Encore Fall 2014

Ballroom Dance Company

Ballroom Dance Company Blending Cultures

Little did eight-year-old Jia Jia know in 1984 as she watched the BYU Ballroom Dance Company on TV in China that the couple she saw dancing, inspiring her to become a ballroom dancer, would be the very same couple to teach her when she was older.BYU’s Lee and Linda Wakefield had no idea the impact they had on that first tour in China—until Jia Jia and her husband, Chen Bing, made their way to BYU to learn ballroom dancing years later. “They didn’t speak much English, but they came to BYU and stayed the entire semester,” says Linda, current codirector of the Ballroom Dance Company.

The Ballroom Dance Company visits the Great Wall of China.

In 2014, 30 years after their initial tour to China, Lee and Linda were once again back on tour internationally with the Ballroom Dance Company. But this time they visited Jia Jia and Chen Bing at their very own Guangzhou Dance Academy. “They really felt something at BYU,” Linda says. “They wanted their school to be like that. The atmosphere they create at their school is a delight. The spirit of love [is] very predominant.”Guangzhou was only one of many cities in China where the company performed this spring, but the group’s experience there was unique. Lee and Linda not only visited the school of their former students but also brought the two teams together to celebrate and dance as one. “They were so excited to welcome us,” says Aaron Holmes, a dancer in the company. “There were balloons and posters, and it was just a lot of fun.” Despite 7,000 miles of distance between them, each team rehearsed the same dance in advance and then performed unitedly as if they had been dancing together for years. “I didn’t quite know what to expect at first, but their dances were very technical and very good,” says Holmes. “The choreography and routines were very creative and developed.” Both groups then performed a joint show in front of 1,800 people in the beautiful Guangzhou Grand Theatre.

Ballroom Dance Company directors Lee and Linda Wakefield (in blue jackets) pose with their former students Jia Jia and Chen Bing at their dance academy in Guangzhou.

The story of Jia Jia and Chen Bing is a testament to the power of BYU performing groups and their impact abroad. BYU Broadcasting accompanied the dancers during their time in China, filming highlights of how dancing and music influences people even on the other side of the world.The blending of cultures didn’t begin or end in Guangzhou. The BYU dancers began their tour in Beijing, where they gave a major public performance and then met and performed with the Beijing Dance Academy. The group was also featured on Culture Express, a TV show on China Central Television.

Casey Treu (left) and Todd Wakefield (right) pose with a man who brought his program from when he saw the Ballroom Dancers perform 30 years ago in Shanghai. Treu’s mother and Wakefield’s parents were dancers in the 1984 tour.

The company then traveled to Dezhou and spent a day of workshops and performances at Dezhou University and the Li Ming Dance School. Although they were separated by language and culture, that barrier fell away once the dancing began. “Ballroom connects us,” says Katelyn Holmes. “We couldn’t understand each other, but dancing is the same language that we speak.”The group also visited Jinan, and then Shanghai, where they demonstrated and performed at the Song Jiang District Youth Center Theatre and then gave a public showcase to an audience of more than 1,500 at the Shanghai Culture Square Theatre. And while they impressed many people for the first time, they also impressed one man for the second time. A local Chinese gentleman, who had seen the BYU Ballroom Dance Company in 1984, jumped at the chance to see them again—and even brought with him a show program from that performance 30 years ago.

"Despite 7,000 miles of distance between them, each team rehearsed the same dance in advance and then performed unitedly as if they had been dancing together for years. "

The dancers made the final stop of the tour in Hong Kong, where they continued to meet and teach other Chinese ballroom dancers.By the end of their three weeks of touring, teaching, and dancing in China, the BYU Ballroom Dance Company had performed for more than 12,000 people and had taught workshops for more than 1,000—not to mention their two TV appearances, which aired for more than 50 million viewers. But in the end the performers say it’s not the numbers they will remember but the spirit of dance and unity that they felt with the Chinese people. “I learned a lot about what connects us as humans,” says Katelyn Holmes. “Borders shouldn’t separate us. Dancing in China allowed me to connect with the people in China.”Summing up their experience while on tour, Linda Wakefield said, “The power on the stage, especially dancing with the people here in China, is truly a miracle.”