalf of the WDC to support the continued efforts of BYU and the Ballroom Dance Company. Over past years he has been joined by Arthur Murray International, Inc., and multiple other nationally acclaimed judges in extending scholarships that now go towards both academic tuition and touring fees of Ballroom Dance Company members.
Brian McDonald concluded, “These United States Championships over the last 10 years have become the very best that America has to offer.” As the Ballroom Dance Company has developed into a moving force in the dance community, it is clear they have accomplished the University directive to “greatly enlarge Brigham Young University's influence in a world we wish to improve.”