Summertime: Time to Revitalize the Psalms Project

Fire Spirits Dancing Free by Annie B.

It’s summer! My favorite time of year because of all the fun things to do in the sun… Last week my brother was in town and we tried to do as many outdoor activities as possible: tubing on the river, swimming, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking – you name it, I am game to try it! I enjoy the freedom I have to do these sorts of activities as opposed to when I was a serious ballet dancer, yet while I enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities and adventures, I do it all conscious of trying to keep my body active, but I know there is no way to stay in shape better than ballet class. Yet I have not taken a ballet class since April, and I don’t miss it, yet…except when I see pictures or video clips of ballet dancers in big companies and it makes me wistful…I think I am beyond regretting my change of course in career/ academic pursuit, but I cannot help the feeling of loss that is so great.

Yet it RETURNS to me – whenever I hear beautiful, wonderfully crafted music, all I can think of is dancing, and it floods my heart again… It is as if I have forgotten my first love, to dance, and when I hear instruments it suddenly returns to me. I wonder how I ever get through a day without dancing! I am much happier when I do…

One obvious step toward restoring my dancing  heart God gave me this past semester when I first put my own choreography onstage at the Koger Center for the Arts for the USC Dance student choreography showcase. That was April, and it seems so long ago now! I was so excited about choreographing and creating dance to the Psalms, but after the showcase I set it down to pick up again later. I need some consistency in my life! I need some discipline, some motivation to keep dancing, and creating…. I used to not be able to withstand a day without taking ballet class or dancing. Why have I let that fire grow so cold? I can tell you: life, work, school, paying bills, feeling alienated from the dance world… yes God in his goodness continues roll over the embers in me:

I am so thankful to Wendy Stone for giving me the opportunity to come back home and choreograph for The Performers, the pre-professional company based out of of Alwin School of the Dance that I grew up in. I usually visit once a year when I am back home in Albuquerque for the summer, but I don’t think I had a reason to visit last summer other than to say hello to Ms Karen, Ms Nation, and Tammie.  This summer I have a reason to visit – to continue my Psalms Project by choreographing a piece for the girls – but can I tell you how frightened I am by this?!  I am highly qualified, yet I feel inadequate because of my wanderings. I am nearly 24, and by this time could have had a substantial dance career, but I have had so many unexpected bumps in the road and life experiences that have altered my plans that I feel sometimes alienated from dance, when I should have draw closer to it – it is my most natural form of expression.  WAIT. I have drawn closer to dance, in different ways than expected. My body does not feel the tautness and suppleness of a ballet dancer anymore, but I have grown to appreciate and become interested in so many other dance and art forms that I was previously closed off to. They remain unexplored, but I have opened so many new doors. I would never have thought I would take an interest in flamenco or its cultural background, for instance. I am right where God intends me to be. Perhaps my experiences can translate better into a dance for these girls since I am not stooping down off my high horse to teach them to be just like me -no, rather I want to experience with them, and create something REAL and MEANINGFUL.

God, I want to transfer this newly acquired understanding of dance as something that is multifaceted, and always a part of you, no matter where your life leads, to these girls. Thank you for the opportunity, and continue to revitalize my passion for dancing and inspire me again with movement to create for these girls, and for Your glory. Let it be an experience for them to draw closer to their own unique love and passion for dance, and appreciate the body and the gift God has given them. I want them to enjoy dancing, and dance their hearts out – what a blessing that I can be a perpetrator of that joy…

Look for it in upcoming posts:

Psalm 147  by Sons of Korah

I found a video clip in which a missions team used the same song:

I will be heading back to NM to set the piece from July 26-Aug 1.

Praise be to God!

Psalm 117: nearly finished

Praise the Lord, all you nations!

Extol Him, all you peoples!

For great is His steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

Praise the Lord!

~Psalm 117, written by the sons of Korah

This is what I am left with after the hustle and bustle of putting together a piece based on the Psalm and giving it over to my dancers to light up the stage. The music and the words inspired the dance – the WORD inspired the dance; it is a living word and is “more powerful than a two edged sword”.

