by Cesca Janece Waterfield
Uplifting performances glide from church to stage when “Gospel Dance at Its Best” rolls out the red carpet Aug. 7 at Carpenter Theatre-Center Stage. Dancers from International Fit Dance Studios will perform praise dance, order hip-hop, sale step, mime and more. The inspirational event is a collaboration between the Richmond dance studio and the African American Repertory Theatre.
An Internet search of the phrase “gospel dance” yields several pages of results. Still, for many of us, the term might need some clarification: Studio owner Cynthia Thomas-Rustin says, “Gospel dance is people that are trying to tell a story about something that has happened in their life. Of course, it’s based upon some of the scriptures in the Bible. But at the same time, it’s about really bringing people to understand how they can be healed through dancing or using movement to become more fit.”
Saturday’s performance will feature brief interviews with performers, who will tell what life events inspired the dance. “It allows you to be honest about what has happened and know that you’re free from it,” Cynthia says. “It brings freedom to a person.”
An Early Calling
Cynthia has performed on the United Paramount Network (UPN) and has been dancing since age three. “Instead of recess, my teacher would allow me to dance in the center of the circle for my classmates,” she says.
In an effort to explain the experience, Cynthia pauses: “It was almost like I was going to see myself dancing in a circle [in the future] and I was going to touch my classmates while they were there. It was more of a spiritual feeling like I was being drawn closer to God.”
Today she teaches dance at George Wythe High School. “It’s inspirational,” she says. “It’s not any video type dance. It’s proper etiquette and movement.”
One day while Cynthia talked with George Wythe’s drama teacher Derome Scott Smith, the pair decided to collaborate. Derome is Founding Artistic Director of the African American Repertory Theatre. Three of Cynthia’s previous gospel dance events had filled Henrico Theatre and Pine Camp Arts and Community Center. The pair decided to build on that success together.
“We try to do partnerships with other groups,” says Derome. “We just believe in the collaboration and all the things that can come from that. This is something that we really started thinking about and we said let’s do it. I’ve known Cynthia for many years. She uses dance as ministry. The ministry to me goes in those healing places where people find the ills of society and the ugly things they encounter. They look at that and can glean some hope from that. That’s what [Cynthia and gospel dance] do.”
When the curtain rises on Saturday, individual expression will aim to restore dancers and audience members. “You will see them testify through dance,” Cynthia says.
Cynthia still remembers the wish she made as a child to touch others with dance. “I am in the community and I am open to help,” Cynthia says. “Kids who are less fortunate and can’t get training in dance or proper etiquette, that studio is there for them. It’s there as well to help people get fit – that studio is there for them. It’s about what we can do to help.”
Gospel Dance at Its Best, Aug. 7 at 7pm, doors open at 6. Carpenter Theatre-Center Stage, 600 E. Grace St. Tickets are $22.50, available at http://gospeldance-tickets.eventbrite.com.
Their season starts in the fall. But the African American Repertory Theatre stays busy in between seasons too. This summer, they are working with 160 area students in a program called “Life Stage.” Adult artists work with youth to help give them experience in theatre, visual art, dance, fashion, percussion and more. Artistic Director Derome Scott Smith says, “The students can choose a track and they can learn a lot from artists about that field.”