Chelsie Hightower’s Experience on SYTYCD

Chelsie HightowerFor those who may not know Chelsie Hightower, she was recently a semifinalist on the popular television dance series “So You Think You Can Dance.”  She made it to be one of the top three girls on the nationally syndicated show, which is quite an achievement.  She also happens to be a member of my ward.  In fact, in the first episode of her audition they featured a clip filmed in her home and the recreational areas of the same residential complex in which I live.  She also is an excellent ballroom dancer, a talent and sport which I have been involved with and have personally competed in for many years.

Chelsie was asked to give a talk in our sacrament meeting today.  Having shortly returned from filming the show live in Los Angeles, I can only surmise that they asked her to speak on her experiences dancing on the show.  The stake president was invited to the meeting and was on the stand presiding.  I’d like to share some of the things that she related which I thought were very thoughtful and honest.

She said that she’s been highly blessed of God to have the talents that she does, and that she gives credit to Heavenly Father for everything she’s been given.  She said that being in the ballroom world has given her the unfortunate opportunity to be around many people who smoke, drink, or do drugs.

An experience she had one summer in North Carolina was particularly poignant.  She was there for some ballroom training when she was invited to go to a club one night to Salsa dance.  She went and didn’t feel like dancing so she sat on the side.  She saw all around her people who were smoking, and drinking, and doing drugs.  She had a gut wrenching feeling inside her that told her something was wrong.  She asked herself if that is what she wanted in her life and received an unmistakable feeling and impression from God that she would not find happiness in those things.  Thereafter those things were never a temptation for her anymore in her life.

When the time came for the audition in Salt Lake for “So You Think You Can Dance,” Chelsie was extremely nervous.  As she sat in the Capitol Theatre seats awaiting her turn to dance she doubted herself and her abilities.  She said that she even doubted God at one point, which she hadn’t ever done before in her life.  She related to us that she said a long prayer to God that He would bless her in her auditions, and she testified that He did.  She felt God’s sustaining power as she danced that day.  That feeling continued with her week after week after week of auditions and call backs.

Chelsie said that she’s been blessed greatly through this experience to be able to share her beliefs and standards with others around her throughout her time on the show.  She said that she only had time to relate a few experiences.

Prior to her final solo dance on the show she realized that she didn’t have a dress to wear.  This was just 10 minutes or so before her turn to dance.  She went to the wardrobe people and they had an immodest piece for her to wear with some fringe but it didn’t cover her stomach.  She knew that it wouldn’t be right to wear that.  She looked all over to try to find another dress.  She checked with other wardrobe people, the dresses she brought with her, and in other places.  It was coming down to only about 5 minutes before her solo.  Usually, she said, the dancers at this point were warming up to go on stage and focusing on their routines.  But she was all flustered trying to find a good dress to wear.  Finally, just minutes before going on the floor she was able to find a dress to put on.  She said that she was always nervous for the solo dances, and having this problem finding a dress only made it worse.  When she stepped out on the floor she felt an overwhelming sense of peace and confidence, that God was giving her strength and assistance to dance her best.  She knew God was there for her because she had done the right thing.

An interesting sidenote that we learned from her mother a few weeks ago was that for the first live show Chelsie went out shopping and personally bought a different piece of clothing that she thought was more modest for her choreographed routine.  Unfortunately, thereafter the producers of the show told her that she had to wear what the wardrobe produced for her choreographed numbers.

Concluding, she said that she was glad for these innumerable opportunities that she has had to share her beliefs throughout her experience with those around her and the viewers of the show.  She said that she couldn’t have done everything she did without God’s providence.  At several points in her talk she wept with gratitude.

I know Chelsie, and she is a great young woman in our ward.  I think she did a fantastic job on the show “So You Think You Can Dance,” and that she represented the Church well to those around her.  The feeling she was able to express in all of her dance routines, I think, came from her experience and activity in the Church, similar to the way I believe David Archuleta was able to express feeling in his songs on American Idol.  The Church has seen a surge recently in the arts, and I think the LDS talent that we are witnessing on these television shows is evidence of that.  These young artists are letting their light so shine that others may see their good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16; 3 Nephi 12:16).

(Bryce Haymond, is the editor of TempleStudy.com, a blog dedicated to sustaining and defending the LDS temple by comparative studies of religious worship found around the world and throughout history.)

This entry was posted in In real life, Sacrament meeting by Bryce Haymond. Bookmark the permalink.

About Bryce Haymond

Bryce grew up in Sandy, Utah, where he attended Jordan High School. He served a mission to the El Salvador San Salvador East mission, including eight months as mission financial secretary. Bryce graduated from Brigham Young University in 2007 in Industrial Design and a minor in Ballroom Dance. He loves all things Nibley and the temple, and is the founder of TempleStudy.com, and also blogs at BlackpoolCreative.com. Recently Bryce joined the Executive Board of The Interpreter Foundation, where he serves as a designer and technologist. Bryce has served in numerous Church callings including ward sunday school president, first counselor in the bishopric, and currently as temple and family history instructor. He is a Product Manager and Design Director at HandStands in Salt Lake City, and lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah, with his beautiful wife, three children, and another on the way!

