Christian hip-hop has all of the catchy hooks and slick beats of its secular counterpart. The thumping bass and AutoTuned vocals still makes people want to get up and dance. But instead of grinding and getting low, it inspires some to offer spiritual praise through movement.
Sophomore Kemi Olagbegi had the inspiration for Urgent Message, Elon University‘s Christian hip-hop, liturgical and mime dance team, during the summer of 2010. Or, as she tells it, God presented her with the idea.
“As I drew closer to (God), I kinda wanted to break away from secular dance,” she said. “So he was like, why don’t you start a dance troupe?”
Sophomore Kemi Olagbegi started the Christian dance team Urgent Message the fall 2010. She says that all of her inspiration, both for starting the group and for the choreography, comes grom God.
She said that a big part of being a member of Urgent Message is trying to live in a deliberately different way. She said that listening to secular music can be detrimental to a relationship with God and that members are encouraged to be mindful of what they watch, say and hear.
“I don’t think that God’s calling me to go to church and then booty shake on the side,” she said.
Urgent Message kicked off during fall semester. Since then, they have been invited to perform at various functions nearby, including with Elon’s Gospel Choir and at area churches.
The group held tryouts during the week of Feb. 7-11. Olagbegi said that the group wasn’t looking for trained dancers specifically, just people who wanted to praise and be involved.
“Literally, I just put everything in God’s hands,” she said. “He brings who he wants to be here.”
Many of the existing members of the group at the tryout spoke about the camaraderie they feel with other Christians.
Evette Bean and Marie Braynard are freshmen that joined Urgent Message as it was just starting up in the fall.
“I was looking for a dance group to join,” said Braynard. She said that she likes performing because of the impact it has on other’s lives. “I’m spreading God’s word and supporting him.”
“(I like) the feelings after a performance, knowing you’ve touched someone’s life.”
Olagbegi has a history of starting dance teams. Despite very limited formal training, she initiated a hip-hop and step team at her high school.
“It was all a gift from God,” she said.
She said she gets her inspiration by listening to uplifting Christian hip-hop and choreographing what she feels she is called to express. Along with Olagbegi, fellow sophomores Janae Frazier
and Faith Clayton help with choreography. Frazier choreographs the liturgical dances, which combine ballet, African and lyrical influences, and Clayton choreographs mime. Mime in a dance format is a bodily representation of lyrics to a song.
“When I was forming Urgent Message over the summer, I was just going to make it a Christian hip-hop team,” Olagbegi said. As she continued to think about the team, she said that God told her to also include mime and liturgical.
“I was like, ‘But I’ve never done that before in my life,'” she said.
But, when she held tryouts in the fall, Frazier and Clayton showed up. Frazier has been dancing liturgical for most of her life, and Clayton has grown up doing mime.
“You pray and God gives you so much more,” Olagbegi said.
Olagbegi had no experience with hip-hop before she started her dance team in high school, but her style of dance involves traditional hip-hop moves, with angles and stomps, but absolutely no booty shaking. She sees herself as a channel for God’s message, and though she does the “work” of choreography, her inspiration is directly from him.
The spiritual aspect of Urgent Message is apparent in everything they do. They begin each practice with prayer and sometimes a Bible devotional and end with another prayer. The purpose for the dancers is to both express themselves, but more than that, to express their worship of God.
Also, their movements can inspire others, Olagbegi said, into a relationship with God.