Tell us a bit about your dance background. What genres and styles did you study and who were your most influential teachers or examples?
I started dancing when I was the age of three; since then, I have been trained in different genres of dance such as ballet, modern, jazz, and hip hop. I have had many influential teachers, but one who has really brought me from an amateur level is Dr. Li Lei at Dixie State University. I work with her still at the university and am able to continue to learn from her as an adjunct faculty member.
How has dance enlarged your testimony and your ability to share it?
Dance has been a huge part of my testimony as it has helped me through many trials in life, and I have been able to use it to help others through their trials and hard times. With dance and the ability to share my talent and release many emotions, I am able to stay strong through life.
How do you find music for your choreography? What are some selections of music that inspire you?
The music is a huge part of the feelings that our audience members feel during our show. I find a lot of my songs through movies, believe it or not—some of my most inspiring music has been from inspiring movies. I used the August Rush rhapsody for our closer for several years. Our Gethsemane piece came from Avatar and some Harry Potter songs. We like to use music without vocals so our audience is able to interpret the feelings they have and expand on that spirit instead of telling them what to feel by the words. It also helps keep the stories large and open for creativity and exploration of movement instead of trying to interpret the specific words.
What led you to found God’s Messengers?
In 1996 I attended a production called A Nashville Tribute to the Prophet at Tuacahn Amphitheatre, and I loved it. As I was sitting there, it came to me that I needed to be using dance to help share the gospel. I left there with extreme motivation. I told my in-laws that someday I would have a production that would share the gospel through dance, and I hoped that one day we could perform with Michael McLean, as I had also been inspired by The Forgotten Carols. We began as a tribute to the prophets, which is where the name came from, and as we couldn’t really find a season that fit, we decided we needed a change. A former member of God’s Messengers, Jackie Huish, gave us the idea that we should center our show on our Savior, Jesus Christ. We started running that idea and everything fell into place, even doing the show over Easter weekend. We wanted to share our show with all Christians in hopes they would feel the spirit and love we have for our Savior and His life.
Of all the pieces you have choreographed, which one has touched you the most?
Every piece has touched me in some way or another, and they all have a great story behind them. One that specifically stands out is the Garden of Gethsemane. I was up all night one night after reading a story on this piece about a man who had a dream of watching the Savior in the garden. I immediately thought that it would be an intense piece if the dancers could portray feelings we would have if we were behind a tree watching the Savior suffer for our sins. The dancers actually helped choreograph this piece. And our rehearsal was so intense and filled with the spirit that every company member was in tears when they saw it.
What are some unique aspects to directing a company whose purpose is to uplift and inspire?
It takes a total different directing technique than what I am used to, and a lot of pondering and praying. The most unique one is trying to keep the spirit there while also critiquing and disciplining dancers. Satan tries every company member during their time on the company, and so I am constantly trying to help people understand the temptations they will feel, for example desires of quitting or talking negatively about the company or its members.
How do you prepare to choreograph?
First I start with prayer, then I do a lot of research on the story of the part of the Savior’s life which will become the piece I choreograph. Then I start exploring different music that will inspire the audience to feel similar emotions to what the story is. After that, I begin exploring dance movement and style that will express the story from start to finish. The starts of many pieces have been inspired through thoughts coming into my head during church meetings or discussions on the gospel.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in founding and running a dance company?
One of the biggest challenges I face is explaining the show so that others can understand it. It is something you have to see to believe. Everyone who sees it always lets me know they now understand why I am so passionate about it. Along with that challenge, it is hard to get support from many people, because they just don’t understand how dance could go along with the gospel. This stems from the past view of dance and also the new worldly view of dance. Dance has a interesting reputation, and it makes it a little harder to understand how it could help express the gospel.
Another challenge is financial—each production costs anywhere from $8,000–12,000 (rent, programs, posters, props, and costumes). The company works super hard to cover the costs with sponsors and tickets sales, but we have not had a year yet where we have covered the entire show. My husband helps me make up the difference.
The final challenge is keeping the peace in our company and helping our dancers understand the challenge Satan brings to them because he does not want them to share their beauty and talent. Every year we have different trials that our company faces, but every year we get through them.
How is it different choreographing for and directing God’s Messengers versus other secular dance companies you’ve worked with?
The choreography part is usually pretty easy and inspired if I have the spirit with me. Directing is a lot more challenging and different than directing my other companies—it requires a different kind of patience and teaching. I have to keep my calm and constantly keep myself in company of the spirit. As a director and coach, I find that my natural reaction is a lot more intimidating than what I feel I need to be as director for God’s Messengers. I have had many times where dancers will interpret this as meaning I don’t care, because I don’t come off stressed and chaotic. It makes them nervous in a sense, but it keeps a special feeling for the company.
How has your faith helped you in your pursuit of dance as a career?
Many times in my life I have been faced with the opportunity to quit dance, especially my business. My husband and I went through a seven-year fertility struggle only to realize the reason we were not able to have a full-term pregnancy was because the Lord knew if I would have had a child one moment earlier than we did, I would not have been able to keep my studio and be the mother I needed to be. Through all the times of struggle it would have been easier to quit. Dancing can be a struggle at times, spending many hours with the same set of girls. More times than not dancers can end up hurt or bullied or mistreated. I spend a lot of time refereeing and trying to help dancers understand each other’s intentions and trying to help people understand that perspectives are different and that it does not make one more right than the other. I have been able to keep a reputation of having higher standards when it comes to costuming, music selection, and sportsmanship. My faith has kept me strong through my career. My career would not exist without the faith and beliefs I have. My beliefs have given me an unbreakable foundation to teach young dancers and share my talents with them.
What advice would you give to those wanting to pursue a career in dance?
I would let them know to never change who they are, to be the unique dancer that they are, to find their niche and stick to it.
Has dance as a medium helped you to reach people you might not have been able to in another way?
Dance has for sure helped me reach others that I normally would not. Dance has brought me many opportunities to be an example to others who are not members. I have been able to travel many places with dance, which has brought me into contact with many people that I normally would not have met.
How does your work help you spread the gospel?
Every time I get asked what I do and I mention I direct a professional dance company called God’s Messengers, it gets a different reaction. These reactions always lead to a discussion about our Savior and the gospel. I love these opportunities and how they have helped me to achieve missionary work.
What would you say to someone who insists that “they can’t dance” or “that dance isn’t for them?”
To those who say they can’t dance: Everyone can dance. I once attended a dance convention with a young girl who had her legs amputated at the upper thigh, and she could dance better than most of the dancers out there. I am a firm believer that if one can do it, all can do it—everyone can dance.
To those who say that dance isn’t for them: Then you have not truly danced for the right reasons. ❧