It's easy to wonder if this is exactly what Ernest L. Wilkinson had in mind, but Brigham Young University has become a ballroom dancing hotbed.

In the 1960s, BYU President Wilkinson and other school administrators disliked then-popular dances such as the twist, limbo, swim and jerk. School dances were closely monitored, and bands were told not to play loud, sensual music.As an alternative, Wilkinson instructed BYU's dance department to increase the number of ballroom dance classes. The school poured resources into the program, and it has flourished ever since. Ballroom dancing remains at least as popular among BYU students today as those of 35 years ago.

In fact, BYU's influence is making ballroom dancing highly popular at local high schools, junior highs and even elementary schools. The ultimate ballroom dance fest, the U.S. DanceSport Championships, began at BYU's Marriott Center Thursday and continues through Saturday.

If Wilkinson's objective was to prevent arousing music, flamboyant costumes and a little sensuality, he has apparently failed. DanceSport mixes all of that into an upbeat, athletic package that is expected to draw 1,000 competitors in 30 events this week.

"A lot of people think of it as a sissy activity, when in reality most people who think that way couldn't even do it," said Michael Johnson, a member of BYU's touring ballroom dance company.

At BYU, where students can actually major in ballroom dance and where there are four official backup touring teams, few students probably think of DanceSport as a "sissy activity" anymore. In fact, nearly 20 percent of the student body enrolls in DanceSport ballroom dance classes each year.

"I've heard of guys who stayed at BYU several years longer than they had to because they wanted to dance," said former BYU ballroom dancer Kim McIntire.

In the 1980s, the influence of former BYU ballroom dancers began to be felt in local public schools. As dancers graduated from college, many of them began to teach ballroom dance and establish competing teams at schools in Utah and Salt Lake counties.

Among the first and most successful schools was Pleasant Grove High, which is once again defending its first-place slot this week. For several years, some students transferred from their own schools to Pleasant Grove just to participate in DanceSport. But now, many of those schools also have programs - practically all operated by BYU grads.

Among the local high schools competing at this week's championships are Mountain View, Timpanogos, Provo, Orem, Timp-view, Alta, Pleasant Grove and American Fork. In addition, there are competitors from private dance schools, middle schools and elementary schools throughout Utah. Individual competitors come from as far away as New York.

McIntire, who now teaches ballroom at Dixon Middle School, said ballroom dancing wasn't popular with Dixon students when he arrived six years ago. But now, he teaches several classes per day and some students even arrive before school to practice.

At the DanceSport Championships, competitors include amateurs and professionals in various classifications. The winners in some events will be named national champions, and some will be eligible to compete in the world championships.

This is the third year BYU has hosted the championships, and the school has a contract to continue to do so through 2004. Some of this year's event will be the televised on the Nostalgia Channel. Tickets are still available for the remaining competitions.

"It's such a positive interaction between boys and girls," said BYU dance faculty member Claudia Hill.

Students at this week's competition extolled the benefits of what they call a combination of sport and art form.