In the late afternoon studios of Sisterly Grace, one girl takes center stage. As the gospel singer on the recording bears witness to faith and resiliency during hard times, the young dancer moves expressively as her eight classmates watch. The adult mentor nearby announces gently, “Let the Lord use you.” Her words are meant to guide the girl, but they could represent the school’s motto.
Letricia Loftin Anderson, 42, started dance ministry and school, Sisterly Grace, in 2002, naming it to honor the bond she shares with her two sisters. Three weeks ago the school celebrated an achievement when they moved into a larger space in Richmond’s Lakeside area. Letricia, who’s an account executive with Radio One, says, “What we feel the mission that God gave us is we’re really building strong, confident, well-rounded leaders of tomorrow. We’re just using the dance thing to get them in. We’re instilling all of those traits and they don’t even know it.”
Most days, Letricia is assisted by Amber Abramson, 30, an after-school mentor and the primary make-up artist for fashion shows and recitals. “If you just say, ‘Let the Lord use you,’” Amber says, “it’s an easier way to say, relax, feel this music, and let it come out the way the Lord would have it. It evokes the spirit of God, because when God is coming through you, nothing is more powerful than that.” Amber’s 7 year old daughter SyAsia, is active in classes at Sisterly Grace. Like their mother and aunts, Letricia’s daughters, Briana, Brooklyne, and Braxton have discovered a love for dance and performance.
Every evening except Wednesday, which the school flyer says is “Saved for Bible Study at your church,” students learn the fundamentals of tap, basic ballet, hip hop, modern, and praise dance, with a focus on etiquette. Each class begins with a “praise report,” where young dancers recount a memorable part of their day. From the earliest days of Sisterly Grace, Letricia aimed to address the kind of spiritual bankruptcy that can manifest as a social crisis. As a former public relations director for the city of Petersburg, Letricia often met with two friends, one of whom was a middle school teacher for at-risk children. “We would talk about how some of the girls wanted to get pregnant. I asked, ‘Why in middle school would you want to get pregnant?’ His answer was, they wanted something to love. I thought if we could teach young women to love themselves, then they wouldn’t seek love in the opposite sex, bad friends, drugs, alcohol. The key is to teach girls to love themselves, and how immensely God loves them.”
Young men dance at Sisterly Grace as well, like Rave Williams, age 14. The East End resident says, “It doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s just a great environment to learn dance, to meet new people. You have fun, but learn about the world at the same time. My specialty in dance is hip hop, but tap in particular. It’s just something about keeping rhythm with my feet. I guess it gives me more of a challenge.” Rave takes classes with the Concert Ballet of Virginia and later this season, he’ll perform with the Richmond Ballet in the Nutcracker.
Letricia emphasizes the importance of offering modeling classes, which she believes can help build self-esteem. “Many people think it’s superficial, but it’s key to me, because nothing builds confidence, the ability to express yourself with words and body language [like modeling classes.] Also, I started noticing that table etiquette and politeness and respect had fallen by the wayside.” Letricia believes modeling classes can cultivate good manners. The courtesy of the girls who fill the halls here suggest the school’s success.
Sisterly Grace hosts two recitals; one during Christmas, and one in May, as well as a pageant in January. For eight weeks before the pageant, students take workshops, and learn to frame their abilities positively. “You may not be a dancer, but you get straight A’s and you’re a leader,” Letricia says. “Even though we’re preparing them for the pageant, we’re really preparing them for life. It’s so much bigger than who walks away with the crown and the sash. Win, lose, or draw, you learn how to win graciously. And you learn how to lose and realize it’s not your season, it’s time for someone else, and to celebrate that as well.”
Amber says, “What I hope that they take away from it is just building friendships, long-lasting relationships from an early age. As early as kindergarten, they’re learning to interact. You have peer resolution. Some of them don’t have siblings. My daughter, she’s an only child. It’s important for her to be here. These are like her best friends. This is a bond that they have here.”
Letricia is candid about how dance ministry has helped her family. “I feel like it’s our testimony. Last year, our family suffered through a horrible divorce,” she admits. “The girls were distraught, as any children would be. Sisterly Grace was their saving grace. It gave us the strength to go on, because we knew there were others we had to help. We’re walking in gratefulness, and we’re really excited.”
Sisterly Grace, www.SisterlyGrace.com, 358-1618
by Cesca Janece Waterfield