Deanna De Mike Van Pyrz performing in a local nursing home
The Little boy was the only son of a famous Buffalo Sabres star. He lay there,a prisoner in a bed he would never leave. Ethan’s bright red hair was a sharp contrast to his alabaster white skin and as he reached out to me, with emaciated arms, I sang a Mary Poppins song. He was fascinated and continued to hold my quivering hand for the longest moment.
In a community room, again at Children’s Hospital, I sang and danced for a child with barely enough skin to cover her delicate bones. She was only ten but had the appearance of a ninety year old. She smiled and swayed n time to my “clown” song.
The company dancers of the Royale Dance Theatre have performed at schools, hospitals, churches, festivals, Philharmonic concerts, small and large theaters seminaries and even prisons, each time bringing the “joy of the Lord” through dance, drama, music and art. There were many times when audiences approached the dancers following the show in tears, claiming “You have touched my heart in a way that no one ever has.”
I remember one woman crying for an hour straight after a drama of a mother who had at first been cruel and then with a change of heart, repented at the mistreatment of her beloved daughter. My friend Kim (not her real name) was that daughter who suffered at the hands of a tyrannical parent but now experienced a healing touch through drama . Kim had been rejected all her life, and even as a five year old, “farmed-out” for years by her parents. (she was a sickly child in a family of twelve.) The “healing hearts” of the Company of dancers gave her, at thirty-nine, the first birthday party she ever had. She later went on to help remodel the entire school building where the school and company studied and rehearsed.
Why would a ballet company which performed the classics such a Swan Lake, Giselle, Coppelia, begin to use dance and drama as a ministry? It all began with a question to the Lord when challenged by the theatrical world in the presentation of highly immoral productions., What good is dance I asked, and can it be used for God’s glory? The answer came from a sermon by a minister at an evangelical church one Sunday. “All things were created by God for His Glory.” john 1:1. That was it! Then God, I assumed, who was the creator of the arts, meant that these very arts should be used for His glory—without question!
My first attempt at ministry was a production of The Psalms, presented at Orchard Park High school with the new Christian music being published for both Catholic and protestant charismatics. It was presented both on channel 2 TV and later at Our Lady of Victory Basilica. The dancers looked like the angels surrounding the altar. It was glorious. The youngest members performed in a piece called Let the Children Come. Of course it was welcomed by some, again with tears in their eyes, but legalist minds highly objected! Christian dance is and always will be highly controversial. “ It belongs to the world and has no part on stage “ critics will say, however, they are “dead wrong”, as the Royale has proved over and over again.
I realized that our teen dancers, although well-trained, needed to reach out to the community in every way possible. With a message of hope, bringing joy through dance and inspiring music. A part-time secretary called every nursing home within one hundred miles and booked us into dozens, every weekend for years. At that time, only the students were performing, but one Sunday, no one could make it to the Hamburg-Eden home. There would be at least fifty wheel chair patients sitting in a circle waiting for the only respite of entertainment in their mundane lives. I thought, “I dance with and for the children in my studio and know all the repertory so I’ll go myself.” Triple dressed with three layered costumes topped with a clown suit and loaded with tapes and tape recorder, I danced, sang, spun wheel chairs, held hands and hugged shoulders of the sweetest men and women I ever met. It was a blast! I never had so much fun and absolute joy in my life, (other than rollicking with my own children on the living room floor). From then on, you couldn’t stop me. Along with nursing homes, there were hospitals and prisons. This ministry grew to the main stage itself when challenged with the necessity of large productions at local high schools which we did annually. “What do I do now” I asked myself. “Where is the ministry in major ballet, drama or musical productions?” The search was on for our own major work or works as it turned out.
When finishing o huge Artpark presentation by our company of six major classic ballets,, I asked my son Mark for an idea to create our own original production. “Mom”, he said, “everyone loves a story.” After a two year search, I came up with a real challenge for the ballet world—a “better than Nutcracker type of Christmas offering. Voila, the Snow Queen was born. First produced at Christ the King Seminary, then embellished at Orchard Park High School, it went on to six performances at Shea’s Buffalo and finally to the Grand Palace in Branson Missouri. Snow Queen although a fairy tale based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, is a heart-warming and inspiring dance-drama with a truly Christian theme as is Match Girl, Americana and all other productions of the Royale.
These productions and performances, designed for school children. families, seniors and the general public are both entertaining and inspiring, elaborating the blessings of God and the hope that is in Him alone.
The Lord has blessed the Royale with two thousand stunning original costumes, and given us inspiration for coordinating music, scripts, and tech theater. My son John has developed the visual which are projected as backdrops to eliminate the need for expensive sets. And can easily be used for theaters which cannot raise or lower scenery.
Another way the Royale reaches out is in its donations to organizations to help feed, clothe and educate as well as heal the poor. Our motto is “Children helping children through the arts.” The list includes St. Jude’s, Feed the Poor, Water for Life, Smile Train, World Vision, Covenant House, Operation Blessing, and others.
There are still critics who say that dance has no place in Christian ministry or that we have no right to “push our philosophy” on an audience, I will boldly proclaim otherwise. Dance, drama, music and art should be used for God’s glory since this is the purpose if its creation,
I shall never forget the incident at the Erie county Home in Alden when a fifty-two year old paralyzed victim of a car accident sitting in a wheel chair, almost leaped from her seat and nearly exploded with exultation when hearing and seeing the first moments of the Halleluiah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. She thanked me profusely afterwards for performing her most favorite piece in the world. Again, I met with grateful tears, a woman who heart was healed through the ministry of the Royale dance Theater