Doing the Lord’s dance

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OXFORD – The girls’ dance moves don’t rival Mikhail Baryshnikov, the famous Russian ballet dancer. There is no leaping and bounding across the stage, pirouettes, or dizzying spins.

The moves are instead simple and clean. They are for God, to put the focus back on God, and not really to show off, instructor Tavia Williams of Oxford explains.

At the Oxford Advent Christian Church on Route 26, girls ages 6 to 17 gets together weekly to practice their choreography. When they have polished a song, they give a dance offertory at a Sunday service. They are planning their next performance Jan. 28.

Williams, who is a mother, said she’s not a dancer but was approached by the lead pastor late last summer to oversee the class. The Rev. Frank Jewett told her then, “‘Girls are made for dancing, why not have them dance for God?'” she said.

Jewett was not available for an interview Friday, but Williams said he encouraged her to run the class because she has young daughters who are known to spontaneously start dancing in the church aisles.

“When they are young, it’s innocent,” she said. “When they dance, they’re dancing for what they know is their God, they’re not intimidated. They’re not thinking of who’s watching me or why.”

Although her own daughters are too young to commit to the practices, Williams goes over the moves with other girls from the church once a week. Dancers include Rachael Hurlburt, 6, Rebekkah Hurlburt, 9, Nichelle Giasson, 16, and Rebekah Hatch, 17, of Oxford.

“I don’t teach it,” Williams said, giving more credit for the class to Hatch, a high school senior who choreographs most of the moves. “I’m there to make sure the dances they’re doing are appropriate for a worshipful atmosphere. They are worship dances.”

The girls dance to Christian music and perform interpretative moves to illustrate the lyrics. Much of the time they stand upright, using their arms and hands to sign the lyrics and demonstrate the song’s theme.

Hatch said she’s inspired to create the moves when she is moved by music. “The moves just come out. When I listen to music, it comes out,” she said.

The Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School senior wants to be an early childhood teacher, she said, and she enjoys the church dancing because she likes to teach girls how to express themselves.

But she still must ensure the moves don’t bring too much attention to one’s self and body.

“There’s a lot of dancing that’s inappropriate for church settings,” Williams said. “And there are some churches that look at dancing as inappropriate.”

She said, though, that she and the pastor both see dancing as having a place in a church. Since September, when she began, she says she has watched the girls open up to God.

“They’re learning at a young age not to be intimidated about what God is doing in their lives. It’s teaching them to do what God has them to do,” she said.

At a recent practice, the two older girls and Williams stood in front of the two younger ones, going through the moves so Rachel and Rebekkah could follow along.

When musician Chris Tomlin sang about God making the stars on the CD playing in the background, the girls all pointed upward as if identifying different stars.

After the practice, Rachael, of Oxford, went flying into her mother’s lap, a leap that she would not have performed up on the sanctuary platform. When she was asked why she likes to dance, she whispered the answer to her mother, Bonnie Hurlburt, who then translated, “To praise God.”

Rachael’s older sister, Rebekkah, also said she dances to praise God, and added, “I like dancing because it’s fun and having exercise and moving.”

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