SALT LAKE CITY — It was unusual when KyLee Washburn and Kelsey Anderson left EnergySolutions Arena by themselves following the last Utah Jazz home game before Christmas.
Normally they’d exit with all 20 members of the internationally renowned Nu Skin Jazz Dancers, but that night these two friends were in thoughtful moods, particularly when they entered the brightly lit plaza in front of the arena.
Not far in the distance were the illuminated spires of the Salt Lake Temple, framed by the millions of lights at Temple Square.
They began talking about the age change for missionaries announced at the October 2012 general conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anderson told her friend that she'd decided to serve and had already started the process.
Washburn was astonished to hear this because she had been thinking about the same thing for weeks, and in the moment that Anderson said she was going, Washburn said she realized, “I have to go, too.”
Washburn said they were thrilled when the realization struck that they had been on the same spiritual journey, even though it meant resigning from the Jazz Dancers at the pinnacle of their dancing careers.
“We were so excited to find out that the other wanted to go that we literally started jumping up and down for joy, hugging each other with tears running down our cheeks,” she said.
Since then, Anderson has received her mission call to serve in Ventura, Calif., and Washburn to Resistencia, Argentina. They will finish the season with the Jazz and, as far as they know, they are the first Jazz dancers called to serve missions.
Both Anderson and Washburn remember what they were doing when they learned women could serve LDS missions at 19.
“I was at work when my brother texted me during general conference with the short message, ‘Boys can go at 18 and girls at 19,’” Anderson said. “I distinctly remember thinking, ‘That is so cool that they can go right out of high school.’ For a few days I didn’t think about it again, but then the thought came that maybe I should go, and before long I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had that 'burning in the bosom' feeling that just wouldn’t go away. I remember that when I finally said, ‘I’m going on a mission,’ I had an immediate and incredible feeling of peace.”
Washburn said she learned about the change “while getting my hair done.” It didn’t spark an immediate interest, but the seed was planted that “I could go right now if I want to. That started the thought process, and soon I was fasting and praying. I have always had this unshakable testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, and I felt that after 19 wonderful years of being blessed I should share the knowledge of the gospel when and where I can. If I didn’t do it, I would almost feel guilty because I have been so blessed, and I need to share it with others. Eventually I accepted the idea that I should put my life on hold, knowing that things will work out when I get home.”
Anderson grew up in Holladay and is a sophomore majoring in political science at the University of Utah. She said she hopes to be a political commentator and writer "because I love our country so much, and I want to be involved in the political process that keeps us great.” She said she is putting her schooling and dancing on hold to serve a mission so she can help others.
“It would be so selfish of me to just sit here and go through my life and not share the knowledge I have that there is a God, that he loves you, and that his son came and atoned for our sins," she said. "Most important for me is the knowledge we have that families can be together forever. I have this feeling of despair for people who think that death is an end; to me, that would fill one’s life with anxiety and depression, and so I want to share the feeling of peace that the gospel brings to me.”
Washburn, a Salt Lake City resident, is also a student, majoring in business management at Utah Valley University. She hopes to start her own business one day.
Before starting college or dreaming of serving missions, both women pursued their dreams of becoming Jazz dancers in high school.
Washburn was a member of the Bingham High School Minerettes drill team, which took first place at a state competition while she was on the team. Anderson danced for the Cottonwood High drill team, which took second place the same year, losing only to Bingham. After dancing in high school, both women decided to try out for the Jazz Dancers.
The tryouts started with a boot camp in which 120 girls competed. At the end of camp, 50 were selected for audition week. Neil Anderson, the Jazz fitness trainer, put the dancers through a physically challenging ordeal of jumping, running and dancing, including a routine similar to an exercise used to train U.S. Navy Seals, according to Anderson.
“It was unbelievably hard,” Washburn said. “We wanted to look our best, so everyone was wearing makeup, and there we were sweating like crazy because of the energy that was required to compete. Each time a drill was finished, we’d see girls giving up and walking off the course.”
After three days of conditioning, they performed three required dance routines, and then went home to wait for the appointed time when they could call a recorded message to see if their number had been selected.
Competitors in high school and even during Jazz Dancer tryouts, Anderson and Washburn became close friends when they were selected as part of the group of eight new dancers for the team.
Both have experienced many positive aspects by being associated with the Jazz Dancers.
"While our uniforms are extremely well styled, it’s clear that we have the most modest presentation in the NBA, and we like that," Washburn said.
Anderson said she likes sharing information about staying healthy with the public.
“When we get to go out and meet with young girls and the public to increase excitement for the Jazz, we are able to talk about the benefits of good physical conditioning, and the fact that a person should eat well and stay in shape," she said. "Dancing is just one way to do that.”
They both said they enjoy being part of the basketball games.
“I know I’d like to get back on the NuSkin Utah Jazz Dancers team when I get back, but who knows what will happen,” Washburn said. “I plan to stay in great shape while on my mission so I’ll be as well prepared as I can, but if I don’t make it that will be OK. At least I had this wonderful experience now.”
Anderson said her mission has become her focus.
“Three months ago I would never have thought I was going on a mission, and now it’s the most important thing in my life," she said. "So I don’t know what will happen when I get home. I think I’ll try out for the team, but that’s not what’s important right now. Right now I’m really trying to treasure this experience while it lasts, doing my very best to enjoy each and every moment I’m on the team through the rest of this season. Then I’m off to the Missionary Training Center.”
Jerry Borrowman is a Chartered Financial Consultant with a master's degree in Financial Services (MSFS). He is a best-selling author of World War I and II fiction and co-authored a biography. Visit www.jerryborrowman.com to learn more.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company