Sometimes words fail Jocelyn Richard.
When she describes her faith or shares her testimony, Richard, the director of Visual Praise Studios in Augusta, finds that words fall short.
“Words are not enough to express my gratitude. I have to move,” she said. “When I think about the goodness and greatness of God, I have to move.”
Since 2009, Richard has taught liturgical dance for worship.
“It’s a service unto God. That’s what the word liturgical means. It’s a way to express your love to the Lord and the excitement he gives us,” she said.
A few months after moving to Augusta, the Richard family started Visual Praise in a former ballet studio on Wheeler Road.
Richard grew up in New York City and majored in dance at The City College of New York. While in New York, she served as the chief dancer and choreographer for the Elim International Fellowship in Brooklyn for 10 years. Eventually, Richard and her husband, Warren, decided to leave the city to raise a family. They moved to New Orleans in 1996, and lived there until Hurricane Katrina caused them to move. The family ended up in Maryland for a few years before deciding to settle in Augusta.
Today, they’re members of First Baptist Church of Augusta.
Throughout her travels, she has taught liturgical dancing and helped churches start dance ministries of their own.
Richard understands that there are challenges when inviting dance into church. Some are reluctant, she said, which is OK, because, when she first became a Christian, she was reluctant about dancing in church, too.
Richard didn’t grow up in a Christian home. It wasn’t until her first year of college that she became a Christian.
“It was a dramatic conversion for the Lord,” she said.
Initially, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to study in college.
“I knew that whatever I did in my life, I wanted to do it for the Lord,” she said. “I thought about teaching. I thought about social work. I just didn’t know until my pastor, who saw me dance, said, ‘Joceyln, you need to major in dance.’ ”
Her mind was made up after a friend invited Richard to watch a dance program at her church.
“I remember saying to her, ‘Dance? In church?’ I went and saw her dance and I was just in tears,” she said. “I couldn’t believe this thing I loved was in the Bible and I could use it to honor God.”
Today, that’s the first thing she tells churches who are contemplating dance ministries in their church.
“You have to let people know it’s in the Bible,” she said. “You have to remind them that David danced before the Lord.”
Richard has written two e-books on liturgical dance. One focuses on choreography for worship, while the other centers on dance wear. She holds workshops at the studio on a number of topics, including worship dance for children and choreography for Christmas, both of which she’ll teach later this month.
The classes are helpful for both those starting out in dance ministry and those looking to advance their technique, Richard said.
“I’ve had a dream, a vision, to teach technique for worship dance so that when we dance for the Lord, we do it with excellence,” she said. “Bad dance is ineffective. It takes away rather than adds. That’s why I teach principles of dance composition and technique, all of the things you’d learn at a university’s dance program.”
On Tuesdays, Richard holds a class just for homeschooled girls. As a homeschooling mom of three children, ages 13, 11 and 6, Richard wanted to offer them a chance to interact with others their age.
Other classes draw dancers from churches across the region, and as far away as Maryland and Tennessee. Some come from Baptist churches, some come from Methodist churches; many come from nondenominational churches.
“That’s the thing,” she said. “Any church can embrace this. When you’re working with dance, you’re using a universal language.”