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Department Of Dance

Faith + Works: Nathan Balser on the Power of Vulnerability

BYU Dance Professor Shares Guidance In Lecture “Vulnerability: The Companion of Faith”

Vulnerability is a word often associated with weakness and fear. Despite its commonly associated negative connotation, Department of Dance faculty Nathan Balser shared how vulnerability and trust in the Lord can strengthen us and push our creative limits.

Balser Addresses Students in the West Campus Mainstage Theater. Photo by Robyn Christensen | CFAC External Relations

“To me, vulnerability means letting people see you,” Balser said. “Not only letting people see the polished, rehearsed side that we like people to see but also your failures, mistakes and problems.” He took his definition a step further by explaining that true vulnerability is showcasing a willingness to take feedback and being open to peoples’ opinions.

Throughout his life, Balser explained that vulnerability increased his faith in his Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. “I know that the trio of supreme beings interact with me in my life,” he said.

Vulnerable moments were a key part of Balser’s life on and off the stage. From forgetting the words to his first solo in a second grade performance and stopping the show, to an embarrassing moment in a Broadway audition that ultimately landed him the role, Balser cited these anecdotes as key developments in his character and faith.

Balser recalled a core memory in the MTC after being called to the Berlin, Germany mission. In a moment of vulnerability, 19-year-old Balser asked Heavenly Father if He was aware of him and if he was on the right path. He received an instantaneous answer confirming that God was aware of him and that he was making the right choice. “I lean on that memory often and I remember how I felt, how it gave me peace,” Balser said.

In 2015, Balser was asked to choreograph a dance theater piece at BYU. He recounted that he was nervous but decided to try something new — he would choreograph the entire show to rock music. The show received mixed reviews and Balser felt defeated. His feelings of unworthiness led him to pray and receive an answer from God. “Heavenly Father wanted me to keep trying,” he said.

The Young Ambassadors Join Balser on Stage. Photo By Emma Olson | CFAC External Relations

“By successfully completing challenging tasks that required ultimate vulnerability, I provided myself with a growing body of evidence that I could show up for myself,” said Balser. “ Most importantly of all, it confirmed to me that God had faith in me, too.”

Similar to his experience with developing vulnerability, Balser shared how his creative process evolved over the years. He recalled how he was taught to perform in a very traditional teaching environment, where he was taught something, learned it and shared it back out. When he shifted from performing to choreographing, he looked to learn new methods.

Balser was present at a BYU University Conference in 2016 when former President Kevin J. Worthen initiated his idea of inspiring learning. In the speech, he spoke on experiential learning as an important aspect of inspiring students in their education. In that moment, Balser was empowered to relinquish his attachment to the final product of his research and instead focus on new ways his students could learn and grow. In a speech given the following year, President Worthen addressed the idea of the “messy middle” — an intersection of faith and secular knowledge — and the opportunities that can arise when the two areas combine.

President Worthen’s guidance, among many other inspirations, led Balser to implement a horizontal power dynamic in his teaching, in which each student is on equal footing to contribute to the choreographic process. To demonstrate the collaborative choreographic process, the BYU Young Ambassadors — whom Balser is the artistic director for — danced to “Answer Me” from the Broadway musical “The Band’s Visit.”

The Young Ambassadors Demonstrate Collaborative Choreography. Photo By Robyn Christensen | CFAC External Relations.

Balser explained that while a collaborative teaching process is gratifying, it is not always comfortable. “It’s sometimes a very slow process, painstakingly slow and can be incredibly inefficient,” he said. “However, really cool things come out of it.”

Balser explained that everytime he chooses to be vulnerable, his faith grows and vice versa. “The more invested you are in the process, the greater the self satisfaction with the outcome,” said Balser. He emphasized that Heavenly Father is the ultimate collaborator that aided him through difficult times of vulnerability throughout his life.

“My invitation to you is to include Heavenly Father, your Savior Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost in your work,” he said. “Ask for help when you’re feeling completely vulnerable, completely raw. They will be there for you.”