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Department Of Dance

Travel and Tradition: BYU Ballroom’s European Tour Continues to Transform Students

Ballroom Dance Company Students Share Their Experience Winning at the Blackpool Dance Festival

Photo of Ballroom team receiving an award.
Photo of Ballroom team receiving an award. Photo by Thomas Reindl Photography

The Ballroom Dance Company (BYU Ballroom) led by Curt Holman is one of BYU’s six mainstage performing groups. BYU Ballroom is recognized nationally and internationally as one of the top university dance ensembles, but what may surprise you is that behind the glitz and glamor are talented students and faculty that work remarkably hard to maintain their award winning reputation.

Every three years since 1971, BYU Ballroom has competed in the world-renowned Blackpool Dance Festival (BDF), held in Blackpool, United Kingdom. In May 2023, the team returned to Blackpool to compete once more. They have a long history of winning top prizes at BDF and this year was no exception; they brought home first prize for British Ballroom Formation and British Latin Formation categories.

BYU Ballroom in their team jackets. Photo courtesy of Zara Mina

BYU Ballroom students Laura Stirland and Jane Rigby shared their thoughts on their winning experience at BDF and gave readers the inside scoop on the work that goes on behind the scenes.

Question: How did you and the team prepare for the tour? How long did these preparations take?

Rigby: We began rehearsing and choreographing in July of 2022. We had many long rehearsals spanning anywhere from 2-10 hours a day throughout the academic school year. We were privileged to have been able to work with world renowned professionals Marat & Alina Gimeav, and Andre and Natalie Paramonov. They were able to share their expertise and not only choreograph our medleys, but make us all better dancers in the process. In the weeks leading up to the competition, we rehearsed 3 hours a day, dripping with sweat and huffing and puffing in order to get our endurance up to par and for our medleys to look as clean and in sync as possible.

Stirland: We had many, many, many, many hours…and then more hours of rehearsal! We also had costume fittings, team parties, rhinestoning parties, photoshoots, culture meetings and more.

Question: The Ballroom Dance Company has won many awards from this festival over the years. What do you think makes Ballroom a winning team and sets you apart from other competitors?

Ballroom receives a standing ovation in BDF. Photo courtesy of Zara Mina

Rigby: While many of the other teams we compete against have an intense drive to win, I believe what sets us apart from the others is our long-lasting commitment. Most of our team has been dreaming of dancing in BDF since we were very young and we were able to build up towards that dream together and create such a loving and unified team. I feel so lucky to have been part of such an amazing group of people all trying our very best to meet our goal.

Stirland: I think the BYU Ballroom is set apart in many different ways. First, we bring the Light of Christ with us and bear our testimonies to our audiences through dance. Second, we have incredible coaches and choreographers that are so committed to helping the team be our best. Third, we have the love and support of our family members and friends. Fourth, BYU has so many resources at their disposal.

Question: What is your favorite memory or moment from the tour?

Rigby: My favorite memory from the tour was being cheered on and running through a tunnel of our team members as we exited the hotel preparing to dance in BDF. I felt so much excitement and love from those who supported us in this incredible journey.

Stirland: One of the most amazing moments was being on the Blackpool dance floor. Dancing with my teammates and knowing that we have all dreamed of this moment for so many years was a feeling I will never forget. I almost shed a tear during the routine as I looked at one of my teammates—we both knew just how special of an opportunity it was to be there.

Question: What was your favorite city that you traveled to and why?

Rigby: I loved traveling to Brussels because we were able to walk around the beautiful city and tell people about our show. We also had a lot of team bonding moments in Brussels because it was our last stop on our tour. We had a "send-off" party at a restaurant following our show, which was the best way I could have imagined to finish off my last tour with the Ballroom Dance Company.

Stirland: Oh, I just adore London! I love learning new things from all of the historical sights. 

Question: Tell me a little bit about the VIP engagement in Brussels. What made that experience special?

BYU Ballroom dancers and directors after winning the British Latin Formation category. Photo by Thomas Reindl Photography

Rigby: It was so amazing to be able to talk with different representatives of groups and cultures. I was able to talk to a few people from another faith and their appreciation for the arts was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. It was great to be able to talk to them about how they make differences in the lives of the people that surround them. One of them specifically could not contain his excitement when I talked to him after the show and he had even mentioned that watching our performance was life-changing.

Stirland: By far the most special part of the VIP reception was meeting so many people from around the world. I was able to talk to people from Bangladesh, Brussels and Spain; I even talked to Jeff Ringer, the Associate International Vice President of BYU! It is so eye opening and enriching to talk to people from various cultures and backgrounds and then dance for them.

Question: How was the Ballroom Dance Company received in the various places you visited? What was the overall audience response to your performances?

Rigby: Going to greet audience members is always my favorite part of performing. As a performer, you often don't realize the impact you have on people until you are able to talk to them face-to-face. We were always accepted and appreciated by our audience members and it was truly amazing to see how our show affected them in such a positive way. It is also fun because you get to feel like a popstar for a brief moment—everyone wants to take a picture with you and talk with you. It is not uncommon for me to have sore cheeks after talking with the audience members from smiling so much!

Stirland: The people are always so impressed by and kind to the company. I feel so grateful that I get to interact with so many wonderful people across the world. Our show in Brussels was actually my last show with the company and the people of Brussels gave us so much applause and support. I will never forget that show.

BYU Ballroom celebrating their first-place trophy. Photo courtesy of Zara Mina

Question: The Blackpool Festival, BYU Ballroom and ballroom dance itself have a long, rich history. Do you feel the significance of this history as you perform and/or rehearse? How do you feel about being a part of a long tradition of ballroom dancers?

Rigby: I feel so blessed to be a part of such an amazing and long tradition. This competition was something I always knew that I wanted to do, but I had no idea it would have such a profound impact on me and my teammates. In the Blackpool Dance Festival, everyone knows the BYU Ballroom Dance Company—which was something I did not expect. We had many people come up to us and share their thoughts and feelings about our performance and even people at the airport as we traveled home stopped us to congratulate us on our win. I could not feel more grateful than I do now after having completed my life-long dream as well as continuing BYU's legacy.

Stirland: I feel blessed that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. I've learned many wonderful things that don't have anything to do with dance. I'm grateful that I got to bear my testimony of the gospel and be a part of the legacy of BYU Ballroom.