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Movement in sacred dance gives meaning to prayers, Scriptures

By Yvonne Lopez-Morton

Jolie Monasterio

Jolie Monasterio with Revelations dancers

Jolie Monasterio’s dancing heart calls her to mentor and encourage others to express their faith through sacred dance. She is the artistic director of Revelations, a sacred dance group based at St. Ann’s Catholic Parish, 2120 E. First Ave.

In 1997, when she was a graduate student at Gonzaga University and an intern for the university’s campus ministries program, she gathered students who were committed to bringing Scripture alive through dance and prayer.

Since Revelations formed, Jolie has been dedicated to ensuring that sacred dance continues to be a liturgical option.

I want our dance to be reflective of the community, so I spend time in prayer and reflection,” she said. “I can create incredible dance pieces, but if they are not genuine to my fellow dancers, it won’t be prayerful.  Group choreography comes from our working together as a community.”

Revelations meets weekly—times and days vary to accommodate schedules—at Gonzaga’s new dance studio. The group opens with a movement prayer, followed by an hour and a half of muscle toning and conditioning as well as choreography, guided meditation and scripture reading.

Jolie explained that the group also participates in trust exercises, where members rely on one another physically and emotionally.

“We also share laughter when we are together,” she said.

Born in Wisconsin, Jolie moved with her family to Los Angeles for her childhood and then moved to Idaho for high school.   During her junior year, her learning “a family secret” encouraged her to examine her relationship with God.

“Faith was always a part of my life, but that year I learned my father was Jewish,” Jolie said.
Her father always said he was German, but had never told her he was also Jewish.  When his parents moved to the United States, they chose to raise him and his siblings as Catholics outside the home, but retained Jewish traditions inside the home.

Jolie later learned she was the only one of the children in her family who was baptized Catholic.  As a result, she started going to a Catholic church with friends during high school.

“When I was 15 my father asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I said I wanted him to go to church with me,” Jolie said. “He went to church with me and my father thanked me and said that it was as much a gift to him as it was to me. He died two weeks later.”

Her road to sacred dance became clearer after high school when she enrolled at Carroll College in Helena, Mont., where she studied theology.

When she arrived at Carroll she didn’t know anyone and soon learned there were only three women studying theology.  Jolie said many asked her if she planned to become a nun, a vocation she had considered with the Benedictines.

“Bill Stanaway, who now lives in Spokane, was head of campus ministries and encouraged me to be creative by acting out the gospel story,” she said.

Jolie worked summers at a diocesan camp, Legendary Lodge in Seeley Lake, Mont.  She was encouraged to work with youth who wanted to move and express themselves through dance.  She also choreographed dance for  high school Catholic youth conventions.

“My faith life grew at Carroll and sustained me through some difficult times in my life,” she said.
After leaving Carroll College, she moved to Missoula in 1990 to work in religious education.  While there, she also studied dance technique in depth at the University of Montana. A friend connected her to a sacred dance guild in Berkeley, Calif.

“At Berkeley we were a combination of theologians who wanted to dance and dancers studying theology. After the first day there, I knew that was all I wanted to do with my life,” Jolie said. “So, in the winter, I went to class at the University of Montana and, in the summer, I was in Berkeley.”

She left Missoula and headed for Spokane where she attended Gonzaga from 1996 to 1998, earning a master’s degree in spirituality with an emphasis on dance. A highlight was gathering the Revelations dancers.

Revleations sacred dance group
Revelations sacred dance group

When asked about the inspiration behind the name of the group, Jolie said the name emerged from the students who felt it reflected their mission to reveal the word of God artistically.

The many people who have participated over the years have included a few men.
Besides her, members of Revelations include St. Ann parishioners Jean LaBauve, Theresa Wiederhold, Mary Farrell, Cathy Woods, Julie McConnell and Kami Kane. Jean and Theresa were original members of the Gonzaga group.

Revelations has retained strong ties with Gonzaga and actively recruits students.

The group dances on holy days and seasons at St. Ann Catholic. They also dance in other churches and at special events, such as the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service and funerals.  Jolie also organizes workshops that focus on choreography and prayer and works with other community sacred dance groups.

A piece during a domestic violence healing service resulted in the group’s sharing their dance at a Spokane City Council meeting that focused on domestic violence.

 “We are about prayer, not performance,” Jolie said. “We usually don’t let people photograph us because we want to stay in the realm of prayer.”

Before dancing at St. Ann, Jolie meets with the liturgy committee to ensure the group provides appropriate support for movement and prayer during the Mass.

We work to make our dance communal and encourage parishioners to participate in movements from their pews,” she said. “We want our piece to draw people into their own experience of God.”

In her free time, Jolie finds fulfillment working to help people with disabilities express themselves with movement. She feels that whether in a church or studio, it is the intention that makes dance sacred.

“Because I don’t fit the traditional stereotype of a dancer, I was turned down for some roles.  So I decided that, when I became a teacher, I would be inclusive,” she said. “Everyone can dance even if they just wiggle their toes and regardless of how they look or their skill level.”

Now the mother of three children, Jolie, who has been married 12 years to her husband Kevin, explained that through some personal challenges of her own she has come to terms with her body and is committed to helping others come home to theirs.

 Revelations is supported through personal money of dancers, but there are some institutional donations, as well as scholarships.

While some buy their dance attire from a dance catalogue, members also make or buy their attire on their own. She also emphasized that the group wants to focus on dance movement and not decoration, so the members keep their dress simple.

When asked about the status of sacred dance, Jolie said this form of spiritual expression has increased in the Catholic Church, but some denominations have been more proactive about incorporating sacred dance as worship.

“In the Catholic Church, sacred dance made a slow comeback in the 1900s but over the last 15 years there has still been controversial discussion among bishops who question its role in liturgy,” she said. “Sometimes sacred dance seems to be a second-class citizen.”

For information, call 688-5465 or email joliesse99202@yahoo.com.