Tuesday, April 14, 2020

“Glorify Dance Theater” Breaking Ground in PA

Since having just moved back to Pennsylvania, my home state, this past semester, I'm still learning what all the PA Christian arts community has to offer after having been gone for so long. To my surprise, I recently discovered there is a professional Christian ballet company here and not far from where I live, Glorify Dance Theatre (GDT) the resident ballet company of Glorify Performing ArtsThe idea of using dance as a means to share the gospel and glorify God, which GDT does, has always been near and dear to my heart considering that's what I've spent the past seven years doing, but even now, having retired from that and being on the other side of things, I can say getting to watch and support other artists doing it is just as much of a joyI don't believe anything quite like GDT, a young company established in 2018, ever existed before I left PA in 2008, so learning of their existence got me really excited and wanting to know more!


The past couple of weeks I've had the pleasure of corresponding via email with Melody Stanert, The founder and director of Glorify Performing Arts and Glorify Dance Theater. I learned that it was on Easter eight years ago when God presented her with the idea to start the company! In her words:

 "On Easter of 2013, I was at home laying on the couch venting to God about how much He messed up my life plans.  I had intended to audition for a dance program in NYC but due to an ankle injury was stuck in a boot and on crutches so I couldn’t pursue my goal (this came a few months after finding out the MFA program I wanted to do was discontinued). As I paused to take a breath amidst my tirade, I had this vision pour into my head: Start a Christian performing arts company that has a professional ballet company, a professional theatre, and an education department.  Each area of the company would use their art to help strengthen Christians’ faith and it could ultimately be a non-threatening environment to bring nonbelievers to a show that would expose them to the deeper layers of Christianity.  Imagine it kind of like a Lincoln Center, but for Jesus.  This idea had nothing to do with my plan to become a dancer on Broadway, but I felt it take root so deeply in my heart that I started to figure out what needed to happen to bring Glorify Performing Arts (GPA) to life." 


If you are interested in learning more about GDT, it's backstory, job opportunities, and how it works, then stick around! Melody so kindly accepted my request to interview her, which is what I will be sharing with you today! And how fitting to be sharing it with you on a Tuesday, the day I usually allot for sharing testimonies. Glorify Dance Theater is definitely a testimony to God's providence, how He can glorify himself even in small beginnings, and how He can use something as unconventional as the arts to do it!

PC: Revelations Video

The  Interview

Lillian: Tell us a little about yourself!

Melody: My name is Melody Stanert and I’m from West Chester, PA. I’m the founder and Artistic Director for Glorify Performing Arts and the choreographer for our resident ballet company, Glorify Dance Theatre. I am an energetic, friendly, and empathetic individual who loves telling stories. I went to Palm Beach Atlantic University to get my BA in Dance, but I missed the seasons, so I happily came back from FL upon graduating. I go to NYC any and every chance I get, and if I’m not there, you can find me down the Jersey shore enjoying the sun and sand.

Lillian: Can you share a little with us on what your history with dance looked like along with your faith journey and how they may have converged, leading to the establishment of your company?

Melody: I fell in love with ballet when I started taking class with Edmond Novak and Irina Kovalska who had danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in their youth, and then started teaching in the suburbs of Philly.  As a young dancer, Mr. Novak instilled in me a love for telling stories and expressing emotions through ballet.  I loved the pas de chat filled kitty-cat dance, and the sailor dance where I got to push a broom around the stage, and the tarantella inspired tambourine dance was my absolute favorite.  But dance had nothing to do with Jesus until friends of mine introduced me to a dance ministry they joined at The Church of the Good Samaritan.  I started taking their class, and suddenly, there was a whole new life to my movement.  I remember dancing in church one Palm Sunday to a very 90s “hosanna” song; I had streamers on my wrists and could have tripped over my long white skirt, but as I was jumping and waving my arms, I felt like I was praising God in a way that was more filling than I’d ever experienced.  (Note: before I start sounding too spiritual, I’ll freely admit I loved the fact that people were watching me perform and I hoped they wished they were as amazing as I was… Pride is definitely something I had to work on :)  I continued dancing at church and secular dance studios, and ended up going to college for dance, where my ballet teacher, Ms. Eileen, instilled in me a new passion for excellence.  She was one of the most demanding teachers I’d ever had.  One class she literally stopped the pianist during our second demi-plie because we weren’t putting enough heart into the movement.  She talked about how God had gifted us as dancers, and it was our responsibility to use our gift to the utmost as a way to honor Him.  I’ve had the blessing of growing up in a Christian home and had parents who always supported my love of the arts and when I told them about the idea God gave me to start GPA, they were ready to do what they could to help.  It has been a humbling journey because things rarely go as expected; I’ve been learning to rely on God more than I ever thought possible, and while He often doesn’t do things the way I want, my faith is being transformed to utterly rely on Him through the process.

