Dan Lund For The Deseret News
Michael Morrow twirls around in the backyard of his home in Orem. In addition to modern dance, he is studying poetry at UVSC, where he is working on his third bachelor's degree.

OREM — Sometimes, late at night, after he's brushed his teeth and pulled the covers over his head, 61-year-old Michael Morrow gets an itch.

He can't scratch it away. He can't dream it away. There's nothing to do, says the grizzled Vietnam veteran, but tiptoe barefoot to the backyard to do a little moonlight dancing.

"I get that feeling and I've got to get up," said Morrow, who lives in Orem. "I have movement in my soul."

That same "movement" propelled Morrow to study modern dance and poetry at Utah Valley State College, where he's on the brink of graduating with a bachelor's degree in integrated studies. When he's not in class, the stout 5-foot-4 dancer is working on his flexibility in yoga or finding inner peace doing gi gong, a type of meditational martial arts.

Morrow's spring semester schedule, composed entirely of classes in art, dance and philosophy, was "as exhilarating a four months" as he's ever had, he said. For a man who grew up under the tutelage of Catholic nuns, studied hula in Hawaii and spent several years manning a submarine for the U.S. Navy, that's saying a lot.

"I have things to share with my surroundings," Morrow said. "Art, dance and poetry give me a vehicle to express what I'm feeling."

It's a little unusual, Morrow admitted, that an "old buzzard" like him is dancing alongside a bunch of "chick-a-licious 22-year-olds." But he loves the arts so much he doesn't care who gives him weird looks.

"I'm not coming to class with any ulterior motives or anything creepy," he said. "I just want to learn to move, leap, be graceful."

Dance, Morrow said, is about more than looking pretty — which is not, by the way, something Morrow claims to accomplish. He can't describe what it is that he loves about dancing. He has to stand up, turn down the lights and start twirling.

"I feel a real internal connection when I dance," he said.

He credits movement with changing him from a drunken, confused sailor to a man with goals and purpose. After finalizing his third divorce, Morrow said, he decided something in his life had to change. He went back to school.

"Now learning is what keeps me going," said Morrow, who will have three bachelor's degrees when he graduates in a year. "It lights my way."

Kim Strunk, chairwoman of UVSC's department of dance, said she recognized Morrow's determination to master the arts almost as soon as she met him.

"How could you miss it? she said.

Still, she was a little hesitant when Morrow, who had no previous dance experience, first approached her about emphasizing his degree on dance, she said.

"He's just a non-non-non-traditional student," she said. "I mean, I can't even keep up with these girls at my age, and I have a professional dance background."

The department had to tweak the curriculum a little to fit his needs, but Strunk, who's had Morrow in class, said he is improving at an unprecedented rate.

"Michael's just not afraid to try anything," she said. "He just jumps right in. He doesn't care if he look ridiculous. And, you know what? By the end of class he's usually got the jive of it."

If Morrow doesn't have a movement down by the end of class, though, he doesn't let it get him down. It took Morrow almost 20 years to master his favorite move — a graceful arm swirl reminiscent of swaying seaweed. And he practices all the time. Literally. He practices while he's watching television, while his relaxing in the hot tub and while he's waiting for the bus.

"What's discouraging?" he said. "I've never been anything like that in my life. I don't even know what that means."

E-mail: estuart@desnews.com