Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Whatever Happened to Worship Dancing?

I was wondering the other day why dance isn't a commonly utilized form of worship anymore.

I don't necessarily mean in church - sacred spaces are sacred after all. But the Bible is full of people dancing for the joy of the LORD. David danced in the streets of Jerusalem, and Miriam led the women of Israel in dance after the crossing of the Red Sea.

In some charismatic churches there is dancing, and I know it still exists in certain Jewish congregations. But it's not a typical feature of American Christian worship. Why? Are we so self-conscious? Dancing is hugely about ignoring what other people think of your movements and letting every atom of your body jump in praise to God. And we Americans are pretty big on how others perceive us.

Some friends of mine have a praise and worship ministry that utilizes a lot of ethnic music in their songs. At least once a year they lead the worship at my parents' church and it is really a unique experience. There is one song where the youth and youth leaders will jump up from the pews, grab hands, and dance down the aisle, pulling as many other people into the chain as they can. It's amazing. And then we fall back into our seats, red-faced and out of breath, hearts beating fast, and utterly exhausted from dancing for the LORD.

I wish that happened more often.


Maggie D said...

I think C. S. Lewis mentions it somewhere, something about how it makes sense for some other nationality which is skilled at dancing to use it in its liturgies, but since the English are wretched dancers it would be silly to use it in English liturgies. Another point, I don't remember any dancing in the New Testament, besides Salome dancing before Herod. This taken in itself doesn't necessarily mean that liturgical dancing is bad, but it may or may not play a factor in Evangelical worship. I don't know enough about modern Protestantism to say. (The only Catholic worship dancing that I'm aware of (besides maybe some African tribes or something? I'm not sure - let's say in the Latin Church, excluding other rites) came after Vatican II and is frowned upon in orthodox circles.)

It's also relevant to remember that for centuries in European and American culture, dancing has had connotations which it presumably didn't have in ancient Jewish culture; maybe the lack of it in the New Testament has something to do with imported debaucheries from Rome and Greece making its practice unseemly. I really don't know; this is all just speculation.

Elenatintil said...

Culture definitely plays a big role, but that just makes me sadder. I wish it wasn't an issue, because dance is such an expressive form of worship for me.

sidefall said...

Hi, I'm a bit late but here goes...

To Maggie D, Dance is actually mentioned in the New Testament five times: Luke 15:25, Matt 11:17, Matt 14:6, Mark 6:22, Luke 7:32. Just two of these refer to Salome.
The others indicate that dance was linked to joy and celebration and therefore a good thing.

There are also about 18 references to dance in the Old Testament and once more only a minority (2 or 3 of the 18) associate dance with wrongdoing.

So the overall view of dance in the Bible is a very positive one.

The reasons why dance historically hasn't been part of christianity are mixed. Western culture isn't really very expressive and is not known for dancing. It also sees people as split into body and mind, and views faith as something of the mind (this results from Greek philosophy and is contrary to the Biblical model). The various evangelical movements from the reformation to the great awakenings saw dance as associated with idolatry or immorality and preached against it. Some theologians view dance as associated with old testament forms of worship and therefore no longer relevant. Much traditional worship music isn't really danceable, and churches aren't really designed for dancing. The list goes on...

But things are slowly changing, and dancing is becoming more commonplace in church. The initial impetus was the contemporary worship movement that began 40-50 years ago as a result of the charismatic movement, but dance is now found in plenty of non-charismatic churches as well.

It's a gradual process but slowly people's attitudes are changing, and also there are more dancers in the church and opportunities for learning. Most other aspects of faith have centuries of tradition behind them, but not so with dance, so we are still working out how best to do it.

I love the story from Elizabeth - whilst there is a place for presentation and performance dance, reading the Bible it seems that dance was for everyone and everyone was a dancer (even Jesus) - it's great that your church is open to this at least occasionally.

Elenatintil said...

Thank you for your thoughts, Sidefall! I really appreciated reading them!