Prayerful Performers

Jan. 22-28, 2004
Prayerful Performers
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Bishop Ludden students express their faith through dance

Praise Him with timbrel and dance. (Ps 150:4)

With years of accomplished dance experience among them, 13 students at Bishop Ludden Junior/Senior High School have found a new way to praise the Lord and enhance worship for themselves and members of the congregations who watch them perform. The troupe of liturgical dancers at Bishop Ludden was created two years ago when Father Regis Rodda invited them to perform at a Charismatic Mass that was being celebrated by Bishop James Moynihan at Assumption Church in Syracuse. Since then, the troupe has performed at various Catholic celebrations throughout the diocese including the United In Faith Campaign at Le Moyne College and the African Mass at St. Anthony’s Church in Syracuse. The group performs to and interprets contemporary music such as “Out of the Dark” by Gloria Estefan and “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me.

Margot Grobsmith, director of campus ministry at Bishop Ludden, is the coordinator of the group. She talked about how visual communication increases retention. “People in a visual society need to have their focus driven,” she said. “By interpreting prayer through dance, the performers are allowing people to remember the prayer and visualize the meaning of the words.” Grobsmith said that oftentimes, teens don’t listen to the words of a song, they listen to the beat.

Kathleen Maguire is a senior at Bishop Ludden and has been taking ballet, jazz and modern dance classes for 14 years. She is one of the original members of the troupe and said she enjoys liturgical dance because the dancers all share in the choreography. “I like that I can be a leader in this and bring the word of the Lord to others in the community,” she said. “Liturgical dance is similar to modern dance because of the unstructured movement. Modern dance is also an interpretive type of dance.” Kathleen also said that she likes interpreting religious songs that inspire her. “We listen, feel what the words mean to us, and choreograph a dance,” she said. Kerry Maguire is Kathleen’s brother and is also an original member of the group. Kerry is in eighth grade and has been taking ballet and jazz classes for seven years. “This type of dance allows me to dance what I feel and show how the words impact me,” said Kerry. “I also like that I can help choreograph.”

“Before we do a dance, we all sit down and share our ideas on how the dance will be performed,” said Hannah Botsford, a tenth grader. “We practice different steps and take turns choreographing.” Hannah said that it’s challenging working with different experience levels as well as different dance styles. “Some kids in the group have taken Irish Step Dancing and others have taken Hip Hop,” she said. “We also have members in the troupe who have never danced and those who have been dancing for years. It’s challenging blending different dance styles.” Hannah has been taking ballet, jazz and tap lessons for 13 years but this is her first year as a member of the liturgical dance troupe. “You can see the different influences of our experience and different dance styles in our performances,” said Hannah. The group admitted that they didn’t think the diverse experience and dance styles would work. “But we’ve integrated some Irish Dance Steps into some of our more upbeat songs,” said Hannah.

The troupe has divided itself into groups based on levels of dance experience. This ensures that any one group will be available for a performance if there are other members of the troupe who can’t be. Eighth grader Elizabeth Stevens is also in her first year as a liturgical dancer. Elizabeth has been a student of ballet, jazz, modern dance, pointe and tap for 11 years. “This is more expressive because it’s prayer,” she said. “It’s more fun and we get to do what we want and make up the dances. It’s not as structured as ballet, jazz or pointe.” Elizabeth said that of all her performances, she most enjoyed the African Mass at St. Anthony’s Church. “It was interesting and fun to do.” Elizabeth said that the Sudanese Choir, “The Lost Boys,” performed at the Mass and their use of African drum beats and other different instruments was cool. “They sang in Sudanese and participated in the Mass in different languages,” said Elizabeth. “It was a new experience.”

The group was quick to point out that their performances always remain respectful of the church and the Mass. Hannah said that they don’t want to add to the controversy going on in the church right now. “Now that people have seen us dance, they know that we are respectful of the Mass.” The dancers form a circle at the start of each Mass and say a prayer before their performance. “The congregation sees that and I think it makes them more comfortable with us,” said Hannah. Father Regis said that the liturgical dancers beautifully and graphically illustrate the theme of the Masses. “They augment the liturgy and procession immensely,” he said. “Their performance gives a better sense of celebration and brings out the inner meaning of what we are doing that can’t be done in any other way –– like poetry.” “I’ve heard people say that they are like angels,” said Father Regis. “It’s beautiful and uplifting. Almost ethereal at times.”

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