Friday, November 07, 2008

Dancing in Church

When Jenny talks about the dancing during the Divine Service in Africa, we know it's okay. So why is it that I get squeamish when I hear about liturgical dance in our country? Is it just a cultural thing? Is it some hang-up I should get over?

As Nathan was talking this week about one of his sem classes, we realized something. Usually, in America, when we hear about dancing in church the focus is not on Christ. The focus is on my excitement about what I'm hearing in church. Or on our joy. Or on our feelings of love. Or showing people that we're not staid and stuffy but can express our emotions of love for our Savior.

But in some places, there is NO focus on me whatsoever. If people are dancing, it is entirely focused on Christ. And I don't think that's something we can decide to "copy" from them or "learn" from them. If we try, then we're actually back to looking at ourselves and our reactions again.


  1. I did some thinking about this very topic this summer after the worship conference (thought about doing a blog post but never got around to it). I think you have it right, Susan. I think the problem is that when Americans/Westerners do liturgical dance we are unable to get beyond the performance aspect of it. At the conference, there was one service that had a liturgical dancer. She was a beautiful young woman in a long ballet-style dress and the dance was more like body or sign language than dance. It was beautiful and reverent and just about the best example of liturgical dance that I have ever seen. But I was still uncomfortable with it in the service. And I think the reason is that in order to appreciate it, one had to focus on her and watch her. That's just the nature of dance. But for me having to fix my eyes on the dancer gets in the way of my ability to fix my eyes on Christ. With music, on the other hand, one can close one's eyes and take in the music and text without having to focus on the person who is presenting it. I'm not saying that one shouldn't watch a singer or choir or instrumentalist that is providing music for worship. But it's not necessary to the appreciation and reception of the art, whereas in my opinion the need to keep one's eyes fixed on the dancer gets in the way of fixing them on Christ.

    I also can't get away from the body aspect of it. When choirs sing, they ideally wear robes which I think have the effect of minimizing the individuals within the choir. I think that when soloists sing and instrumentalists play they should dress in a way that does not call attention to themselves (not that this is always the case, to be sure). But all should be done that is possible to deemphasize the individual. How do you deemphasize the individual when the individual IS the very canvas for the art form, as in liturgical dance?

  2. I agree. I think that the very different understandings of dance between different cultures make it pretty close to impossible for a Western church to make use of dance in a wholly worshipful way. The nature of dance as performance, as a way to express one's self and impress others is just too ingrained in our culture. Dance as a communal experience is just not in our blood.

  3. Cheryl, you make good points about liturgical dance. When I was thinking about dancing, I was thinking primarily of the worshipers dancing, although watching liturgical dance is also part of what I was addressing. As you point out, though, watching dancing in church is even more about focusing on the dancer rather than on the Savior.

  4. Wow, Evan. Yes! That makes so much sense when you put it that way! What dance is (among us) is so different from what it is among some other cultures. And that makes a world of difference.

  5. I once saw a video of an African American wedding here in the US that was done in the style of an African wedding, complete with African clothing and music, and held on the grounds of a Southern plantation house.

    But there was one weird thing - no one was dancing! All the guests were just walking in silently... extremely UN-african!