Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow … music plays, couples embrace and laugh. There is nothing like a good waltz to change your mood.
During the 19th Century, the waltz was introduced as a high society social function for the elite. In the 20th Century, a monumental shift occurred which allowed people from all demographics to take part in the joy of dancing.
Ballroom dance is a form of expression, sometimes love, sometimes even sex on hardwood, as dancers will tell you. The Rumba was introduced to America in 1930, and the Tango in 1931, both of which came with their own form of seduction.
In 1939, Arthur Murray opened his first dance studio in the nation, making dance classes available to the masses. During the 50s and 60s, the Cha-cha was brought to America, and early in 1960, the first broadcast of DanceSport was televised.
Not long after, during the 70s, when expression and movement took on a new message, the Salsa became popular. In 2005, the first seasons of Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, introduced Derek and Julianne Hough, both professional ballroom dancers who were born and raised in Orem.
In 2005, they achieved celebrity status on Dancing With the Stars by winning two back-to-back championships. Are Derek and Julianne an anomaly? Certainly not. Utah cranks out more high-quality dancers per capita than any other state in the union.
Three of the top 20 dancers on Season 3 of So You Think You Can Dance were from Utah. In fact, Sabra Johnson, from Roy, was awarded America’s Favorite Dancer on the show, leading to an audition stop in Salt Lake City for Season 4.
Director Kenny Ortega chose Salt Lake City for the wildly successful High School Musical, bringing out talent from across the state. Chelsie Hightower is a professional dancer on Dancing With The Stars. Allison Holker, who trained as a contemporary jazz and tap dancer at The Dance Club in Orem participated in the 2002 opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. Joey Dowling, and Randi Evans – also from Utah – became household names after they appeared on popular television dance shows.
Utah’s dance tradition is a long one, with happy feet dancing the night away on the large spring-loaded dance floors at Saltair during its big band glory days. Glenn Miller and Nat King Cole helped put Saltair and Salt Lake on the map.
Long-standing studios such as the Murray Arts Center (MAC) teach everything from the waltz to the Jitterbug, West Coast swing to Foxtrot for over 35 years. The dance community in Utah is a strong one and it does not matter if you have a dance partner or not. In fact, you become a better dancer if you dance with multiple partners, especially those who are better than you.
Aimee Gamble, a West-Coast swing instructor and competitor from Payson, believes the reasons Utah has so many amazing dancers “lies both in Mormon tradition and the accident that William Christensen, the artistic director for Ballet West, happened to have been born in Brigham City. This resulted in contemporary dance companies in Salt Lake City with strong popular followings.”
Many professional ballroom dancers begin in the ballet studio, and since 1963, Ballet West has produced a rapid succession of high-profile dancers and put them on the world map.
Dance studios across the state have reputations of greatness. Bonnie Story, the director at Treehouse Dance Program, co-choreographed High School Musical and Cirque du Soleil, as well as Viva ELVIS in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem designed by Kim DelGrosso, includes alumni such as Derek and Juilanne Hough, Hefa Tuita, and Ashleigh and Ryan DiLello. Her studio offers a combination of ballroom, singing and acting. Derryl Yeager, Odyssey Dance Theatre, Ririe-Woodbury Dance company, Dance Impressions, The Dance Club, and the Utah Regional Ballet studio regularly bring in professional dancers to guide and instruct their students.
Young No, a local ballroom dancer suggests that the Mormon religion also is a factor since it encourages children to sing and dance as a healthy form of entertainment. Brigham Young University Ballroom Dance Company won two first-place awards at the prestigious Blackpool Championships in England.
With such great support, Utahns will no doubt continue to direct their feet to the happy side of the street.