Ballet ensemble pairs love of Catholic Church with dance

Lauralee Goodwin, Mary Elizabeth Goodwin and Mariah Bordovsky stretch to prepare for their ballet class. The trio performed an Easter show that they choreographed themselves.
Lauralee Goodwin, Mary Elizabeth Goodwin and Mariah Bordovsky stretch to prepare for their ballet class. The trio performed an Easter show that they choreographed themselves.

FAYETTEVILLE — Three young parishioners with a gift for dance have learned to express — and share — their faith through their art.
Mariah Bordovsky and sisters Mary Elizabeth and Lauralee Goodwin are serious about ballet and about love of God, and after years of study, the three recently formed their own ensemble, Paschal Praise, and performed before fellow parishioners at St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville.
They’re young — Mary Elizabeth turned 16 May 7, Mariah is 13 and Lauralee is 12 — but thoughtful and give careful consideration to every aspect of performance, from choreographing their steps to ensuring their costumes are sufficiently modest. They’re also lucky to get ample support from their parents.
But then again, how could they not when the girls are so interested?
“We have some interesting sleepovers,” Paula Goodwin said about her daughters and their friends. “You worry about what they’re doing. … Little do we know, they’re discussing religion at 3 in the morning.”
The girls and their families live in Springdale and are all students of Peggie Wallis, an 84-year-old New Zealand native who retired to northwest Arkansas but still teaches dance to a select few students lucky enough to hear about her — she doesn’t advertise — and to secure a space in her classes. Students of “Miss Peggie,” as they all fondly call her, perform as part of a group called Rejoice and Dance Ensemble for other churches, especially during the Christmas season, but the friends hadn’t done anything at their own church.
As Catholics, Mary Elizabeth, Mariah and Lauralee wanted to perform something appropriate to their religion. Typical in their approach to everything, they even wanted to ensure the name they chose for their group was relevant. Paschal Praise refers to the moment the Easter Vigil Mass candle is lit, explained Margie Bordovsky. “It’s defined as a song of great joy.” That seemed appropriate to the girls.
The girls, with help from their mothers, set about putting together a performance intended, at least initially, for the seventh-grade religion education students at St. Joseph. Margie Bordovsky, Mariah’s mother, teaches the class and Mary Elizabeth is one of her aides. Word spread and eventually all the English-language classes were invited, and then the Spanish-language classes asked to be included, too.
Before the day of the first performance March 9 arrived, an invitation was issued by word of mouth to the entire parish.
It was truly a group effort: Mariah choreographed the Passion Dance to a soundtrack from the 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ,” her mother, Margie, created costumes for the girls and even figured out how to do spotlighting in the church cafeteria, which is where the performance took place. Members of the seventh-grade class assisted in other ways, including one who helped explain the wordless dance to the audience, and a few other performers, including one who played Jesus, were included.
The audience reaction was gratifying to the girls who had worked so hard. “We had people who had tears in their eyes,” Margie Bordovsky said.
Despite what may have been some initial reluctance to have a ballet performed at the church, Margie Bordovsky said, the reaction afterwards was warm.
“I got an e-mail from Father (Bradley) Barber. He said these girls can dance here any time they want,” Margie Bordovsky said.
The girls do hope to perform again at the church, but they’ve got other things in mind also. Mary Elizabeth plans to attend a summer camp in Jackson, Miss., sponsored by Ballet Magnificat!, which is described as the world’s premier Christian ballet company.
“Instead of Swan Lake, they take stories from the Bible and expand on that,” Mary Elizabeth explained. She’s eager to attend and has already lined up some ballet students of her own to help pay for her tuition.
All three girls are studying for certification from the London-based World Academy of Dance, a process that requires years of intense training. Mary Elizabeth has already passed four of the five required exams while Mariah recently took her first. Lauralee is preparing for her first exam.
Costuming can be difficult because many commercially available dance outfits aren’t sufficiently modest for the girls’ — and their mothers’ — tastes. Margie Bordovsky helps the girls adapt. A convert to Catholicism, Margie Bordovsky is also a stickler for ensuring anything the girls do for their religion adhere strictly to Church doctrine.
Mary Elizabeth attends Haas Hall Academy in Farmington, Lauralee is a student of the Arkansas Virtual Academy and Mariah is home-schooled.

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