Dancing with some special partners: BYU Ballroom ‘shakes it off’ with Recreation and Habilitation Services

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Dancing. Music. Smiles. At least two of the three are typically found in the Richards Building, home to the BYU ballroom, ballet and contemporary dance companies, but all were present en masse at the annual BDC-RAH social held Jan 29.

The BYU Ballroom Dance Company has combined with Recreation and Habilitation Services (RAH) to put on a dinner, dance and performance for the organization’s participants each winter for the last 12 years. RAH is a private, nonprofit organization that provides services and activities for people with disabilities.

The event has proven to be popular and highly anticipated among members of the RAH community, with 51 attending the social this year.

“They have been talking about this for months,” Angie Facer, a RAH staff worker, said. “They love it.”

The BYU ballroom community looks forward to the annual social as well.

“It’s my bread and butter,” John Lane said. “My favorite part of being on the ballroom dance company is the RAH social. We have the privilege to dance with some of the sweetest spirits on earth.”

Todd Wakefield
RAH participants learn to dance the mambo with BYU ballroom dancers. (Todd Wakefield)

The dancers and their guests began the evening eating dinner together, chatting enthusiastically, sharing stories and laughs. An impromptu dance-off took place between two RAH members who love to dance, with encouraging onlookers clapping and cheering.

After dinner, everyone mingled for some group dances called mixers. As with line dances, dancers paired off and formed a circle, trading partners every few phrases. Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” was the first song of the evening. The ballroom dancers paired off with RAH participants, helping them learn the steps and have fun.

“I love the dancing,” Quincy Brown, a RAH participant, said when asked his favorite part of the evening.

RAH hosts monthly dances for its participants, many of whom love dancing and music.

“The dances are well attended, and we have lots of fun, but this activity is great because they love learning new steps and dancing with new partners,” Facer said.

For Marci Edgington, a BYU ballroom team director, the most rewarding part of the evening is watching the BYU students interact with the RAH participants.

“It’s like a shot in the arm to get me through the next three months,” Edgington said. “I’m grateful to work at a place where students are kind and thoughtful and willing to see the bigger picture.”

Todd Wakefield
Charlie Chaplin (played by John Lane) leads Lindy dancers to the floor during the performance section of the evening. (Savanna Sorensen)

A small performance by the BYU Ballroom Company followed the mixers. The dances performed included a bright samba, lively quickstep and energetic cha-cha. The evening concluded with a swinging Lindy led by Charlie Chaplin, played by John Lane.

The audience responded enthusiastically, clapping with the music and cheering loudly at the end.

“I just want to get up and boogie,” Susan Ashurst, a RAH participant said.

Quincy tried to capture the moment with his camera.

“I tried to take pictures (of the performance), but they (the dancers) were too fast.” he said.

Members of RAH sign up for activities and events they would like to participate in and pay a small fee for each one they attend.

The organization’s mission statement states that, “RAH is committed to supporting people with disabilities in their pursuit of independence and self-enhancement through training, recreation and involvement in their community.”

RAH provides activities and classes for people with disabilities 4 years of age and older. Participants have a range of disabilities, including Down syndrome and autism. Total enrollment for all activities in a single month exceeds 1,100 participants.

Edgington said the social is an opportunity to provide a basic need for all participants: the joy of human interaction. This interaction is created through ballroom dancing.

“Dance and music are common languages,” Edgington said. “They help bridge the disabled community and the BYU community.”

Danielle Losee, a RAH staff member and niece of RAH participant Jim, said interacting with the community helps RAH participants feel special.

“They’ll remember this for the rest of their lives,” Losee said. “It’s about making friends and making memories.”

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