The Word in the Wings
Why arts ministry: a conversation with Julia Dutill
By: KAYA WEAVER
Julia Dutill is an Apprentice with Glorify Dance Theatre and has been involved with the company since 2020. You may have seen her in the role of “Assistant Shepherdess” in GPA’s short ballet Heurisko. Julia brings thoughtfulness and dedication to company Bible study and rehearsal. Join me for a conversation where Julia shares about how her relationship with God shapes her dance practice and performance.
Kaya: Julia, I’m really excited to sit down and have an interview with you that we get to share on The Word in the Wings, because you bring so much to this company. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on dance and ministry.
To kick things off, how did you first get into dance, and when did you decide that you would stick with it and pursue it seriously?
Julia: I first got into dance when I was three years old at a dance academy connected to a liturgical church. Both my sisters, who are older than I am, danced there, and as a toddler I was always affected by music and by movement. I loved moving my body, and I loved rhythm, so it was a natural step for me to go dance, and I haven’t stopped since!
I decided to pursue it seriously a couple of years ago when I was in the Glorify Dance Theatre Preparatory Company. I saw what the main company was doing, and I wanted to take a step further and become serious about something that I knew was a gift from God.
Kaya: That’s very cool to hear how you were inspired by Glorify Performing Arts, seeing it and being part of it, and now here you are part of the professional company! Was there a particular experience that you can recall of watching or being around the professional dancers that sparked that interest in pursuing it more seriously?
Julia: Yes, it was the fall of 2020, our first season after covid, and our Preparatory Company was doing a dance before the main company did the ballet Taistella. We did our piece and then went into the audience to watch.
I had been feeling very apathetic about dance, school, and life in general, just wondering the purpose of things. I was not feeling settled. I remember watching the show, and it must have been the third time they had performed it. I was completely zoned out, focused on the dancers, and all of a sudden I heard God whisper in my head, “Julia, I want you to be an apprentice with this company.” Instantly, my perspective entirely flipped.
The day after that, I told my mom, “I want to do this really seriously. I want to find a better studio. I want to get good training. I really want to do this passionately.” The week before, I’d been considering quitting dance entirely. It had switched from that into seeing this as my purpose, my goal; God has told me something I need to do, and I want to do it to the best of my ability.
Kaya: I can relate to that sense that you’re walking down one path thinking, I’m discerning I should move away from this or towards that, and then really clearly God says, “Nope, I want you to go a different way.” I see that as a sign of God’s faithfulness in your story.
That’s clearly one way you’ve experienced God through watching dance. Are there any other times that stick out in your memory of experiencing God, whether you’re the one actually dancing or as you’ve been watching others dance?
Julia: I do remember dancing at my church growing up, there were many times when I’d be dancing and I could feel the presence of God in the room, and I could feel the Holy Spirit surrounding us and being with us as we danced for God, and that was such a cool thing to be able to experience, especially as a young child.
Kaya: I love that you said “presence” and “Holy Spirit,” because a lot of what I think about in terms of how dance helps think about how we relate to God is that the Spirit animates us. When we’re moving our bodies, it’s because the Holy Spirit moves.
What other forms of ministry or missions have you ever been involved with, and what felt powerful or effective about those experiences outside of dance?
Julia: My favorite thing about ministry is that I love working with small children. This is also translated into the neighborhood where I live, especially during covid. There were ten kids under eight years old, and since I am the youngest of three in my family, I love being the oldest and being able to shepherd the younger children and help them see things. Even when I was nine or ten, my favorite thing was to be with the three, four, and five year olds and help them work through their difficulties and problems that came up and play with them and just be in their world, because I know that meant a lot to me when I was their age. I feel like I can minister best to young children because I remember being the youngest, and I remember sometimes being confused about things, and I enjoy the opportunity I have now as an older person to be able to help them and guide them. A lot of us are still really close even though they’re a lot younger.
Kaya: That’s one of the beautiful things about life, that you grow up and have people pour into you, and then you turn around and get to watch other humans grow up and you can pour into them the things that you’ve learned.
Switching back to thinking about dance: what do you think makes dance a powerful medium for expressing your faith?
