The bass-pounding music is relentless as the sweat-drenched girls glide, stomp and pivot across the floor in perfect rhythm. Their director is just as relentless, barely giving the dancers a few moments rest before the drill begins again: and 1, 2, 3, 4!
This strenuous rehearsal is one of many Brandon Henschel will take the Rock Steady dancers through before the girls take center stage to deliver their revolutionary brand of the gospelthrough hip hop.
But this isnt just ordinary dance, and certainly not your ordinary ministry. Brandon, 28, is zealous about his worship. Anyone wanting to get involved should be warned from the start: the team spends a minimum of five hours intensive training and two hours of Bible study each week, not including regular church service.
Theyre being worked hard emotionally and physically. This is not your typical Christian ministry, said Brandon. You cant just show up when you want. We have a drill sergeant mentality. You have to earn your keep.Rock steady member Jadah Lipscomb agrees. Its really intense, but in a good way. We all work together really well; its so amazing to be on a Christian team. Everyone is focused on that, not trying to be better than everyone else. Were always there to help each other out if we dont understand a move or something. Its intense, but we have a few five minute breaks here and there.
We use the music and the dancing as a hook, then give them the core values (of Christianity)." -- Sean HenschelLearning Proper Perspective
Brandon admits he wasnt always focused on dance from a Christian perspective. He began dancing at 12, taking classes at Culture Shock Dance Center, receiving dance scholarships and even studying with such renowned names as the late Sonja Arova, dance partner to Rudolf Nureyev.
Brandon was working full time by the age of 16 and touring with Britney Spears by 19. He was at the top of his dance career, but it soon plummeted.
I was saved at 17, but I didnt do anything after that, says Brandon. I didnt seek God or seek to live my life for him. It wasnt until after Britneys tour and God yanked me from the industry, that I started to wake up. I spent a year doing nothing but reading the Bible and growing.
Amazingly, after having reached the pinnacle of show biz, Brandon found he couldnt land a job.
I had reached the top of my career and accomplished everything I could accomplish. Not being able to book a job afterward was a very humbling experience, he confessed. I was really scared.
He now believes God was teaching him the true purpose of his dance career.
God said, I put you in this position to influence peoples lives and you abused it, so Im pulling you out until you figure out how to influence people for me, says Brandon.
The hip hop ministry began more than three years ago as a result of music developed by his younger brother Sean, who put excerpts of sermons on tracks of instrumental pop music. Sean started attending the Rock Church when it met at San Diego State, following a not-so-promising football career. During the self-searching that followed, he gave his life to the Lord, as well as his musical ability.
Its 2005 and Im 18, 19 years old and on fire for the Lord, explained Sean, now 22. I wanted to use music to reach the kids, but I was convicted of the music; it was bad stuff. I loved the hip hop beat, but the words are terrible.Brandon had showed Sean how to mix tracks, and he began to think of a way to use that technology to reach a generation that might not otherwise be reached with the gospel.
Reaching a Bored Generation
"I was being salt and light in a dark industry." -- Brandon Henschel
I thought, Im hearing all this truth, but our culture doesnt want to hear it. They think its boring, said Sean. This was a way to get kids to listen to it without being bored. I listened to sermons all day and I would cut them up and highlight the meat of the sermons, put them on a beat and mix the tracks together.
When he first showed the tracks to Brandon, he was skeptical, but soon the two were envisioning a ministry that could have a dramatic impact on our culture.
We use the music and the dancing as a hook, then give them the core values (of Christianity), said Sean, who later attended Horizon School of Evangelism where he was trained in biblical discipleship.
They auditioned their first dancers and began performing in 2006, first for Rock events and then expanding to outreach events such as high schools assemblies, community outreach projects, the San Diego Fair, North Park Festival and the Chicano Park Festival.
Then I had a different perspective and different reasons why I was doing what I was doing, says Brandon. I was being salt and light in a dark industry.Passionate to Serve
Most of the girls echo Brandons same passion for dance, but couldnt figure how to use their talent to glorify God until learning about the Rock Steady Ministry.
