Heather Taylor has led her dance group through spirit, movement and peace for many years. They have touched many hearts and minds on a global level.
LANSING, MI -- Heather Taylor has been dancing since she was 5-years-old. Formal modern dance, jazz and tap followed after grade school. It was a normal part of growing up for her, her mother Leola "Mama Lee" Taylor, is an activist dedicated to educating individuals about cultural pride and self love and determination.
Leola Taylor started Models Inc. Inc. in 1978, which was a group of youth that participated in modeling local retailers clothes. At the same time, the youth were taught self esteem tactics, presentations skills and public speaking for employability.
Later in 1991, it evolved into to Brand New Me Workshops (BNW), which was an expanded view of some of the same strategies for not just youth, but young women, and at risk males.
Additionally. BNM was asked often if they had youths that could perform African dances. The famous Pashambi dancers were known all around for adults only, but no one drew in youths. Heather Taylor danced with other African dance groups and was herself a superb dancer. She worked with BNM in developing a small group of youth doing authentic African dances and later had them showcased at her wedding.
The African Masquerade Dancers (AMD) was formed under the umbrella of BNW as a means to continue the cultural aspect of awareness and to continue connecting with African American youth in the community and addressing some of the issues that face underprivileged individuals.
It was determined that young people enjoyed entertaining and showing off their talent. This was not only a means to let them be entertained and to entertain others, but to also learn and develop pride about the uniqueness of their own heritage of African roots. The combination of BNM and AMD provided a model of self-awareness and self-esteem via personal development, public speaking and talented performances.
Heather Taylor said, " One of the most important factors was to teach the youth to help each other. We assisted participants in becoming peer-educators as well. It was the dancing but infused with education we became as one in support of one another. An opportunity used to promote self love burgeoned into opportunities for many."
The merger of BNM and AMD made it possible to assist youth in non traditional education as well. As BNM and AMD grew and traveled, only the youth with 2.5 GPA could perform locally and those with 3.0 or better could travel outside the city, state and USA. Heather Taylor wrote grants for AMD and was able to get funding to help with their studies and travel for inner city youth that otherwise would never be able to leave their own neighborhoods.
The dance group causes a few unsuspecting attendees to do a double-take as they caught an unexpected glimpse of the beauty of dance and choreography.The dancers have such a kindred spirit among them that once Taylor shows them the routine they begin to creatively fill in any gaps.
Heather Taylor said, "Yes I choreograph most of the dances using collaborative efforts. It just depends... According to the message in the words. I may go to bed listening to a song over and over again. At times, I am moved internally and by an emotional movement. I get up and begin to do expressive steps. After putting them together. I then demonstrate it to dancers." Although this sounds brief and quick, it sometimes takes months at a time. Artistry is a well meditative design. The combination has to be there for artistic quality to take place. Spirit, mood, movement and peace within are all a part of the creativity process."
Even though Taylor allows each one of the dancers to express their own creativity, she stated that together they develop a spiritually moving artistic dance that speaks to the heart and the soul of their various audiences.
The group also has a liturgical or praise dance component called "Worship Without Words". This spiritual dance is said to enhance worship services and is choreographed to the lyrics of religious music.
Literally glowing, Taylor said, "I am in a blessed position. People often remember us from a performance , ministry or presentation that has been delivered. Something said or demonstrated touched them and left a lasting comfort within them. It is an honor. It is even more of an honor when they come back to us and share how some of our teachings has benefited them during their journeys."
Editor’s note: For more information about the dance group or to inquire about a liturgical/ worship or African dance performance, contact Heather Taylor at 517- 410-0083.
This was printed in the February 23, 2014 - March 8, 2014 edition.