by Lisa Tramontana
A children’s dance recital should be an event the whole family can enjoy. But if you’ve attended one in recent years, you might have experienced some uncomfortable moments. Little girls dressed inappropriately and dancing suggestively has become the norm at many dance studios.
Whitney Jones-Holland wanted to raise the “barre,” so to speak. An education major with a degree from Southern University, she had grown up dancing in her hometown of Houston, Texas, and dreamed of opening her own studio, but it would have to be one that adhered to high standards and Christian values.
“I wanted my students to be able to learn to dance with joy, love and excitement, but without compromising their values,” she said. “I wanted to be able to teach values that would uplift and inspire them.”
She didn’t know if anyone would be interested, but she began to pray about it, and the more she prayed, the more it seemed possible. During a road trip to Tennessee, the Lanier Elementary teacher got the proverbial “sign from God” — literally.
“I was thinking about my dance idea, and I saw this huge billboard for some kind of guidance counseling. And then the word ‘guidance’ struck me, and I thought, ‘I never knew DANCE was in the word guidance. Then I thought maybe this was divine intervention. And suddenly I knew I would open a studio and I knew what its name would be … Divine GuiDANCE.”
Today, Divine Guidance has more than 60 students enrolled in tap, jazz, ballet and creative movement classes. Dancers range from age 2 to adult, and participate in an annual recital each year, held at Faith, Hope & Love Worship Center, and at LSU.
“The music, movements and costumes are not suggestive in any way, and don’t send out negative messages,” Jones-Holland said. “We pray at the beginning and end of every class. There is no yelling or fussing or pressure. We’re a team and we treat each other with kindness and respect at all times. Our instructors encourage students to believe in themselves in their daily lives, at home, at school, and in their communities. We are teaching them dance skills, but we are also sharing our faith, showing them love, and helping them deal with life’s challenges.”
Jones-Holland has a big heart, and a year ago, a new idea started weighing heavily on her. She would offer her dance classes free for an entire year. With 50 students, the idea could have had disastrous financial consequences, but just the opposite happened. “This was all faith,” she said. “My husband (Hansoni) supported it, everyone pulled together, parents donated what they could afford, and it was a huge success.”
The free training allowed many young girls to discover a love of dance in a supportive and caring environment. Many of them would not have been able to afford it otherwise.
Divine Guidance also enrolled students in the studio’s first dance, academic and enrichment camp, which will hopefully become an annual project serving about 30 students each year. Holiday camps are held throughout the year and in the summer.
Jones-Holland, who is also mother to 4-year-old Holli, says her parents were instrumental in forming her faith life, and she is grateful to them for a gift she now passes on to other young girls. The parents of her students are grateful as well.
“There’s warmth and love in the way she teaches,” says Tonya Johnese, whose daughter Hannah studies with Holland. “Whitney is a great role model.”
Camilla Jones agrees. Her daughter, Ca’Myra, has been dancing with Holland since the age of two. “Everything about her studio is wholesome and for a parent that’s very important,” she said.
Divine Guidance Studio is located at 4523 North Blvd. For more information, call (225) 330-1648.