Instead of heading off to college after
high school graduation, Elizabeth Kraft left her northern Virginia
home for a small dance studio in Mississippi.
After participating in secular dance programs, Kraft said she
found the competitive world of dance to be "cutthroat." She even
considered giving up dance altogether.
"The Lord showed me that without dance in my life, it would be
kind of empty," the 19-year-old said.
Kraft, like many other students from across the world, was drawn
to dancing for Ballet Magnificat!, a non-denominational Christian
Kraft is a member of the Jackson-based company's trainee
program, a one- to four-year program with a mission and ministry
focus. Dancers participate in ministry opportunities and are
schooled in classical ballet.
A fellow trainee, Hanna Nagel, 22, traveled from Germany to join
the program after dancing in secular companies in her native
country. Nagel said she found her religious beliefs interfered with
some of the provocative subject matter portrayed on stage. She knew
there had to be a place where her spiritual side could exist with
her passion for dancing. An Internet search led her to Ballet
Sitting next to a dog grooming business, Ballet Magnificat!'s
building is unassuming from the outside with some front windows
giving a view of trainee classes.
With four dance studios and a school of arts that teaches about
400, the narrow winding hallways are abuzz with activity. Music
echoes through the sweltering studios during class hours. The warm
temperatures suit the dancer's need for warm muscles.
The company was founded in 1986 by Kathy Thibodeaux, a silver
medalist at the II USA International Ballet Competition, which is
in Jackson every fourth year. In Thibodeaux's third round
contemporary performance, she expressed her Christian beliefs in a
dance to Sandi Patty's "We Shall Behold Him."
"That (performance) was sort of the seed that started out as
Ballet Magnificat!," said Keith Thibodeaux, Kathy's husband and
executive director of the business.
"We are unique in that we are a Christian company, we make no
bones about that," Keith Thibodeaux said.
Keith Thibodeaux is no stranger to performing. Though not
trained in ballet, he plays the drums, a talent that earned him a
gig as "Little Ricky," the TV son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
on the "I Love Lucy" show. He later played with the band "David
and the Giants."
Kathy Thibodeaux said most of the company's performances are
stories that are biblically based and just put to dance, with
contemporary Christian and classical music.
"We use the same dance vocabulary that we were brought up in.
We just sell a different message," Kathy Thibodeaux said.
What started as a four-person ballet company has now grown to
two professional touring companies - Alpha and Omega - and 31
trainees, who attend classes five days a week, in preparation for
ministries in the touring companies as well as work with other
"Our desire is that it will magnify the Lord in all that we do.
Dancing is just a gift that the Lord gave us," Kathy Thibodeaux
Members of the Alpha Company, the oldest company in the studio's
existence, spent the beginning of September on a European tour
which took them to Germany, Greece and the Czech Republic. Alpha is
performing "Ruth," a contemporary spin on the biblical story.
Omega is spending most of September in the United States, with
performances scheduled in Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma.
The group has not faced much resistance in performing their
Christian-themed productions, mainly because they are often invited
In a Jewish synagogue theater in Salem, Mass., Keith Thibodeaux
said the company was asked not to say Jesus' name during the
performance. In Singapore, the group also had to be careful about
how they spoke about their testimony because of the country's
diverse religious population, including Muslims, Hindus and
"We really get to go where the normal crews of church pastors
or evangelists are not able to go to," Keith Thibodeaux said. He
said he believes the performances attract people who enjoy ballet
as well as people who have never been to a ballet, just because of
the fact the group is Christian.
Cynthia Newland, assistant professor of dance at Christian
liberal arts school Belhaven College also in Jackson, said
Christian dance has existed since biblical times, with a revival of
the dance in the 19th and 20th centuries in the traditional church
setting. Newland said in the 1960s during the "Jesus Movement,"
dance found a place and kept growing steadily.
"I've in particular seen much more of a growth and a resurgence
in dance in the last 12 years and that is being done in churches of
all denominations," Newland said.
Ballet Magnificat! shared a donated space at Belhaven College
before opening up the 12,000 square foot building located just off
Interstate 55 in 1989.
Walking through the building there is very little to tipping off
visitors to the company's Christian-side. Morning worship services
are held each day and then dancing commences in each studio.