Sometimes you are given the opportunity to share in an experience that makes the joys and purpose of life much clearer than you can normally perceive them. You are given a place on a true adventure, through which you can give your whole self – mind, heart, and body – using your talents to help make the world a better place. I and eight other young women were given this opportunity this year through elevate dance company, and especially the elevate 2014 tour.
This year, the elevate dancers have come from a wide variety of backgrounds and from all over the world to train and perform from September to July as the apprentices of Springs Dance Company. For seven months we have been taking a variety of technique classes, learning repertoire, and continuing to strengthen and develop our faith and relationship with God in preparation for the culmination of our apprenticeship – our performance tour. We have accumulated a variety of pieces which make up our show, ranging from classic work from Springs’ repertoire, original work choreographed specifically for us, and pieces we created ourselves. Although the pieces vary greatly in theme, style, and tone, all of them point in some way towards God, or what it means to belong to Him. Thus the aim of our show is to bring people in closer contact with the One for whom we were all made, and to bring something of His Light and Presence wherever we go. Both through encountering Him ourselves in worshipping Him with dance and presenting His Love to the audiences who watch us, elevate seeks to exist for God and witness for Christ in the world of the arts.
Our tour had an incredible start at our premiere at Putney Methodist Church on April 4th. Having our premiere here was especially exciting for me because I live in Putney; I was absolutely thrilled to finally see what Putney Methodist Church was like after passing it every day on the 430 bus! The church was absolutely stunning and the church members who helped us were amazing. Opening the tour in this beautiful church with a sold-out performance was truly such a privilege. Most of us had family and friends at this performance and I was so touched by such positive feedback from the audience.
A few days later we performed for the second time at Thornton Heath, not only giving our show but also leading a workshop for members of the church. We felt so blessed by the workshop participants and by seeing them encounter God through dance. During our show at Thornton Heath, I realised how different performing is from rehearsing and being in class. I love to pretend, so one of my favourite things about dancing is getting into character. If you are focused enough, you really feel like you have entered an exciting new world. When you are performing for people, you are telling the audience a story. Instead of just entering the exciting new world yourself, however, you have the chance to take the audience there with you. “Come with me,” I like to think before a show. “Come with me, and we can discover how stories and fairy tales actually impact our lives because we are all caught up in the Great Story. Come with me and see how the negative thoughts brought to mind by the mirror are actually vicious gremlins with long black and grey tongues that split out lies about self-worth. Come with me and understand what will fill the empty void that everyone in the world is constantly trying satisfy behind closed doors.”
After Thornton Heath, we hit the road for the Christian festivals Word Alive and Spring Harvest. At Word Alive in Wales, we had two shows and were able to speak with the audience at the end, which was so encouraging. What impacted me the most were the people who said that even though dance was “not their thing” they “got this” – we were able to communicate something to them. One young man said to me, “I don’t want to thank you for just entertaining me, but for inspiring me.” At the end of Word Alive we travelled to Nottingham to spend the night before having to split our company into two groups to accommodate the two locations of Spring Harvest. That evening, we performed a few pieces in a Palm Sunday service at a church in Nottingham. At this point I had not yet danced during an actual church service, so this experience was wonderful for me. Beaming at the stained glass windows, “It’s like dancing in a jewel box!” I proclaimed, probably too excitedly. It had been a very long day of travelling and we were all absolutely exhausted. Unfortunately for my fellow dancers, when I am over-tired I often get over-excited.
The next morning my group headed to Skegness, and the other group to Minehead. I think Spring Harvest was a life-changing experience for all of us. Each morning we participated in the Celebration Service through improvisation and some set phrases to assist in the worship. Worship improvisation, which involves responding to the lyrics of worship songs through improvised movement, was something new for many of the elevaters this year, including myself. I loved the idea from the start, but actually improvising in front of hundreds of people on a stage in the Big Top was terrifying at first. You just have to remember that it’s not about you. I learned by the end that this was about worshipping God and assisting others in their worship of Him, not about coming up with interesting movements or clever choreography. One of the elevators, our young lady from Finland, had broken her foot several months ago and was on crutches with her foot in a cast. However, she ended up being our most powerful tool in worship. Seated on a chair, she danced both with and without flags with such conviction, strength, and beauty that so many people would come up to her later and tell her how she had touched them. She was such a witness to the truth that Christ works in us when we are dependent on Him; we are weak because He is strong.
We spent about five days at Spring Harvest, dancing every day in the Big Top, performing our show, and leading a workshop. For me, being able to participate in the worship and services was just as incredible as the dancing, and we could all feel the presence of God and the working of the Holy Spirit. It was certainly exhausting – dancing in both the morning and evening services meant limited hours of sleep every night. Being the type of person who runs on adrenaline and is generally happy when I wake up, I learned that not everyone likes to talk first thing in the morning. Spending so much time with each other, though, was definitely one of the best parts of Spring Harvest and tour in general. We have all become so close and this Christian fellowship that we have with each other is for me an indescribable happiness and blessing.
Upon returning from Spring Harvest we have had a break, more rehearsal, and some teaching workshops in a secondary school. We are currently on our two-week spring holiday before embarking on the second half of tour, which looks to be as busy and exciting as the first. I do not enjoy holidays nearly as much as rehearsing and performing, but at least they make you appreciate when you are touring even more. And it can be a blessing to rest and reflect on everything that has happened so far and prepare for what is yet to come.