The Word in the Wings
Why arts ministry: a conversation with Katherine Mills-Yatsko
By: KAYA WEAVER
Katherine Mills-Yatsko (Katie) is a Corps de Ballet dancer with Glorify Dance Theatre. She began dancing with the company in 2020. You may have seen her perform last spring in Walk This Road, a show for which Katie also designed and built the set. Katie is inquisitive and determined whether doing Bible study or ballet. Join me for a conversation where Katie shares about how she experiences God powerfully through dance, visual art, and nature.
Kaya: What was your first experience with dance? When did you decide to pursue dance seriously? What prompted that focus?
Katie: I started dancing when I was three years old and shortly thereafter knew that dancing (performing) was what I wanted to do when I grew up. Growing up, I didn’t know why I felt so strongly about this as a career, just that I did and I think at points it was my pride and determination to “make it” that drove me forward.
Now, I recognize that dance (and art-making in general) was a dream that God placed in my life; a space where I am allowed to explore and play and be free and also a space where I get to use my gifts to connect with others, build relationships, and have deep conversations. This space helps me process emotions and events, helps me to connect with God and to move forward in love.
As I have slowly come to see the interconnection between life, faith, and art practice, my focus is becoming clearer than ever. I knew I wanted to be a dancer when I grew up and I believe we are always growing and changing; If our goal is heaven, we are in a sense never quite done growing “up”.
Kaya: How have you experienced God through dancing or watching dance?
Katie: I actually connected to God through other art forms before finding connections within dance. I had been praying for a connection between my movement practice and my faith when I stumbled upon the opportunity to dance with GPA–talk about an answer to prayer.
Coming to this company was the first time I was able to find moments with God through movement. There is something in being intentional with using your body to glorify its creator that is inherently very spiritual and I now feel this during plies.
I am so grateful that God has gifted me with this grace and this ability to move and use my body to create and to help other artist’s creations come to life. Recognizing that every moment is an opportunity to glorify God and that every gift He has given you can be used to honor Him is something so beautiful and sacred. For me, this concept can feel overwhelming at times and it’s easy to feel a lack of freedom in exploring other forms of dance and art outside of arts ministry. But I think truthfully if we are living into the truest version of ourselves and continually seeking God and His plan, He is glorified in the everyday actions of living into the dreams and passions He has placed in our hearts. When I look for the connections, and ask God for them, I continually find new ones, in my dance making, my art-making and my everyday experiences.
Kaya: Where does visual art come into your story? How do visual art and dance work together or complement each other in your artistic practice?
Katie: I first became seriously interested in visual art in middle school and experimented in all sorts of media (drawing, painting, writing, etc.) throughout high school to try to express feelings and emotions. In college, I studied both studio art (focusing on fibers and sculpture) and dance (modern and contemporary mostly).
During my time in school, I began to explore the intersections between the two creative disciplines and in my own art practice began working in performance and installation work. I found when choreographing dance, that I could often visualize the piece as a moving sculpture before I had dancers, and then when working with dancers found joy in creating and manipulating shapes through the relationships they had on stage to one another.
Now, I do not feel like my personal dance making and visual art making are separate but rather I explore concepts through whatever means necessary to try to convey messages, encourage thought, provoke questions, and evoke emotional responses.
Kaya: What other forms of ministry or missions, not specifically related to the arts, have you ever been involved with? What felt powerful about those experiences?
Katie: Most notable is the time I have spent in camp ministry. For 9 years, I worked as a summer camp counselor at Camp Sankanac, a Christian overnight camp based in Spring City, PA. I was a longtime camper before that, and Sankanac holds a very special place in my heart.
One of the main reasons I feel camp ministry is impactful is due to the intimate relationships and strong bonds that form when spending a week together away from home out in God’s creation. Deep, meaningful relationships and conversation allow for vulnerability and change. I think by connecting with one another, we are more easily able to share God’s love.
And nature, don’t get me started on nature…I feel God’s presence so tangibly when I stand by a babbling brook, or let the sun shine on my face. My bare feet on the ground or my hand touching the bark of a tree remind me of the goodness that God expressed after creating it all. I truly believe that we can create because we were made in the image of a Great Creator. Camp ministry is truly special and also parallels art ministry in some ways.
Kaya: What do you believe makes the arts a powerful medium for expressing your faith? What does art-making accomplish that distinguishes it from other forms of ministry?
Katie: I think that the arts are a useful tool for connecting to oneself and others. Because art-making allows for connection, it makes perfect sense to me that it can allow a person to connect more deeply with God and also help others connect more deeply with God. Created in the image of a Creator, we are creative beings (even if you don’t think of yourself that way), and making art serves as a way to reflect God into the world.
Instead of talking about spiritual experiences, art-making can often open spaces for people to interact with our experiences as artists and reckon with their own. Art is particularly useful as a form of expression, and sometimes I think people don’t expect to be confronted with their own reactions when viewing, so to start conversations about a subject (faith) that is sometimes uncomfortable to people through something that can be so beautiful and inviting often allows for accessibility into a topic that is not always the easiest to explore.
Kaya: Has anyone been particularly inspiring or instructive in shaping you as a Christian artist?
Katie: As mentioned previously, I had a hard time connecting my faith with my dancing until I came to GPA, and truthfully, I feel that a lot of my creative work outside of GPA would not necessarily read as Christian art. But what I do know is that there are many layers to the work I create and that because faith is important to me, it does influence my work in ways.
I don’t know that I have been inspired to create work through the lens of my faith since becoming a part of this ministry. However, I am incredibly grateful for my experience within GPA and the opportunity to demonstrate Christian themes and elements through my dance performance. The connections I have been able to make between my relationship with God and my relationship with art, and frankly my relationship to other people, has definitely been impacted and influenced by my time with this company.
Kaya: How would you describe your particular vocation as a Christian artist or an artist within Glorify Performing Arts? What brought you to this point in your career? What do you uniquely bring to this company to help point audiences to Jesus through our work?
Katie: Within Glorify Performing Arts, I am given a very unique opportunity to help convey the ideas of another Christian artist and bring glory to God through pieces that point to Him either through allegory or abstract concepts. I am a very passionate person and feel that the emotion, life, and human experience I bring through performance quality can help connect to our audience members and remind them that we are all human.
Something I have noticed is that non-dancers sometimes view movement on stage and get lost in it thinking they could never do it and therefore find it hard to relate to. Because my background is not primarily ballet, I feel I sometimes bring a roughness and realness to movement and remind people that it is okay not to be perfect. This is something I myself have learned through my experience with this company. God never asked us to be perfect but He does ask that in our imperfections we might do our best to let Him shine through.
Learn more about Katie’s artistic endeavors by reading her bio.
Thank you for joining me this month in exploring why dance is a powerful form of ministry for our company artists! I hope their reflections resonate with you and give you ideas for engaging with art in a meaningful, Spirit-filled way.
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