Stalled Curtain Call

Annick Laurent |

Photo by Drew Perine/Tacoma News Tribune/Getty Images

Dressed from head to toe in red, six praise dancers performed a lyrical piece to the gospel song, “Praise is What I Do” by William Murphy. The performance was scheduled for a special women’s service at the Simpson United Methodist Church in Wilmington, Del., in mid-April. Instead, recordings from January and December 2019 screened on the videoconferencing platform Zoom.

The show must and did go on. Sort of. Christian dance ministries throughout the United States have been able to maintain some semblance of normalcy with virtual rehearsals and performances. Individual dancers and groups have found ways to simultaneously keep up with spiritual movement traditions, engage with their religious communities and adhere to social distancing.

The Delaware program was organized by a group called Melodic Movements Performing Arts Program, Inc.

Melodic Movements posted an excerpt to its Instagram account with “The Movement Continues” followed by a glittering pink heart emoji in the caption. The girls’ long crimson skirts fanned out in triangles that disappeared as almost as quickly as they took shape. Their high kicks and arabesques, as well as many twirls, falls and dips were mirrored on the shiny, orange-tinted wooden floor as their instructors and parents watched from the room’s back corners. The onlookers – some dressed in their Sunday’s best from their respective living rooms – offered warm appreciative smiles and words.

One of the group’s last praise dance performances before a live audience was for Scott AME Zion Church in late February. Wilmington natives and public officials — including Republican Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, Democrat Representative Sherry Dorsey Walker, City Councilwoman Rysheema Dixon – and Robert Tracy, the Chief of Police, were all in attendance.

Then things changed.

Governor John Carney issued Delaware’s official shelter in place order on March 22, which went into effect at 8:00 a.m. two days later. All non-essential businesses are to remain closed until May 15 or “until the public health threat is eliminated.”

Almost all categories under “Leisure and Hospitality” were prohibited from operating. So, Melodic Movements and other performing arts companies, and independent artists, writers and performers had to shut down. It was the same case for religious organizations which are listed as “Other Services (except Public Administration).”

“God sends us through storms and valleys to strengthen our faith,” read a status posted to Melodic Movements’ Facebook page on March 15. “Despite the National Emergency, schools and business cancellation and spread of the Coronavirus, how many believe God is STILL a way maker, miracle worker, promise keeper and light in the darkness?”

Accompanying the status was a clip of the Beginner Praise Dance class ministering in the company’s studio.

The organization’s plans for the spring and summer such as its Arts Integration Camp, the annual Summer Program auditions, and the upcoming workshops had to be postponed or held remotely.

“Virtual Dance Classes are off to a great start,” a Facebook post from March 17 reads. “Never stop dancing.”

Since the governor’s order, teachers and students have been maintaining community through social media. And classes are still in session. Training in several genres including ballet, hip hop, acrobatics and majorette stylings have all been held online last and this month. The teachers have been providing instruction and encouragement, cheering them on from afar.

“During this time, let us reflect on the beautiful things that God has done for us. 1 Chronicles 16:12 tells us to, ‘Remember his marvelous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgements of his mouth.’ God is able to do anything but fail. Let us praise him in advance with expectancy in our hearts. ‘Because praise is what we do, even when we’re going through!’”