- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) - Long before they were married, Shane and Shannon Jensen had a lot in common.

Until they were 13, neither of the Utah natives imagined lives dedicated to professional ballroom dance competitions.

Shane had dreams of Olympic glory as a gymnast and Shannon was determined not to follow in her mother and father’s footsteps.

“My parents danced, so that was the last thing I wanted to do. Ballroom dancing was for sissies,” she said recently.

But Shannon needed to sign up for another class in school and reluctantly picked ballroom dancing.

“From the first day, I loved it. And by the end of the first week, I wanted to do it forever. I did think, ‘Oh, I’m crazy. I can’t make a decision like that at 13.’ “

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Utah, Shane had started gymnastics training at the age of 7.

“I was kind of on an Olympic path, but I got burned out. It became too much like work,” he said.

Ballroom dancing is huge in Utah, due in some part to the great success of the competitive dancing team at Brigham Young University, so Shane decided to give it a try.

He was 13, just like Shannon.

“The second I started, I knew I loved it,” he said of the combination of using his athletic abilities with the artistry of executing intricate choreography.

Shane and Shannon would eventually win full scholarships to BYU, and it was there they teamed up professionally and personally.

Now living in Stamford, the dancers are being seen in the PBS series “America’s Ballroom Challenge,” which was taped last fall at the world’s largest ballroom dance competition in Columbus, Ohio.

Aired on three consecutive Friday nights, that started on April 24, the series shows the Jensens in competition and then in a special cabaret finale episode on May 8.

In Columbus, the couple took sixth place in the American rhythm finals and fifth place in the show dance category.

The Ohio event was just one stop on the regular competitive circuit for the Jensens.

“We probably compete on an average of every third week, but next month we’ll be doing it every weekend,” Shannon said of traveling to Wisconsin, New Jersey and Atlanta in four weeks’ time.

At the end of May, the two ballroom dancers will be competing in a British contest.

“We have a really good employer. They understand,” she said of the management at the Metropolitan Dance Center in Stamford letting the couple schedule their students around the travel itineraries.

Shannon attributes a lot of her discipline and enjoyment of competitive dancing from being part of the team at BYU.

“They have a well-known ballroom dance team there and they’ve held the national title since the 1980s,” she said.

Although ballroom dancing has gone in and out of fashion over the years, it has gotten regular boosts from such pop culture hits as the movies “Strictly Ballroom” and “Dirty Dancing” and more recently the long-running hit ABC series, “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“It’s kind of interesting because it has always been popular, but a little bit underground,” Shannon said of the periods when ballroom dancing has been out of the limelight, adding that another bump in interest came from the Richard Gere-Jennifer Lopez film “Shall We Dance” in 2004.

Both of the Jensens said it is a great advantage to be married to your competitive dance partner, albeit with a few personal challenges.

“I feel fortunate that we dance together because we can travel together and have the same schedule,” she said.

“Of course, you have to find some alone time, too,” she added of winding down from being together personally and professionally most of the time.

Shane sees a real advantage in having a wife who understands the unique pressures of his work and all of the weekend competing.

“Whenever things get too stressful you have that other person who can help you through it because you don’t have to fill each other in on what’s going on.”

“We have friends who dance, but their spouses live in another area. It’s definitely harder for them to make sure they have their own down time together. We’re blessed in that area,” he said.

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