News Story

BYU Ballroom Dancers to Participate in Olympic Cultural Festival in China

The championship Brigham Young University Ballroom Dance Company recently returned from a three-week performing tour in China, including an invitation to participate in the Olympic Cultural Festival, an international celebration prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The BYU dancers, who developed a relationship with the Chinese Performing Arts Agency following their original tour of China in 1984, are frequently shown on China Central television. “BYU, in fact, is the best-known American university in China because the ballroom dancers and other university-affiliated performing groups appear so frequently on Chinese television,” noted Ed Blaser, director of performing arts management at the Provo, Utah, school.

Such a long-standing relationship has resulted in numerous invitations to participate in Chinese dance festivals and other events throughout the country. Among the most notable invitations is participation in the Cultural Olympiad, a four-year cycle of events showcasing the arts and culture of China and required as a part of the Olympic Games hosting commitment.

Tour director Lee Wakefield, a veteran of five journeys to China, noted that this most recent journey for the Olympic festival was particularly exciting for him and for the students. “Of course there were lots of new things for the students: new foods, interesting places to see and a challenging language, but the Chinese people were so gracious and welcoming to us.”

“There is such a sense of tradition and honor within the Chinese culture,” noted Jessica Warren, one of the performers who have traveled several times with the group. “Our history in the United States extends back only a couple of hundred years, whereas the Chinese can trace their culture back for thousands of years.  Everywhere we went, we would see traces of people who had lived hundreds of years ago, and they left indelible marks on the people and their culture.”

The BYU performance for the Olympic Cultural Festival occurred in a downpour of rain, according to Wakefield. “We had to squeegee off the stage before we could dance. We were concerned about the crowd, but they all came — with umbrellas up.”

“A very polite response” followed each performance, Warren reported. “At first we were not sure the audiences were enjoying our dancing, as they would clap lightly and quickly. However, when we went into the audiences after the shows, we found the people were extremely excited and friendly. Some nights my mouth would ache from smiling for so many photographs!”

Acknowledged worldwide for their dance expertise and energetic performances, the BYU performers hold titles in numerous national and international dance competitions. In 2007, for example, the ballroom dancers won the Standard Formation Championship in the prestigious Blackpool Dance Festival in England, the 16th time the Provo dancers have earned the title. In addition, the performers, under the direction of Lee and Linda Wakefield, are undefeated in the United States National Formation Championships for 25 consecutive years.

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.