Lillian: I love that! Tell us, what is the mission and/or vision of Glorify Performing Arts?

Melody: The mission of Glorify Performing Arts is to present compelling, professional productions to encourage and empower Christians in their walk of faith, inspiring them to step forward boldly to impact the world.

Lillian: How does the faith that you and your dancers have shape the company's choreography, productions, and performances?

Melody: Our dancers come from a variety of denominational backgrounds and may have differing viewpoints on theological issues, but one thing is across the board: faith in Christ is the bedrock of what we do.  This past fall we did a production called “Alive In Us” which used contemporary ballet to explore each fruit of the Spirit.  For example, I thought about the fruit of Peace, and when we have the Peace of Christ in our hearts, how does that impact our daily life, and how does that translate to movement?  As the dancers performed, the audience was visibly moved by the production, and many people left saying they had a new picture of the way the Holy Spirit works through us.  This spring, our show is less obviously “Christian” but it takes the Biblical concept that our identity is found in Christ and nothing else and translates that into a fun story set in the 1950’s where a girl is told her clothes aren’t good enough, and a model is replaced by another model which puts her career in jeopardy.  The goal is that the ballet helps the audience to see that when we’re in situations where the things we value are out of our control, God is the only solid rock in which we should place our hope.

Lillian: What kind of dancers do you look for to join GDT?

Melody: I’m looking for classically trained ballet dancers who are great at acting/emoting and comfortable dancing contemporary repertoire - and love Jesus, of course! 

 Lillian: Tell us about the GDT performances! What are your venues like and who would you say would be the ideal audience for GDT to perform for?

Melody: We’re only a year and a half old, so we’re still developing our performance opportunities, but within the next season or two, we’ll do a small, more abstract performance in the fall, and either perform using space at a local church or rent a small theatre. At Christmas and in the spring we’ll do full-length ballets that tell a story and for that we rent local high school/college auditoriums.  Also in the spring, we hold a fundraising Gala that has a small performance component to the evening.  Throughout the year I want to go to nursing homes and school chapels to share God’s truth with the people there.  The content of the show tends to change who our audience base is, but generally, we’re reaching families with pre-teen kids, 20/30 somethings, and older adults. 

 Lillian: What can audience members expect to experience attending one of GDT's shows?

Melody: Audience members can expect to be drawn away from life outside the theatre and whisked into the movements/story on the stage.  Our hope is that they sense God’s love for them and truth of His grace through our performance; that they aren’t just watching a show, but are experiencing a moment in time wherein their soul is moved and they leave feeling empowered to share the beauty of Christ with their friends/family.

Lillian: What is your favorite thing as Director/Choreographer of GDT, and then maybe a not so favorite thing?

Melody: My favorite thing as a choreographer is the moment when a movement phrase I have in my head is translated onto the stage and it works!  It is so fulfilling to watch dances that were once just a fragment of my imagination become reality.  I also love getting dressed up for opening night.  My not so favorite thing is just about everything business related.  Trying to keep track of business expenses, and put together budgets, and talk to potential sponsors is so stressful.  Somehow it’s no problem to organize all the music/choreography for a ballet, but to be organized about everything else does not come naturally for me.

PC: Revelations Video

Lillian: Do you have any secret talents, or maybe a hobby unrelated to dance?

Melody: I LOVE musical theatre! Not quite unrelated to dance. I also randomly talk in foreign accents all the time.

Lillian: Do you have any favorite bible verses?

Melody: I occasionally find myself battling anxiety so I’ve found a lot of comfort in:

Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God...”

Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” 

 John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Lillian: What advice would you give to young dancers dreaming of dancing professionally?

Melody: Be realistic but don’t limit God!  I wanted to be a Disney Princess at one point, but at 5’9”, no amount of “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” was going to make me short enough to qualify.  God designs each of us uniquely, so hold fast to the fact that YOU are special in His eyes and pursuing your dream of dancing professionally is completely worth it; just remember your journey is unique to you, so keep your eyes fixed on Christ, and let your soul shine even in simple barre exercises like tendus!

PC: Juliana Wall Photography.

Lillian: I've steered this interview thus far. Before wrapping this up, is there anything else you would like to share? Any last words you would like to leave with us?

Melody: We at Glorify Performing Arts / Glorify Dance Theatre believe art plays a powerful role in helping us to understand our world and the God who created it.  Many people are needed to bring our vision to life, so if you’d like to get involved in any way (not just as a dancer :) please reach out!

Click HERE to get involved!

Click the following link for more Audition Info!

Well that's all folks!
I hope you enjoyed this post! I know it was a fun one for me to put together!
Let me know what you thought about this kind of post and if 
you'd be interested in hearing from other artistic directors!
Have a Blessed day in the Lord!

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