The videos highlight traditional dances with personal meaning to the dancers
When their outreach performance plans were thwarted by COVID-19, BYU Living Legends found a creative way to overcome — producing a series of videos to share their heritage, talents and testimonies.
The ensemble — made up of BYU students of Polynesian, Latin American and Native American descent — performs traditional dances from their cultures. Living Legends created “Message of Hope and Joy,” a 50-minute limited release for youth and young adults in two local stakes where they were meant to perform in March. Shot and edited by Scott Cook, the video is a compilation of songs and testimonies from Living Legends.
To finish out the rest of the semester strong, the company divided into teams and continued to work towards their goals despite the distance — like Team Fit, who created workouts to help keep the team active and healthy, and Team “Rep It,” who worked on social media promotion.
In addition, Team “Keep It” created three shorter videos, each centering around a specific cultural dance with a personal connection to one of the dancers. Living Legends members consulted with cultural experts on campus and drew from their personal experiences to provide context around these traditional dances.
Leiema Hunt, who graduated in April with her master’s degree, consulted with BYU’s Dr. Gaugau Tavana to educate viewers on the Sasā, a dance from her native Samoa.
“One of the key messages of these videos is knowing and remembering who you are,” said Hunt. “First and foremost, we have a divine heritage. We also have a cultural heritage — learning about our culture can help anyone to gain a deeper understanding of who their predecessors are. That is a beautiful message for everyone.”
Savannah Ampuero, a data science graduate on Living Legends, chose to spotlight the Bolivian Caporales dance. She saw the project as an opportunity to inform viewers and foster a loving appreciation for culture.
“I think it’s important for a community to appreciate the diversity of its citizens,” she said. “This allowed me to share a part of my heritage with my community. As we learn to understand each other and appreciate all cultures, I believe our community will be more unified and peaceful.”
Kiona Lucio, a junior on Living Legends, narrated the video for the Native American Hoop dance, which he began learning from his father when he was five years old.
“There are so many ways we can help others become more aware and understanding of our cultures,” said Lucio. “These videos are just one of many ways we can do this.”
Jacob Payne, the lead audio engineer for Living Legends, was an instrumental part of bringing these videos to life. Normally, he works to set up and manage audio for the group on tour, but he brought his videography expertise to help Living Legends share these messages on-screen.
“In most touring groups that I’ve worked with, the technicians and the performers kind of keep to themselves, but Living Legends is different,” said Payne. “We are all a family, and it is that family environment that made me want to give back to the group and use my talents to create something special, both for them and for those who will end up seeing those videos.”
Living Legends is a tight-knit group, but working towards these projects during quarantine helped bring the group even closer.
“There’s still very much a sense of community and love for and help for each other, but there’s something about going through something difficult together that helps you to love each other more,” said Living Legends director Jamie Kalama Wood.
These videos are part of Living Legends’ larger mission to reach out to the community, both locally and out of state. While on tour in Yuma, Arizona, the company performed for a school on the reservation they visited, and Wood heard from one of the teachers about the impact their performance had on the students.
“He said that he now had students at the elementary school level running up to him and saying, ‘Is that what college can be? There are people who look like me, doing dances that I know — what college is that? Can I go there? Can I dance for them?’ And now they have this goal to go to college,” said Wood. “These people are not just on reservations far away, they’re very much a part of our local community as well.”
In addition to sharing the cultural history behind these dances, Living Legends has a unique opportunity to testify of the gospel through their performances and their outreach.
“Part of it is the spiritual side, our testimonies and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how everyone in the group is literal descendants of the people in the Book of Mormon,” said Wood. “The other part is sharing what our cultures look like now, who we are and how we live. That’s exciting to me because as we do that, we naturally start to break down walls and stereotypes, even though that’s not the specific mission of the group. It really is just to share who we are.”
Follow Living Legends on Instagram (@byulivinglegends) and stay tuned to see the videos.