Whirling Cougars  - Y Magazine
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First Person

Whirling Cougars 

Grads recall when they put on their dancing shoes.

BYU students dressed in neon spandex perform an interpretive dance for a biology project.
Illustration by Travis Foster

Bacterial Dance Lesson 

By Maria Hendricks Proudfoot (BS ’03), Eagle, ID 

Going to school before cell phones had its disadvantages, especially when I forgot that my Biology 100 project was due the next day and nobody could track me down. It was only when I came home at midnight that my roommate—and classmate—frantically reminded me of the deadline. 

Stores were closed and my mind was void of ideas when my roommates jokingly suggested performing an interpretive dance. I was a chemical-engineering major (not a dancer), but with no other options, I accepted their challenge—but only if they agreed to help. 

The next day, as students presented cell models and collages of foliage, I began questioning my decisions. But when the time came, we ran to the bathroom to prepare for the project presentation. 

We returned wearing fluorescent spandex dance suits and wigs. One roommate did a dramatic reading about the battle between bacteria and T-helper cells, while another roommate and I performed an interpretive dance of the mighty battle she described. 

The dance peaked with my roommate (bacteria) on the ground and me (T-helper cell) reigning triumphant. The room erupted in applause, and I got 100 percent on the project. 

Relatively Flirty 

By Ailene Clyde O’Byrne (BA ’84), St. George, UT 

In 1980 my uncle Warren D. Clyde (BS ’91) and I started BYU together. As he was only three months older than me and we had the same last name, most people assumed we were twins. 

In our sophomore year, my uncle convinced me to take a ballroom dance class for a PE credit because he’d had so much fun when he took it. There were more women than men in my class, so the instructor asked us to wrangle in some more guys to make an even number of guys and gals. I easily convinced my uncle to come—he thought it was a great way to meet girls! 

My uncle would dance the first dance with me, then dance with the other girls in the class and flirt accordingly. One day the instructor pulled me aside and asked if my husband and I were having marital problems. 

I confidently informed the instructor that I was okay with him flirting with the girls in the class—since he we was my uncle and not my husband. I got an A— and my uncle got a few dates out of the deal. 

A Lost Latin Love 

By Alyssa Tafuri (BS ’14, MSW ’17), Payson, UT 

Every Tuesday my roommate and I headed to BYU club night in the Wilkinson Center. We tried Ping-Pong and chess and even witnessed a sword-fighting club. None of them felt right until we found the salsa club. We joked that they’d either have great snacks or we would dance the night away! 

After one night I was hooked. I discovered a love for Latin dance in the steps of dances like bachata, merengue, cumbia, and salsa. One Christmas break I was back home and looking through old pictures with my mother. We found a picture of me as a 5-year-old in dance attire. I asked her what dance I was learning, and she said, “You don’t remember? You were learning how to salsa.” It’s no wonder I loved salsa club so much—it connected me to something familiar that I had completely forgotten. I already loved Latin dance, but BYU’s club night helped it flourish.

Automatic A

By Michelle Livingston Payne (BS ’09), San Dimas, CA

In my final year at BYU, I decided to take my first “fun” class, settling on Beginning Social Dance. On the first day, the instructor reviewed the syllabus and how partnering up would work. He announced that if any couple who met in the class became engaged, they would get extra credit. If they did the proposal during a dance test, they would get an automatic A. The whole class chuckled—it sounded absurd.

Before the first dance test, the foxtrot, the instructor told us to choose our partners and practice outside of class. Two girls and I were scouting out good partners based on height and form. One guy stood out to me, but we couldn’t remember his name. Then the instructor, attempting to learn names, called out “Jason!” Jason raised his hand. It was the name we girls could not remember.

After class I hustled across the room to ask Jason to be my partner. We practiced a few days a week until test day. After we performed Jason walked me out and asked me on a date.

The date went well, and we spent every day together for months. We especially loved going to the country-swing club.

At the semester’s end we knew we were getting married and had picked out a ring. It wasn’t ready in time for our dance final, the cha-cha, so we borrowed a ring from a friend. Toward the end of our test, Jason got down on one knee in a dance move and pulled out the ring. I said yes. 

A male BYU student  kneels down during dance class to propose to a female dance student.
Illustration by Travis Foster

He announced that if any couple who met in the class became engaged, they would get extra credit. 

Dreams of Dancing

By Susan Fry Melville (BS ’89), Dayton, OH

I’ll never forget seeing the BYU folk dancers for the first time in New York, when the team performed at our stake. As I watched the group, something stirred in me and it became my dream to dance at BYU. My biggest obstacle was my total lack of dance experience, though I often danced in my living room to vinyl records.

I begged my parents for dance classes and eventually took my first dance class at 16. For two years I worked hard to learn different dance styles.

When I arrived as a freshman at BYU, I auditioned and was selected for a backup team. I was thrilled. Over the next few years, I took every dance class I could fit into my schedule. I loved dancing in the Homecoming parade and Christmas Around the World, but my favorite was the Wednesday-night social, where everyone gathered to dance together.

In my junior year my dream finally came true when I was chosen for the performing-arts team. I joined the BYU folk dancers on a tour to China and East Asia and a special trip to the 1988 Seoul Korea Olympics. We performed and represented the university wherever we went.

Although I loved every moment of my time dancing, the greatest gift was meeting and marrying my husband of 35 years, who was just there to meet girls!

Call for Stories: Our World Campus

BYU has always been a top school for students studying abroad. In 2023 it was ranked No. 1 for the first time. Last year 2,878 BYU students took part in 204 BYU study-abroad programs located throughout 61 countries. Did you study abroad as part of your BYU student experience? If so, please share your inspiring, humorous, or uplifting story. Deadline: June 6, 2024.

Y Magazine pays $50 for stories published in First Person. Send anecdotes of up to 300 words to firstperson@byu.edu. Submissions may be edited for length, grammar, appropriateness, and clarity.