SALT Makes Signs
Teens have fun combining sign language, dance and worship at New Beginnings Community Church in Shallotte.
Haylie Long teaches SALT to the youth at New Beginnings Community Church in Shallotte, and it has everything to do with salt for the soul.
SALT, a combination of the words service and alternative, refers to the Biblical passage from Matthew 5:13-14: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Long makes the passage meaningful by putting American Sign Language to religious songs. She livens the routine by adding dance steps.
“It’s not really karaoke,” she says. “It’s more choreographed songs using mainly sign language and liturgical dance with other styles of dance incorporated, depending on the beat.”
During the pandemic, Long has limited her students to 6th through 12th graders. She chose “Never Have I Ever” from Hillsong Worship Songs for one recent lesson, and when Isabella and Maya Cully and Janie Tucker arrived, she prepared the teens by telling them that the song has a hip-hoppy tempo and the chorus repeats itself often.
She then tells them the sign for “never” is like a seven, and to sign “forever” they use their index finger to make a circle and close the three middle fingers to the palm and move the hand upward. She says when the chorus sings the refrain, they should spread their feet apart, lean back and bounce their shoulders as they move side to side. Once they are familiar with the words, they can mouth them along with the chorus. Long repeats instructions, and it’s obvious the students are enjoying the lesson.
Long says it’s a benefit for her to be left-handed because most of the signs start with the right hand, and it’s easy for the students to read her mirror-image signs as she faces them. She adds that it’s difficult to sign every word in a song, so she uses signs that fit the song.
“Sign language is a way to use your hands,” Long says. “By learning the words to the song and mouthing the words, it helps [students] realize it’s not just a song. It’s worship.”
“I thought it was something cool to do,” says Maya when asked why she joined SALT.
Isabella says she learned sign language with music while camping and liked it. “It was something I enjoyed, and I like music in general,” she says. She knew SALT was at New Beginnings, and when Angie Tucker, the church’s office administrator, asked if she and Maya would like to join, the sisters didn’t hesitate.
Long explains she was introduced to the SALT concept when she was 12 and became a member of a group in Myrtle Beach named Sondance, referencing Jesus, which incorporated lyrical dance with sign language. When she joined New Beginnings in 2010, she was impressed with the SALT group and wanted to get involved with it. She took over as leader when the woman who had introduced the program moved away.
Janie’s mother, Angie Tucker, says her daughter would watch the SALT group when she was a preschooler.
“She’d stand there and do the signs along with the others,” Tucker says. “She begged to be included.”
The class, though, was for older children. When Long started a class for kindergarteners through 5th graders and named it SALT Shakers. Long has suspended SALT Shakers because the pandemic protocols make it difficult to enforce them for younger students. Otherwise, she would have up to 30 students in the two classes.
The group performs at the church’s Sunday services, and before COVID-19 they performed at Relay for Life at West Brunswick High School and at other venues.
As the half-hour lesson comes to a close, the students sing along and add their own dance movements.
“SALT is free and safe,” Long says. “[Students] are learning actual signs.”
Want to join?
The SALT program is free to any interested students, both girls and boys, and is open to all youth, not just to members of New Beginnings Community Church. They meet Wednesdays from 5:30 to 6 pm. After the SALT group, the Teen Group meets at 6 pm.
New Beginnings Community Church
730 Whiteville Road, Shallotte