Arts & Culture

Praise Dance Expo lifts spirits through dance

Participants will showcase a variety of dance styles at Praise Dance Expo.
Participants will showcase a variety of dance styles at Praise Dance Expo. Courtesy photo

Twerking, grinding and other suggestive dance moves may get the headlines and YouTube views. But a recital at the Orpheum Theatre will showcase youngsters moving in a much different way, to the strains of gospel and Christian music.

“So many young people are dancing in a negative light,” said Na’Shell Williams, one of the organizers of Praise Dance Expo. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to expose their talents in a positive way.”

Saturday’s recital will feature dancers from 17 groups in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas, most of them affiliated with churches.

Williams and a friend, Nikima McPherson, started the Praise Dance Expo eight years ago.

“You don’t only have to be in church to have a really great platform,” Williams said.

Tap, jazz, ballet and contemporary dance moves are incorporated by the performers. Others use flags similar to a color guard, or mime stories. “It’s all of those different forms,” Williams said. “The only difference is you’re dancing to gospel music instead of secular music.”

This year’s performers will range in age from 5 to 69, although the majority are school age. Most of the groups have a dozen or more members, with dancers breaking out for solos and duets. The groups are allotted seven minutes for each performance.

Williams, who works with teen mothers at the Wichita Children’s Home, directs a group of six high school-age girls called the Proverbs 22:6 Community Dancers, named for the Bible verse urging adults to “Train a child in the way he should go.” They will dance to a song called “He Has Been So Good,” by gospel performer Rick Dillard.

“It’s just a night of praise, bringing everybody together,” she said.

She hopes people won’t be confused by the second half of the show’s name – “Officially Sold Out For Christ.” Tickets are still available.

McPherson said praise dance is “a big thing” in places like California and Atlanta, the latter of which hosts a national praise dance convention.

“It’s definitely a positive event if someone hasn’t seen (praise dancing) before.”

She directs and performs with The Greatest Gift Dance Company, based at St. Mark United Methodist Church.

“We do hip-hop,” she said. “We’re an all-around group.”

McPherson, who works in marketing and promotions, says praise dance “has nothing to do with my profession. It’s just something I love to do.”

On Saturday, her company’s performance will pay homage to a dance called “Revelation” that was created by renowned African-American choreographer Alvin Ailey.

The goal is to give audience members something more than just the pleasure that comes with seeing good dancers.

“It’s a form of worship,” she said. “It’s basically lifting up the spirit into heaven, is what it’s meant to do.”

If you go

Praise Dance Expo 2014: Officially Sold Out for Christ

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $10, www.wichitaorpheum.com, 855-755-7328

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