By Julie Cole
They’re not just telling their personal secrets, they’re dancing about them.
Refined/Undignified (RU), a dance team made up of Briercrest students, introduced its new show entitled Secrets, during its 15-day spring tour in which they performed 21 times throughout Manitoba, Ontario and across the border in Minnesota.
Four of the team’s members — Alee Ernst, Jesse Gullage, Samantha Klassen, and Travis Wiens — are dancing and narrating the dark secrets they have embraced within their own lives.
“We’re taking our stories — where we’ve been — and shining a light into dark places,” Wiens said. “(Places) where most people don’t go, or even most youth groups don’t talk about. (We are) bringing hope and the message of Jesus Christ and the freedom we’ve found through our stories.”
RU dances to connect with young people.
“This generation’s language is dance and music,” said Adrian Webber, RU’s director. “When we speak their language they have respect for us right away. They listen to what we say. Then they are quick to share their story with us because we’ve already trusted them with our story.”
The team isn’t sugar-coating its message. The dances portray secret struggles with pride, pornography, sexual temptations and excessive partying.
“Our secrets are hidden and shameful,” Webber explained. “Many people are defined by their secrets. (There are) few people who find the truth that they’re not defined by their secrets, but are willing to share their secrets. These are those people.”
Caronport resident Alee Ernst grew up performing and wanting to go into musical theatre. Over time she realized she was finding too much of her identity in the characters she was portraying.
“I was telling myself lies; that if I didn’t have a main role or the biggest part then I wasn’t anyone,” Ernst admitted. “The applause and commentary defined how I saw myself.”
Things came to a head last year when Ernst flew to Toronto to audition for the role of a Disney princess on one of their cruise ships. She had practiced for weeks for this audition of a lifetime.
“When I walked into the audition room and saw all those girls look at me, (I felt like they) represented all the people I had hurt to get to the top.” Ernst remembered. “(I realized) God had given me this gift to be able to perform and be onstage but I didn’t need to find my identity in that. He asked me to give it up.”
Ernst half-heartedly sang for her first audition and walked away from the second.
“God asked me to give up performing for Him,” she said. “It was hard and heartbreaking. But He gave it back to me in such a different sense. I still get to dance but it’s for God and not for me. I get to dance as me and not a character.”
When Saskatoon native Samantha Klassen was in Grade 12 she entered into a serious romantic relationship with a young man she met at church. Within a year and half they were engaged.
“I wanted someone I could love for real and not a silly high-school relationship,” Klassen explained. “I wanted someone who would love me back and care about me.”
Over time Klassen felt she had become too dependent on the relationship.
“We turned to each other for every single need instead of turning to God,” she said. “(There was) a lot of sexual temptation and (I didn’t know) how to get out of it. (I felt) like I didn’t know if there was a way out of it. I knew God wanted something different for me, but it was a blurry time in my life when I didn’t feel like myself at all.”
Klassen eventually broke off her engagement when she came to Briercrest. She wants her dance to communicate to young people that God is with them and will help them through the difficult relationships they may find themselves in.
"Giving God everything might be hard in the moment,” she confessed. “But it’s so worth it. It changes your life.”
When Jesse Gullage verbally shared his story at his home church in Lethbridge, Alta., he saw how much it impacted those who heard it. He wants to deepen that impact by sharing his story through dance
“Putting (my secrets) in dance form is definitely more intense and emotional,” Gullage said. “It’s going to make people feel uncomfortable.”
His secret of struggling with an addiction to pornography is not an easy one to tell, but Gullage feels an urgency to shed light on the subject.
“This generation is so visual,” he exclaimed. “(The dance is showing) how much people deal with (pornography) — revealing how much of a struggle it is.”
Gullage describes the process of choreographing his story.
“It hasn’t been easy in the least,” he confessed. “(It’s been) emotionally charged. I know I have freedom now. I want to boast in that.”
The final secret portrayed is about Elmira, Ont. student Travis Wiens. When a high-school dating relationship broke up, Wiens sank into confusion and got into the party scene. This created a unique problem for him.
“(I was) going to parties, going to clubs, getting drunk,” he said. “All along I was going to church on Sunday morning and I was actually leading a worship team. It left me empty and confused — living this double life. Neither one was satisfying. At parties I’d feel alone in a crowded room and at church I’d feel judged because I knew what I did the night before. So I got to a point where I knew I had to stop.”
Wiens found his way out of partying through his faith in God. Now he wants his story to help young people who may have similar secrets.
“… Kids who maybe are still partying and still in church,” Wiens explained. “I want them to see that (partying) only leaves you empty. Christ is the only thing that’s worth it.”
Wiens shares the ultimate goal of opening up about his personal secrets.
“If I can use my past to bring hope and a future to someone else — that’s amazing. I want to be open and real and hope it catches on.”