26 thoughts on “Chelsie Hightower’s Experience on SYTYCD

  1. Interesting. It’s too bad she didn’t make the final four as she deserved to. I do think that they should allow more flexibility with wardrobe. Not because of what Chelsie said but because sometimes what wardrobe does is horrible and really distracts from the performance hurting the vote.

    For the record BYU dance uses pretty standard clothing comparable to what Chelsie wore. Every semester there’s a hue and cry about immodesty which oddly isn’t applied to the swimmers.

  2. Yes, BYU has a very high standard of costume requirements for all of their competitions, and student teams. I would know; I was a member of the BYU Ballroom Dance Company for 6 years. :) Some other organizations are starting to follow BYU’s example. Unfortunately, there is much still out there which is less than modest, to say the least. BYU is trying to influence all of that for the better.

  3. It is rather subjective, and depends on the circumstances, particularly in sports. Most of the swimmers at the Olympics I wouldn’t say are very modest in their dress if looked at independently, but what they wear is appropriate for their sport. Of course, you can always overdo it. But I think BYU Ballroom’s standards are much more modest than even most universities’ cheerleader teams.

  4. I might also note that some of what Chelsie wore on the show (likely outside of her control) is far from BYU Ballroom standards. So, no, it was not really comparable to BYU. BYU Ballroom has strict standards which are much higher than the show SYTYCD, standards which are approved of by the General Authorities of the Church.

    But we digress. :)

  5. I am saddened that Chelsie didn’t feel she had more power to refuse to wear the super skimpy outfits the “wardrobe” people wanted her to wear. I realize she felt they would kick her off the show if she didn’t wear what they gave her, and so she had no choice.

    But would they really? Especially after making it to the Top 10? I think she had a lot more power over them than she thought, especially as she kept making it back week after week. The producers would have to explain why they kicked her off the show at that point. Even if they made up some fabrication, Chelsie and her family could easily tell the media the real story. I think she actually had the producers over a barrel, instead of the other way around.

    As Bryce said, many (most?) of the ballroom costumes worn on both SYTYCD and DWTS (Dancing With The Stars) are NOT similar or even close to what is approved by the General Authorities for the BYU Ballroom dance team.

    The BYU Ballroom department has very strict costume standards. Yes, you wouldn’t wear a Ballroom costume to church. However, the costume standards are designed to allow the audience and/or judges to see the dancer’s body movement while maintaining a level of respect and dignity for that dancer’s body – a gift from God, and a temple in its own right.

    I am very saddened by the LDS youth and others that have danced on these shows and worn outfits that are very revealing – especially when the whole world knew that they were LDS, as in the case with Benji Schwimmer.

  6. The BYU Ballroom costumes actually go through GA approval? Or do you mean that GAs set some guidelines and wardrobe tries to follow them?

    I thought all of Chelsie’s outfits on the show were fine with the possible exception of the bright red dress she wore in the salsa—and then the only problem was when she shimmied and the dress flew up and revealed her bottom. But then, I think most of the other girls’ outfits were okay as well.

  7. The Ballroom team is subjected to various levels of scrutinee, depending on the climate of the time. But you will also remember that the president of BYU (Elder Samuelson) is a GA…

  8. And actually, almost NONE of the dresses worn by any female dancer in the Ballroom styles on either show would be allowed at BYU. There are only a handful of exceptions.

  9. I just wondered how often that level of scrutiny occurs. At BYU, there is always the possibility that a GA will ask to review something—wardrobe, reading list, course handouts, videos shown in class, etc. One way to read your comment is that all of the ballroom wardrobe goes through GA approval and I found that very surprising.

    I also didn’t mean to say that I thought the dresses on SYTYCD were okay for BYU. What I meant is that I did not find them immodest.

  10. They much have changed the standards a fair bit from when I was at BYU. But I don’t want to get too sidetracked down a tangent. I guess my point was that I don’t quite see it as that bad when many athletic events involve wearing far less.

  11. Just to clarify, my ultimate point was that nothing Chelsie wore seemed that out of character from what I saw in ballroom at BYU in the early 90’s. Most was more modest than what I saw the Cougarettes wearing in the 90’s. I can’t speak for now.

    In any case I personally think it much ado about nothing. I don’t see anything immodest in anything Chelsie or Benji wore. I think it would be quite inappropriate for them to demand that the clothing requirements be different. Afterall the show is also trying to get the competitors to dance in a manner akin to what professional dancers experience. If you are a professional dancer you don’t get to pick your clothing modesty. You can decide to accept the part or not. And if you don’t you probably won’t be working that much.

    Honestly, could you imagine what the judges would say if someone refused to wear something that by the standards of the industry was fairly modest?

