BYU Ballroom Dresses Light Up International Stage
By Marianne Holman, Church News staff writer
In what could initially be viewed as an unlikely pair, the engineering department and the ballroom dance team at Brigham Young University worked together to show off months of hard work and skills that wowed audience members attending one of the biggest annual ballroom dance competitions in the world. The event, called “The World’s First and Foremost Festival Of Dancing,” was held in Blackpool, England, on May 29.
The routine, performed at the annual British Open Championships, took first place in the formation category.
Lee Wakefield, ballroom dance company director at BYU, said this year’s performance was “magical” due to the addition of the LED lighted dresses—specially developed by students in the engineering department at BYU—for the competition.
The dresses had an LED light every inch or so, which was attached to a slip under the dress. Each light was connected to a computer chip that then controlled the color and intensity of the light.
“We could do sparkling and twinkling and runs with the lights,” Brother Wakefield said. “It just turned out exceptional. It was a great addition to what we do, and it really enhanced the performance.”
But the win didn’t come without a lot of hard work, Brother Wakefield said. The initial planning and collaborating for the dresses began 13 months before the competition, and the dresses were still being worked on during the weeks before the international event.
Only a few days before the dance team was scheduled to board a plane to England, the dresses were having technical difficulties and the lights were shorting out. The students who created the dresses were able to find a solution.
BYU ballroom dancers perform during the competition held in Blackpool, England, on May 29. Photo courtesy of BYU photo.
“[Static electricity] would turn off the chip, causing it to have a fault,” Brother Wakefield said. “With all the fabric that is there you can’t get around it.”
Students from the engineering department at BYU work together to create the LED lighting to go in the competition dresses for BYU’s ballroom dance team. They began collaborating and working on the dresses more than a year before the dance competition in Blackpool, England, on May 29. Photo courtesy of BYU photo.
Engineering students Franklin Morley and Ali and Stephen Wood figured out what the problem was and spent many hours reworking the system used in the lighting for the dresses. The hours of hard work paid off when the dancers moved across the floor during the competition in choreographed movements to a Disney music medley. As they moved, so did the specially designed LED lights on their dresses.
Ali Wood, an engineering student at BYU, works on the lighting for a dress designed specifically for the ballroom dance team. She was part of a group that helped fix some technical difficulties just days before the competition. Photo courtesy of BYU photo.
“The collaboration we did with these students and professors was remarkable, as it really created a magical feel,” said Brother Wakefield, “It was a Disney-like moment—with great Disney music and lights to go with it, and the girls in white dresses looked like princesses.”
Although competing in Blackpool was the main event in their visit to Europe, the dance team looks at their travels as an opportunity to represent the Church.
LED lights located every inch or so attach to a slip under the specially designed light dresses. Each light is individually connected to a computer chip that then controls the color and intensity of the light. Photo courtesy of BYU photo.
“I don’t think there is anybody in [the ballroom dance] world that doesn’t know that we are Mormon,” Brother Wakefield said. “There is nothing better than feeling like we are a little piece of the puzzle. We help to increase the visibility of the Church. Even if [spectators] don’t immediately come and join the Church, it is a privilege and an honor.”
The ballroom dance team has had—and will continue to have—performances for Church members and their guests throughout their European travels. An audience of more than 1,000 gathered in Sheffield, England, and more performances are scheduled as they tour through England, Germany, and Switzerland through June 17.