Julia: I think it’s a powerful medium because it’s a visual art. Music is already there, providing poetry and the feeling, but that’s only auditory, and dance provides the visual. G. K. Chesterton said, “There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.” I feel like dance takes that road.
Even as Christians we’re often confused about why God is doing one thing and not another, and it can be hard for us to remain faithful. Dance is a way to remind us because it goes directly to the heart and to our emotions. It can say, “God is still really here.” You might not know the reasons, because God doesn’t always give us reasons for things, but through dance that can reach people.
Kaya: I wonder if that is what we mean when we say that dance moves us–that it goes straight to the heart.
In your dance journey, has any of your teachers, directors, or peers been particularly inspiring or instructive in shaping you as a Christian artist?
Julia: Many, specifically where I grew up. I was blessed because there was such a focus of the older women teaching the younger girls, and the younger girls would often teach the little kids’ classes, so there was a passing down through generations. There are many lovely women there who had either been my teachers or whom I had danced with who are now much older but who have known me since before I was born. We have such a beautiful relationship, and I feel like they’ve inspired me through their own walk of faith to continue pursuing Christ and have passion for him, and to be able to express that through dance.
Kaya: It’s beautiful that you got to be part of that tradition, and it connects to the other ministry experience that you shared about, being able to participate in passing on what you’ve learned to younger kids in ministry and in your neighborhood.
How would you describe your particular vocation as a Christian artist or an artist within Glorify Performing Arts? What brought you here, and what do you bring with you?
Julia: I would describe my particular vocation as someone whose mission is to give others a glimpse of what restoration looks like and what it looks like when God comes back and when everything is right, when Jesus comes back down from heaven and everything is transformed into the new heaven and the new earth. Giving people a glimpse of that provides hope and helps us continue through tough times, holding onto faith. I love that I’m able to express that through dance with a Christian company, because that also aligns with Glorify’s mission to bring glory to God through the medium of dance.
Kaya: I love hearing about new creation with respect to art! Are there any particular ways you are working currently to draw that out in your own technique or artistry?
Julia: I’m growing a lot this season in learning how to express myself and how to use the technique to show that. I’m often stressed about getting the technique right and getting the moves exactly perfect, but I remember one time in a dance class when there was a combination, and I messed up royally, but I loved the music, so I just let it grow within me, and I felt the music, and afterwards my dance teacher looked at me and said, “You almost made me cry.” That was such a powerful moment because I realized that it doesn’t have to be completely perfect. In ballet, we’re always striving for absolute perfection, but it’s freeing to be in a safe space with Glorify where we realize we have the power of the Holy Spirit in us to move people through dance. That’s not to say we shouldn’t continue working to be better dancers, but it gives us the grace to be able to relax as we rehearse and perform.
Kaya: That’s beautiful, and I think that ties into a view of salvation and grace where, yes, we want to do the right thing; we want to do better and better at loving people and loving God. At the same time, we’re already saved and we can rest in the grace we have in Jesus and enjoy that and express that in beauty. That’s what I see in my mind’s eye as I imagine you doing this combination not perfectly, technically, but with your whole heart and soul and body. I think that’s really lovely–and I love seeing you bring that out on stage, too.
Is there anything else that you would like to say about what dance and dance ministry means to you?
Julia: It’s such a powerful thing, and I’m so blessed to be in a position where I can bring that to others. It’s different in the secular ballet world where it’s cutthroat, there’s more competition, your body has to look a certain way…but I believe that at Glorify we’re creating a safe space for dancers to come in and have grace in all the mistakes. As we’re also ministering to audiences, we’re also ministering to the dancers who come in to be part of the company. We’re all on different parts of our walk with Jesus, but the way that Glorify is able to inwardly minister to dancers is so important because it translates to what the audience sees when we’re on stage.
Kaya: I’m really glad to hear you say that, because it’s one of my hopes that the space where we rehearse together and work together is a space where we can give each other grace and grow in faith together. Thank you for bringing your own grace to this space and making it what it is, and thanks for talking with me!
Learn more about Julia by reading her bio.
Stay tuned for more company artists’ perspectives on why the arts are an effective medium for ministering and growing in Christian faith as the series continues next week!
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