Piecing together Alameda by the luck of the draw
... Praise Dance, the dance form dedicated to religious worship that emerged from predominately African American churches, is growing in popularity, with the establishment of several Praise Dance companies in the East Bay. It's growing up, too.
"We want the level of technical representation in Christian dance to reach professional levels," said Joseph Washington, vocalist, musician and co-director with his wife, Shereel Washington, of Ixalt! The company's mission is to use dance, music, song and spoken word to share the Gospel. "We want people who are technically skilled who love God."
With that in mind, the company trains dancers in technique, rhythm, movement and choreography. In celebration of National Dance Week, Ixalt! is sponsoring Dance Jam, a day of dance workshops, and a forum exploring sexuality, culture and ethnicity in the church.
The Dance Jam will offer classes in hula, Praise Dance with modern technique, jazz and lyrical dance.
Joseph Washington pointed out traditional cultures, in Hawaii and African countries for example, were suppressed during the spread of Christianity.
"We want to revive cultural freedom so people can express their culture in their Christian faith," he said.
The Washingtons founded Ixalt! in 2003. Shereel Washington is an accomplished dancer and choreographer with training in Congolese, jazz, Haitian, ballet, modern, tap, Guinean and Hawaiian dance.
They also want to increase secular society's awareness of praise dance.
"We've (praise dancers) been afraid to come out of the churches," Joseph Washington said. "We need to share it with the secular world."
Exposing Praise Dance to the secular world, and vice versa, is still a fairly novel concept. This year Ixalt! competed to perform in San Francisco's Ethnic Dance Festival.
"The festival features religious and cultural dance from around the world," Shereel Washington said. "It was the first time a Christian dance group competed."
While the Washingtons said the judges seemed a little unsure of how to react to the company, only one said it didn't work for him. Ixalt! wasn't chosen for this year's festival. But there's always next year.
"We will continue so people can see the Christian performing arts, the skill and agility, at any dance event, until the dancers and the audience get comfortable sharing our talent," Shereel Washington said.
Ixalt! presents two Bay Area National Dance Week events at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts:
"Sexuality, Sensuality, Culture and Ethnicity in The Church," a forum Thursday, 6:30 p.m. in studio D.
"Dance Jam," a full day of dance classes, April 28, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., studio E. Admission is free for both events.