Dance professor encourages transformative change

BYU dance professor Pam Musil addresses students during a devotional on Tuesday, August 6. (Madeline Mortensen/BYU Photo)

BYU dance professor Pam Musil addressed students about the path of transformative change during a devotional on Tuesday, August 6. 

Musil shared the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 12:2, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed (through the) perfect will of God.” 

“The type of transformation that Paul speaks of implies a change from our carnal, natural state to a more godlike state wherein we can abide God’s presence.”

Musil discussed five principles she believes are requisite to take part in that kind of transformative change.

1. Pay attention to where you’re going

Musil recalled her earliest memories of dance training as a child when her mind would continuously wander despite her teacher’s instruction. 

“In our shared human experience, many of us similarly struggle at times with not knowing where to focus our attention as it wanders to unimportant things,” she said. “Paying attention to where we are going is one of the most fundamental things we can do in our process of becoming who we hope to become and who the Lord wants us to become.” 

Musil said that following a year of dance lessons as a child, she performed in the annual dance review and was unable to carry out the rehearsed tap steps. But she vowed to do better by paying closer attention. That small decision had a significant impact, leading Musil on the path to her eventual profession — a dance teacher. 

Musil said everybody is surrounded by daily choices that compete for their attention, including social media, recreation, school, employment and religion. But according to Musil, how one chooses to attend to various factors like these will ultimately determine our life’s journey.

“Even as members of Christ’s church, we sometimes fail to recognize when our patterns of behavior are not rooted on the gospel path,” she said. “Yet our Heavenly Father, the source of all knowledge, has laid out a pattern by which we can gain the essential skills needed to return to His presence.”

2. Stay on the path of daily practice

“Transformative change can occur suddenly in one singular event, but more often, it is a process that takes place gradually, through applied, focused daily practice,” said Musil.

Musil described the long path to becoming an accomplished dancer, which can be fraught with frustration, discouragement and doubt.

“When we find ourselves succumbing to discouragement, disillusionment or doubt, it can sometimes be tempting to give up trying altogether or to seek fulfillment that leads us off the gospel path,” she said. “And yet, that which the Savior offers us is exponentially more valuable than any fulfillment that can be found elsewhere.”

Musil said that like the path to becoming an accomplished dancer, the path of discipleship can at times be difficult, but as one faithfully stays the course, feelings of discouragement will eventually be replaced by strength.

Musil said that though people may not always recognize a change in themselves, looking back, they can see how “staying on the path of our daily practice has changed our hearts and transformed our character into something more beautiful and lovely than we could ever have imagined.”

3. Embrace the path 

“The distinction between staying on the path and embracing the path,” Musil said, “is in how we choose to make the journey: with fear, murmuring, self-pity and doubt, or with faith, submissiveness, humor and joy.”

Musil recounted the story of a dance education student named Michelle. Already bearing the strain of a difficult home life, Michelle was further burdened with a cancer diagnosis. Musil noted that though Michelle’s physical body weakened, a transformation took place in her countenance. The once reserved and shy girl began to radiate joy and goodness.

“Michelle had placed her trust in the hands of God and was rewarded with the ability to live out her remaining days with a heightened sense of happiness and love,” Musil said. “Though she had not found physical healing, Michelle found the spiritual healing and profound joy that came only through Jesus Christ’s healing Atonement.” 

Trusting with all one’s heart requires vulnerability, faith, and willingness to surrender one’s will to God, Musil said. The most supernal example of this was demonstrated by the Savior in Gethsemane, Musil said, and when His example is followed, “(we) offer ourselves up to His incomprehensible capacity to take the incomplete, broken and imperfect human being that we offer Him, and heal us.”

4. Seek perfection through Jesus Christ

Musil said the fourth principle is to understand Christ’s admonition in Matthew to “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect,” and not be deceived by counterfeit standards of perfection.

Musil noted the commonality of dancers’ inclinations towards perfectionism that comes as they are constantly surrounded by mirrors and strive to achieve flawless technique and athleticism. These falsely-perpetuated and deceptive ideas not only affect dancers but anyone through popular media.

“But the truth is, we can never achieve the kind of perfection that these images suggest,” Musil said. “Christ’s admonition to become perfect is therefore an invitation to become perfected through His mediating grace. When we humbly and sincerely offer ourselves up to be made whole and complete in Christ, we become perfected in Him. 

5. Take time to be still 

Musil said that though dance is mainly correlated with movement, the element of stillness can have a similar impact by helping clarify, punctuate, provide perspective and sometimes offer breathing space for both the dancer and observer.

Like the necessity of stillness in dance, Musil said, stillness in our personal lives helps provide perspective, clarity and breathing space. 

“In moments of stillness, distractions and uncertainties fall away. In moments of stillness, our hearts are changed and transformed. In moments of stillness, through the whisperings of the still, small voice, we come to know both the Father and His Son,” she said.

To close, Musil invited the audience to examine their lives and determine how they might apply these five principles.

“If we do so with an eye single to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, we will experience that mighty change of heart that leads to personal transformation of the highest order: to receive His very image in our countenances.”

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