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Aug 29, 2012 | Carol E. Barnwell

Lauren Anderson: Dancing for the Glory of God



[Diolog Magazine] It was the music that first made the precocious and chatty child want to dance.


“I heard [Tchaikovsky’s] Nutcracker at Jones Hall with my mother. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard,” said Lauren Anderson. She began to study ballet at age seven and performed in the Houston Ballet’s very first production of the Nutcracker that same year.


Anderson’s competitive spirit landed her a place in the company in 1983 and brought her to center stage in 1990 as the first black principal dancer of a major ballet company.  Anderson received international acclaim during her 23-year tenure and in 2006; her final performance was as the Nutcracker’s Sugar Plum Fairy.  


The only child of a classical piano teacher and a school administrator, Anderson said she had “lots of love” growing up.  She grew up attending University Christian Church with “some Southern Baptist influence from my dad’s family.” Anderson asked to be baptized when she was 11. “I told my mom, ‘I want to be clean.’ Did I really know what that meant?  No, but it was put on my heart that it needed to happen then,” she remembers.


“In my twenties, my dad told me I needed to think about my faith and my relationship with God. ‘That’s the most important relationship you’ll ever have,’ he said … Now that I’m in my forties, it is the most important relationship I have. Without that I have nothing, and I realize that now. It took a while, but I’m here,” Anderson said.


She joined St. James’ Episcopal Church in Houston, with her former husband, Kyle Turner, who played in the jazz service at the church. “I loved the service, the way it tied into the community,” she said. “It wasn’t about giving your money for a building, it was for Manna House, or the Jubilee Service or to get those people off the street. It was all about service, so that was the first attraction. … Then I got the message. I don’t know if my heart was open and ready for the message but I started applying it to my daily life.”


Now 47, and the mother of a nine-year-old, Lawrence, Anderson said her life has been an incredible journey, not without its issues. “I cannot say that it hasn’t been bumpy, but I’ve given it up to God and it has been amazing.”


Asked if perhaps the Episcopal Church resonated with her because of the beauty of the liturgy, Anderson said, “There is a lot of scripture about dance and joy and rejoicing. The Church embraces that and led me to that scripture. What is neat about what I do as a dancer, as a performer, is that I get to give back. When I started thinking of it that way, I became a better dancer, and I dance for the glory of God.”


During her career with Houston Ballet, Anderson was able to live out her passion.

She said that dance allowed her to tell a story without saying a word. “A dancer is nothing without the music. The music drives me. I get to become music through movement-there is noting like that feeling. It’s like being filled with the Holy Spirit and I got to do that on purpose.”


If the ballet allowed her to tell stories, she brought her own to the stage. “I got to be the Sugar Plum Fairy for 28 years. I told a lot of different stories, because my life was in a lot of different places. The magic of getting on stage and being a dancer is I get to be other [characters], or other parts of me get to come out. Whatever is going on in my life at the time, you can’t help but bring it to the stage.”


When she danced Cleopatra, whose story had never been told in the ballet realm, Anderson was able to bring her interpretation of the regal and powerful Egyptian queen to life.  When she played Swan Lake, Anderson was going through a divorce.  “Swan Lake is a tragedy and I got to bring that energy to the stage … I got to use a bit of my real story in a bit of that story--that has been told over and over again—to make it fresh,” she said. “I got to bring more of me to the stage in telling bits of my life through different roles.”


What were those moments like before she stepped out onto the stage from the wings? “It’s horrible…I feel sick to my stomach … I want to pass out … I am a complete mess. Then I breathe in deep. I let it out. I take that first step onto the stage and when the light hits me, I become whatever it is I’m supposed to be. All those prayers are answered the moment I step on the stage.”


If any story reflects her own, it is Sleeping Beauty. “There’s a prologue where she’s a baby and she’s christened and the evil fairy comes … then she’s young and starting out and everything is great, then this tragic thing happens to her and she’s laid to rest. In the second act, her vision is conjured up and they get a prince to go kiss her and she awakens. In the third act, she is the princess and she is the woman that she was really born to be. That’s my life,” Anderson says with a bright smile. “I’m on the road to being that person … I’m at a point in my life where my faith, my job and my home life and friends and what I choose to do coincide, and I think I’m becoming the woman that I would like to be—a woman I can be proud of.”


Anderson began a second career in 2007 as the Houston Ballet’s outreach associate; teaching masters classes at the Ben Stevenson Academy and in area schools. This summer she taught in the Parks Department summer enrichment program, reaching children who have never seen a ballet. “I get to go into the community and teach kids who have never ever thought about ballet or the theatre or thought about dancing themselves. It’s neat how my faith connects with my job, with my service and now back into the church – I want to get a dance group together of young girls in the church.


“God gave me this wonderful gift and I thought it was to be a dancer, and I found out that now, it is to be a teacher of dance … I’m back in the spotlight but [this is] more important,” she said, “because I’m giving … not to the [audience] but individually, one-on-one to kids.”


Teaching, she finds, is a more vulnerable place. “You can put a costume on and become anything, but when you are teaching you don’t want to do anything that will discourage. I ask before I go into that room … ‘order my steps – just work through me so that I put the right message out there.’  It’s not my agenda, it’s God’s,” Anderson said.