Flourishes in New Downtown Space
Ecclesia School of the Arts—formerly Ecclesia Dance Ministry—moved from Heritage Baptist Church to its new location in downtown Lynchburg last August, and owner and director Megan Horst is thrilled to be part of the burgeoning downtown community.
“In recent years downtown Lynchburg
has really come to life,” Horst says.
“We are excited for ESA to join in the effort
to continue revitalizing downtown.”
The new downtown space will not only allow ESA to thrive in an arts-focused area but it will also serve solely as the school’s space and thus negate the need for frequent equipment setup and breakdown. “Last year we were really struggling with space issues, as we had grown to approximately 100 students and had limited storage space,” Horst says. “The main obstacle was that we were turning Sunday school classrooms into dance studios three days a week. Between moving tables and chairs, setting up our portable dance floor, mirrors and barres, we were getting really burned out! We knew that we needed a permanent studio space if we were going to continue to grow. We love being able to hold classes in a ‘real’ studio, and we especially love being able to leave our equipment out! We now have three dance studios, an art studio and a café.”
In addition to a larger space, ESA also boasts expanded course offerings. Ecclesia Dance Ministry offered ballet and tap classes, whereas ESA offers beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of dance in ballet, pointe, tap, choreography and lyrical. ESA also now offers mixed-media art, arts and crafts, acting, choir, photography, fitness and balloon twisting.
The driving force behind ESA’s expansion—both in terms of space and course offerings—is Horst’s abiding love of dance.
Horst has been passionate about dance since she was seven years old, and her desire to share that passion with others also blossomed early in her life. “When I was 12 I convinced my parents to let me clear the living room and teach ballet to some young girls in our neighborhood,” Horst recalls.
At the tender age of 15, Horst started her own dance studio. “While living in Indiana, I started my own dance school, ‘Eagle Wings Dance Academy,’ where I taught beginner ballet classes for children,” she says. “Teaching ballet at such a young age was definitely a growing experience for me and helped prepare me for my future ballet endeavors.”
Although she was well-prepared for a future in dance instruction, Horst decided to pursue a different career and thought her teaching days were behind her. “When I moved to Lynchburg to transfer into Liberty University as a junior year journalism student, I didn’t plan to teach ballet,” she says. “I thought that chapter of my life had passed. I continued taking a few classes myself, but I was content with no longer teaching. By the spring semester that all changed. I missed teaching and being in the ballet world more than just once a week. When the opportunity to teach for a homeschool group arose, I jumped at the opportunity.”
That homeschool co-op quickly outgrew its original space, and upon moving to Heritage Baptist Church in 2009, Horst named the dance evangelism team Ecclesia Dance Ministry. The group performed at nursing homes, churches and children’s groups. Outreach is still a major component of ESA’s mission, and the students enjoy these opportunities to interact with the Lynchburg community.
“I love being a part of something bigger than myself,” says 14-year-old ESA student Ruthie Whealton. “Not only do we share the gospel… we also visit and talk with the people in nursing homes when we are there, which is something many of them don’t get to enjoy very much.” ESA student Jordan Reddy, age 17, says that visiting nursing homes is one her favorite things about dancing in ESA’s traveling dance company. “I cherish the bonding experience between everyone else in the company and meeting all the people at the nursing homes,” she says.
ESA has two traveling dance companies: the Preparatory Company for young intermediate dancers and the Ecclesia Dance Company for intermediate and advanced teen and adult dancers. “We typically tour twice a year,” Horst says. “Last year, we performed around Christmas time and will tour our Hiding Place: the Story of Corrie ten Boom performance this fall. We tour in Virginia and North Carolina.” ESA holds open auditions for both companies at the end of their touring seasons.
Horst attributes a great deal of ESA’s success to her 10 fellow instructors and to the guest artists who have shared their knowledge and talents with the students. “We have a wonderful team of teachers who are proficient in their fields and who love to teach,” she says. Whealton heartily agrees. “Aside from the dancing part, I love being able to have a sense of camaraderie between the students and the teachers,” she says.
“One thing that sets Ecclesia apart is that, while other teachers at other schools are passionate just about ballet and can forget the student while perfecting their skill, Ecclesia teachers are just as passionate about the students as they are about what they teach.”
In the future, Horst hopes that ESA will be able to offer even more classes, particularly in art, acting, choir and balloon twisting. In an effort to extend its courses to as many people as possible, the school allows parents to volunteer in exchange for tuition. “Our purpose is to offer quality and affordable dance and creative arts classes to the community,” Horst notes. “We value the arts and never turn anyone away for financial reasons.”
As ESA continues to grow and evolve, Horst gracefully strives for balance between administrative and teaching duties, but teaching remains her primary passion. “Even though I spend a lot of time on the administrative side, the best part about my job is teaching,” she says. “We have an amazing group of talented students, and they make it worth all the time and work we put into the school.”
ESA Upcoming Events
Every Thursday in March/April
Paint Night Event: March 16
Art Show: May 5
End-Of-Year Performances: May 11, 12
Learn more at ecclesiaarts.com