Dancing for the Glory of God (Part 3)

John FarrellBy John Farrell19 Minutes

John Farrell: You previously mentioned your wife’s performance of Sandi Patty’s “We Shall Behold Him” at the 2nd USA International Ballet Competition. I read on your website that there was some opposition to it because it expressed her faith through dance. What type of opposition did she see?

Keith Thibodeaux: Before that particular competition in 1982, she went to Japan and competed. The director of the secular ballet wanted Kathy to do that. So, she went over there and had a partner, and they did that competition. They found it very political over there. But when she did the one here, there were communist judges from Russia and communist China that were part of the judging team. They had judges from all over the world and they were part of that.

When Kathy did this, she said, “For my contemporary piece I’m going to do a Christian piece to reflect my faith in the Lord.” They said, “Are you crazy? You can’t do that because they’re going to judge against you.”

She was probably one of the first people who ever did that in an international secular setting. She ended up doing that anyway. She said, “I won’t even be in it if I can’t do it.” They said, “Okay, well do it.” A fellow choreographed it and Sandi Patty’s song, and it was well received.

The Spirit of the Lord was there when she did that, and it was amazing. The Lord just showed up, and she ended up getting a silver medal. Missed the gold medal by about a tenth of a point. It didn’t hurt her. It catapulted her like a springboard to be able to get the notoriety and the qualifications by the world standard to do something like Ballet Magnificat.

God’s Prophecy for Keith and Kathy

JF: Ballet Magnificat’s website states that God has set you apart for a special purpose and that your lives would change course and see greater days and greater ways to use your own personal testimony. I know from reading your bio that you were a child actor and a drummer for David and the Giants and for another band. Part of the prophecy would be that your past would come to the forefront. How has your past affected what you do today and created more ministry opportunities for both yourself and your company?

Keith: I still play with the band. In fact, we’re going this weekend to California to play a concert there on Sunday. We do festivals. I do festivals. I do Andy Griffith festivals. If I go there, I’ll talk about my past in Hollywood and it kind of gives me a platform to be able to share my testimony.

When I share my testimony, my wife is usually with me. So, that’s brought up and people know that we’re with Ballet Magnificat. It all works together and opens up different doors for all of us—for me, the band, and the ballet.

When the band came to the Lord, I was the first one to have faith in Jesus, and I went to the band and said, “Why don’t we play the same music, but just use Godly lyrics?” Because I’d been born again. They didn’t want to hear that at first, but they ended up all coming to faith. Then we started David and the Giants, a Christian band a couple years later.

My wife had grown up in a Methodist church and considered herself a Christian, but was not really a born-again believer. She came to one of our David and the Giants concerts when we became Christian and that really changed her life. That’s where the Lord started giving her the vision for Ballet Magnificat.

JF: In Kathy’s conversation with God, when He spoke to her about the prophecy He wanted her to do, were there any reservations on either of your parts or conversations where you said, “Are you sure? This seems far-fetched.” What were your and your wife’s initial thoughts and feelings when God first laid this upon your hearts?

Keith: We always talked about it. We just discussed it and said, “Wouldn’t it be great?” I was always pushing her to go ahead and leave the secular ballet company—Ballet Mississippi at the time—and start a Christian company. But she’d always say, “It’s not time.” Then one day she came back and said, “I think it’s time.”

When she resigned, a lot of people who were involved in that secular ballet company—a lot of the big funders and supporters—told her, “I can’t believe you’re doing this. You could go to New York; you could go anywhere. You could be a big star, but you’re going to start a Christian ballet company? Who ever heard of that? You’ll never get any support for that. You’re just going to fall off the map.”

But we knew and she knew in her spirit that the Lord had begun to call her to do that. Through prophetic words from pastors and different people who ministered to us, we really felt like that was a confirmation of what the Lord had already put in our hearts. We saw how you could use dance in a biblical way. Psalm 149 and 150 mention to praise His name with the dance, praise His name with the music.

We saw that you could praise God through dance, and we just knew it was right. Also, by being a pioneer in that kind of thing you have to have a certain kind of constitution to be able to go through all that and to rough it out and go through the ups and downs.

Dance in Jackson, Mississippi

JF: When you think of Jackson, Mississippi, professional ballet is not one of the first things you think of. Why Jackson, Mississippi? And how has Ballet Magnificat! transformed Jackson into a center of dance?

Keith: There was some dance before Ballet Magnificat! here. A lady named Thalia Mara, who was Kathy’s artistic director, was the one who was instrumental in her going to the first competition. Then also starting this International Ballet Competition where she won the silver medal This lady was from New York and had connections with American Ballet Theater. She started all that.

Ballet Magnificat is now the only professional ballet company in Mississippi. There was another professional company in Mississippi, but we’ve outlasted it. Now, there a lot of ballet schools in Jackson, but there’s only one professional company.

We started a dance minor at Belhaven University. It’s a Christian university here in town. They were the ones who first opened up the studio and studio space for us. We started a dance minor, which grew into a dance major. And now you can get a BFA there. They have over 100 in that program at that college. They’re one of the few Christian colleges that has a a major dance program.

Ballet Magnificat! and All It Offers!

