By Rosalie Westenskow
Clad in all black with a baseball cap, gold chain, and the initials “JF” drawn on his arm in red ink, Jake Fields” wardrobe contains a surprising addition which peaks from beneath the hems of his baggy pants: a pair of dancing shoes.
Not only does Fields like ballroom dancing enough to don a pair of leather dance shoes, but he arrives at school more than an hour early nearly every day to practice.
Like Fields, teenagers all over Utah Valley are joining school-sponsored ballroom dance teams and classes, a growing trend in Utah public high schools.
Recent reality shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars,” as well as the newly-released film “Take the Lead,” all reflect the growing popularity of ballroom, and dance in general. Additional factors may account for Utah”s growing number of school-sponsored dance programs.
“I think one of the biggest things is you have more and more BYU and UVSC graduates who got degrees in ballroom dance,” said Brad Haymond, who directs the ballroom team and teaches ballroom classes at Orem High School with his wife, Michelle Haymond. “When they stay here in the area, they want to keep doing it.”
And because it”s hard to make a living dancing professionally, many of these graduates begin teaching, Haymond said. Both he and his wife minored in ballroom at BYU and estimate there are about 10 ballroom teams at high schools in Utah Valley, including those at Alta High School, Provo High School and Pleasant Grove High School.
The effect of BYU alumni extends beyond happy valley, however. At the DanceSport Championships for ballroom held at BYU last month, high school ballroom teams from Idaho, Florida and Alaska, all directed by BYU ballroom graduates, attended the competition, Haymond said.
Last Friday, students on the ballroom team at Orem High School met to rehearse at 6:30 a.m. As couples practiced everything from the Viennese waltz to triple step, other student dancers whooped and cheered.
“It gives people something to do and be proud of,” said Nina Jonassaint, a member of the team. “I love it – it”s so much fun.”
Ballroom also teaches social skills and develops camaraderie among participants, Haymond said.
“It allows them to interact with the opposite sex which they like – a lot,” Haymond said. “It also teaches them how to interact appropriately with the opposite sex.”
Besides providing opportunities to meet friends and future dates, other dance educators said they think dance classes can help children and teenagers develop important skills and should be included in any core curriculum.
“What I”m trying to promote as a teacher is that dance is for everyone, it”s not just girls looking pretty onstage,” said Shannon Vance, director of the dance program at Mountain View High School.
After graduating from BYU in 2004, Vance found that high school dance programs were rare.
“I think that the arts in general here in Utah are much more supported,” Vance said.
However, despite the existing programs, many dance educators, including Vance, said they believe dance education needs further support, especially in core curriculum areas like creative dance.
“I feel the importance of dance is drastically underestimated,” said Caroline Prohosky, associate professor in the modern dance division of the BYU Dance Department.
Dance programs that focus on the child as the creator cultivate important skills in the dancer, she said.
“When the mind and body are in harmony, the mind works better,” Prohosky said. “It gives everyone a sense of physical prowess.”
However, dance classes in public schools that promote creativity are being threatened by programs geared toward reported test scores, as required by No Child Left Behind. Although the arts are included in No Child Left Behind, they are not tested and reported on statewide school report cards. This makes it hard to fit a non-reported subject like dance into the curriculum, said Marilyn Berrett, an associate professor of dance at BYU who currently serves on the board of the Utah Dance Education Organization.
“The schools that get good ranking in the areas of math, language arts and science get recognition and funding,” Berrett said.
Because of this, Berrett said, administrators choose to focus on subjects that are tested and reported, instead of areas like dance.
“Dance gets lip service, but when push comes to shove, it gets pushed and shoved,” she said. “It”s considered expendable.”
As a dance educator, Berrett has gone to great lengths to promote dance in the schools. In 1996 and 1997, she took a leave from her job at BYU. During this time, she fulfilled the requirements to get certified as a teacher and taught an elementary school class – all so she could better teach elementary school teachers how to incorporate dance in the classroom.
Berrett also directs Kinnect, a BYU dance company that teaches dance classes to students in surrounding public schools.
As Berrett lobbies for the survival of dance education in Utah schools, she said she often feels frustrated. However, she said she still “fights the fight” because of the difference dance has made in her life.
“Dancing was a joyous, healthy, magical release for me,” she said. “It made sense to me from the time I was young.”