Classical ballet at Pastors' Conference

by Michael Ray Smith, posted Monday, June 22, 2009 (10 years ago)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Fourteen-year-old Riley Johnson won't wear her point shoes when she dances as part of the worship during the SBC Pastors' Conference but her ballet moves may provide all the footage anyone could want.

The blonde teenager began her ballet lessons at 3 and told her parents, Ronnie and Jan of Mobile, Ala., "One day I want to dance for Jesus in big church."

She will get that opportunity when she performs as part of the Pastors' Conference. Instead of point shoes, however, she'll wear flat shoes -- and a long, white conservative tutu to pirouette on the thick royal blue carpet in the Kentucky Exposition Center.

"I hope to touch people's lives," said the 5-foot, six-inch and 100-pound dancer who reflects the energy of a highly trained athlete but betrays the wonder of a teenager with a purple iPhone in her hands.

Riley and her church, First Baptist Church of North Mobile, are working to reclaim the arts in worship. While the choir sings, artist Brian Daniel will paint with his hands during one song. In another set, Riley will move in fluid rhythm to an orchestra of violins, electric guitars and other instruments.

"We want to add another dimension to worship," music minister Jason Breland said. "It will be wonderful if people experience the presence of God and the worship of God in a way that they haven't experienced before."

Breland's choir of 125 includes Riley's mother, Jan, and Jason's daughter, Emily, 11, a gifted soloist. Breland's wife Amy and Emily's cousin Jordan Johnson, no relation to Riley, will join Emily in Kari Jobe's "Revelations Song" while Riley's piece, which she choreographed with suggestions from a friend and ideas from her studio, Mobile Ballet, is classical ballet. All are members of the First Baptist where Ed Litton is pastor and president of the SBC Pastor's Conference.

"Riley first danced at First Baptist at a Father's Day message and nearly everyone was moved," said her father, Ronnie Johnson. "When someone uses a talent for God's glory, it moves people. I hope we will see dance become a new trend."


Michael Smith is a journalism faculty member at Campbell University in North Carolina.

Download Story