Singing, dancing group has heart for Spanish-speaking community
Jennifer Lee Preyss
June 28, 2013 at 1:28 a.m.
Moments before sound check, Octavia Delgado gripped the microphone and uttered a muted prayer.
The Connection Center at Faith Family Church ,where her praise group, Signs of God - Hands of Praise, was about to perform, was scarcely populated.
But Delgado's stage fright was surging.
In the short time she's been singing and dancing Christian praise music before crowds, she's grown accustomed to preperformance jitters.
But too many years were spent suppressing her God-given gifts. As a product of emotional and physical abuse, Delgado often sang in secret to avoid criticism from those around her. These days, a stronger woman of God, she prays herself through the fear.
"Let the Holy Spirit take over me; let my voice be your voice and my dance be your dance," she whispered to herself, preparing to sing "Espiritu Santo."
Not all of the group's songs are performed in Spanish, but the ladies of Signs of God - Hands of Praise are intentional about reaching a Spanish-speaking crowd with their worship-filled dancing.
"We have a heart for Spanish speakers," Delgado said. "We've performed before so many people, and the Spanish speakers are the ones who open up when they see us. They love praise music. They love the dancing."
Delgado is one-fourth of the Victoria-based group, which formed more than a decade ago. About a year ago, Delgado and Linda Creager decided to take the group one step further and recruited Cathy Rogers and Ninfa Lopez, who are all members at Faith Family Church.
Delgado is the group's only lead singer, but each of the women contribute vocals and dancing during performance sets.
"Our main message with our dancing is that everybody get filled with Holy Spirit and feel his love through the words and be moved to worship him," Delgado said. "Not just praise him but worship him."
At the front of the room, Delgado sings out the first verse of her song as the music plays on a loudspeaker overhead.
She closes her eyes and allows the music to take over her body, while Rogers, Creager and Lopez twirl sheer golden fabric squares through the air, pairing their movements to the intensity of Delgado's voice.
Though dressed in matching black trousers and purple button-down blouses - purple representing royalty and gold representing divinity - each woman tells a different story with her movements.
"Some of our movements are choreographed and sometimes we're moving as we feel led," Creager said.
Delgado emphasized the dress code during performances.
"The colors we wear are important, and we always wait to get that confirmation on what we're supposed to be wearing each time we perform. We're weaving together the tapestry of divinity by representing the colors of God," Delgado said.
Praise dancing can be characterized by choreographed or non-choreographed movements, sometimes involving flags or other props, which are performed to music.
Dancing before the Lord, or liturgical dancing, has existed since Biblical times and mentioned several times in Holy Scripture.
But praise dancing, as it is known today in Christian communities, evolved about 50 years ago and was adopted most frequently by urban and charismatic churches.
The popularity of the dancing ministry has since carried over into churches of all denominations, however, and is today practiced by all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
"This is something that touches everyone," Creager said. "It's not for one person, it's for everyone to enjoy all over the world."
James "Smitty" Smith, the group's sound engineer, said he was the first to volunteer to help the women with sound when they relaunched about a year ago.
The ladies discovered him while he was working the sound for a Women Rich in Faith ministry event and asked him if he could engineer their sound during practices and shows.
"It was hard for them to find someone in the beginning ... but I believe in what they do," he said. "There's people who can't speak or don't feel comfortable praising God, and it's a way for them to praise and worship. It's just another form of praising him."
Because the women of Signs of God - Hands of Praise see their ministry as having the potential to reach a wide variety of people, they've decided to travel to Guatemala next month, where they will perform before dozens of Spanish-speaking audiences for a week.
"They want Spanish performance there. And the Lord says it's time for Spanish culture to come out and bond together," Delgado said. "There is a disconnect among churches of different races and people, and we want to help bring those two communities together and have them be more united.
Two members of the group, Lopez and Rogers are Latinas. Delgado is Hawaiian and Chinese. Creager, the group's strongest Spanish speaker, is white with a "little bit of Hispanic" in her.
"I'm probably the most fluent of the group. I've been speaking Spanish since 1975," Creager said, smiling.
While in Guatemala, which for Creager will be her second time, they hope their passion for dance and praising God will help unify cultures. They also hope to introduce a new audience of Guatemalans to a mighty form of Godly praise dancing.
"Really, what we are is prayer warriors. We are singing and dancing and fighting spiritual warfare," Delgado said. "It's a beautiful thing."
Delgado will not be taking the journey to Guatemala this time, for a lack of financial resources. But she said if God provides a way, she will go.
She knows the group's heart for praise dance and Spanish-speaking ministry will lead the group abroad in the years to come. And she said they won't stop until they've worshiped their way around the world.
"We want this to go as far as God will take it, and we don't have any plans beyond that," Delgado said. "None of us are trained dancers. It's all about God - and it's just free."