Ive been dancing my whole life, and doing competitions, but dancing competitions arent really godly, said Jadah, 21. I wasnt dancing as much as I was and God knows that is my heart. Its amazing to be able to use one of the gifts God gave me to glorify Him.
My heart, my passion, is to see a city-to-city, youth revival through music and entertainment." -- Jason Queen
Jenn Harris, 21, had a love for hip hop that she couldnt satisfy in her home state of Oregon. So she left home for San Diego, attending college at San Diego State University and church-hopping until someone on her dorm floor told her about the Rock.
I have a passion for God and passion for dance and I wanted to do the two things together, said Jenn. The aspect I love is I get to serve God plus be involved in the activity Im most passionate about.
Even the teams youngest member, 12-year-old Victoria Capuchino, echoes the mission.
I really like what (the ministry does) because they dance in front of people and get to share about God which is really cool because its my two favorite things combined, dance and God.From Dependence on Man to Christ
Both Jadah and Jenn say its their faith that brought them out of lives of dependency on the affections of men to a dependency on the love of Christ. The ministry is a venue for them to express that love.
In high school I turned to guys in a negative way because I wanted that attention from a male figure, says Jadah, 21. I knew about God, I knew who He was, but it was hard for me to really truly have trust in a man, when I couldnt trust men on the earth.
Since she rededicated her life to Christ in September 2006, Jadah says she has focused daily on developing her relationship with Jesus: When he died for us, I compare that to a romantic movie, where the girl is about to get hit by a bus and a guy comes and pushes her out of the way and saves her. God did that for me. Obviously Im worth something. I dont need to turn to men for self-validation or anything like that.
Jenn, who has given her testimony during outreach events, has a similar story.
When I was younger I tried to get attention in all the wrong ways, she shares. I just wanted a daddy, I wanted protection and to be told no. I wanted a father. Now, Gods my example of my daddy of my father. Thats where Im going to get my protection, my security.
The biblical discipleship before and after rehearsals by leaders Sean and Jason Queen are a big part of the ministry, helping the members stay focused on the message of the gospel. Jasons passion is evident in the radical testimony he shares of his own troubled youth. (See related story)
My heart, my passion, is to see a city-to-city, youth revival through music and entertainment, said Jason, 26, who met Sean while also attending the Horizon School of Evangelism. We want to raise up a generation of young people who are reckless for Christ, who dont care what anybody thinks about them, who know the culture and keep it holy.
Heart of WorshipCondition of the Heart
Brandons vision is to bring professional dance to many more teens like Jadah, Jenn and Victoria. He hopes to create a Costco-sized facility that can become a dance mecca to those needing a refuge from the streets and a place to develop top-notch dance skills in a Christian environment.
We want to have a massive facility where you can come and get professional training in every area of dance, explains Brandon. We want to have biblical discipleship classes free to the community. We want to be able to offer it free to be able to reach the community as much as we can. Then we want to duplicate it in other cities. Its absolutely so ludicrous it has to be from God. Theres nothing else that exists like this in the world.
He also hopes one day to develop a full-scale theatrical production.
Regardless of the vision, Brandon acknowledges that there are many who will always feel that hip hop is too secular a dance form to present in church.
People have their opinions and paradigms youre going to have some prejudices and certain biases, he said. Theyre only exposed to the nastiness of hip hop. If they were educated in what worship really was, you could understand you could take anything and make it worshipful for the most part because its really about the condition of your heart.
So how does he answer those who say hip hop doesnt belong in church?
I dont, he said. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. We want them to see what we do and judge from there. Ill let God defend us when we get (to heaven).Rock Steady holds hip hop classes for the general public at FX Studio in Mira Mesa. For more information, visit their website at http://www.sdrock.com/ministries/hiphop/
For more information about the Hip Hop (Dance) Ministry, click here »