I started this post 2 weeks ago, just as I was finishing the choreography, and I already knew that this journey had become meaningful in more ways than I anticipated. Through obeying what I felt God called me to do (finally, after years of resisting, and I am just beginning to break through the barriers), I gained experiences that taught me a lot about the dance world that I could not have learned without stepping into the role of choreographer: what goes through the choreographer’s or dance master/mistress’ head, why they choose the dancers they do, why it shouldn’t be taken personally if you’re not chosen, etc etc…

The creative part is the easiest for me – put on the music, and the movement flows – so much that I often forget what I just did, which can be a problem for trying to teach it to dancers… the difficult part is the intention behind it, because this is no recital.  What I stressed most to my dancers as the performance aspect came closer to conception was just that – INTENTION, and CONFIDENCE.  To put a dance on stage that has a powerful message – a purely scriptural message – you cannot take it lightly. It has to be intentional and it takes a level of confidence to perform the message you’re willing to portray and to let it speak for you. I did it knowing that afterward, every person in the dance department may see at me and think, “oh she’s the religious girl” from now on. I had to be ok with that. And I can tell you, as a dancer and as an artist, that has not always the image I have sought after. I by no means intend to toot my own horn; I am no upright saintly worshipper – but I am a worshipper nonetheless, because my God has redeemed this mess called Rebecca and made something beautiful out of it. Just like Laura Story’s words – “take all of my life, all of my mind… and make something beautiful…so all will see your work in me…”

I wonder, sometimes, if I had a successful ballet career the way I imagined it, if I would have been able to take a stance in the dance world like this yet…maybe he was gracious in that by breaking me of my pride in my talent and abilities before my twenties, I was able to begin to see his purpose for my dancing earlier…. who knows. But I know that God can make something beautiful even out of the mess ups of our lives, and even when things don’t go as planned.

Although “Psalm 117” seems a trifle achievement in the light of the other pieces in the showcase, it was a huge step for me – the risk of putting a piece onstage that for the first time, to put a religious message onstage, set myself up for exposure and criticism, and to do it with other undergraduates. There were a lot of questions running through my mind. What will the other dancers think of me? the faculty? Is my choreography good enough? Should I really aim to work with style different from what I am comfortable with? It was a big risk, and it was finally time to take that risk. I want to give all credit to the Lord, yet I seldom stopped over the course of the last five weeks to ask Him what He wanted to do with this piece… still I am certain He can and will use it for His good. I stressed “intent” and “confidence” in the words the dancers were portraying through their movements. What was the journey for them? Did it have any significant spiritual meaning? That is theirs to keep. I wish I had been less busy and more spiritually in tune with the Holy Spirit so that He could guide me through the process; yet He was guiding me whether I was always aware of it or not.

I just touched the brink of the experience, both in my spiritual and physical talents the Lord has given me. I am thankful more than anything else for the opportunity to put my creation on stage, and for the patient dancers who bore with my often fragmented process.  While I wish I had more rehearsal and more time to pull it together, I am satisfied with my progress and the consummation of the ideas I was able to formulate and project on my dancers in a short amount of time. Thanks also go to Cindy Flach for putting together; it would not have been possible without her, and to my friend Dana Voravudhi for help with the sign language. I hope it was a positive experience for my dancers and that they enjoy dancing it tonight. More than anything, may God be glorified through our dancing and may at least one person’s heart be touched who sees it. I don’t care what happens to my dance career or lack thereof. I want to continue creating dances for my God. He’s the only one whose pleasure I seek. Praise the Lord!

Psalms Project Beginnings

The last few weeks have between ruthlessly busy, but I manage to spend my spare moments (or nights up late) finding music to the Psalms. God has once again immensely blessed me in this process (and the other big “g”, Google has helped a lot too!).  Last blog post I talked about the Sons of Korah, whose song Psalm 117 I have decided to use for my piece for the USC Dance student choreography showcase next month.

Recently I discovered the Band Trinity from the Netherlands, whose music is an eclectic mix of new world and old world feel, with Latin American influence since three of the four band members grew up in Peru before returning to their homeland. They have trained in Celtic music as well, specifically Irish, and play numerous different sorts of whistles, flutes, and other instruments I will not attempt to list, but am impressed by nonetheless.  They sing in Spanish, English, as well as Dutch.  Similar to the Sons of Korah in their world music tone and passion to worship God in their cultures, I can more closely ally with Trinity because they are close to my age.  I know it sounds silly to say that, but I have been in contact with one of the band members who was exceedingly generous with me sending me back the information I asked for in a  timely manner over email.  Their songs are due to be out on iTunes in April 2011.  In the meantime, he sent me two of their MP3s – I was ecstatic!  Another link I discovered between my now two new favorite bands, he told me, was that Trinity has covered the Sons of Korah in a tour throughout the Netherlands!  What a small world, to use a cliche phrase, and a wonderful world enabled by internet and social networking -these things wouldn’t have been possible back in the Gilded Age…

A third group I recently discovered, The Psalms Project, has taken up the commission to “dress historical treasures in 21st century sounds,”as their website states.  Psalters set to Genevian melodies from the 16th century tunes in the Genevan Psalter of 1562, produced under the leadership of John Calvin, already exist in many other languages, but they needed recreating in English, and in modern voice. This group of professional musicians, under the guidance of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, have contributed to the making the Psalms Unplugged which is now available to order off their website (I should be paid to advertise).

