By Margaret Hall
On a beautiful Sunday in Phoenix, serene music cascades over the congregation in First Institutional church on 11th St. and Jefferson. The David Dance Troupe youth praise team, led by professional dancer April Hawkins, performs a beautiful, melodic piece that fills the souls of worshippers with glory and gratification. Praise dancing, a popular form of dancing found in African American Baptist churches, has become a staple of spiritual entertainment. Their pieces encourage church congregations to praise, and their silent dancing enhances the spirit in the sanctuary.
April knows the positive impact of praise dancing given that she;s been performing as a praise dancer since she was a teenager. Her purpose is to teach young women how to express their spirituality through dance and be an example of God’s love through community service.
Write On Downtown (WOD): Can you tell us a little about yourself?
April Hawkins (AH): Born and raised in South Phoenix, Arizona. Graduated from South Mountain High school. Married to Husband Freddy Hawkins and have 5 wonderful children.
WOD: Can you give us your definition of praise dance?
A: My definition of praise dance is a form of Ministry. Your interpretation of sharing the Word of God through Movement and Dance. through all different types of dance genres, (hip hop, ballet, jazz, and lyrical).
WOD: What started you on the path to praise dancing?
A: I have been dancing since age 3, participating in commercials, talent shows, and pageants. My mom noticed a gift I had for watching someone do a move or dance a couple of times and I would be able to pick it up almost perfectly. As I became a teenager, and I grew closer to God, I knew I wanted to continue to dance but I wanted to give my gift back to God but through Praise Dancing. That led me to want to work with the youth and children. I then continued for many years teaching at my home church, First Institutional Baptist Church, under Pastor Warren H. Stewart. As an adult, I continue to teach Praise Dance and I have my own community dance ministry, David Dance Troupe. With this Ministry, you do not have to be a member of a said church, the only requirement is your love of God, dance, and a loving heart.
WOD: When and why did you recognize a need for a youth praise dance group?
A: I recognized a need for a youth praise group such as David Dance Troupe (DDT) because I didn’t want to have any “red tape” or restrictions on the children and youth to be able to travel to other venues and Minister. I wanted the children from the community to have the freedom of coming to dance without judgement in skill level or anything like that, in hopes that we can win them over to love Christ as we do.
WOD: How old are the dancers?
A: Our age range is from 3 years old to 18 years old.
WOD: This is a great outlet for children in the African American community. Do you have any advice for someone looking to do the same thing?
A: My advice for anyone wanting to do the same thing is to have a plan, know your goal and don’t let anyone stop you from reaching or obtaining that goal. I also have great parents as a foundation and support. Stay positive and you can and will be great!