GAINESVILLE (FBW)—Young girls are learning ballet and other dance in a Christian environment at Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville through its Chosen Dance Ministry. Teacher Taylor Mann says the students “dance for His glory.”
Mann, a senior at University of Florida in Gainesville, started the ministry a year ago as part of the comprehensive recreation program at Westside Baptist that includes basketball, flag football, volleyball, exercise classes and workout rooms.
Tom Grubbs, who heads up Westside Baptist’s recreation ministry, said the dance classes are a valuable addition to the recreational life of the church.
“We are finding that a lot of young girls aren’t into cheerleading that much anymore, but they still like the dancing. This gives them another avenue for their talents,” he said. “This is seen as a ministry to get more people involved.”
He said Chosen Dance Ministry has also proven to be a valuable resource in casting dancers for church musicals and dramas, especially the Gainesville Christmas Festival.
“I think these performances help hone their skills in dancing, too,” he said.
Chosen Dance Ministry’s name is taken from I Peter 2:9: Christians are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”
With that identity in mind, Mann chooses music, dance themes and costumes carefully.
“I am very selective when choosing costumes, to make sure they are not low cut and stomachs are not showing. Parents appreciate that. We want them to wear costumes that reflect the movement and the message, and not show their bodies in inappropriate ways,” she said.
The 2012 recital included a whimsical piece by a jazz class portraying child-like faith. Young dancers played with scooters and pogo sticks to instrumental music as an adult dancer, portraying an unbeliever, became “intrigued by their faith as they prayed and worshiped.”
“At the end they showed her how to have that same faith. The faith of a child has always been a beautiful thing to me and I strive to have that in my own walk with God,” Mann said.
Four-dozen students completed the 2012-2013 classes and performed in the May recital. Mann expects even more students, ages 2-9, to arrive for the first day of class in September. Instructors use solely Christian music in classes on Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and on Thursday and Friday evenings on the church campus. It is all part of “teaching dance in a Christ-centered environment,” Mann said.
Mann and Taylor Pohl split teaching responsibilities in ballet, tap and jazz, but they co-teach pre-ballet and pre-jazz to the 2-5 year olds. The younger students need “more hands-on” instruction, she said. Mann and Pohl also have two teenage assistants, Mariah Matkozich and Samantha Johnson.
Mann said the younger dance students are at first reluctant to join in the class activities.
“I’ve seen girls who wouldn’t move at first. They would just sit in a corner, and their parents would ask me if they started the girls too early,” she said. “The girls start taking baby steps, though, and then they are participating. By the end of class they just come running in.”
It is not only young girls who make progress in their classes. The adult class began dance classes “just for the exercise,” Mann said. However, when recital time came the program included a piece by the adult class “with costumes and everything.”
Mann, 21, began dancing at age three at Cameron Dancenter and was a member of The Danscompany of Gainesville, performing in some lead roles throughout the years. She hopes to soon receive the Florida Dance Masters certificate for which she has to pass an accreditation test and be observed while teaching dance. Dance is her “outside concentration” at UF, where she is a public relations major. She considers her work with small businesses her favorite aspect of her career preparation.
“I love to help them connect with their communities and their audiences, and to help them connect partnerships to help their business,” she said.
Although she hopes to have a career in public relations, Mann also hopes to continue teaching dance “on the side,” she said.
“The program here is expanding with the Lord’s guidance. We’re definitely in this for the long haul,” she said.
Mann was baptized at Westside Baptist when she was 16. She and her parents, Spencer and Pat Mann, joined Westside Baptist after several years at Fellowship Baptist Church, she said. She has spent several weeks in Guatemala during every summer beginning in 2008. Most of her mission work is centered at Casa Hallelujah, a children’s home in San Bartolome. She teaches dance there, also.
Wherever she has students, Mann wants them to worship through dance.
“I want them to know what it feels like to express worship in another way,” she said. “It’s not just hearing, but also seeing and feeling the love of God.”
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