By Christina Rhoads
Ten girls are crumpled on the brown stone floor in grief, depression and sadness. Heads are lowered in pain. A haunting synthesizer floats a monotone note through the air conjuring up a single arm from each girl. Arms snake through space reaching toward God. A clean piano line trickles out from the speakers sprinkling hope and restoration covering the mired teens. The girls stretch and contract, arabesque and penché hitting striking melodic tones as they transition from dust to “Beautiful Things” (Gungor). This is The Undignified Dance Crew and just as King David leaped for joy dancing before the Lord, they too dance and will become even more undignified than this!
Every Thursday evening dancers meet for a sweat-dripping workout and a uniquely blended dance class that incorporates hip hop, jazz and contemporary. Currently, a small and always fluctuating group, the dancers range five to ten junior high, high school and college age girls. They meet in a large classroom equipped with a booming sound system and lovely windows which open up to a brilliant green grassy quad area. Our church, New Life Christian Center, started thirty-four years ago on what used to be a parcel of land two miles outside the small agricultural town of Turlock, California. While the Central Valley is still considered to be a productive farming community, Turlock has been trading some of that farm space for new buildings. One such building is a new sanctuary for NLCC. With approximately two thousand weekly church goers, New Life Christian Center’s capacity is overflowing; the need for a new sanctuary has been present for several years.
The Undignified Dance Crew was born through the love and passion I have for dance and God. I am Christina Rhoads, and I have been the leader of the dance crew for just over two years. My dance training started thirty-four years ago, originally under the direction of Kathy Moser at Backstage Academy of Dance. By age sixteen I was choreographing group numbers and solo pieces for performances and competitions as well as teaching my own classes in a variety of dance styles. My love for dance has led me to teach dance throughout the Central Valley as well as the Bay Area.
The desire to marry church and dance has been in my heart for many years, and for a long time I really had no idea what to do with that yearning. So, I prayed. A lot and often. I was searching for God’s path and what to do with this passion He placed in me. My prayers led me to the Life Group pastor at church. We set up a small interest based Life Group for anyone interested in learning how to dance with the emphasis on God, not tiny costumes and booty popping.
For the group’s first year we were on a twelve week on and four week off schedule. This plan worked well to introduce the group to the church. The schedule allowed participants an on ramp and an off ramp for the class. With this plan a student could slide right in at the start of a new session or slide right out at the end without feeling co-dependent or rude about disrupting the class by abruptly joining or leaving. Often during this first year class attendance would range between fifteen and twenty-two people from ages ten to fifty. When the class was full, adrenaline was pumping, spirits were high and electricity ran through the air. When class attendance was low, it was as if a rain cloud parked itself right over our dance room. This fluctuation was hurting the dance group.
Another ping of pain for the group became the on and off ramp schedule. While it was a good starting point, the regular students, those that have been consistently attending week after week, were getting bored with the continual repetition of choreography. Terminology, technique and routines needed to be taught over and over for every new student. The growth in dance was dwindling. However, these lovely ladies did not stop growing their faith in God.
I went back into prayer mode with more specifics for God to help me iron out. I paid close attention to what was currently working with our group and what needed fixing. My heart was on God and my eyes were searching, once again, for His path. I decided it was time to step away from leading this group as a Life Group. Over the next year the crew fluctuated again and again, adding and subtracting members, transitioning from a Life Group to a Dance Team and then settling on simply being an interest based group in waiting; waiting for God’s next step.
As I began to reorganize my dance group I focused on five basic points. You can use these too if you are interested in starting a dance group in your church.
1. PRAYER: Simply put, stay focused on God’s path not your own!
2. COMMUNICATION: The more you speak with the pastoral staff, the more aware and on board they will be with what God is doing through you.
3. PROMOTION: Work with the graphic artist in your church to put together well designed flyers and bulletin sections. Also, plan a short presentation to give to the youth groups in your church.
4. REHEARSAL SPACE: Floor type and sound system availability are major factors in choosing an adequate rehearsal space. A non-carpeted multipurpose room works the best.
5. PERFORMANCES: Keep the lines of communication open with the pastoral staff. Together you can come up with the best opportunities to blend a dance into Sunday worship or as a production for a holiday, Awana or Vacation Bible School.
In April of 2016 The Undignified Dance Crew turned two years old and we are now considered to be a facet of the worship team. We have stretched and grown in so many ways over these two years. I now lead a strong group of girls that consistently attend week after week, and who are growing stronger in their personal walk with God while learning there can be more to dance than stringing together provocative choreography for the sake of performance and competition. They are learning to tell stories with their bodies; stories that worship God and tell of the greatness He can bring to our lives. I encourage the dancers to do more than just hear the music; I encourage them to feel it and engage with the lyrics and to make the dance steps their prayer to God.
Combining studio-based dance technique with prayer and Christian music is a unique passion, one that God has placed on my heart. Through this platform I am privileged to be the hands and feet of God for these young ladies as a prayer warrior, friend, mentor, and even sponsor to one; all while fostering a safe place to dance without feeling the need to dance in an inappropriate or sexualized manner. Dance at church does not have to always be liturgical or slow or sad, it can be hard hitting, hip-hop or spunky jazz dripping in God’s love!
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Christina Rhoads (pictured here with her husband Nathaniel) has been teaching dance in and around her hometown of Turlock, California for over twenty years. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies and is embarking on her sixth year homeschooling her two boys. In addition to being a writer, dancer, and teacher, Christina is a voracious reader often juggling three books at a time. Visit her website to read more of her writings.
This article appears in the August/September 2016 issue of Faith & Fitness Magazine.