Mormons and Dance

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Mormon dancer Ryan DiLello
Mormon dancer Ryan DiLello of So You Think You Can Dance, Season 6

Mormons love dance. A revelation to Brigham Young was given when members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were camped at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, in preparation for the long trip west.

Thou shalt be diligent in preserving what thou hast, that thou mayest be a wise steward; for it is the free gift of the Lord thy God, and thou art his steward.
If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
If thou art sorrowful, call on the Lord thy God with supplication, that your souls may be joyful (Doctrine and Covenants 136:27-29).

Said Brigham Young:

Our work, our everyday labor, our whole lives are within the scope of our religion.This is what we believe, and what we try to practice. Recreation and diversion are as necessary to our well-being as the most serious pursuits of life. If you wish to dance, dance, and you are just as prepared for prayer meeting as you were before, if you are Saints. [1]

"In 1830 when the Church was organized, many Christian denominations were hostile toward recreation and play, particularly dance. However, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors advocated dance and participated in recreational dancing. Joseph Smith was a skillful dancer and enjoyed hosting dances in his home (Holbrook, p. 122). Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve "danced before the Lord" to the music of a small orchestra in the Nauvoo Temple after long days of joyous participation in temple ordinances. [2]

Mormons and the World of Dance

Mormon Professional dancers Derek and Julianne Hough
Mormon Professional dancers Derek and Julianne Hough

Though the Mormon population is small, Mormon dancers are making their mark on the world stage. Julianne Hough and Derek Hough have been featured dancers on the reality TV show, Dancing with the Stars. LDS dancers are also successful competitors on Fox TV's So You Think You Can Dance. Two years ago, on season 2, four of the twelve finalists were Latter-day Saints. Two of the four finalists were LDS. The winner of the competition, Benji Schwimmer, had just returned from serving as a Mormon missionary. His cousin and usual partner, Heidi Groskreutz, was also a finalist. The following year on season 3, Benji's sister Lacey was a top 4 finalist. The year after, Chelsie Hightower, who trains in Orem, Utah, was a top ten finalist, and Provo's Thayne Jasperson was also a top contestant. Other finalists have included Jaymz Tuaileva of Orem, Utah, and Allison Holker, also trained in Orem. So You Think You Can Dance has begun to hold tryouts in Salt Lake City as a result. In later seasons, Chelsie Hightower moved on to perform on Dancing with the Stars (2008), Donny Osmond took first place on Dancing with the Stars (2009), and 3 of the eight finalists on SYTYCD (winter, 2009) were Mormons from Orem, Utah (married couple Ryan and Ashleigh DiLello, and Mollee Gray). In early 2009, one of the touring group of Ten Finalists was a Mormon from Utah, Randi Evans of Springville. Mollee Gray was a principal dancer in all three of Walt Disney's High School Musical movies, which were filmed in Utah to take advantage of the talent there. Jared Murillo also performed in High School Musical.

Marie Osmond appeared in Dancing with the Stars (2007) and made it to the finals, but placed third after a week of personal challenges, including fainting from breathing problems, the death of her father, and one of her children entering rehab. In the 25th season, all three female contestants remaining on the show, two professionals, Witney Carson and Lindsay Arnold, and hip hop violinist Lindsey Stirling were all LDS. Arnold and her partner, Jordan Fisher, took first place.

A headline in the October 9, 2017, issue of online World Religion News read "Did You Know Mormons Dominate Competitive Dancing?"[1] Dance studios in Utah continue to churn out stars. Mollee Gray and Randi Evans studied at Orem's The Dance Club. Many of the SYTYCD finalists studied at Center Stage dance studio in Orem, including Ashleigh Ingersoll DiLello.

