I grew up in a traditional church and had a wonderful experience that gave me a solid foundation. However, it was never a place I felt comfortable bringing my friends to. As a budding young dancer I was always encouraged to use my gifts in my home church but again never fully understood how… where would I dance… on the altar?! Besides I never wanted to do ballet or contemporary dance (a style stereotypically associated with church dance). I loved dancing to Michael Jackson and other popular music and never understood how this style could work within church as I knew it. It wasn’t until I came to our church, Hillsong London, that God birthed a bigger dream in my heart as to how dance could be used within His house.
During the week, people come to London’s West-End to see some of the greatest theatre shows in the world, but every Sunday we invade one of the biggest of these theatres and make it our church. As soon as I walked through our doors I knew that dance could be used as part of the many layers that work together to break down people’s sometimes negative or misguided pre-conceptions of church. As a dance team, our hope is that after experiencing the welcome at the door, the buzz in the foyer and the outstanding worship, the occasional addition of excellent and relevant dance (whether modern or contemporary) will together knock people sideways and dash any previous mind-sets of church. As a result, people’s hearts will be opened to the Word they are about to hear. Therefore creating dance that is excellent, and of the same standard if not higher than any West-End show or TV performance, has always been part of the dream. As a church, I believe we should be leading the way.
This year instead of holding Hillsong Conference Europe in London, conference was held in two European locations, the Hague (Holland) and Stockholm (Sweden). From the outset I was excited about the possibility of working alongside dancers from our European church teams. This became not only an opportunity to inspire and change the perception of dance in church on a wider scale but also a chance to meet the other dancers, connect and share, which is exactly what happened. As we rehearsed together they were able to see the acute attention to detail and the many hours that we would spend as a team getting everything as good as it possibly could be. Making sure each move was executed with the right degree of strength and dynamic, checking every level change was exactly the same height and that every arm and shape was given exact precision. Through conversation they were able to understand that our preparation for the platform extended beyond rehearsals and to the time we would spend in training and at class, learning from some of the best teachers in the industry. Equally a lot of time would be spent planning, directing and choreographing the movement and in a way that would always suit the varying skill level of the dancers amongst our team. However, greater than that, through the time we shared together, the other dancers were able to fully understand why we do… #whateverittakes!
As a team we started out as a small group of five or so dancers. Several years passed and as we started to grow beyond 15, I saw the need to put in place a leadership structure. I started to divide the team into small groups led by key dancers whose character have always made way for talent. Each group meets every Sunday, before we train, to pray, share heart about the team and follow/discuss the weekly church devotionals. After training or rehearsals we all head to church and then hang out some more after! What started off as a structure to manage an ever growing skills-based team has resulted in real community and genuine relationships where people feel loved, supported, valued and encouraged enough to open up and grow in their own personal journey. Excellence became no longer the pursuit that it personally had been for me, but now the fruit of a healthy team who all understand the why behind what they do. When each individual understands that their contribution, no matter how big or small, fits together in a wider framework (the body) and is literally changing lives, then one cannot help but desire to be the very best that they can be; working alongside each other for many hours, leaving aside any differences, insecurities and own agendas. I work in the creative industry and the community we are creating has made it easy for me to bring work colleagues to church and more so, have them genuinely connected. My hope is that the dancers we met in Europe were not only inspired, but really saw that it is healthy community and right heart that produces the excellence that we see.
The conference item that we were given to create and perform was planned as a final night opener, a moment of light relief, designed to get everyone on their feet, waving their hands and singing along to a medley of popular hits of the last year. Because the conference was held in Europe, there was a loose euro-dance theme and as a fun piece, the item became affectionately referred to amongst the team as ‘euro-trash’! However, as I danced the set for the 3rd time on the platform in our London home for conference Sunday, I was struck by the irony of this. I will never forget that moment, looking out into the auditorium, hearing the riotous screams, totally bemused by the ecstatic faces, the mosh-pit forming at the foot of the stage and the people spilling into the aisles dancing! I had never seen church so engaged and for that moment it felt like the heavens had opened. After the first, of 4 services, people were straight on their phones, texting their friends and by the last service we couldn’t fit everyone in. Many people started out cynical and uncomfortable but then as soon as the item started, their spirits changed. That day we saw how God uses the joy of people and the inspiration of creativity to set things up well for the preach, the altar call and the overall atmosphere in the room.
As I stared out I thought, this is church…this, I could bring my friends to. This is the expression that as a child I could not conceive of but saw in my heart several years later and now here it was, the fruition. And yet as I continue to dream I am excited at the prospect that the best is still yet to come.
Kristy, Hillsong London Dance