Members of the Diamond Dance Company have a hard time pinning down exactly what they love most about their group.
They love being able to use the talent they spent their youth developing. They love being able to inspire other women, and they love the strength they gain from each other and their audience.
"It's a way to utilize my talents through song, dance and sharing testimony. It's a missionary tool. I try not to take for granted what a unique opportunity it is," Jessa Layton, of North Salt Lake, said.
Andrea McCalister, of Highland, helped start the group in 2004 as a way for dancers-turned-moms to continue dancing. From the start, the company has used inspiring music and has incorporated messages from personal experience and General Conference.
"A friend of mine and I started the group," McCalister said. "We went to work, and it took awhile to lift off the ground. We kept plugging away and holding rehearsals. It's just fun and exciting that I'm still using my talent to build Heavenly Father's kingdom. (Most of our dancers) thought, 'I don't know what to do with this talent anymore.' This is a way to do it again in a venue that inspires."
Anyone who will commit to the weekly rehearsals and twice-a-month performances is welcome, although everyone in the group has a dance background.
"I have a dance minor. Most everyone grew up dancing. Most have dancing degrees. Lots teach in studios or at BYU. It's fun to continue on after college," Layton said.
McCalister said her goal is to help women know the Savior can bless their life.
"We speak and bear testimony about our hardships and trials and that through the Savior and the refiner's fire, we become stronger," she said. "We are called Diamond Dance. The idea comes from coal. Hard things in life are like lumps of coal that under pressure and refinement can be beautiful. Weak things become strong through Christ. We want to share his light and give hope. The women can know that others have been there and done that."
The dancers are also wives and mothers, so pulling the program together is a challenge.
"There is opposition and hard times. Leaving our families is hard. I'll be leaving for a performance, and they have to have PB and J for dinner. I've wondered, is this worth it? It is, because I love to dance and want to share my testimony. I'm inspired by the beauty of the music and lyrics. We only have to rehearse once a week. We are really blessed. Heavenly Father pulls us through. He picks up the rest. It's just amazing," McCalister said.
Ashley Hoyal, who grew up in Bountiful and now lives in Lehi, said she is better for the time she spends singing for the group.
"It's so hard and frustrating to get out the door. Sometimes I drag my feet. When I do it, it strengthens my testimony and reminds me of why I'm a mom and what I'm doing with my husband and family. It puts my life into perspective."
For Layton, one of her most treasured experiences was performing while pregnant.
"It was a wonderful experience I'll always treasure, to dance and perform while I was pregnant. I danced until 36 weeks. Ladies would say, 'I think you're such an angel.' It's really quite cool," she said.
The women are also excited about the impact they have on the audience. McCalister said she has heard stories about women of various ages who have decided to come back to church or who have gained testimonies during their performance.
"We always have people who say, 'I'm so glad I came.' After every performance, I get calls from women who want to do it. Whether the audience is 10 or 400, at least one will come to me and say, 'I can't tell you how much it meant.'"
Hoyal believes their message is for every woman.
"We help women feel good about themselves and what they're doing, whether they are moms or not. Every song has the ability to impact somebody. It caters to everyone in their situation," she said.
Jessica Mayne, of North Salt Lake, was impressed by a recent performance.
"I think it is a fun way for people who danced when they were younger to be able to continue doing what they love. I was impressed with their abilities and their many costume changes. I really enjoyed the personal spiritual messages and quotes that were shared between the dances," she said.
Ganel-Lyn Condie, of North Salt Lake, agreed.
"The Diamond Dance production was inspiring and honest. I loved how open and real the performers were. They were generous in sharing their life experiences and this allowed the women in the audience to connect and feel a range of emotions," she said.
"The choreography was inspiring and the messages communicated through dance and music touched our spirits in a way nothing can. I loved the diversity of women that are a part of Diamond Dance. They are mothers and women that are each unique in style. This allowed for women in attendance to identify with someone different."
As Layton heard comments like these from sisters in her own stake, she said, she felt good about what she and her dancing friends are doing.
"I love to interact with the sisters after the gathering. I get strength from the other women in the group. It's a little intimidating to perform for your own stake. I just did for the Legacy Stake. There was such a good turnout. So many connected with the requiem angel dance," she said.
"I got to hear in the following weeks, and get glimpses from friends and peers in the neighborhood, that it's doing what we hope it does. It's touching them in ways that they need right now."