Dancing is usually thought of as a secular activity. It's something people do to have fun and express themselves at nightclubs and parties. At Long Reach Church of God, dance is used to praise God.
"It tells you in the Bible, you can praise the Lord through dancing," said the church's director of dance ministry Jacqueline Martin, referring to Psalms 149:3. "David praised the Lord through dancing."
Mrs. Martin calls this style of dance "spiritual dance," a combination of modern dance, ballet and African dance movements, all guided by one's spirit. "The movements mostly are soft and angelic like," she said. "We allow the spirit to create all the moves."
Through spiritual dance, Mrs. Martin and the other dancers can praise and worship God, she said. They also can reach out to others.
"We don't consider it just dancing, we consider it a ministry. Therefore, we pray before we dance and ask that someone is blessed," Mrs. Martin said. "You want people to see the Jesus in you and hope somebody can be saved."
The church, on Foreland Garth in Columbia's Village of Long Reach, has three dance groups -- Angelic Step Dance Company for those ages 14 to adult, Praise Kids for those 5 to 12 and Teens in Praise for teen-agers.
Since the dance ministry began in 1990, the groups have grown from about 10 members each to up to as many as 20 members each.
To prepare for performances, the dancers rehearse Saturdays. Before each performance, they read the Bible and pray. Using music by the Winans and other gospel music, they perform at church services, weddings, funerals and other occasions at the church. They dance near the altar or in the aisles.
Dancers have also performed at other churches, including one in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania.
Angelic Step Dancers, with whom Mrs. Martin dances, performed at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at The Mall in Columbia on Jan. 16. The dancers are preparing to perform at the Black Student Achievement Program's annual breakfast Feb. 12 and many venues for Black History Month.
The dancers are just an example of spiritual dance groups in the Baltimore metropolitan region, Mrs. Martin said. Similar groups are in Bowie and Baltimore, she said.
Dance ministry, however, isn't something welcomed at all churches, Mrs. Martin said. "A lot of churches don't accept it, but a lot of them are starting to look at dance as a form of ministry," she said.
"I think so many don't because they look at it as dance, not as a form of praise and worship. I think when they hear dance, they say, 'Oh, no,' " she said, explaining that they visualize the jitterbug and other secular dances.
"Secular dancing is selfish. You're dancing for yourself," Mrs. Martin said. "When you dance for the Lord, you allow him to use you as a vessel so someone can receive a blessing."
"It's not entertainment," said Tiffani Simone Crews, 21, the ministry's assistant director. She said spiritual dancing serves a purpose: to praise God.
Mrs. Martin, 38 and a systems engineer for IBM, said she had always wanted to dance, though she was never formally trained. She had taken a dance class in college and joined community dance groups and clubs in junior high and high school in New Jersey.
The church's visiting minister went to her Columbia home in 1990 and told her that the church's pastor, the Rev. Robert S. Davis, wanted to establish a dance ministry at the church.
She agreed to start the ministry and used some of the experience she gained in New Jersey.
Long Reach Church of God officers are considering establishing a dance studio at the church.