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After 25 years, Sacred Dance Ensemble of Fredericksburg takes its reverence
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After 25 years, Sacred Dance Ensemble of Fredericksburg takes its reverence


After a quarter century of “making visible the invisible movements of the spirit,” as the poet e.e. cummings wrote, the women of the Sacred Dance Ensemble of Fredericksburg are bringing their ministry to a close.

After taking their reverence—which in ballet is a closing ritual signifying respect—this past Sunday at Fredericksburg United Methodist Church, they have a final public performance scheduled for Oct. 17 at The Presbyterian Church in Fredericksburg.

“The time is right for the core of us,” the group’s creator and artistic director Vicky Wilder said. “We decided, ‘Let’s celebrate 25 years of this rather than just letting it fizzle out.’ “

At more than 200 worship services in at least 40 churches from North Carolina to New York; at community events, in nursing homes and retirement centers, at weddings and funerals, and even in flash mobs on train platforms, the ensemble has interpreted hymns and scripture for worshippers through dance.

Now, the core group of dancers—Wilder and Mary Katherine Greenlaw, Florence Ridderhof, Suzi Bevan, Gail Conway and Kathy Vining—have knees that maybe don’t bend as well as they used to.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll stop dancing together. Instead of dancing for the community, they’ll dance for each other.

“Once you dance with someone, you’re sisters forever,” said Wilder. “We’re all aging and we need to keep moving, because movement really is the fountain of youth. We are committed to continuing that for our own friendship and fellowship.”

Wilder created the group in 1996. A member of the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg, she was looking for a way to incorporate her love of dance with her faith and break down the stereotype of Presbyterians as “the frozen chosen.”

“I have always felt closest to God when I was dancing,” Wilder said. “And I knew that God wouldn’t have made me a dancer if he didn’t want me to dance.”

Sacred dances have been present in most religions throughout history and prehistory. Dance was an important part of ancient Hebrew worship and social culture, Wilder said, and there are many verb roots in the Hebrew Bible that describe dance movements.

A number of verses in the Bible describe spontaneous dancing to express happiness that is too great to be contained.

In the beloved hymn “Lord of the Dance,” with words by English songwriter Sydney Carter, Jesus describes his life and mission as a dance—”Dance, dance wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the dance said He / And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be / And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said He.”

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With these words and inspiration in mind, Wilder approached her then-pastor and asked if she could dance in an upcoming service.

On Pentecost Sunday in 1996, Wilder performed a solo dance in the sanctuary using a white cloth to symbolize the Holy Spirit descending to the disciples after Jesus’s ascension.

Afterward, she invited other local dancers to a workshop, and a core group of women began meeting weekly as the Sacred Dance Ensemble of Fredericksburg.

“I told them I heard the call, but I hadn’t been given a road map,” Wilder said. “I had no idea where it was going, but I asked them to trust the process and come with me, and that’s what we’ve done.”

For the longtime members, the group has been a way to both keep dance as a part of their lives and use their love of dance to express their faith.

“I am never whole unless I am doing something with dance,” Greenlaw said. “We feel called to do this and I think it is a ministry.”

In addition to those with extensive dance training, the group has had members who “have never taken a dance lesson in their lives,” Wilder said.

“It’s always been interdenominational,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what church you to go or what faith you are. We have had people show up and say, ‘I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t dance, but I feel called to explore this.’ And we just invite them to explore. There was never the expectation that you dance in worship, you can just come and dance with us.”

More than 65 people have danced with the group over the years, Wilder said.

Besides participating in worship services and performing at other venues, the Sacred Dance Ensemble has hosted workshops at other churches on how to incorporate sacred dance.

“We would share in a workshop how to dance any one of the parts of a traditional worship service,” Greenlaw said. “We don’t know how many other ministries we’ve seeded [through those workshops].”

And every time they dance, they have presented those in the audience with a new way to worship and express faith.

“Essentially everywhere we dance, there is somebody that responds in a way they didn’t think they were going to respond,” Wilder said.

The Sacred Dance Ensemble’s final reverences will be filmed and available for viewing—along with previous performances—at the group’s YouTube channel, Sacred Dance Ensemble Fredericksburg.

Adele Uphaus–Conner:



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