By Keneisha Walters
The gospel dance community can lay claim to many worship dancers emerging on the scene but very few can compare to the duo, Celestial Praise.
The dance group, made up of Dierdre Hemmings (Nicky) and Michelle Brown are two dynamic pair who have been ministering the word of God through the expression of dance. They embody a renewed spirit and eloquence in the Christian gospel dance culture. Using biblical principles as their guide their dance fusion results in exquisite theatrical movements and improvisation.
The group was formed in 2000 when the pair met by a chance encounter. They were both schedule to perform individual dance solo at a concert at Michelle’s church, Kingdom Glory Ministry [formerly New Beginnings Ministry] in Mississauga, Ontario. The two were in awe of each other’s performance and later collaborated out of the sheer passion and love they both have for dancing.
“It’s all about vision,” says Dierdre, in relation to both of them working together. “If you find someone with the same vision, the same goal you’re going after, the same thing, then you work with each other, you run with each other.”
The pair directs their exuberance, imagination and limitless praise into elegant staged choreography. Their remarkable synchronized movements, complemented by their convincing on-stage dramatization of lyrics from their chosen gospel soundtrack, speak volume of their dynamic ability.
Not one to back down on any chance to minister the word of God, Celestial Praise has performed at many events both within, and outside the Christian community. “Wherever God opens the door we are prepared to walk though it, it doesn’t matter the event,” says Dierdre. “We make ourselves available to the will of God.”
The duo has a unique way of drawing audience in through their performance. They have worshiped throughout the Greater Toronto Area, as well as the United States at reputed religious and civic events. Celestial Praise has performed at fundraising events including for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. They have performed at other special engagements and social gathering such as banquets, weddings and at shopping malls.
It is a balancing act for the pair who has to split their time between work, personal and family life with their dancing engagements. Yet their passion for dance and dedication to their craft and ministry, allows this ardent group to find a formula that works for their busy schedule.
“When it comes to ministry everything else has to go on hold and re-juggled to the back burner to minister to whom God sends us to minister,” says Michelle.
Both Dierdre and Michelle credit the hit TV show Fame as the starting point to their dance craze. Unaware of each other’s biggest musical influence until they both sat down for an interview with Media Emporium, the pair revealed to each other’s amazement that the illustrious Debbi Allen who starred in Fame, was both their biggest inspiration as children.
Dierdre started dancing at a young age in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. She grew up in a strict Christian family with her grandparents who did not embrace creative dancing and they would not allow her to dance to secular music. With her deep inclination towards dance, Dierdre stopped at nothing to learn the latest dance moves, even if it meant at times to defy her grandparents.
When she migrated to Canada in 1997, a visit to a Christian weekend retreat opened a whole new world for her when she saw a female performer dancing to a gospel routine. It was a profound and transformative moment for Dierdre who was unaware that there was any form of acceptance of dance in the church.
Without hesitation, she asked her pastor at New Beginnings Ministry if she could perform the next day at Sunday service. With less than a day to spare, and no practiced routine or costume, Dierdre went home and borrowed an African outfit from her adopted mother. She performed her first dance to the melody of “I Surrender All,” which was well received.
Equally and ardently devoted to dance, Michelle’s fascination to the art came as no surprise to anyone who knew her from childhood. Raised by British grandparents who were classical music lovers, Michelle grew up listening to many classical greats including American singer and the renowned Broadway icon, Fred Astaire.
At a young age her grandparents’ veranda in Montego Bay, Jamaica was her stage, as she danced to classical jazz that they normally played on Sunday evenings. It wasn’t long that she evolved from that platform to her school’s auditorium, at Montego Bay High, where she generated an audience. She quickly formed and became a choreographer for a step-dance group at the school.
She continued her pursuit of music when she came to Canada in 1986. It wasn’t long after her arrival in the country that she began choreographing another group of step-dancers at her new high school.
Her transition into gospel music came when she heard a group singing Christmas carols on the street. She was invited by one of the singers to attend his church where she got permission from the minister to perform a dance number.
Celestial Praise is out to dispel the stereotypical belief that dancing has no place in the church and that it is unholy. “Dance is the expression of the word in a different language,” says Dierdre, who sees their ministry in the church as one of the major obstacle for Celestial Praise. “This is one of the biggest barrier or an ongoing barrier that only God can remove as He speaks to the hearts of many about dancing in the church.” The duo believes that God’s glory can be manifested in many different ways and dancing is one way. “God wants to minister through a different medium than what people are used to,” says Michelle.
Both Dierdre and Michelle take their audience on a spiritual journey in their performances. When the pair is on stage performing, their presence is synonymous to each other.
“The spirit works through both of us simultaneously,” says Michelle. “It’s like God is taking us in a different realm but he is not taking us individually, he is taking us both at the same time.”
With a distinctive flow on the dance stage, the pair moves with such reverence, and devotion, they keep their audience engaged with heart-felt emotional routines that will leave you mesmerized and wanting more. Through their togetherness and perfect unison, Dierdre and Michelle feeds off of each other’s every move.
Celestial Praise is so in sync in their performance that their attempt to add another member to their group had proven to be unsuccessful. “God joined us together in body mind and spirit; so it is hard to translate into someone else spirit what God has put in our spirit.” says Michelle.
Their name Celestial Praise meaning, “heavenly,” was carefully chosen and represents all that they stand for. “We wanted to go beyond the unknown,” says Dierdre. “We want to show that we are not just another dance group, we want to be the dance group. We go beyond the unknown. Once you believe in God and are connected to the unknown you are limitless to what you can do.”
With that belief they are out to encourage young people that they should hold on to their dreams. “Any young person who has the passion to dance should just step out in faith and do it,” says Michelle. “If God put it in your heart to dance and if it is in your soul to dance He will open up doors for you.”
Celestial Praise is optimistic that many more doors will be opening up for them. “Five years from now” says Michelle, “we see ourselves dancing at the Rogers Centre.”