On America's Got Talent, a clogging group of LDS moms from Morgan, Utah, wowed audiences with their dance ability and novel choreography. The Fab Five reached the finals, rehearsing ten hours a day and depending on husbands, family, and friends to keep their homes organized. [2]

LDS dancers are also hitting the stages and winning competitions in other countries. Groove Phenomenon is made up of members of three LDS families with ages ranging from eight to 35. The group will be showing off their skills to a nationwide audience when the auditions screen in February for Britain's Got Talent. The group have already performed at a Prince's Trust concert at the Playhouse Theatre in Nottingham, and are waiting for a date to perform in front of Prince Charles at the Royal Albert Hall. Groove Phenomenon will be among the groups competing for the £100,000 winners' prize and a chance to perform in front of the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance. [3]

LDS dancers to make their mark in the world of ballet include William Christensen, Harold Christensen, Jennie Creer-King, Janalyn Memmott, Barbara Barrington Jones, Sarah Webb Bardo, Gisele Bethea, and Jake Mangakahia.

Mormon Brigham Young University has a stellar dance department
Brigham Young University has a stellar dance department

Brigham Young University has a stellar dance department. The Brigham Young University Department of Dance focuses on the following forms of dance: ballet, ballroom, folk, and modern. BYU also provides training in jazz, tap, aerobic, clog, square dance, country western, musical theatre, precision, and ethnic forms. This breadth is unique among university dance departments. The Department of Dance is administered through four divisions: Ballet, Ballroom, Modern and World Dance. Each division provides curriculum and faculty who specialize in the genre, and sponsor performance groups. Curt Holman is the current chairman of the BYU Department of Dance. He and his wife, Sharon, are former professional ballroom dance competitors.

BYU hosts two competitions a year--the National Amateur DanceSport in March and the BYU DanceSport Championships in November. Ryan and Ashleigh DiLello were part of the ballroom dance department at BYU.

The Performing Groups of the BYU Department of Dance have traveled throughout the world teaching, entertaining and blessing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Each group has received national and international recognition including television appearances, national championships and international awards.

"Maybe Mitt Romney should have taken up tango. While some voters (were) uneasy about a Mormon presidential candidate, Americans seem plenty comfortable voting for Mormons in another type of election: primetime dance shows. Mormons have already won 'So You Think You Can Dance' and 'Dancing With the Stars,' and two of the front runners on ABC's … hit 'Dance War,' are, yes, Mormon. 'Some of the greatest dancing on TV is coming out of (the Mormon) community,' says Kenny Ortega, director of the 'High School Musical' movies … which were filmed in Utah to capitalize on the dance talent Ortega noticed while choreographing the opening ceremony for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City."
'Dance is part of our culture,' says Lee Wakefield, former chair of Brigham Young University's dance department. 'Mormons danced when they crossed the plains to Utah, and one of the first buildings they built was a dance hall.'"
- from Newsweek's Periscope Almanac: 2009

The Gospel On Stage

Mormon contestants stand out in a group of competitors because of their clean-cut living and rules of health. Ryan DiLello served a mission in Argentina and still considers himself a representative for the Church. "The blatant sexuality of one of his routines bothered Ryan so much that he thought about refusing to do it all together, before ultimately convincing his choreographers to drop a few of its more suggestive motions" (Daily Herald, Dec. 13, 2009). He talked about his faith with all the other competitors and led them in prayer before they performed. The only time Ryan and Ashleigh DiLello had the opportunity to dance together on the SYTYCD stage was during the finale (top 6), and their sensitive, affectionate dance was an apt portrayal of the Mormon idea of marriage--an eternal and sacred covenant. Both dancers were in tears when the dance ended.


  1. Arrington, Georganna Ballif. "Dance in Mormonism: the Dancingest Denomination." In Focus on Dance X: Religion and Dance, eds. Dennis J. Fallon and Mary Jane Wolbers. (Reston, Va.: National Dance Association, 1982), pp. 31-35.
  2. History of the Church 7:557, 566; Holbrook, Leona. "Dancing as an Aspect of Early Mormon and Utah Culture." BYU Studies 16(1), Autumn 1975, pp. 117-38.

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