By Mary Lynn Bahr
During the 20th century BYU students have worn out a few dance floors. We have held ward dances at the Manavu Chapel, the Knight-Mangum Building, apartment complex club houses, and the step-down lounge of the Smith Family Living Center. We have dressed up for Sophomore Loan Fund Balls, stake Gold and Green Balls, residence hall Buddy Balls, and “Belle of the Y” Balls. And we have attended campus dances celebrating Winter Carnival, Y Day, Valentine’s Day, or nothing in particular. If popularity can be measured in sheer numbers of participants, dancing is arguably the most popular campus pastime of the century.
“Wards held dancing after Mutual on Tuesday nights,” remembers Clara Jensen De Graff, ’43, of Mapleton, Utah. “There was a matinee dance on Wednesdays in the Women’s Gym at 5 and a student body dance on Friday nights. Saturday nights almost always had another dance of some kind.” In the social life of BYU students during the 1940s, De Graff affirms, “Dances were of prime importance.” The same holds true for most decades.
For one thing, dances gave us opportunities for romance. We have taken our sweethearts to Junior Proms in the Wilkinson Center Ballroom and Preference Balls in the Utah County Courthouse. The unattached have met date-worthy people at orientation week dances in the Wilkinson Center, at senior
farewell dances under the stands in Cougar Stadium, and at Utahna Hall, Saltair Resort, the Palace, and other public dance clubs. And we have obtained dance dates by making nerve-wracking phone calls, by waiting in line to obtain the card of a “most preferred” man, or by concocting invitations that involved anything from serenades to the kidnapping of furniture.
“I came home from classes one day,” says Sue Quackenbush, ’93, of Medford, Ore., “to find my entire room turned upside down and a message reading, ‘I’d flip out if you’d go to Homecoming with me!'” For girl’s choice dances, she and her roommates “plastered rooms with construction-paper hearts (giving the room a ‘heart attack’), sent our prospective dates on scavenger hunts, put secret messages in balloons, and dragged the guys blindfolded across campus. And all this effort was just to entice them to say yes!”
But for some of us dancing wasn’t about any particular partner. We just loved dancing. “Every Wednesday would find me doing the dance thing,” says Crystal D. Prine Dick, ’58, of Rock Springs, Wyo. At the casual “mat” (matinee) dances, she says, “Not only could I dance to my heart’s content, but I
enjoyed meeting my friends and making new friends. Sometimes I wore out two or three partners doing the twist or jitterbug.”
Of course, our moves and music have changed with the generations. We have skipped through the Virginia Reel at the annual Campus Handshake, jitterbugged with Les Brown and his Band of Renown, grooved to disco records spun by a ward member, and jammed to hip-hop blaring from boom boxes in parking lots. Yet some things remain constant. We have always expected the presence of designated dance police, from Coach E. L. Roberts, who in the 1920s would escort couples off the floor if they danced cheek-to-cheek, to today’s Dress-Code-enforcing student gatekeepers. And we have always expected that on any given weekend there will be a dance somewhere near campus.
In fact, there have been far more dances at BYU than official records show. We have danced spontaneously in brief bouts of game-time joy. We have performed barely perceptible victory dances while exiting the testing center. We have been known to dance on picnic tables and living room furniture. And we have jived down the stairs of the about-to-close library because the theme from Hawaii Five-0, played at such high volume, made it impossible to do anything else.