“I want us to think of ACTS during our prayer – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication,” Maria Daniel told a group of eight dancers prior to their practice session in Charlottesville on April 2.
After their roundabout prayer, the iDance Ministry is getting down to serious work preparing for May 13’s McDonald’s Gospel Fest in Newark, N.J.
The ministry is one arm of the iDance Experience, founded by Daniel, a Greene County resident. Daniel was a dancer in her own right growing up, and received her law degree before moving to Virginia.
“Prior to coming to Virginia I lost feeling in both my legs, and I did not know if I was going to walk or even dance again,” Daniel said. “I couldn’t practice law, I couldn’t teach, I was literally sitting on the bed. This went on for about 18 months while my husband was being mobilized in the military.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to be able to do a jazz slide again.’ I didn’t even care about walking again,” she said. “During that time God worked on me, he humbled me and three words came to the top: educate, elevate, impact.”
Daniel wondered how to dance full time, with three young children, but “God just kept saying trust me, trust me,” she said.
“I needed to understand the difference between having a profession, a career and a calling. I always had the calling but it was never the center. Since I have been in Virginia, this is what I’ve been doing.”
She then started offering hip-hop classes at Nathanael Greene and Ruckersville elementary schools.
“While the dance ambassadors focus on the ministry part, in the school setting, I obviously respect the boundaries so we teach traditional hip-hop. I do use positive music,” Daniel said.
The group has performed in New Jersey, perform in churches, and participate in parades and more through dance. The ambassadors also scrimmage Special Olympics athletes twice a year.
“We’re an outreach,” she said. “We try to again educate, elevate and impact. No one I mentor or who is around me cannot love or come to love the things I love. When I grew up community service was like eating. It wasn’t something we were forced to do, we just did.”
Daniel was compelled to go on Twitter, something extremely unusual for her even though she has an account. It was then that she saw it was the final day to audition for this spring’s Gospel Fest in the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
“I thought they were just looking for acts between the big national gospel artists,” she said. “If you look at [our] audition video you’ll see the passion in their eyes. Even if they’re making mistakes you’ll see they’re sincere and genuine in what they do.
“I sent the videos in and a week later I got an email saying we were accepted,” Daniel said, “but I didn’t know until a month later because it went in my spam folder.”
It was then she noticed it is actually an emerging artist competition, and iDance is competing – not just an act to fill in between bigger acts.
“I’m so happy for this opportunity. For me it’s not about winning it’s about getting our message out and representing God, our ministry, our families and also Greene County,” Daniel said. “A lot of people lump us into Charlottesville because we do a lot in Charlottesville but we’re Greene County residents, and I don’t want that to go unnoticed.”
Last October the group danced on the court during halftime of a University of Virginia women’s basketball game, which was a favorite for many of the dancers.
Ruckersville Elementary School fourth-grader Aaliyah Frederick, 10, says it’s one of her favorite memories of her experience with the group.
“I really liked performing at the UVa. game,” she said. “I think for that performance I just went all out and it was my best dance. When we were in the line ready to go out I got really scared, too.”
William Monroe Middle School sixth-grader Ananda Daniel, Maria’s youngest, says performing and doing community service is her favorite parts.
“I loved [performing] at the Uva. game,” she said. “It was nerve-wrecking but I had fun. I’m really excited for Gospel Fest. After performing for a big crowd it’s just really fun.”
Daniel said high academics are a must for her dancers, and she encourages them to be involved in something else outside of the ministry to keep them balanced.
When she was trying to figure out what to name the group she remembered how she used to dance, alone, on 50-yard lines and mid-courts.
“It was all about me — a big ‘I’,” she said. “After my legs and that situation, I realized I couldn’t do what I’m doing now if I had that same attitude I couldn’t do what I do now without help. When everyone asked what I do I say I dance. He said that’s the name. I dance and I serve. The ‘I’ is little for that reason … because it’s no longer about me.”
Recently Daniel has opened up a junior ambassador group after many requests for younger students. Piedmont Virginia Community College student Ana Lorenza heads up that group and helps with choreography for the ambassadors.
“I loved their passion and it helps that they have a great leader with Mrs. Daniel,” Lorenza said. “I have a passion working with kids and teaching people how to dance. I hope to own my own dance studio one day.”
There will be an evening of praise to send the group off on Friday, May 5, at 7 p.m. at Covenant Church, 1025 Rio Road in Charlottesville.
Daniel teaches at BalletSchool and Carver Recreation Center. For more information about the ambassadors and other dance classes, visit www.idanceministry.com.