Lindsey Stirling and Mark Ballas strike the final pose of their first performance of the night.
“If you wish to dance, dance ” — Brigham Young
It was the will of the Lord — Brigham Young revealed to his band of Mormon refugees in 1846 — that “If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing.”
Mormons may represent less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, but last week, they comprised 50 percent of the finalists on ABC’s popular reality show “Dancing with the Stars” (three of the six dancers on the season finale were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
Utah-born Witney Carson, with her dance partner Frankie Muniz, finished third. Lindsey Sterling, BYU’s fast-footed fiddling alumna, came in second, and Provo native Lindsay Arnold propelled her dance partner Jordan Fisher into first place.
Utahn and LDS finalists on the show are by no means an aberration. Siblings Julianne Hough and Derek Hough were raised Mormon and have both claimed titles with their dance partners (Derek has won five times). Donny Osmond won in 2009. A smattering of other Latter-day Saints have been professional dancers or contestants on the show.
But it’s not just made-for-TV dancing in which Mormons excel. The president of the National Dance Council of America, Brian McDonald, once described LDS-owned Brigham Young University as “without question, the most influential school in the nation in terms of identifying dance as both a sport and a respected curriculum.” BYU’s Ballroom Dance Company has won dozens of national and international accolades over the years, and so has its neighbor, Utah Valley University.
The connection between Mormons and dance goes back well before reality TV, and it touches on fundamental theological claims and aesthetic frameworks.
For 19th-century Protestantism dancing was considered “taboo,” according to scholar Leona Holbrook. And the fiddle was an “instrument of the devil.” Brigham Young was raised Methodist. “I had not a chance to dance,” he said, “ . . . and (I) never heard the enchanting tones of the violin, until I was eleven years of age; and…