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Westwood Ballet teaches dance as form of worship to its studentscomment (0)

August 30, 2012

By Julie Payne

Westwood Ballet teaches dance as form of worship to its students

Now in its 12th year ministering through the art of dance, Westwood Ballet in Birmingham has taught dance students to “use their gifts and talents to glorify the Lord.”

Originally a ministry of Briarwood Ballet in Birmingham, Westwood Ballet became a ministry of Westwood Baptist Church, Birmingham, in 2006. 

The dance ministry is tucked away toward the back of Westwood Baptist’s building. If it were not for the ballet’s small outdoor sign, one would never suspect that through the church doors dancers pirouette and grand plié under the tutelage of Westwood Ballet teachers. 

According to director Cindy Best, Westwood Ballet provides dance instruction to dancers from areas including Jasper, Hayden, Warrior, Gardendale, Fairfield and Midfield. 

“Through the years it’s been a tremendous blessing to ... see where [these children] have grown. Last year we had 82 students,” Best said. “And we give the free performance in May. Last year in May, we probably had around 1,200 people [who] came and watched the performance. So it’s an incredible outreach that Westwood Baptist Church uses.”

Best’s passion for the dance program shines as she shares about the ministry of Westwood Ballet and the three staff members who help make the program possible.

One of those teachers, artistic director Beth Bischoff, is still fairly new to the program. Bischoff began teaching classes last August after dancing with Ballet Magnificat! — a Christian ballet company based in Jackson, Miss. — for eight seasons. “We know truly that God sent her here,” Best remarked. 

Bischoff grew up on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, and started dancing when she was 9 years old. “I guess [age 9] is considered a little later for dancers, because a lot of girls start when they’re really young, like 3 or 4,” Bischoff explained. 

She trained at Ballet Hawaii until she was 18 years old and then moved to Mississippi to dance with Ballet Magnificat! in 2003.

“Ballet is an art, but it’s a way of expression for me,” Bischoff explained. “I was really shy growing up and so ballet was always a way for me just to express myself.”

As her relationship with the Lord grew, Bischoff said that dance became more of a way for her to express her love for God. It was no longer a “self-focused thing” that involved a constant striving for perfection.

She said that once she began dancing with Ballet Magnificat! the Lord opened her eyes to how ballet could be used as worship. She now sees dance as a gift that can be used to bring God glory and “to love Him with it.” 

Recently several of Bischoff’s advanced class students were able to experience Ballet Magnificat! for themselves during its summer dance intensive program in Jackson, Miss. 

“It’s just an intense time of technical training, of discipleship,” Bischoff explained, adding the classes include pointe, modern and jazz. “They also learn choreography that the company does and then perform it at the end of their time there.”

According to Best, the dancers each raised their own funds to attend. “Six of our girls, through Mrs. Beth’s training and guidance, raised their $1,800 each through yard sales, hot dog sales — whatever it took — they raised their $1,800 and they went for two weeks each and had the most amazing time,” Best explained. “Parents called after their gala performance and said it was the most incredible night of worship they had experienced. So I think it was a life-changing experience for our girls.”

Whether performing recitals that reflect the gospel or instructing students in a variety of classes, Westwood Ballet is focused on glorifying God through dance. And viewing dance as a form of worship is something Bischoff hopes her students will take away from her instruction.

“When [Beth] dances, Jesus just shines through her,” Best said. “There’s just something about Beth that she brings into that classroom. … Those girls … dance with a different purpose. It’s not about the steps. It’s not about the technique. It’s about Who they dance for and why they dance.”

To view a video related to this story, visit the video library.

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