Dancers Spencer Crawford and Jessie Dayton share their highlights of performing and volunteering during the tour to Chile and Argentina
In their first ever visit to South America, the BYU Ballroom Dance Company toured Chile and Argentina to raise money for the COANIQUEM Burned Children Foundation (COANIQUEM BCF). The tour took place last spring and included ten performances of their award-winning show, “Swing ‘n’ Sway.”
The first stop on their tour was Chile. Dancer Spencer Crawford quickly noticed how the people of Chile love to share their culture with others. “We saw the national dance of Chile, ‘La Cueca,’ performed six or seven different times. Whether we were at a hospital or a university, the people were so proud of the beautiful buildings on their campuses. It was inspiring to see so much joy emanating from these people who, by American standards, do not have very much.”
While in Chile, the company spent time at the COANIQUEM BCF, a nonprofit charity that provides physical, spiritual and psychological support to Latin American children who are burn victims. The proceeds from the company’s performances in Chile all went to the charity.
Jessie Dayton, a dancer in the Ballroom Dance Company, said she loved all of the volunteer opportunities the company participated in, but especially loved going to Coaniquem.
“I was so touched as I learned about the organization,” Dayton said. “The leaders and doctors care so much for these children and do all they can to make this a comfortable happy place for them as they’re recovering. We were able to perform for the burn victims and interact with them a little bit. Seeing their faces light up as we danced for them was a special experience.”
When the company arrived at the hospital, the waiting room was set up with speakers and a small space for them to perform. “The children and their families weren’t aware we were there to dance but once we began, it didn’t take long for people to gather around with their kids,” said Crawford. “I remember looking around the room and seeing the bright, smiling faces of these families who were undergoing something extremely difficult. To be a part of bringing joy to these people, even in a small way, was something I’ll never forget.”
As part of the tour, the Ballroom Dance Company held workshops. Their first workshop in Santiago was held on a Chilean holiday. A last-minute venue opened up allowing the workshop to happen.
“Over 100 people came to learn and interact with us. I was blown away,” said Crawford. “The crowd included local dance companies, members of the LDS church, and their friends. I remember one dancer named Camilla, who came to many of our events that week in Santiago. I later learned from my coach that she and her brother were investigating the LDS church and meeting with the missionaries. This experience reminded me of my own mission.”
The company also had the opportunity to stay with host families and become acquainted with many native South Americans. “Some of them didn’t have much, but they were so loving and willing to let us into their homes,” said Dayton. “They gave us the very best they had, and I was so touched by their generosity. We couldn’t communicate very well because of the language barrier, but I felt their love for us.”
Another highlight for Dayton was participating in devotionals throughout Chile and Argentina. “I was grateful for the opportunity to be a speaker at a couple of them. It was cool to recognize that even though there were many differences among the groups including language, socioeconomic status and ethnicity, we all had a love for Christ that united us. We sang ‘I Am a Child of God’ in Spanish during the meetings and I always felt the Spirit”
While in Argentina, the Ballroom Dance Company performed at the Teatro del Bicentenario in San Juan. “The building was so beautiful and the performance went really well,” said Dayton. “At the end of the finale, I was overwhelmed with the response from the crowd. They were cheering so loudly and I’ll never forget that moment of overwhelming gratitude for the support we were receiving.”
In Buenos Aires, the company had the opportunity to watch a milonga tango competition. Karson Denney, the artist manager for the Ballroom Dance Company, said, “You can’t take ballroom dancers to Argentina and not talk tango. The roots are there in Argentina. We got to see the tango in its authenticity. Argentine tango is more about the feeling than the steps. They were all very talented dancers.”
Another highlight for Crawford was eating asado, an Argentine barbeque consisting of a variety of meat, typically including pork, beef, sausage and blood sausage. “We probably ate asado every other day during our two weeks in Argentina,” he said. “Our first stop in Argentina was at a church house in Mendoza where the members had been preparing our first Argentine asado. After we ate more than our fill, a couple gave us our first glimpse of Argentine tango, dancing for 20 minutes straight.”
Dayton said, “I learned a lot from the people in South America. When I came home, I had a stronger desire to love people and sacrifice things for other people. The experiences I had and the memories that I made will be cherished forever.”
Crawford learned “that being a member of the touring team is about more than just dancing. We try to do the best we can as dancers and that’s what we’re known for, but when we went on tour I realized that how we acted, the relationships we built and the service we gave were the most important part of the tour. The principal reason we tour is not to dance, but to be ambassadors for the Lord and his church.”
To view more photos and videos of the Ballroom Dance Company’s time in South America, visit their facebook page.