PROVO -- It's March Madness, with a twist.
And a dip and a spin or two.It isn't college basketball going on at the Marriott Center this weekend. No, this is March Madness ballroom dance-style as Brigham Young University hosts the annual National DanceSport Championships.
More than 2,000 elegantly attired dancers -- some professional, some amateur -- have descended on Provo for the competition, which began Thursday and runs through today. This is The Big Dance -- literally.
Participants include Jonathan and Katushka Demidova from New York City, who are defending their title as National Professional Standard Champions.
A number of local couples are also competing like Jonathan Gulledge and Ashly Delgrosso from Provo High School and the National Youth 10-dance champions. Another pair of Provo High students, John Graham and Leah Kemeny, are the Junior American-style champs.
"It a good event to watch," said Lee Wakefield, artistic director of the BYU Ballroom Dance Company and head of the university's prestigious ballroom program. "We'll probably have about 9,000 people come see it over the course of the three days."
Performing for a crowd is what makes this competition different.
"Others are more of a participant event. Here, it becomes a spectator sport," Wakefield said. "There is a lot of congeniality between the dancers and the spectators. The audience injects the dancers with enthusiasm."
Though ballroom dancers have arrived at BYU from all over the country, Utah is well-represented. Dustin Stout and Laura Nielsen of Alta High School were among those involved in Friday's dancefest.
"It's a lot of fun," Stout said. "It's a little intimidating, but we're here to have fun."
Eleven-year-old Ryan Larsen of North Salt Lake has been ballroom dancing for only three months, but he earned first place in the pre-teen Latin competition along with his partner, 10-year-old Macee Garner.
"I was surprised we won," Larsen said, proudly displaying a first-place medallion around his neck.
Maline Garner, Macee's mom, said coming to BYU for this experience is "like living in another world. We love the glitz, the glamour, the music all day long."
On today's slate is the U.S. National Youth Standard, Youth Latin, Pre-teen American, Pre-teen Latin, Amateur Latin Championships and the final rounds for the U.S. Junior Standard Formation and the U.S. Pre-teen Standard Formation Championships. That's just in the morning.
Then in the evening, beginning at 4, there's the U.S. National Professional Standard, National American Cabaret and the Youth Division I Latin Formation Championships.
Nationally certified judges are judging the wide-ranging styles of dance, which includes International Standard Ballroom, American Style Cabaret, International Latin and Country Western. Dance rhythms on display are swing, cha cha, tango, waltz and fox trot.
Ballroom dance's name was changed to dancesport when it became a provisional sport in the Olympics, according to Claudia Hill, a member of the BYU ballroom dance faculty. "It's grown tremendously," she said.
This marks the fifth consecutive year BYU has hosted the DanceSport Championships, and the school is committed to host the event six more years.
Tickets cost $18 for rows 1-21 and $12 for rows 21 and above. Student tickets are $8. For information, contact the Marriott Center ticket office at 378-BYU1.