  12. When I was on the team we danced often with GAs in our audiences, especially Elder Samuelson. So if anything was inappropriate, the directors would have heard about it quickly, which happened on occasion. Most of the time the GAs would tell us that we were all doing a great job and that we were an example to the youth of the Church.

    I have never seen BYU’s dancers wear anything like some of the costumes worn in the choreographed routines on SYTYCD or DWTS.

    Chelsie probably could have asked to have different clothing if she really really wanted to, but I don’t think she wanted to create an upset. Professional ballroom dancers actually do get quite a bit of choice in what they wear. Many of them design the costumes themselves, or have a professional seamstress design them according to their specifications. It’s not like other sports where the athletes are put in a uniform whether they like it or not. Ballroom is much more flexible, and is usually a situation of every man/woman for himself, unless they have something specifically stated in their contract with sponsors. I personally have seen many professionals that have chosen costumes that are very modest, and which would easily fit BYU standards. It just depends on what each dancer wants to do. But on SYTYCD, Chelsie did not have that kind of latitude. It was a very scripted show.

    Anyway, I thought Chelsie did a great job on the show. I’m proud of her. We just finished having a ward FHE with her and her family, and it was great hearing of her experiences on the show. :)

  13. By professional I was more thinking of the “profession” being dancing in shows that were choreographed by others. Say some of the Vegas shows. I was less thinking of ballroom in terms of competitions or so forth.

  14. You think it was modest when Benji’s partner pulled his pants down to reveal his “tighty whities”? I personally was disgusted by that. I’m not the only one:

    “Benji was his usual charming self all the way through — until the end, that is, when he decided to whip his pants off and treat the audience to a view of his red-white-and-blue Speedos. Coming on the heels of his sweet, goofy dance number, it just seemed shockingly out of place, not to mention in bad taste.”

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/gate/archive/2007/06/20/cstillwell.DTL

    The dance industry does not demand immodesty. The BYU Ballroom Dance Team has been the number one formation dance team in the United States for over 2 decades and have won numerous international competitions. They have modesty standards and do not change them for any perceived “industry” requirements.

    I do think Chelsie or Benji or anyone else in the Top 10 of a show like this really could say, “I won’t wear that”. What is the show going to do at that point? They aren’t going to kick them off for no reason. What would they tell the millions of viewers? “We kicked Chelsie off the show because she wouldn’t wear this skimpy outfit we gave her.” I don’t think so.

  15. hi i am from SYRIA and may be i am too late to lay a comment but the network that put the show get the episoids too late .I really want to thank Chelsie for her behavior she is an good examole of what the person should be.in general her cloth wasnot that bad and the important is her will and beleifs but she always thanked god anybody knows if she is christian????good by you can reach me on my email [email protected]

  16. Pingback: Chelsie Hightower: Mormon and Modest | Mormon Youth

  17. I do think that what Chelsie wore during her time on SYTYCD was modest. But now almost two years later, I think the standards have lessened for her. I don’t know if this is true though. that’s why I started searching the internet. I am lds, but when she was on television, I didn’t even know she was lds. Now that I know, I am curious to see what kind of example she is setting for the youth and other Mormons every where. Well I was just curious to know what people’s thoughts are now, now that time has passed and her celebrity status has sky-rocketed.

  18. Ridiculous. She’s a talented dancer and maintains high standards. Quit being prudes and realize that the costumes are not small and/or revealing for the sole purpose of titillation. They are cut to allow freedom of movement.

    She can dance in a tiny outfit on DWTS and it doesnt mean she isnt a good person or a good mormon.

  19. Well, your “modesty” standards confound me. The BYU cheerleaders wear long sleeves and high necks, but I still have to look at their bottoms and crotches all game long, like every other cheerleading squad in the country? How is that modest in any way? And I think more importantly than the clothes are the movements. Geez. I’ve been SHOCKED at what I’ve seen small LDS kids learn in ballroom classes. And when young adolescents are dancing suggestive rhumbas and cha chas, there’s a mixed message somewhere. Or maybe not, according to Stephanie Meyer and her forbidden fruit crap novels. But once upon a time, the waltz was the most scandalous dance imaginable, and we’ve pushed it a lot farther today. I teach blues dancing, but I won’t teach it to anyone younger than 18. But let’s get real. Does a neckline matter, when the movements are so sensual?

  20. I should mention that one of the biggest issues we face in dance communities around are when partners confuse a dance connection with an actual physical attraction. This is why I’m an advocate of teaching kids clean, wholesome dances, like waltz, swing, polka, schottische, hustle, etc. Not the dances that involve grinding and gyrating, like west coast (I’ve seen that dance scene go badly wrong with really sweet, confused young kids) and a lot of the latin-y stuff. They can learn that later in their teens. But 6-12 year old kids should NOT be learning “sexy” dances.

  21. Also, I adore Chelsie. She can make her own choices now and do what she wants.

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