Strength and flexibility. Every dancer recognizes the importance of maintaining the proper balance of these postures. Katricia Eaglin (MABS, 2012) has sought a balance of strength and flexibility in the pursuit of wholeness as a person and excellence in her many ministry and artistic roles. Her example reminds Christians that the call to live as salt and light in the world benefits from a dancer’s strength and flexibility.
World-class artistic performance and full-time church ministry might seem to be two domains with very distinct boundary lines. But throughout Katricia’s life, these landscapes have interwoven and enhanced each other. Born in Dallas, she found her way to dance as part of a folklórico (Mexican folk dance) class at her elementary school. Later, she joined an African dance ensemble at the George Loving Recreation Center in West Dallas, which performed for visiting dignitaries such as Winnie Mandela and a king of Ghana. “For some reason, I’ve always been in groups that were just amazing,” says Katricia. She continued studying dance at Dallas’s renowned Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
During her teenage years, she also professed a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Friends from the community center brought Katricia to a youth evangelism event at Concord Church, and Katricia went forward to accept Christ. She became a member of Concord and began a mentorship under youth minister McKinley Hailey (MABS, 1995). “Out of nowhere, I felt that I should be doing something to help lead people in ministry,” Katricia says. She started leading praise and worship at age fourteen, learning from Pastor Hailey how to study God’s Word in preparation for worship leading. Katricia’s hunger to know the Bible came in part as a response to the questions her friends were asking her. “Once I started standing in front of people and leading,” Katricia says, “they expected me to have answers—even though I was only a teenager!” She was learning the balance of skills required in ministry: strength in knowing the reasons for her faith, and flexibility in being able to respond in the moment to other people’s questions. She was also developing an aptitude for engaging, inviting ministry. “If I’m given a task,” she explains, “I want it to be right, creative, and fun.”
After high school, Katricia studied dance at the University of North Texas. While in college, she interned as a worship leader at Concord, and Pastor Hailey encouraged her to apply to Dallas Theological Seminary right after completing her undergraduate studies. Continuing in ministry, Hailey assured Katricia, didn’t need to mean the end of her dance career. “You might not have a pulpit ministry,” he told her. “Maybe through your dancing, you’ll be preaching to the people you dance with.” She entered DTS in 2003, continued working at Concord Church, and during that time, also joined the Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s main company. The demand of balancing classes at the seminary, ministry at Concord, and dancing internationally with the company stretched Katricia. She drew strength from the prayer support of professors and fellow students at the seminary. And the challenging schedule taught her the importance of integrating knowledge from the classroom in the way she lived as a Christian among nonbelievers. “When I got into the dance company,” she says, “I saw how important it was for me to be a believer around newer believers or nonbelievers—not necessarily always evangelizing through words, but just letting them see the influence of Christ in my life.”
Katricia retired from the dance company in 2015, and then in 2017 the founder of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre asked her to become the academy director of the school. That invitation originated in Katricia’s unique balance of professional dance skills and her compassionate, prayerful posture toward fellow dancers and students. “The founder said to me, ‘I want you to join the school because you can dance, and because we need more people who pray.’” As the Academy Director, Katricia now works with two hundred students each year, staging three mainstage performances, including the school’s signature annual production every December, the “Espresso Nutcracker.” The strength and flexibility she learned in her own life are now passed on to her students as she learns how best to reach each one.
“In all of my teaching, whether at the academy or at church,” she says, “I want to find a way to be authentic and not preachy, a way that I can be one person, saying the same thing to everybody.” She encourages perseverance among her students and then lives it out in her own discipline. The transition from company dancer to teacher meant learning to become a shepherd, gently guiding students in proper development. “I have to be strong enough to know that I’m teaching the right thing but flexible in my delivery to connect with each student.” Part of growing as a teacher has been understanding the different ways her students learn—especially when a student’s best learning method is different from Katricia’s own style. “The way I learn is not the way all my students learn,” she says. “So I come into the studio with three ways to teach something—explaining intellectually, demonstrating the movement for visual learners, and allowing space for those who just need to get in there and try it out.” As she continues growing as a teacher, Katricia sees the value of building trust with her students. It starts with showing them that she truly cares for them. Their trust deepens further when they see her modeling what she teaches them to do. And then they see that as trust is established, more opportunities open up to them.
Building trust is also a foundation of Katricia’s friendships with coworkers and the parents of her students. “Sometimes people bring me a question and expect that because I’m a Christian, I’ll be rigid in my opinions,” she says. “But I like to respond to tough questions with, ‘What do you think?’ Friends appreciate that unexpected interest and support, without any instant judgment. I can be relaxed in conversations like that because I know that I don’t need to bring people over to my side. I want people to get on God’s side, however he wants to use me to make that happen.”
What does Katricia hope Christians understand about the arts? She wants people to know that God was the first creator, and we, made in his image, get to share in that creativity. “When artists are free to create, the art is going to spill out of their lives,” she affirms. By supporting artists in the congregation, churches enable them to prayerfully seek balance in their artistry and in their relationships with other artists, being salt and light and inviting all people to taste and see that the Lord is good.
About the Contributors
Neil R. Coulter served as an ethnomusicology and arts consultant for twelve years in Papua New Guinea, with Wycliffe Bible Translators. He is now senior writer and editor at DTS. He and his wife, Joyce, have three sons.