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Faith + Works: BYU Dance Professor Teaches How Loss Can Prompt Growth and Reflection

BYU Dance Professor Kori Wakamatsu Showcased How Dance and Her Personal Experience Offer a New Perspective on Loss

Photo by Emma Olson

How can something as heartbreaking as grief and loss be a catalyst for positive movement? Kori Wakamatsu’s Faith + Works lecture on Feb. 2, entitled “Lessons on Loss: The Choreography of Letting Go,” gave insightful answers to a difficult question.

Wakamatsu began her lecture by inviting audience members to write three things they are afraid of losing on a piece of paper and fold the sheet into a paper airplane. In sync, Wakamatsu instructed the audience to stand up and throw their paper airplanes into the air. They then used that loss to inspire choreography by tracing the motion of their airplane with their hands.

At Kori Wakamatsu's request, audience members stand up and throw their paper airplanes into the air.
Photo by Emma Olson

Wakamatsu asked the audience how it felt to let go of something precious to them. She then invited four female students in the BYU Department of Dance to join her on the stage and demonstrate the paper airplanes’ artistic paths in a performance.

Dancers evoked loss and grief through rhythmic movement as they traced the loss of their own paper airplanes. Their performance led into the topic of Wakamatsu’s lecture, which was that loss can lead to creation, despite its negative qualities.

Wakamatsu later outlined six lessons - or beneficial outcomes - that are inspired through loss.

First, loss prompts reflection. Wakamatsu told audience members, “It is in times of loss that I ask questions and I reflect and I’m asking myself, ‘What can I learn from this?’” She shared that her son fractured his patella at the start of his football season, and she worried that this trial would break him.

However, Wakamatsu was surprised to see that her son remained firm despite this disappointment. Because he had experienced loss before, he was better equipped to handle more loss.

“I credit the fact that we had these little losses before that built his resilience,” Wakamatsu affirmed.

Second, loss invites gratitude. Wakamatsu’s daughter nearly lost her two front teeth, and after a long period of time eating soft foods and waiting for them to heal with little progress, she shared with her mother, “This Thanksgiving when we go around the table I’m gonna say I’m grateful for teeth.”

Wakamatsu expressed amazement and gratitude that her daughter reacted with positivity instead of giving up. She said, “I think…even the loss of being able to chew can build gratitude in unique ways.”

Third, loss creates space, time and energy. Wakamatsu referenced an experience in 2016 where her brother-in-law passed away and her brother had been diagnosed with cancer. Another loss was when her husband was laid off from his job. Although distressing, this third loss gave her husband the time, space, and energy to meet the needs of their three children while Wakamatsu attended hospitals, doctors’ visits, funeral homes, as well as meet her professional expectations.

“Sometimes we think of loss as a void,” Wakamatsu said, “but I don’t really believe in the idea that our life is a vacuum. When loss happens, something always rushes in.”

Fourth, loss allows people to say goodbye. Wakamatsu shared a quote from Ally Isom, the Director of Institutional Messaging for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

“Repentance is bidding your former self farewell,” Isom said. Wakamatsu challenged audience members “to invite repentance, to invite renewal, to invite something new” from the losses they experience.

Fifth, loss motivates movement. When Wakamatsu’s mother passed away, she mourned the relationship she could have developed had she known her time with her mother would be so short. However, she expressed that as a result, her relationship with her father has grown immensely.

“There are opportunities that are given to us of action that develop when there’s loss,” Wakamatsu said. By taking action despite the loss of her mother, Wakamatsu was able to inspire positive movement.

Sixth, loss petitions people to seek God. Wakamatsu explained that when she experiences loss, she knows it is a reminder to rely on God and Jesus Christ.

“ not overlook the importance of doubt,” Wakamatsu said, quoting Eric Gillett, chair of BYU’s Department of Design. “Doubt causes you to question. It causes you to study. It causes you to seek reassurance from loved ones and your leaders. Most important, it causes you to approach the Lord for guidance.”

Finally, Wakamatsu expressed her love and concern for BYU students who may feel lost, reminding them that loss can be overcome and that they always have a place in God’s eyes.

“I want you to know that you are not lost,” she said. “You are found. The Lord knows you. The Lord loves you. Yell for others. Stay with us. You are not lost.”