After Randy Boothe dedicated decades to the Young Ambassadors, he is now passing on the leadership to Nathan Balser
For 43 years, Randy Boothe led and traveled with the Young Ambassadors, taking them across the globe to perform. Nathan Balser will take on the role of Artistic Director after Boothe retires this August.
“I will certainly miss the students and our amazing traveling companions. But I feel great about passing the torch to Nathan,” said Boothe. “He has fresh new ideas and will take the group to new heights.”
Taking the group to new heights has been Boothe’s role for decades. In 1979, Boothe and the Young Ambassadors traveled to China for the first time, and they have since traveled to China nine more times, most recently in 2019. The group has been to a total of 68 different countries in the past 50 years. During his time as artistic director, Boothe and the Young Ambassadors have toured a total of 45 countries.
“From the very beginning, the mission of the Young Ambassadors has been to share our love of the gospel through the medium of music and dance. But we’re more than singing and dancing,” said Boothe. “Our message is friendship.”
One of Boothe’s most memorable trips was the first overseas trip to the Soviet Union in 1978. The performance was filmed and broadcast all over the USSR through Soviet Central TV.
As Boothe retires from his role, with plans to continue working in education, he is glad to be passing on the position to someone as qualified as Balser.
“He is no stranger to the team,” said Boothe. “He will love them as I have loved them.”
The shift in leadership is not the only change the Young Ambassadors had this year. In January 2020, the Young Ambassadors transitioned from the School of Music to the Department of Dance. Originally, Balser saw this move as a logistical one since the nature of the group is multi-disciplined in music, arts and dance. YA performance tours also make it a great fit in the Department of Dance. In addition, Balser sees the move as an opportunity to include students from other majors.
“I hope this will become an opportunity to involve more dance majors. The group really is academically tied to Music Dance Theatre (MDT). Although the production itself might be unique and not a typical theatrical production modelled in the professional world, there are aspects of theatre, music and dance inherently and consciously involved in the show,” Balser said.
As a student, Balser auditioned to be on the Young Ambassadors but wasn’t accepted. At the time, Boothe encouraged him to work on his dancing skills.
“It was difficult feedback to hear at the time, but it ultimately changed the course of my life for good,” said Balser.
His effort to improve as a dancer led Balser to receiving his MFA in dance performance, and he danced professionally in concerts and on Broadway. He performed on Broadway in the original cast of “Promises, Promises” with Kristen Chenoweth, “9 to 5: The Musical” with Allyson Janney, “Damn Yankee” with Cheyenne Jackson, and “Legally Blonde.” In 2009, He also performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with the cast of “Legally Blonde.”
During his career, Balser has danced with Repertory Dance Theatre, Odyssey Dance, Molissa Fenley, John Malashock, Scott Rink and Utah Regional Ballet. These experiences, as well as countless others, led Balser to teach and choreograph his own work — including at BYU.
In 2012, Balser became a dance teacher at BYU teaching contemporary modern dance and musical theatre dance courses. He served as the artistic director of Contemporary Dance Theatre from 2013 until 2019. Balser’s experience with the Young Ambassadors started when Boothe asked Balser to choreograph for the team. He choreographed his version of “The Challenge Dance” from “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” for the Young Ambassadors.
“To be able to work so closely with the students helped me remember why I love teaching so much — it’s the personal interactions, sharing of ideas and learning from one another that is inherent in the experiential nature of the arts,” said Balser.
Although this change in leadership is a massive shift after several decades, Balser still plans on maintaining the legacy of the team.
“I do believe the basic nature and legacy of the Young Ambassadors is key and I want to continue it. Their name is not accidental. They can be ambassadors for our academic programs, the university, and quite frankly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said Balser. “When they leave campus, they carry the Spirit of the Y with them. I have witnessed that as they interact and engage with communities and populations outside the university, they can be a powerful influence for good, like so many of our other academic programs and groups.”
To follow updates on the Young Ambassadors, visit BYU YA Instagram.