Comments From Patrons
"I really enjoyed the performance "Glass Houses". Seeing folks with disabilities participating in a dance piece was great. The choreography allowed us as an audience to grapple with our own glass houses and how we treat others as we watched the dancers. The energy of the dancers was great to see. Finally, the question and answer period was wonderful. We got to know the performers just a little bit better and to hear the impact that this project had on their lives." Dance Patron Comments on "Glass House Project" May 2007
"Overall, the dance production was a masterpiece of artistry...The performance came alive for me, right before my eyes, what a thrilling and new experience. I was surpirsed and challenged with the artistry being 'outside the box'. Dance patron comments on "Breaking Ground" May 2006 Spring Performance.
"The week before the block party the church
received a call from a woman who got a flyer and specifically inquired about
the hip hop dancing. She wanted to make sure it was okay for her young
daughter to watch. Your ministry is a blessing. To show non believers
that Christian music and art can have various forms and doesn't have to
compromise our values was a tremendous witness and encouragement." Liz
Chang, Joyful Life Church
"Two of the young ladies who we serve in our Drop-in Center were having issues with each other. It was a little bit questionable if they could handle being together for the Hip Hop class that was taught. However, one of the youth told me that as soon as she was dancing and saw how talented the other girl was that she found a new respect for the other girl and didn't have a problem with her anymore. She said that it was cool to see that something she loved (dancing) was something that this other girl loved too. She was able to see this other person in a new way.
One small yet significant thing I observed in the youth was that they all started talking about dance after the show. (Love is in the Air Feb 2007) They started sharing cool dances they had seen (from Capoira to Stomp), the difficult moves and started discussing what kind of things they would want to see in a show. In a place where teenagers are often talking about partying, drug use, sex, violence & video games it was fun to hear them be excited and talk about dance."- Naomi, New Horizons Drop In Center
News Paper Articles
A dozen lithe, young bodies undulate in unison on the shadowy dance floor -- lunging, flexing, tracing shoulder circles to a throbbing bass that resonates in the bones.
Reflected in the mirrored walls, the dancers' indistinct ranks seem to stretch from here to eternity in the mini-twinkle of white and blue holiday lights.
"Free-dommm," wails a soulful vocalist.
It could be a page from the club scene, like any date bar on a Friday night. But judge not according to appearance, as the Good Book says.
For this "From the Soul" class at Westlake Dance Center is a 90-minute shadow dance with God -- one entry on an increasingly crowded Christian dance card.
"Lord," a young student murmurs in heartfelt opening prayer, "really bless this class and let us not worry about what other people think of us."
Like a suitor who has finally passed parental muster, dance is making itself at home as an expression of Christian faith, feeding a hunger for soulful movement that both giveth and taketh from pop culture.
Once limited to charismatic and Pentecostal worship, dance has entered the mainstream as a growing number of churches weave choreographed dance moves, from hip-hop ensembles to sylphlike solos, into their services.
Increasingly, it's a two-way street, as trained dancers with Christian beliefs make their presence felt in the secular dance world.
McDonald's Gospelfest, which has its Seattle debut Saturday at The Paramount Theatre, jumped on the trend five years ago with a new "praise dance" category that is fast overtaking the more traditional singing acts.
The trend has launched an entire industry of instructional DVDs, classes -- even "liturgical dancewear" that blends freedom of movement with New Testament modesty. Think ankle-length circle skirts and angel sleeves.
Never mind that some contemporary Christian dancers wouldn't be caught dead in them.
"The silhouette is very much like what a priest would wear," said designer Liz Livingstone, a West Seattle native who recently took over Capezio's year-old liturgical dance line. "It's all about modesty."
Like Capezio, Body Wrappers is known for ballet leotards that fit like a second skin. But six years ago it bowed to customer demand and blazed a trail for liturgical dancewear of the manger-scene variety. Response has been huge, and the line now accounts for 7 percent of sales.
"We saw an opportunity, and we took it," said Marketing Director Judith Christ (rhymes with "kissed").
Locally, the trend is showing up in classes such as "From the Soul," a Christian dance class launched three years ago at Westlake Dance Center near Northgate.
