Friday, June 26, 2009

Apache Avenue Meets the World

I grew up in Rexburg, Idaho. Ninety-plus percent of the population are Mormons, and all my peers adhered to the same ethics code of spazzing off in lieu of drugs, and keeping the few beer-drinkers at the edge of town in the tavern aptly named "The Hideaway".

It was a sort of of homogeneous childhood that was safe, clean, and pervasive. It was understood by all, and built a sense of camaraderie with neighbors, school-mates, and peers. And it was a bubble.

That bubble was first poked when I realized that the swimming suit my mom had bought me from K-Mart, was light years forward in fashion than the publically issued swimwear from Ricks College. This was the pool I first learned to swim, and no one was stepping in that pool unless they donned the required wet-wear from the church-owned Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho). It looked something like this:

The swiming cap was issued with the suit. The swimwear cringed at the 80's french-cut phenomena and sliced straight across the fattest part of your thighs. One of the pool rules was NO PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION. So that woman, with her hand on her hip and eyeballing the stud creeping out of the pool? Well, I'm now the lifeguard and she is a red-flag potential threat. Keep it clean!

The swimming suits were just the beginning of strict apparel requirements to study (or workout) at this private religious college. The gym was packed with modestly dressed people, all wearing Viking Blue! in shorts hitting the knees and never-sleeveless-t-shirts. It was the safehaven for soft-bodied folks wanting to avoid hard-abbed overtanned athletes in cutoffs strutting their stuff between protein drinks.

And yet, it wasn't trying to configure an elitist group of fully covered saints trapped three decades back. The school (and it's sponsoring church) were outreaching, globally minded, and adventurous. Emissaries in the name of ballroom dancers were sent throughout the world to represent what good, clean, and faith-filled young people were like from the U.S.ofA.

And so it was that some of the world came back to me in Rexburg, Idaho, when, at the age of eleven, Rexburg hosted it's first ever International Dance Festival. My homogeneous childhood popped it's bubble a second time.

Who knew that our vast planet could cultivate so many different beautiful cultures? And so diverse! The willowy grace of the Japanese team, followed by the robust athleticism of the Russian team, the festive cadence of the Swiss team with Heidi-like costumes of apron coverlets and ribboned braids. Dancers from every continent were strutting their stuff down Rexburg's Main Street, and my little world suddenly became smaller, and bigger at the same time. Tickets sold out to fill up The College's basketball auditorium where the dance teams each had their moment to steal the stage.

After sampling all the cultures through dance at that young age, I couldn't help but become aware of my own heritage. I am American! I thought. How will the U.S. team represent me? Will they have the sultry grace of the Indian Team? The strength of the Russian Team? The carnival colors of the Mexican Team?

I'm not sure why I didn't see it coming. I mean, come on! I even took clogging lessons every week when I was eleven. But I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when the American Team came out brash, double-down-rock-stepping with flexed foot, permed hair, and overabundant yee-haws.

But it remained a celebration nonetheless. With smalltown Rexburg requiring Ricks College facilities to host the event, there was bound to be cultural clashes. Like the time a group of dancers from Europe decided to workout sans Viking Blue! knee-length shorts. I'm not sure if they were given a free pass for the sake of being a good host, but it soon turned scandalous when Ricks College staff (i.e. my dad among others) discovered them working up a the buff.

Through gritted teeth?...a hearty laugh?....they were invited back. The Rexburg International Dance Festival is now going 23 years strong.

Enjoy the 2009 party from August 1st to the 8th in good ole Rexburg, Idaho.
Scheduling info can be found here.


Cresta said...

Love it! Oooh, I must comment :) A little less-known fact - I was one of the lucky ones to be on Rick's team in '96 - it got me my first trip to Europe even though I had to endure the matching clothes, permed hair, and double-down rock steppin'

p.s. the picture of the cloggers you have there is my sister-in-law and her husband (they now run a studio in Orem and teach clogging part-time at BYU) Maria and Greg Tucker :) small world ;)

Lee Family said...

Rich went to Europe as a clogger as well . . . Gwen was probably more proud of that moment than Jared's interception against Virginia. I wish we could have hosted some dancers you know.

I think one year the dancers from America did an Indian dance? Would you rather have cloggers or Indians?

Hey, didn't you still clog at Ricks College? don't pretend like you only took lessons as an 11 year old. You clogged with a group at Ricks. Why you so shy?

LGH said...

Amber, I think you express the thoughts of many of us from the "burg" that first year...what? cloggers? Square dancing? But, it is defnitely a part of the Old West and Americana, and it's lively with toe-tapping music. Loved this blog.

Candice said...

I thought that clogging was the happiest dance in the world. I loved it. I did not learn it as a child, but I took a class my freshman year at BYU. I cannot double down rock step though. I do not even know what that is. It was not on our final.

I love the Folk Dance Festival. We hosted the Turkish dancers. It was an amazing experience.

It was a powerful medium during the cold war, when Russia and America dancing together gave us great hope.

I also loved the Ricks Swimsuits. I just thought it was simpler not to have to bring my own.

paula said...

I'm not sure whether I laughed more reminiscing about the wonderful swim apparel at Ricks College or imagining the dudes from Europe standing up from one of the workout benches and their butts sticking to the bench. Gross. I hope someone cleaned them up real good. Just when I thought I couldn't laugh any more about this....I see Niki's comment about Rich clogging......there I go-it made me laugh out loud again.

Anonymous said...

The swimsuits made me laugh, too.

And, Niki--totally the cloggers over the Indian dancers. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

Now you need to post a picture of YOU clogging, Ambos.

Mrs. Olsen said...

Cresta...I did not know you toured with the Ricks Cloggers (or Richard Lee for that matter). totally small world that the picture I chose was of your relatives. Give them a high five for me.

Niki, I desperately wanted to clog on the team that toured all over Europe. But sadly, I only made the leftover team of all girls. I had to clog while holding hands with another girl for crying out loud. But that is a post for another day.

Candice, you are awesome. Could you please, just for me, make a post on your blog about ANYTHING that you think is dumb or annoying. I will feel better about myself afterwards.

Cloggers or Indians?

Pocahontas all the way.

Wade and Marilyn said...

You are clever. I love the Rexburg "bubble." Many times I have heard from my relatives, "Why don't you get in the REAL world?"

sophia said...

Yes, it is a small world. I went to High School with Greg. We were in Okalahoma! together. Utah's not a whole lot different from Rexburg.

sophia said...

Oh, and we hosted some French dancers one year. One of them left her liquid soap in the bathroom-- it said "douche". I thought that was very naughty soap.

Mrs. Olsen said...

Sophia and Cresta...who is this Greg guy? He is making his mark in the world via arts! and dance!. Go greg whoever you are.

Sop, thanks for the douche comment. Totally made me laugh. Those naughty little french dancers;)

Jeff said...


Two Int'l Dance Festival memories:

#1--I remember going to Heise for probably the first time, and seeing a dancer in a bikini, and then she raised her arm and showed off her pits, just to prove she was from Europe. Fascinating! (It broadened my horizons).

#2--On my mission, we were at a grocery store in small-town Denmark, and the cashier asked, in English, "Where are you from?" My companion, a genius, said, "America." "I know that--where in America?" He was from Colorado, and I said, "Idaho." Eventually, Rexburg came up, and she revealed that she had been a musician for the Danish dance team. We were invited to her house for dinner, we met her boyfriend (who had been one of the dancers), had a few teaching opportunities, and she still writes me occasionally.

It's a small world, after all, indeed.