Ballroom dance makes life enjoyable

Tyler Harding makes his way around the dance floor with style.

Be a bullfighter from Spain in the Pasodoble. Samba like a Cuban. Waltz like a European.

“You pretend you’re something you’re not,” said junior Tyler Harding. “Just like an actor on stage, I leave my own identity and adopt whatever style I’m dancing.”

Harding’s passion for ballroom dance was sparked at Burton Elementary, when his sixth grade teacher taught their class some of the basics. After support and encouragement from his mother, Harding joined the local BYU Youth A Ballroom Team, which has been first in the nation for the past 20 years. He and his partner are currently the top couple for the “Smooth” category in Utah. This year they even have a shot at getting first place at Nationals.

Harding drives to Provo six days a week for private lessons to practice with his partner and work on technique with a professional. Even on weeks that he doesn’t have a competition, he spends 20-30 hours a week practicing and 18 hours driving. On top of ballroom, Harding keeps up a 3.9 GPA with three AP classes and early morning seminary, plus Madrigals and A Cappella. “Free time is virtually nonexistent for me,” Harding said with a laugh. “When you list it out, it sounds crazy. But if you’re dedicated, it’s not too bad. If you want to be a starting quarterback, you’ll put in about six hours a day and people don’t give it a second thought because it’s what you want to be. I want a scholarship so it’s worth it to me.”

BYU offers a total of six ballroom scholarships, but Harding is willing to work for it. “Last year only one of the four full ride scholarships went to a guy. But even if it just gets me half tuition, it’s worth it.”

Ballroom dancing takes a lot of hard work and dedication. According to Harding, “it’s intense. You come off the floor and you’re exhausted, especially with some of the dances—the Jive is like the Swing on steroids.”

Harding puts in a lot of work, but he says anyone can do it. “A lot of people discredit themselves like, ‘Oh, I can’t dance.’ But just about anything is dance—any movement, rhythm. Even walking down the hallway can be dance.”

Harding, who can often be seen walking down the hall with a twist in his step, shows that ballroom dance can be addicting. “I go to sleep listening to music thinking about the competition. This is what’s going through my head almost 24/7

. It becomes a way of life.”

Ballroom is a game of strategy. “You want the spots on the floor where you can be seen by all judges. I think of the horse races, all flocking to the good spots,” Harding said. “The girl’s job is to look pretty, and the boy moves the girl, trying to not run into people.”

But ballroom can be brutal—concussions are not unheard of. Tripping often causes a domino effect with the other couples, which “isn’t pretty. Mom got stabbed by a heel [during one of her competitions]. It gets vicious. To get ready, the girls will put on their ‘claws’—nails that are usually about an inch long with rhinestones and glitter and gunk.”

In competitive ballroom, costumes can make or break a dancer’s score. Each dress is a custom design. Just like with theater, the bright lights on the floor can make a performer look sickly pale, so teams will use bronzer and get spray tans to make everyone look more uniform.

“The darker the better. Dark skin and dark hair portray experience. Both boys and girls will dye their hair very bold, dramatic colors like jet black or platinum blonde for competitions,” said Harding. “It takes a lot of hair gel. Any ballroom girl will spend one to two hours doing hair and will always have huge bags of bobby pins.”

Harding recommends ballroom to anyone who wants to give it a try. “The competitive ballroom life is quite prestigious, but it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun and you get to meet tons of new people.”