JF: Ballet Magnificat! offers a lot of different programs and opportunities from Magnificat Youth Ballet to Mini-Mag, to the dance intensives, to workshops, to the pre-professional training program. Could you please tell me a little bit about these? How are they different?

Keith: The dance intensive is a four-week dance intensive. You can come for two weeks on one side or two weeks on the other or you can come for all four weeks. It’s for ages 11 to 25. We usually have eight levels of dancers in that workshop. You’ll have the really top ones in the higher levels and the lower ones will be in the lower technical ability.

The difference with the pre-professional level is that they take workshop classes, but they also learn choreography. They’ll learn a whole ballet piece that they’ll perform at the end of the workshop in front of everyone. So, they learn some company choreography and it’s usually about an hour or so.

The Mini-Mag and Magnificat Youth Ballet (MYB) are from our year-round school of arts here in Jackson. The Mini-Mag is a younger group, and the Magnificat Youth Ballet is for our older, more advanced students that are in the top part of our school. The participants in MYB will most likely attend our summer workshop. The Mini-Mag are younger. Both of these groups will do local performances here in Jackson and around the area. They have a school recital where they perform.

At our school here in Jackson there are two different areas of training. We have a training program, which is comprised of three levels of trainees who graduated from high school level and come from all over the U.S. and the world. We have a dancer from Indonesia and one from Colombia. We have a dancer from Germany here right now who’s training. They come here and live, work, and train here in Jackson, Mississippi.

The Mini-Mag and the MYB are local students who live here in Jackson and are enrolled at our school. You don’t have to be a Christian to come to our school. You could be a non-Christian and still take classes here. To be in Mini-Mag and MYB you have to be a Christian and have a testimony. It’s by audition only. The same applies for the training program. You have to be a Christian and you have to have a testimony. To be a part of the company that’s a given.

JF: Is the hope that dancers who enter the training program one day become a professional dancer with Ballet Magnificat! on one of your tours?

Keith: Yeah. That’s a lot of their dreams and hopes to get to that level where they’re chosen to be in the company. After they’ve reached a certain level, we will pick from that trainee three-level or advanced company. We picked three people out of that company this year—two guys and one girl. So, they’ll come into the company next year from the training program.

JF: Do a lot of the dancers in the dance intensives eventually move up and enter the training program?

Keith: Yeah. A lot of the people that come to our workshop have the experience here at Ballet Magnificat! during the summer, and they just love the experience. They love the spiritual aspect of it. They love the company, and they have aspirations.

They could be 13-14 years old. They still have to finish high school. Once they finish high school, they look to audition for the training program. We have auditions once a year for the trainee to be part of our school, and we’ll pick a bunch of those that audition from there.

JF: Of those who finish the training program but don’t get selected to be a part of Ballet Magnificat!’s professional company, do they usually move on to other professional opportunities?

Keith: Some have gone on and are dancing with professional companies, even secular companies. Some have gone and danced with other professional Christian ballet companies like Ballet 5:8 near Chicago, Light of the World Ballet in Syracuse, Paradosi Ballet in Washington, and Renovate Ballet in Macon, Georgia.

A lot of the dancers from Ballet Magnificat! will go to one of these and dance with them because they want to continue in a Christian ballet setting. Others decide to be a missionary and serve in Europe, like with European Initiative, which is a missionary group we’ve connected with while Ballet Magnificat!’s toured in Europe. So, they’ll go into something like that where it’s not completely ballet, but it’ll be some other thing that they’ll do.

On the Road with Ballet Magnificat!

JF: What is touring with Ballet Magnificat like?

Keith: It’s fun. We used to have big buses, but now we’ve transitioned to 16-passenger vans and trailers. We usually travel with two vans and two trailers. It’s basically touring on the road. The dancers will stay in a hotel, they’ll stay in homestays, they’ll go to the church, they’ll have meals there, they’ll set up for the performance. They do all the setting up.

We have a tour director and a person who handles the lights and the sound, but they set up. They put the floor down, they’ll help set up the lights. There will be some working on costumes. They’ll take a short class on the day of the performance. Then they’ll get their costumes and makeup on and get ready for the performance. They’ll usually have the performance and then have a time of prayer with testimony at the end of it. It’s basically a Christian ministry on the road.

JF: Where can people find more information about your company?

Keith: You can go to our website, balletmagnificat.com. That has our tour schedule on there. Also, we have social media: Facebook, Instagram, all that. They can go to YouTube and subscribe. Those are the places you can find a lot of information about us, especially our website.

They can also find information on Ballet Magnificat Brazil. We accept people from the United States in Brazil. If they’re interested in that, they can check that out as well. If you’ve ever wanted to go overseas and see what it’s like to be somewhere else and serve the Lord in that way, you can check that out.

JF: Is there anything else that you’d like to add that I didn’t ask or something that you’d like to re-emphasize?

Keith: Just that God is good. He’s coming back. Jesus is coming back soon, and we want to persevere here at Ballet Magnificat! We want to keep the standard that He set for us in the beginning and not drift off from that standard.

Learn more about Ballet Magnificat! here.

All photos are courtesy of Ballet Magnificat!