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Ballroom In Utah Dances To Its Own Rhythm

Melissa Allison
Chelsea Hightower teaching the Cha Cha at a Utah Ballroom Studio class.

Utah’s youth have drawn attention over the years in reality shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” and “Dancing with the Stars.” They have shown up each season and demonstrated to millions of viewers that when it comes to dance, Utahns don’t mess around.

“Once you produce something that is at such a high level like dance is," said Chelsie Hightower, a professional ballroom dancer and Emmy Award nominee. "I think it just becomes kind of commonplace for people to then put their kids in dancing and because the level is so high it forces other kids in that area to rise to the occasion as well, and we’re blessed with lots of good training as well in Utah. “

Hightower grew up in Utah and trained as a ballroom dancer. At 18 she competed on season four of “So You Think You Can Dance.” She became an All-Star and choreographer and then joined “Dancing with the Stars” for seven seasons as a professional choreographer.

“We already know that ballroom dancing is a really big thing here," Hightower said. "I think what’s really surprising to other states that don’t know about that is that Utah does have a huge market for ballroom dancing and it’s interesting because it also has its own ballroom world. We have our own costume makers, shoe makers and that’s something you don’t see in other states.“

Martin Skupinski is one of the owners and instructors at Ballroom Utah Dance Studio in Salt Lake City.

“I’ve competed in Europe and in Canada and I danced professionally a long time ago," Skupinski said. "But now I dance with my students like Pro/Am, what you see Dancing with the Stars, I dance with my students in competitions and so my students win titles and that’s more rewarding. So if I am a good dancer, great, but can I make someone else a good dancer?”

He said that it’s common for pros to dance with the amateurs at competitions like Utah Star Ball, a competition in Salt Lake City in September and that ballroom is not just for the youth.

“A long time ago adult people went dancing to restaurants, to clubs, to country clubs," Skupinski said. "For a while in the 70s, 80s, that kind of disappeared. And now it’s coming back again so yes, we do have lots of adults, and maybe it’s because of when they were young they were dancing, in the colleges at BYU, UVU, all of those colleges have dance programs and now they’re adults - they have children, maybe the children are gone - they can come back and dance.”

Hightower said ballroom isn’t just about competition.

“Dancing is, it’s universal anyone can do it, you know," Hightower said. "It takes a little bit of courage to get into the studio but once you do it is so freeing, and it’s so expressive and it’s the best way of physical exercise, in my opinion, I might be a little bit biased. It’s fun and you don’t feel like you’re working out, per se, but you get a great work out and stretching your mind at the same time and learning a new skill.”

Hightower said the combination of the culture and ratio of kids in Utah, as opposed to other places, makes the state a breeding ground for talented dancers.