Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Jake Coburn and Michelle Clark appear to be knotted up under the watchful eyes of dance instructor Paul Wilding, left, during their University of Utah ballroom dance class Thursday in Salt Lake City.

Reality television programs including "So, You Think You Can Dance" and "Dancing With the Stars" have boosted the hype surrounding dance programs and clubs at local colleges and universities, keeping more students on their toes.

Although enrollment in such programs may not be directly affected at all of Utah's schools, ticket sales and general interest certainly have increased, said Jacob Knight, assistant coach for Utah State University's Ballroom Dance Company.

"Most of the people who watch those programs are not college students," he said, adding, however, that some of his friends never miss an episode. He admitted to tuning in every once in a while, "just to get ideas for different dance moves."

The increased awareness of dancing, he said, puts more pressure on the company to perform better — which in turn makes them better dancers.

Casual learners are mostly interested in what University of Utah dance instructor Paul Wilding calls social dance, or moves they can use at weddings or other social gatherings. He said that is the audience most influenced by the growing TV hype.

"The shows have had an influence on some, it has definitely increased awareness, but the die-hards are already in the class," he said. "No doubt about it though, people love to watch dancing."

Sometimes Wilding takes on the persona of one of ABC's popular judges, Bruno Tonioli, when he provides constructive criticism to his students, saying "that was horrible," in a thick British accent. "We joke about it sometimes," said Wilding, who teaches both at the U. and in a private studio.

Not only is dancing a "youthful activity, making you feel young," but Wilding said the movements can actually be cathartic both physically and mentally.

"It lets you get out and kick up your heels, so to speak," he said.

Numbers have always been strong in the ballroom and other dance courses at the U., but director of fitness Shannon Mulder said recently, their programs have been competing for space on public billboards that are advertising multiple dance events across campus.

"The popularity of dancing is absolutely 100 percent growing," she said, adding that interdisciplinary programs are not only popping up all over campus but in the community. "I would definitely say that it has something to do with Apollo Ohno," she said.

"It's a great way to stay in shape, make friends and you get to wear some really pretty dresses," said USU dance coach Jennifer Tonioli. She and Knight are partners on the intercollegiate competing team. The endless hours of practice and choreography are worth it "once you get the dance right and know you can do it," she said.

Tonioli, a business/multi-media major at USU, said anyone can learn how to dance, adding that rhythm is really the only requirement.

"If you can hear and feel the beat, you can be taught and learn how to dance," Knight said, adding that it's a sort of "refined athletics." They both enjoy the competition and the similar challenges portrayed on television of learning to respect and trust and work well with a partner.

"The competition is real and that is when it's fun to watch. But it's mostly for entertainment," Tonioli said. "There are some good dancers out there. That only makes us push ourselves harder."

Season six of "Dancing With the Stars" begins tonight on ABC.

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