Serenity Vanderschoot shares gospel through art of dance
PHOTOS and STORY By KEN BECK
Most Christian ministers preach the gospel, but Lebanon’s Serenity Vanderschoot dances the good news.
Fourteen years ago, she carried the message of Christ from Chicago to Eastern Europe. Today she teaches young girls at her Adonai International Dance Studio to use their talents for God’s glory. Her vision is the same now as it was then: “To reach the world for Christ through the arts.”
Vanderschoot, 35, opens each dance class with a Bible reading and then has students join hands as she leads a prayer. This minister of dance teaches classical ballet, pointe, tap, modern and jazz for girls age three to 16. She accepts approximately 30 students a semester, about half of who are home-schooled.
“We desire to train the next generation in the arts with a heart for worship. We want to provide an environment where they can learn about their value in Christ through his Word and grow in their relationship with God as they train in their art, not only to encourage them as strong individuals but also to be used greatly in the world,” said the Christian mentor, who has danced extensively for the past 30 years and has studied classical ballet, jazz, tap, modern, hip hop, theater dance, music theory, Pilates and lyrical.
Lebanon’s Lisa Baldwin was glad to find a place in Wilson County where her eight-year-old twins could study dance in a godly environment. “Serenity is a devout Christian woman. Her main vision is that arts cross the language barrier, and she can use these mediums to reach people and spread the message of Christ through the arts,” said Baldwin. “She is very committed, and a beautiful lady inside and out.”
Written across the top of a wall in Vanderschoot’s dance studio are these words from Psalms 149, verse 3: “Praise His name with dancing: let them make melody unto Him with the timbrel and harp.”
Another example of how her studio is unlike most is that her students do not perform recitals but present what she describes as outreaches. “We prepare a choreographed piece, and we bring that to a location in the community to encourage people with God’s love. We’ve had several opportunities in the past few years: Worship Without Walls, a community event bringing denominations together; a Christmas outreach at McKendree Manor; and last spring we performed at a fund-raising banquet for Brooks House,” said the teacher, who returned for a third year with her charges to the Manor Atrium at McKendree Manor in December for a Christmas program.
Megan Lightner, 17, of Mt. Juliet is a home-schooled senior who began dance lessons at Adonai two years ago, and this semester is studying pointe. She most enjoys how Vanderschoot “applies praising God in how we dance” as well as the teacher’s enthusiasm. “All of us are really close and enjoy one another’s company. Serenity makes it wonderful, and we really feel like a big family,” said Lightner of the studio that flourishes in a Christian atmosphere.
Vanderschoot, who was born and raised near Chicago, began ballet class at the age of five. She spread her fervor for dance to those around her.
“Mom tells me that when I was little I would put together shows. I would choreograph dances and teach them to my friends, even the boys in the neighborhood. One time I reenacted Annie in my backyard, sold tickets to my neighbors, got my friends in on it, and they all had parts.”
She spent hundreds, probably thousands of hours of her youth either in dance classes or as a member of dance teams. In 1993 she represented Illinois in the Macy’s Day Parade in New York and in 1994 performed as a company member with Midwest Dance in Shorewood, Ill.
“My senior year, instead of going to competition, we went to New York to study dance for a week at the Broadway Dance Center and that probably was when the love for dance finally set in,” she exclaimed.
Serenity considered majoring in dance in college but felt a calling from God to deaf culture ministry. That seed may have been planted at her church when a deaf visitor and her interpreter attended the worship service.
“I was experiencing the deaf world for the first time, watching the language in response to God’s presence and through the music, and I knew right then that He put that on my heart that I was going to be used in deaf culture in some way.”
Attending North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in deaf culture studies in 1999. She later established a deaf ministry program for a hearing church in Joliet, Ill. She performed her deaf ministerial practicum in Kiev, Ukraine, and at the Winter Deaflympics in Davos, Switzerland.
“I went there with the deaf team, one of just a couple of hearing people. We worked with some deaf churches there, and I was able to share dance ministry. Any chance we had to go into the orphanages, the team would prepare drama pieces to communicate salvation, and they would have me do a dance piece. As hearing people we are used to music at worship, but I would do an interpretative lyrical piece to help communicate responding to the presence of God.”
Vanderschoot believes her decision to use her gift of ballet and dance as a Christian ministry came in college after her husband, Matthew, received a vision.
“The Lord gave him a vision of a multimedia production. He said he could almost hear orchestra music, and he saw flashes of paintings that depicted the death and resurrection of Christ, and within that movement was dance movement. I could see what he was describing, and I’ve never let him forget that.”
Serenity and Matthew, who also grew up near Chicago, have been married 12 years and met in their sophomore English class in high school. He remembers that she asked him to go with her to a twerp dance (where the girl invites the boy) for their first date.
Matthew studied Biblical studies and psychology in college. He owns The Dutch Touch Painting Inc. and paints houses and does exterior decorating. Previously a youth pastor for two years at a church in a Chicago suburb, he said his wife has “a passion for God, people and then dance, and her ministry combines her three passions.”
The couple’s migration to Middle Tennessee came by faith. “We knew a couple of people here, and felt we were supposed to move here,” he told. “We didn’t know why. There was a strong leading on our heart. We said a prayer and felt that we should do it. We haven’t regretted a day of it.”
Serenity and Matthew have three children: Elianah, eight, Elijah, five, and Isaiah, three, and two dogs, a German shepherd and a Maltese. The couple has lived in Wilson County for nine years.
Regarding her Adonai Dance Studio, Vanderschoot has an additional instructor, Elizabeth Callicott of Lebanon, while Hallie Rubel, 17, of Mt. Juliet and Lightner serve as teacher assistants.
Serenity says, “When my daughter was two, I saw the need for Christian dance instruction because I couldn’t find it. So I started teaching at Hermitage Hills Arts Academy, who now have stopped their art program. Then I started teaching on my own in the summers.”
She believes ballet is the foundation of dance, explaining, “It’s of first importance for all my students because everything starts at the bar: a strong center, which comes from strength training at the bar in ballet. It makes you a stronger dancer in any discipline, and I know that now because of refocusing in ballet and in the Cecchetti method.”
“My personal burden is for our dance division program, but for me, also as the director, is to see the other arts programs (music, drama, visual arts) come to fruition, so we can work toward the vision and goal of a multimedia production.”
A second part of her mission-oriented goals are Princess Camps, which she teaches for two weeks in the summer combining crafts with lessons on purity. She hopes to one day take the camp to orphanages in other countries.
“It’s a blessing to minister to the little girls in our community, but when I think of the girls in less fortunate situations being able to receive this kind of experience of celebrating what it means to be a daughter of the King — my heart explodes when I think about these girls who don’t have much,” said Lebanon’s evangelist of dance.
ADONAI INTERNATIONAL DANCE STUDIO
This Lebanon dance studio offers Christian instruction in classical ballet, pointe, tap, modern, jazz and ballroom for girls age 3 to 16. For more information, call 545-8122 or go online to www.adonaiintldance.com