By Bonnie Andrews
In 1984, the BYU Ballroom Dance Company introduced the sport of ballroom to millions of Chinese people during a ballroom tour in China.
That introduction opened many doors for BYU ballroom faculty and administration to foster friendships and create goodwill within Chinese arts and culture.
Since then, the Chinese culture has also adopted and excelled in DanceSport, a competitive form of ballroom dancing.
“Ballroom dance was new to many Chinese,” said Ed Blaser, director of Performing Arts Management. “They loved it. Quite frankly, our company started a real interest in China in ballroom dance.”
At that time, Chinese government officials were questioning western entertainment; they wanted to make sure it wasn”t inappropriate. After viewing a portion of the performances, officials extended an invitation to BYU performing groups, Blaser said.
Obtaining permission for those tours played a vital role in the existence of ballroom dance in China, it also provided an opportunity for BYU to generate goodwill there, said Linda Wakefield, co-director of the Ballroom Dance Company.
In 1984, there were over 14,600 audience members over a span of six ballroom dance shows in three different Chinese cities, Blaser said.
The performance was also televised to an estimated 6 million viewers, he said.
“We were stars,” Wakefield said. “They gave us the red carpet treatment everywhere we went. BYU was a great influence on those people. The company was one of the only connections for Chinese people to see couple dancing.”
The company toured China again in 1987, 1993 and in 2000.
The Chinese are very proficient in the sport now, and much of that is due to the involvement with the BYU program, Wakefield said.
They have gone from just simple social dancing in classes and in social settings to intense instruction, such as training for the Olympics, she said.
Going to the Olympics may never happen, but that is the intensity that the people train with, she said.
During the Ballroom Dance Company tour in 2000, the team was able to visit Olympic training facilities. There, Chinese children live and train all day everyday for DanceSport, Wakefield said.
There has been continued mentoring from the BYU ballroom program to aid the Chinese in their ballroom dance development, particularly in establishing formation teams.
Curt Holman, a ballroom dance division administrator and director of the back-up tour team, and his wife Sharon, co-director of the BYU youth ballroom program and part-time faculty member, taught as guest instructors in Guang Zhou at the Guang Dong School of Dance in southern China and Tian Jin at the Tian Jin Institute of Physical Education in northern China.
“It was a great opportunity to have a cultural exchange because our approach to teaching is so different.” Curt Holman said. “There was such great admiration for BYU.”
For some reason ballroom dance has exploded in China, and BYU is playing a part in its development in that country, he said.
“The Chinese are very good at doing what they are told,” Homan said. “It is a discipline unique to the Chinese culture. They don”t give much of their attention to spontaneous creativity.”
Holman said the student-mentoring atmosphere and creative development are aspects of ballroom that are missing in China.
He said they went to China with a hope to encourage the development of a formation company and promote spontaneous creative expression.
“Formation dancing was not something they were familiar with,” Holman said. “We were able to choreograph formation routines and teach instructors the elements of a formation team.”
As a result of BYU”s interest and support for the Chinese dance programs, two lead instructors, Chang Bing and Qui Lajai, at the Guang Dong School of Dance, came to BYU to train and observe for two months during fall semester of 2000.
“It was a great experience for students here,” Holman said. “Not all students are able to go on tours. This gave students the opportunity to have a cultural exchange without going to another country.”