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Choreographer takes dance camp across nation

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Aug. 8, 2012 at 3:08 a.m.

GALVESTON - In high energy style - long dark locks waving from side to side - choreographer Dacia James-Lewis shouts over Beyonce's "End of Time," booming through the speakers.

"Holla at ya girl!"


"Holla at ya girl!"


The exchange is a dance camp signal - it's time to be quiet and watch what she's doing.

A floor-length mirror lining one wall of the dance studio displays a reflection: her right fingertips resting lightly on the end of her headphone-microphone, while the rest of her body guides a group of elementary and junior high schoolers through a hip-hop routine.

"Y'all ready to try it?"

As she counts them down to a starting beat, the hardwood floors of Studio 85 reverberate with the patter of synchronized dancing.

Mirroring the motions for the girls, she yells, "Shake, shake, shake, up-down ... and shake-shake-shake, shake-it-out ... twist it ... and turn ... taptap ... clap, clap, clap ... take it back."

Nailing the steps of their new routine, the M.O.V.E. summer dance camp girls utter girlish squeals and excited "Woo-woos."

For the girls, it's all about having fun and training under an accomplished dancer - who just so happens to have choreography and dance credits with Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson, Fergie, Kanye West, Usher and Ludacris.

But for James-Lewis, it's about sharing her dancing talents, the talents God gave her, and being a blessing in a child's life.

"It gives me great pleasure to give back to the kids because someone sowed a seed into my life when I was young," said James-Lewis, who lives in Victoria with her husband Walter Lewis, an electrical engineer for Alcoa. "God gave me this gift for a reason, and it's not to be in a box. He wouldn't have given me this gift if he didn't want me to use it."

Through her company Pretty Gyrl Productions, James-Lewis has taken her self-made M.O.V.E. camp across state and national borders to teach dance and model her love for the Lord.

This week, in her native Galveston, she led M.O.V.E. with Los Angeles-based dancers Natalie Kapper and Cindy Minowa, teaching hip-hop, jazz, modern dance and military routines to a group of about 45 young women.

"I want to be able to give back to others - and I want to keep doing that," said Minowa, formerly of Kaba Modern on MTV's "America's Best Dance Crew." "I want to help create opportunities like they were created for me."

Minowa and Kapper, who also teach and dance professionally, were flown in from California to help instruct M.O.V.E.

Because dance is as much a spiritual experience as it is a physical one, James-Lewis infuses the days with subtle Christian influences, such as saying the blessing before meals, and stretching silently, in dim lighting, to praise and gospel music.

"I'm all about advancing the message," James-Lewis said. "You can't impact someone else if you don't live it."

Last year was a professional high for the energetic dancer, who married her best friend, became a wife, and was hired by Jennifer Hudson to choreograph her tour, national television appearances and commercials for Weight Watchers, all within a month of each other.

But James-Lewis wasn't sure how her career would fare in Texas, after she and her husband were relocated to Victoria. She had been living several years in Los Angeles working and was dancing in major films, such as "Footloose" and "Stomp the Yard." But when the couple moved to South Texas, she said she put her career in God's hands and trusted it would prosper.

"I had a hard time transitioning into Victoria knowing that I was not going to be in Los Angeles full time. I did some hardcore praying about it. I was going full-faith on God that I was still going to be working," she said. "Sure enough, it started the day after I got home from my honeymoon ... God showed up and showed out last year and it was the best year of my life. He definitely showed me I can do it from Victoria. But then, sometimes he tells me 'You've gotta sit still and be a wife.'"

In between dancing and choreographing for television and film, James-Lewis lives out her personal motto, "Blessed to be a blessing."

"When I'm here, I love sowing back to the church," she said, mentioning her contributions to Faith Family Church as a praise dance choreographer and crafting dances for special shows like the church's Easter play, "AD33."

"If I'm here, I'll help. That's what I always say," she said.

In the winter, James-Lewis hopes to bring M.O.V.E. to Victoria, offering a free dance camp for young women in the Crossroads. Dates and location haven't been finalized, but there will be no cost to attend, she said.

"God wouldn't continue to advance me in the world of entertainment if he didn't want me to make a difference in it. You can make a difference, you really can," she said. Whatever you're gifted with, "you can use it."



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