BRANDON — A disco ball flickers overhead as three single ladies bob their heads to a hip-hop beat.
Tables usually adorned with ashtrays hold porcelain white crosses. Patrons order cola straight up and on the rocks.
A lone pop-and-locker slides his clean white kicks across the floor, mouthing a catchy lyric stuck on repeat.
"They done let them Christians in the club. Oh, my God. They done let them Christians in the club. Oh, my God."
"Now this is a good song," a rapper named Diligence shouts from the club's VIP section, where he surveys the room from behind a pair of shades and counts 10, maybe 12 people.
"I hope more people show," he says.
So does Wanda Wright.
The first time Wright heard hip-hop at church she paused.
The hard-hitting beats sounded mainstream. But on his track In Da Club, Grammy-nominated artist Canton Jones rhymed about love and God, not sex and debauchery.
Wright felt her body start to move.
"I thought, 'This music is great. Where can Christians go to dance to it?' " she said. "There really wasn't anyplace like that."
Wright, a Tampa Realtor, reached out to the owner of Boomerang Martini Club in Brandon and proposed an 18 and up Christian night. No alcohol. No rump shaking. Her son Kalen, a 20-year-old Tampa DJ known as Kross Style, would spin strictly Christian tracks by top-selling rappers like Jones, La Crae and Trip-Lee.
Boomerang's owner, a family friend, agreed to let Wright use the club on Sunday nights for a percentage of the proceeds generated.
To market the event, she recruited volunteers from her church, Designer's Way Christian Church in Thonotosassa. In January, the group passed out more than 800 fliers advertising "The Takeover." They visited churches and college campuses. Pastors helped spread the word.
"As Christians we can't live in a bubble and completely separate ourselves from the things of the world," said Ron Simmons, senior pastor at Designer's Way. "Christians can have a good time. We can go to a club."
Wright pitched the idea that Christians could cut loose to clubgoers and conservatives, businesspeople and moms. She put a blurb in a local newspaper and paid for advertising herself. To add to the nightclub experience, she hired local rappers Diligence and Hope Boy to perform.
She started a Christian events company called Ryte Flyte Ntertainment. If the Takeover succeeded, she might one day host a comedy night or put together a fashion show. The event business might replace her dwindling career selling houses.
"It's a new concept," she said, "but I really want to create a new sort of Christian social life."
• • •
On a Sunday evening, Wright arrives at the club early. She answers last-minute calls from friends asking for directions. She pulls crosses and shrink-wrapped Bibles from a dollar store shopping bag. Volunteers help her set them out on the tables while the DJ tests the fog machine.
Wright says a prayer.
More than an hour after the doors have opened, a short line forms inside the club. Churchgoing college girls in fitted jeans and modest T's stop to pay their cover charge. Then there's a group of guys sporting baggy pants with ball caps. Each greets the other with a signature what's up nod and heads for the dance floor.
"Us believers don't have other things like this," Xiomara Guzman, a 20-year-old old Hillsborough Community College student, shouts over the music. "I like it."
Sam Laray joins the growing cluster of people under the disco ball.
"It's like church on Sunday but more crunk," he says as Canton Jones' Christian anthem 5 Seconds blasts out of the speakers.
"I'm about five seconds away from giving you the most amazingest praise. … Everybody go wild. Go wild. Go wild."
On cue, arms shoot up in the air. Legs vibrate. Women jump around in high heels, dancing but careful not to jiggle too much.
"This is a fresh twist," said Dinah Crawley, a New Tampa wife and mother who came to the event with her husband, Walter. "You can go to the club, enjoy what it has to offer and not have to go home feeling guilty."
• • •
As she watches her vision come to life, Wanda Wright exhales. Maybe 50 people showed. Maybe 40. Whatever the number, the Takeover will happen again next week.
Tomorrow the martini bar will re-emerge. Cigarette butts will replace Bibles.
"We're switching things up just a little bit," Wright says.
Before the performers take the stage, she glances up. Beats pulsating all around her, she begins to move. And finally, lost in the music, she lets go.