I am really excited about all these developments, and am ready to get in the studio!  Must make more time to do that this week, because my audition for dancers is this Thursday for Psalm 117!

My next step is to research Latin dance moves that be incorporated into my piece.  I regret not having learned Flamenco  from my dance  instructors in New Mexico while I was growing up.  While in Spain last spring, the most powerful dance experience I have had watching dancer perform happened late one night in the streets of Barcelona where a man captivated a large audience of passers-by with his intense, hot and sweaty Flamenco dance to the beats of a drum his comrade made come from a simple box.  This dance I am creating can also be a tribute to my Spanish ballet teacher and master Luis Fuentes who taught me from ages 11 to 14 in Albuquerque, and then private lessons while I was at Boston Ballet School in 2005.  In addition to Flamenco, I am also drawing on sign and ‘worship arts’  but I am determined that my dances will not in any way be liturgical, but my personal excellence.

Project: Dancing the Psalms

Over Christmas break I listened to a lot of classical, instrumental and folk music to find some pieces of music to choreograph to. It has been on my heart to choreograph for a while now, and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to showcase and stage  my choreography while I am still in the university setting.  For years people who know me and my passion for dancing and my heart for God have suggested that I choreograph “worship dance” . My Dad always gives me ideas and worship music, but I have been reluctant because my heart has not been at the place where I could worship God un-abandoned and not care what other people thought (and I am still in the process of coming to it) and then the idea of “interpretive dance” in worship services or dances to 90’s contemporary Christian music just made me cringe. As a classically trained dancer, I have a lot of pride in my work and don’t want to be included in the mediocre Christian artists scene. God forgive me for being judgmental of them; I am by no means the best in my field either, but I aim to only perform and give my best. So here I am at the turn of the year and I realized that I can combine my desire to choreograph and dance for myself more with my desire to worship God and praise Him with my gifts. It doesn’t need to be in church yet – maybe God will bring me to that place, or on stage; I will simply begin in the dark, in the secret place, in the studio alone, with my music, notebook, and Bible… My inspiration came from reading the Psalms and the Sons of Korah…I discovered them online in my search for music of the Psalms. I would love to meet them one day. Their music is so uplifting and just what I needed to get started on this project.

The idea to make dances to the Psalms suddenly hit me just the other day as I was going to bed and reached for my Bible. Unfortunately I often leave God till last in my day, something I am ready to change. Instead of it being open to Habukkuk where I thought I had left it, it was open to the Psalms. Psalm  34 stared back up at me, and as I read it the words began to take flight in my heart and come to live in my mind. I could imagine movement, dance to these words…I could imagine them to music…and expressive movement at that, not jsut sign language. I could pray these words back to God through my movemnt – because that is the purest, most natural thing for me to do. That is how he made me, and I can’t explain it, but where my words fail, I can express through dancing, and God who made me must understand my language of movement better than I. It is the least I can do to praise Him and express my gratitude, my joy, my sorrow, my desires, my hurts – and give them to Him. Like the Psalmist, when I start singing or dancing my prayers turn to praise and soon I am filled with joy.

Here is my favorite Sons of Korah song so far and probably will be my first piece because the music is awesome and the words few:

Psalm 117 (English Standard Version)

The LORD’s Faithfulness Endures Forever

1Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
2For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD!

This project has been a long time coming, and may be a long process yet. I am looking forward to it growing and seeing what God will do with it. While my choreography is of a personal nature at this point, I will share some of my journey through thoughts and words and links to the songs I use. Maybe one day soon I will have a camera to record and post dances on here, or a video of my choreography on other dancers…until then, pray for me and expect great things from our Lord Jesus Christ. Be encouraged to worship God in your own way as well – it is between you and Him, and who knows what He may do with that in the future! Be blessed my friends.

Becca