I talked to Bethany Stannard at the West Side Business Network’s annual holiday party on Dec. 1 at Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson St. The event, which is sponsored by Austin Weekly News, among other entities, featured numerous talents, including a praise dance group that was put together to exclusively perform at last Thursday’s event. Stannard talked about her passion for praise dancing and her connection to her hometown of Austin and the church that helped raise her.

I’ve been dancing for 16 years at Rock of Our Salvation Evangelical Free Church, 118 N. Central. The first time I danced was at my church when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I danced with a few other girls and it just felt right. You know how sometimes things feel right and you know it in your soul? As my knowledge of God and my relationship with him deepened and grew, I recognized that this was his call on my life.

On living and growing up in Austin

The West Side gives me a very unique perspective on the world, because I look at things differently than other Caucasians. I’ve seen families where grandmas are in a house with 18 grandkids. I’ve had people shot in my alley. I’ve seen it all, but I’ve also seen the resilience and strength of African Americans — their passion, their love of God, their pursuit to get the best out of life that they can get.

I’ve seen parents work endless hours to get their kids that leg up. So when people say [bad] stuff about Austin, it hurts me personally, because I identify so closely with this place. All the struggles that African Americans feel — I feel them, too.

My church is my other family. We’re a relatively mixed congregation, but it’s still predominantly African American. They love me and I love them. It’s a community that we have and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.