COLUMBIA - Six-year-old Rickeah "Kiki" Henderson slowly edges her way into the brightly lit "Blind" Boone Center auditorium on a Wednesday night, right on time for dance practice. She is bashful, and her father has to coax her into the room.
Already inside and waiting for practice to officially begin, the other members of For His Glory Dance Ministry are dancing and giggling. A young girl wearing pink pajama pants and an oversized T-shirt welcomes Rickeah into the group, and the girl seems comforted. She immediately begins to loosen up and play with the other girls.
Rickeah's bashfulness isn't anything unusual for newcomers to the group. The Rev. Janice Threat, executive director of For His Glory Dance Ministry, says the girls "begin with us shy and have self-esteem issues, with no sense of poise or confidence, but after they've been with us for about a year, they show growth."
Richard Henderson, Rickeah's father, couldn't agree more. "Rickeah has only been doing this for about five or six weeks, and she was apprehensive at first," he said. "But the program is already bringing out a lot of social skills in her."
Every practice begins the same way: The group gathers in a circle and holds hands to pray. Each girl gets a chance to voice anything she would like to pray about, including issues at home or school. Every opening prayer ends the same way, asking God to help the girls "have fun tonight and leave here feeling better than we did when we got here."
For His Glory holds regular rehearsals on Wednesdays at the "Blind" Boone Center. The group has been in Columbia for 10 years. Threat introduced the organization to Columbia after learning of it while living in Chicago. The group uses Christian principles as the "guiding framework for relationships and interactions," according to its Web site. It is not a religious organization, but rather a community outreach program incorporated into a dance ministry, bringing together a mosaic of children with different personalities, ethnicities and beliefs. As diverse as these children may be, they share a love for dance. The size of the group fluctuates with each rehearsal, but it has had as many as 30 participants.
For His Glory, which hosted its first dance clinic earlier this month, has had its greatest success with teenage girls, Threat said. The girls join the group and have shown the most growth in areas such as poise and presentation, articulate speaking and self-esteem and confidence issues.
As the weekly rehearsal begins, one girl assumes the role of group leader. Sixteen-year-old Breaunna Bragg is captain of For His Glory and has been on the team for four years. Positioned front and center for each routine, Bragg sets the standard for the level of performance Threat expects of the girls. With a contagious smile and an obvious talent for dance, Bragg seems to thoroughly enjoy each routine, even exclaiming ‘Yes!' when her favorite songs play on the boom box. Bragg continues to participate in For His Glory for a number of reasons. "I'm in high school, so there's a lot of temptation," she said, "This helps to stay above it, and know that this is something better to spend my time doing."
Co-captain Caraleena Jones, 13, agrees that being in For His Glory makes it easier for her to say no to the temptations teenagers face. Kathleen Claxton-Rogers, a mentor to the girls, says that Caraleena is a true leader because she stands up for what she believes in. "There are a lot of kids at her school getting into bad things like drugs, and she doesn't get it. She says, ‘Why do you even want to do that?'"
Jones says she has a close relationship with God and doesn't need things like that in her life. She says she would rather spend time praising God through dance.
During rehearsal, the girls will assume the formation for their spiritual dance, called "The Five Positions of Worship." This dance is performed while they recite Scripture, without musical accompaniment. Each girl is required to memorize the entire Scripture and corresponding movement before she can graduate from the training program and officially become part of the team. Threat calls out "position 1" and the girls respond in unison, "Humility in Prayer." Each dance position calls for an arrangement of moves while reciting a Bible verse. The other positions include meditation and confession, adoration, exultation and praise.
Threat said that she challenges the girls to take spiritual dance beyond the steps and motivates participants to feel God's word in their hearts. Threat stops the girls mid-performance and asks them to feel when it's time to do the next movement. At that point, Minnie Briscoe, 15, who has been with the group for one year, closes her eyes and attempts to feel the music. Threat encourages the girls to be conscious of each other's movements, in doing that the words seemed become the music. "You feel the words in your heart and move to them," Threat said. Threat says she believes dance ministry offers the same camaraderie and teamwork as sports such as basketball or cheerleading. Just like sports teams, the children in For His Glory also travel with their team for performances at other churches, rallies and weddings in the Midwest.
Threat says visiting other churches is of the utmost importance to the children's growth. By visiting other churches, the children are meeting people from different areas and races who share the same interests. It shows the children a "more global, broader concept of the world, and their place in it," Threat said. Threat also says that children need to be exposed to different types of worship services because it displays the universality of God, and that it is OK to worship in different ways. Such exposure also makes them less critical of those different from themselves, she added.
With the expense of traveling, transportation, uniforms and equipment, For His Glory depends on the families of the children who participate for funding. While in the training phase of the program, each family is asked to make a contribution toward a participation fee. Once in the program, the kids and families work together in fundraisers such as bake sales, car washes and Christmas card sales to raise money. For His glory also has donors and sponsors who make contributions.
Threat recalls a generous man who overheard her explaining the concept behind For His Glory in a restaurant one day. "I was talking to a friend about the lack of funding for new uniforms when the man interrupted me and asked me how much I needed," she said, "I told him we needed three hundred dollars, and he reached in his pocket and handed it to me." At that point, the group had been waiting a year for the money to get new uniforms.
For His Glory performed at the Boone County Fair talent show even though the girls didn't have much time to get prepared. They said they were excited about the opportunity to showcase their talents in a public performance.
For more information about For His Glory, go to forhisgloryinc.com.