Each sweat-drenched, 90-minute session blends prayer circles and uplifting parables with rigorous jazz technique, driven by a contemporary Christian soundtrack of rock and R&B.
"We don't water it down," said instructor and dance center director Sheri Lewis, a forthright redhead who deplores the "cheesiness" of so much Christian dance.
"If the word 'Jesus' is in the music, we don't (turn) it down to be politically correct."
The drop-in class has a joyful vibe, with playful camaraderie among the students, many of whom are regulars.
"I feel more confident here as a dancer," said 24-year-old Angela Smith. "No one is going to judge you. Among dancers, it's so competitive. You have to look a certain way, be a certain way. When you come here, it's an audience of one."
"Spirit Play," at Phinney Neighborhood Center, is another road sign on the highway to heavenly dance. The twice-a-month class is taught by Betsey Beckman, a nationally known Catholic liturgical dancer who, according to her bio, "dedicates her life and work to reclaiming and celebrating the body as sacred."
Beckman, all muscle and sinew, recently teamed up with a member of University Congregational Church to rehearse, through dance and dialogue, the parable of "The Woman at the Well" for an upcoming Sunday service.
Using her shawl with the artistry of a caped matador, she sinuously twisted, uncoiled her frame and unfurled a graceful leg toward the heavens.
"In liturgical dance," said Beckman, "you're meant to be a vehicle to a larger purpose."
In Redmond, 6th Day Dance Company is one of the most ambitious examples of the dance trend. A professional, modern-dance troupe with a Christian overlay, 6th Day was formed in 2003 and recently earned non-profit status.
One of its stated missions is to stage community productions to "educate audiences on the use of dance as an act of spirituality."
"We actually started as a dance ministry of Antioch Bible Church," Breece said. "The purpose at that time was to offer dance as a praise and worship tool to the church members."
The company's hip-hop troupe, Unscripted, offers "educational outreach" and defines its style as "tight and precise and cool, just like our Savior."
"We're not about preaching," said Breece, "but we want to give kids an alternative to what's out there on the street."
In this age of politicized religion, 6th Day offers a mixed message. On one hand, Breece said, anyone can come to a show and have a good time: "We just want to get a conversation going, and you don't have to believe what we believe."
On the other hand, she describes the dancers as "taking a stand" for their beliefs. Hence the title of their upcoming spring performance: "Breaking Ground."
"I feel we are breaking ground in Washington," Breece said. "Washington is a totally liberal state, and we're here to fight that.
"Sometimes dance is a much less intrusive way for people to hear the message."
Given the trend, it was only a matter of time before Christian dancers made their presence felt in secular arenas such as Cornish College of the Arts.
Kitty Daniels, who chairs the dance department at the Capitol Hill school, said the past five years have brought an influx of Christian students -- people looking for ways to integrate faith and dance.
"They're becoming more open about it," she said. "It never used to be mentioned in application essays before."
Some of the students have even formed a Bible study group -- a move that has Daniels scratching her head, given that, historically, "artists tend to be the rebels in society."
By now she has come to expect that, when seniors perform their required thesis concerts, some will use the program notes to thank not only their parents and teachers, but the powers above.
"In the last two years," she said, "probably 20 percent have said, 'I thank the Lord for my faith.' "
It's not always a comfortable fit.
"When I went to Cornish my freshman year," said Amy Weaver, a 2005 graduate who dances professionally, "I felt like a freak because I was a Christian. What (classmates) perceived a Christian to be -- I wasn't that. For the first time, I felt like a minority."
Having honed their technique, some dancers hope to raise the aesthetics of spiritual dance and turn it into a recognized art form.
Vania Bynum, a former Microsoft engineer and recent Cornish graduate, solos at churches in Seattle and hopes to form a company along the lines of 6th Day Dance. She studied praise-dance technique at Dramatic Truth, a Christian dance school in Kansas.
Despite Seattle's "unchurched" reputation, she sees a strong strain of spirituality here and believes anyone can enjoy the artistry of a well-executed Christian dance.
"Even if you are an atheist," she said, "you can be touched by spiritual dance."
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