Sewing with the Stars - Y Magazine
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BYU Today

Sewing with the Stars

If you’re Brian Youngblut’s partner, you’re going to step out on the dance floor in style.

If you’re Brian Youngblut’s partner, you’re going to step out on the dance floor in style.
A line of dancers show off dresses created by Brian Youngblut. Photo by Bradley Slade.

Brian J. Youngblut’s (BA ’13) student apartment is a typical BYU bachelor pad—until the weeks leading up to a competition. Those weeks Youngblut pulls all-nighters surrounded not by books but by rhinestones, mesh, and silk. A mannequin looms over the kitchen table; the shaking sewing machine makes neighbors below wonder if there’s an earthquake. Pins disappear in the carpet only to stick bare feet.

Youngblut isn’t sewing for himself.

“I just throw on a black suit and it’s good, but for my dance partners, I just keep thinking, ‘You need a new dress,’ ” says Youngblut, a member of BYU’s touring ballroom team. “I don’t know why, but I get this itch.”

With skills he learned from his mom, Youngblut has created almost 40 dresses in the past three years for his dance partners and various clients—with one dress going for $3,500 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

He didn’t always harbor a passion for sewing. Competitive ballroom dancing isn’t cheap—with apparel, competition fees, and private lessons—which is why, in 2010, Youngblut pulled out the sewing machine he inherited from a sister-in-law. The dresses started simple, progressing from jazzed-up leotards to a dress with feathers sewn on one by one. His mother, Amy Ott Youngblut (’78), mentored him with each dress. “When I saw some of his designs,” she says, “I thought, ‘How did you get that out of your head and onto a dress?’ ”

Ballroom costumes are all about glitz and glam. “Dance is an aesthetic sport,” he explains. “Judges will look at things like how your feet are turned and how you’re moving your core, so you want a costume that accentuates that.”

He finds inspiration everywhere—an Oscar dress inspired the elegant black gown that his partner Ashley J. Nixon (BS ’13) wore in the American smooth competition in the 2013 U.S. National Amateur Dancesport Championships, where the pair took fifth.

“When I walk out on the floor and I know I look the part, I dance the part,” says Nixon, who designs her dresses along with Youngblut, helping pick fabrics and adding rhinestones.

Youngblut didn’t always harbor a passion for ballroom dancing either. As a freshman he spotted ballroom students practicing in hallways. “I would think, ‘Snooze alert! That stuff is so old school.’ ” But while he finished his mission in Honduras, his sister, Jennifer Youngblut Russell (’06), signed him up for a beginning Latin dance class—“A great way for him to meet beautiful girls,” says Russell.

He threatened to drop it but came to like the social aspect and the connection to his mission culture. A Latin American studies major and former intern at the Peruvian consulate, Youngblut fell in love with the rhythms of Latin ballroom—then expanded to other styles.

After taking more classes and private lessons, Youngblut eventually landed a coveted spot on BYU’s touring team, and he and Nixon have placed in every competition they’ve entered together.

“Brian has a burning desire to dance,” says Linda Baes Wakefield (’84), codirector of BYU’s Ballroom Dance Company, which won its 12th international title at the British Formation Championships in Blackpool, England, in May.

Youngblut plans to pursue an MBA and wants to be an ambassador one day—but for now, his goal is to get choreography and duds ready for next year’s Dancesport.

“We have a national championship to win,” he says.