When Lee Wakefield watched some of his BYU students performing in the 2002 Winter Olympics ceremonies in Salt Lake City, he knew it was an experience of a lifetime, one that perhaps he would never see again — but he did.
At the close of a three-week performance tour of China, Brother Wakefield, director of BYU's Ballroom Dance Company, once again saw his students involved in Olympic festivities when, on June 23, the team helped open the Olympic Cultural Festival, an international celebration prior to the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics.
Since 1984, BYU performing groups have performed in numerous Chinese venues and appeared on China television.
Ed Blaser, director of Performing Arts Management, said BYU "is the best-known American university in China because the ballroom dancers and other university-affiliated performing groups appear so frequently on Chinese television."
It was largely due to the popularity of the BYU name that the group was extended the invitation nearly a year ago by the Chinese Performing Arts Agency to participate in the festival.
Brother Wakefield said of all the places they were privileged to perform, including the Beijing Poly Plaza International Theater, being part of China's Olympic celebration was the highlight of the tour. However, at first, it seemed the performance wouldn't run as smoothly as they had hoped.
Upon arriving at the venue, an open air stage especially made for the event, it began to rain.
"It rained horrifically," said tour manager Shane Wright. "It was almost time to go on and it was still raining. Then it stopped just long enough for the groups to perform. They had to clear the water off the stage for the group ... then right after we finished it started raining again. It was perfect."
Another worry was the perception that the audience was not enjoying the performance very much.
Jessica Warren, one of the performers who has traveled many times with the group, said, "At first, we were not sure the audiences were enjoying our dancing, as they would clap lightly and quickly. However, when we went into the audiences after the shows, we found the people were extremely excited and friendly."
Brother Wakefield said it's common to get standing ovations during these performance tours; however, they "don't expect it in China because they're a different culture." He said this stems from the culture's emphasis on politeness and appropriateness. "But as soon as the show's over, when we go down in the audience, I don't think there was any difference as far as how (the students) were received by the audience. The appreciation and the eagerness and the excitement was very evident."
The 35 BYU dancers shared the stage with three other groups: an adult choir from Connecticut and two Chinese performing groups, with the ballroom team being the highlight of the show.
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