Mormons well represented on 'Dance'
Benji Schwimmer chuckles every time the judges on the hit reality show "So You Think You Can Dance" say performers are dancing for their lives.
While on a mission to Mexico for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Schwimmer said, gang members threatened to kill him and his companion. Instead of panicking, Schwimmer prayed and then struck a deal. He devised an impromptu dance-off with the gang leader: If Schwimmer won, he and his companion could walk away.
"I played it all innocent. The guy started dancing, and then I walked up, took off my backpack full of Books of Mormon, and started dancing," he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. "To make a long story short, afterward he asked me if I could teach him to dance."
Those skills are now serving him well on the Fox reality TV show. Schwimmer is one of eight remaining finalists from an original field of 20 who earned a spot on the show, watched each week by an estimated 9 million people.
"Dancing for my life is not something new to me," Schwimmer said. "I just want to make sure I'm representing my church well."
Schwimmer isn't the only Mormon on the show. Contestant Heidi Groskreutz is his cousin and the two of them arranged to go to a singles ward near the Los Angeles LDS Temple following Sunday morning and afternoon show rehearsals.
And Allison Holker and Jaymz Tuaileva (who was eliminated July 6) were raised in Orem and went to a homecoming dance together at Timpanogos High School.
Holker says her faith hasn't been an issue despite the suggestive costumes that ballroom dancers wear.
"I'm going out there to play the role of a ballroom dancer," she said. "There isn't fabric on my legs because people need to see my body move."
That body has moved since she was in elementary school, and Holker has spent countless hours in a dance studio - mostly dancing, but also scrubbing floors and wiping down mirrors.
The lessons she learned from classes and cleaning has helped her become a favorite of judges and viewers.
"I didn't grow up in a rich family," said the recent high school graduate. "I grew up in a poor one, actually. I've cleaned the studio since I was 13."
Tuaileva called his experience on the show "amazing" and agreed that dancing is "not about sexual arousal or anything. We're concentrating on our movement and performance," he said.
Schwimmer says being on the show has allowed him to "erase a lot of stigmas about Mormons. I'm not really normal, but I've been able to show people that we Mormons as a whole are pretty normal people who do love to dance."
Holker's love for dance is what led Sheryl Dowling, owner of The Dance Club, to strike the cleaning deal to ensure Allison could afford to continue dancing.
"She really works harder than any kid I've ever known," Dowling said. "She has such a great attitude. She never complains, and never gives less than 100 percent."
It seems to be working. Judges have said Holker could win the whole show, which would land her a contract to dance for Celine Dion's Las Vegas show, where she could perform with her older sister, Jessica.
"When I found out the prize would be dancing with Celine, I just burst into tears," Holker said. "It's always been a dream of mine to dance with my sister."