Is Orem the center of the (dance) universe?
by Amy Brunvand
After the Days of ’47 Parade, if you are feeling especially light-footed, un-selfconscious and ambitious, you can head downtown to the Rose Wagner and try out for season six of the Fox TV show “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Dancers from Utah have a pretty impressive record on the show. On last year’s fifth season Randi Evans (Orem) and Brandon Bryant (actually from Florida, but he dances with Odyssey Dance Theatre) both made the top 20 finalists.
During the fourth season of the show, no fewer than four Utah dancers were in the top 20: Chelsie Hightower (Orem) who currently has a job as a professional dancer on ABC’s show “Dancing With the Stars.”— She’ll be dancing with “King of the Cowboys” Ty Murray in season eight; Gev Manoukian (Centerville); Matt Dorame (actually from Arizona, but he dances with Odyssey Dance Theatre); and Thayne Jasperson (Springville). In the third season, Sabra Johnson (Roy) triumphed in first place, and in the second season, Jaymz Tuaileva (Orem) and Allison Holker (Orem) both made it to the top 20.
So there you have it. Orem, Utah is not only an indispensable word for crossword puzzle enthusiasts, it also seems to be the Center of the Universe for people who not only think they can dance, but actually can.
Strangely enough, the reason that so many reality TV dancers come from Orem seems to be a side effect of the fact that Utah County has so many Mormons. In 1959, Time Magazine declared “Mormons are easily the dancingest denomination in the U.S.,” and apparently they still are since Utah County, according to the Association for Religion Data Archives, is the Mormonest county in Utah with 89% adherents to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
In fact, the association between Mormonism and dancing is so strong that on July 17 and 18 the BYU Department of Dance is hosting a symposium on the theme “Embodied Believing: Faith in Motion.” In the call for papers, the working title was far more overtly Mormon: “Dancing the Doctrines: Theology in Motion.” Organizers pose questions such as: What does it mean to be a member of the Church and a dancer? What guiding principles issue forth from that knowledge, understanding? How do doctrines that concern the body inform the aesthetic, practice and moral choices that we make regarding what we put on stage? Why does the Church support touring to the extent it does? And in the present global economy is the ratio of resources between what is expended and what is gained as significant as it has been in the past?
Of course, the Mormon Church doesn’t have a corner on dancing and the association between dance and spirituality is strong in many religions —even the Unitarian Universalists, not typically known for their happy feet, had programs on “Dance as Spiritual Practice” and “Intergenerational Dances for Worship” when they met in Salt Lake City last month. However, it’s clear that the LDS church has somehow created a uniquely nurturing environment for certain kinds of dancing, and that’s a phenomenon worth investigating.
The 24th of July is kind of an odd holiday for us non-Mormons. On the one hand, it specifically celebrates July 24, 1847 when Brigham Young and the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. On the other, as the Utah History Encyclopedia points out: “In larger cities, especially, the celebration has become more secular, and is seen as a means of coming together and celebrating the society that has been built by Mormons and non-Mormons alike.”
Sometimes “coming together” isn’t all that easy, but if you are looking for something to celebrate on the 24th, remember this intriguing, delightful and satisfying fact: You live near the Center of the (dance) Universe.
Amy Brunvand is a librarian and a dance enthusiast.