Worshipful movement

Wave your arms and tap your feet in praise of liturgical dance.


NJPAC’s Faith-Based Advisory Committee took members of the Greater Newark community “beyond gospel” on June 28 in a special evening of roof-raising liturgical dance at Express Newark.


Praise Him in the Dance, a celebration of religious music and movement by seven dance groups, opened this season’s three-part series of Beyond Gospel free events, which the committee presents in support of NJPAC. On September 27, committee members will hold a discussion on performance versus ministry, and on March 7, 2019, they plan a program titled Many Forms of Sacred Music.


Balletic in form, mostly literal in its interpretation of scripture and song through gesture and pantomime, liturgical dance is often described as a dance choir. When a performance is held in the sanctuary, or outside church doors, set to recordings by spiritual hitmakers like Tamela Mann or Tasha Cobbs, the gathered are swept up in the joyousness of the pageantry and humbled by Biblical rebukes against sin.


Men, women and children filled the performance space in the Hahne and Co. building to either perform or cheer – mostly both – as each group marched to the front to take their turn amid a hail of hallelujahs. Rhenotha Whitaker and Sharon Hunt, Co-Chairs of the Faith-Based Advisory Committee, were there to welcome guests, with Whitaker also taking the mic as an exhilarating MC.


Among the many highlights were eight senior women of Franklin St. John in Newark, bedecked in Sunday-best white suits, hats, gloves and pink sashes, who gave a dignified interpretation of Paul Morton’s “God Is a Good God.” The men’s division of Armor Bearers for Christ from St. James AME Church, also in Newark, enacted Viola Davis’ reading of Langston Hughes’ Mother to Son, followed by a parable of a young man’s battle with demons, danced to “Close” by Marvin Sapp.


The pageantry called for jewel-toned billows of fabric swirled by dancers often costumed in vivid tunics and fans made to evoke flames. Saved for last was the almighty-powered movement of Dunamis Liturgical Dance Ministry in Paterson, which lifted the swaying audience to its feet in rejoicing through song (“He’s Alive” by Eddie James).


Whitaker, who is a wellness coach, held a raffle for NJPAC tickets and guest passes to The Dr. Oz Show, where she is a correspondent. The committee is part of the Arts Center’s Advisory Council of cultural tastemakers, who help inform NJPAC’s programming for such communities as Latino, LGBTQ and Celebrate Dance.


“The Faith-Based Advisory Committee is a perfect example of engaged participation with NJPAC,” says Donna Walker-Kuhne, Senior Advisor for Community Engagement. “Under the leadership of Rhenotha and Sharon, these dedicated volunteers present what they love; lead their constituents to the Arts Center in a joyful and organic way; and are very supportive of our gospel events and other performances. We’re deeply appreciative and look forward to our future collaborations.”


July 13, 2018