by Terri Winder
“This is incredible,” a young woman commented as she saw the San Juan High School gymnasium dance floor full of teenagers. “When I used to attend high school dances, we mostly sat or stood along the walls for an hour or two and then went home.”
It was often that way in Blanding too, until Alton and Darcie Chamberlain came back to town.
Alton graduated from San Juan High School, where his older sisters Alyson and Alyn had some experience with empty-floor dances. They were the ones who taught him how to dance.
At first they had to force the issue, assuring him that he would be grateful for their tutelage. After a few lessons in the front room and some actual experience at a New Year’s Eve dance, 14-year-old Alton decided he liked dancing.
He started watching dance movies, paying attention to the steps. Pretty soon his friends were gathering for dance parties and swing dance competitions, and he was teaching them.
The big pay-off for Alton came when he was a student at Southern Utah University and met his future wife — at a dance.
The first two things he noticed about her was that “she was really cute and a very good dancer”. Alton adds he was also impressed with her great personality, but one wonders how well she would have held his interest had she not known how to dance.
Darcie grew up in St. George, UT, taking tap, jazz, and ballet classes, but where she really learned to dance was in her friend’s basement rec room. She knew that a lot of young men get to college not knowing the social skills that go along with dancing; Alton was obviously ahead of the pack. It is no surprise to hear they danced at their wedding reception.
As a couple, the Chamberlains have shared their love for dance. In their years away from Blanding, they worked with troubled teens in New York and Nevada and found dance to be very therapeutic. One young man told them, “I’ve never had so much fun while being sober!”
“Dancing can be a wonderful social activity,” Alton says, “an activity that kids need to learn. We teach them, so they can have a good experience in a good environment.”
“So many of the current dances aren’t healthy,” Darcie observes. “We want to restore the health. We don’t go for the club atmosphere and the mainstream electronic dance music. There is some fun hip hop music, but it’s hard to dance to. Kids need more than the bong bong beat of techno.”
“The songs need to be good,” Alton says, “if the dance is going to be good. A bad song kills the spirit.” He’s talking about the spirit of fun that permeates their dances: everyone has an enjoyable time when the music is pleasant.
The Chamberlains ask the youth for suggestions, and they take requests, but then they screen the songs before adding them to their playlist. Darcie reads through the lyrics and if there is anything sexually suggestive, macabre, or offensive, the song gets scratched off the list.
For the past six years, the Chamberlains have taught a free youth dance workshop each Wednesday night during the month of January. At their workshops, the Chamberlains teach the waltz, the swing, and line dances. The youth love the line dances, where they don’t have to worry about having a partner or stepping on someone else’s feet.
The line dances are not only just plain fun, they are good exercise. There’s not much of the “freshman shuffle” going on. Knowing what to do gives the youth confidence, and that is why the dances in Blanding have become so successful.
Last year, the Chamberlains sponsored a successful Fourth of July community dance. They have also been DJs for other dances, such as the prom and special prom. The Chamberlains want to see more family dances, and more married couples at the Gold and Green Ball, as well as the return of sock hops at the high school.
When asked how involved they want to become — whether they want to do more than they are presently doing — they looked at each other and then responded, “In the future.”
Alton is presently in an USU master’s business program. Darcie is just finishing her RN degree and plans to get a bachelor’s in nursing. They also are very involved in the lives of their five children.
Though they lead busy lives, they are very passionate about teaching and sharing the virtues of dance. This is demonstrated by the fact that Darcie was “out of commission” for six months during 2011, battling a rare form of leukemia, but she didn’t stop dancing. Indeed, dance may well have been an important part of her therapy.
If you think you don’t like dancing, or you’ve given it up because dances “aren’t what they used to be,” perhaps you should attend the next dance the Chamberlains are the DJs for. I’m guessing you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
It has been written that Socrates learned to dance when he was 70, as he “felt an essential part of himself had been neglected.” If he had had Alton and Darcie Chamberlain for his teachers, he would have been fortunate indeed.