Jessamine Christian Fellowship Church, a sister congregation to Lexington Christian Fellowship, appears to be a church like many others, but inside you'll find something you wouldn't expect — a dance studio.
The Nicholasville church serves as the home and training ground for Gloria Deo School of the Arts, founded in 2010 by Sarah Williams, a classically trained dancer devoted to combining classical dance training and original performances with Christian principles and themes.
Williams will debut an original ballet, Ruth, on June 8 and 9.
"My vision is that Gloria Deo would train up classical dancers who have been trained in proper technique but in a way that glorifies the Lord," says Williams, a graduate of Mars Hill Academy, a Christian school in Lexington.
Williams, 22, began her ballet career when she was 6 years old and later became a featured dancer for the Bluegrass Youth Ballet, starring in roles like the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker and Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. She also dances at Kentucky Ballet Theater.
She attended the Governor's School for the Arts for ballet in 2007 before completing a two-year traineeship with Ballet Magnificat, a Christian-based ballet company in Mississippi that is considered the premier Christian ballet in the nation.
It was there that Williams began to envision founding a Christian ballet company in her hometown. When she moved home, she opened her studio with the support of her pastor, parents and church community.
"I started out with about 20 students and I was the only teacher," says Williams. "We have kids from 3 to 18 and we started doing two productions a year. Then I started summer programs and we just really grew, a lot by word of mouth."
The combination of Christian values with serious classical training is what makes Gloria Deo unique and popular with parents and young dancers, Williams said.
"A lot of Christian studios veer toward being liturgical or lyrical," says Williams. "The training that I give my students is very strictly classical. It's very similar to what they would be getting in a secular school but behind it is the heart to work excellently unto the Lord and be able to take dance and use it in a way that is worshipful and that ministers to people."
Williams' classes include Bible studies and spiritual reflections on how to use dance both as a ministry and for personal spiritual growth.
"We pray every class and I often give the girls teachings," says Williams. "We've studied dance in the Bible, we've done studies on worship and we talk about unity and how the unity that comes from walking with the Lord together also comes through in our dancing and strengthens the unity as we perform."
"And then I also implement a lot of biblical principles in my teaching like respect and diligence and self-discipline," says Williams.
Williams also conceives and choreographs original ballets based on Christian themes and biblical stories.
She focused on Ruth for Gloria Deo's latest ballet because she thought it was a story that young girls could relate to.
"Because the majority of my dances are girls, I wanted to do one that centered around a female figure from the Bible," says Williams.
"Ruth is kind of an outcast," says Williams, "and her story is really a telling of God's redemption and restoration."
Williams believes that the arts can be an effective tool for ministry and is also a way to honor the inherent talents of Gloria Deo's dancers.
"I think that creativity that is behind art is definitely God-given," says Williams.
"We need to be a good steward of what the Lord has given us and I definitely believe that all of my gift to dance is from the Lord," says Williams. "I really want to steward that and use it to the fullest and see him glorified."
If you go
When: 7 p.m. June 8; 4 p.m. June 9
Where: Lexington Christian Academy Rose Campus, 450 West Reynolds Road.
Cost: $10 for adults; $5 for children. Tickets can be purchased at the door.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer.