Read My Feet

I’m going to tell you something not too many people know: I have danced at church. In fact, I have danced at a few churches. You see, I am a dancer—trained in ballet for most of my life—but only those who have seen one of my few praise dance opportunities have seen me dance liturgically. Many of my friends have not. As we are all aware (dancers especially), dancing is a sticky subject amongst the people of God.

There is something else you should know too: I think that to some extent the lack of opportunities may be the dance community’s own fault. Dance is an art form that can be very ambiguous. I have watched a praise dancer and been distracted by the dancing as I finally had to admit, “I just don’t get it.” Art that is confusing, makes you think, leads to many interpretations, and creates lots of discussion has a place in this world. But I don’t think that that place is during a worship service.

Imagine a preacher coming in who doesn’t speak your language. Then imagine him preaching without an interpreter. Little to nothing will be gained for those who hear only babble. In fact, confusion and even frustration may reign.

Liturgical dance (another term for praise dance) is the same. The term comes from the idea of liturgy, which means “something that people do together.” At church, people come together to give expression to their faith. The dancer in a worship situation must lead in corporate worship. Just as Paul instructed us not to speak in tongues without an interpreter (1 Cor 14:27-29), it does not build up the Body if only one person understands what is going on. We are not dancing to “wow” the crowd but leading the church in understanding and worshipping God.

Therefore, I advocate choreographing in advance with a focus on what each movement is communicating. I had someone say to me once, “Well, you really told the story of the song.” I don’t know if he meant that as a compliment, but I took it as one because it said to me that I had communicated clearly through my movement.

I am a dancer, and I am love to worship God through dance. But I accept that some churches have been confused, appalled, and embarrassed by dance in their service at some point. I do not push to be a part of their service, but pray that one day my art would be allowed back in. Until then, I ask dancers to take care with the gift God has given them and make sure to lead in worship clearly, so that all may say, “Amen.”

PS I have a few more tips for dancers. If you (or someone you know) would like to know more, comment below, and I can email you an overwhelming amount of opinions. : )

Comments

I have seen you dance liturgically twice, and both times I wept.

you are a superbly gifted artist, and your "sermons" are profound.

please, continue to serve the church, even when she doesn't get it. someday she will.

Thank you. And thank you for your church letting me lead in that way.

I agree with bleek that you have a profound gift for interpreting the subjects of the songs you worship to. And your worship of the Lord is palpable as you dance. You don't make it about you, yet God uses your unique gifts to bless others. The most powerful artistry I have been a part of (sermons, prayer, singing, dancing, artwork, service, giving) has the same themes to it: clarity of purpose; an audience of One tempered by an invitation to all to participate; excellence; transparency, and love.

Liturgy. Thank you for defining it through your words and through dance.

I love your list of themes that go into powerful artistry. You're so right on with that.

I think this touches on the larger subject of art in the church: do we approach it the same way we do in the rest of life?

I suspect not, although I need to do more thinking on this.

Art is designed to provoke questions, to make people think about something in a new way, to explore and create beauty.

All of this has a place in church. Alternatively, everything we do in life is to glorify God, or to put it in different terms, to worship him.

Maybe it's not about different categories, church music v. secular music (or dance or paintings) as past centuries and cultures have had. Maybe it's about education (which reminds me of John Witvliet's comments about the importance of teaching our congregations). Unfortunately, our culture at large and especially our church subcultures have a sad history of putting aside the arts for "more important" matters. I won't go on another tirade about that now, but I think it's important for artists (and I include myself in this) to educate our congregations on what art means and how it glorifies God (even when it's dark). I wonder if this could be done with the liturgical calendar (speaking of liturgy) and using art (including all its mediums) on themes of Advent, Epiphany, Annunciation, Lent, Easter, etc to look at the themes and the beauty in each.

Sorry I got a little off-track. Perhaps I should explore this in my own post rather than taking up all of yours!

I agree with you. I think there's a place for it all and it's not so much about "church music vs. secular music (or dance or paintings)." I do think that in the worship service it's about leading people in worship. That can be done in so many ways and as long as that is the focus/purpose, then I say dance something that makes sense, sing a secular song that fits, or paint something that makes everyone else worship God as well. And at other times, like fellowships or Bible studies or just even in the hallways, bring out the stuff that needs to be discussed, interpreted, and argued. Bring those out when there's a chance for people to be confused and talk it through, just not in the worship service where it mostly disturbs the purpose of why we have gathered in the first place.

Jamie,

This is the first time I've read any of the posts on the Tapestry Blog. I can't express how thrilled I was to realize someone was writing about this topic. I grew up in a Christian home but didn't grasp the concept of God's plan for salvation until I saw the visual story of God's love in "Toymaker's Dream". Since that time, I would leap around my bedroom while listening to praise music, dreaming of a time when I could encourage others with the joy I felt while dancing for God. In high school I was eventually able to take ballet classes, and I was blessed to attend a college with a dance ministry whose express purpose was to glorify God and make Him known. I'm sometimes saddened that I don't have a venue right now to share the beauty and awe and intimacy of praising my Savior through dance. My experience has been that many churches are skittish and skeptical of whether dance is appropriate...so it was a delight to read your post! I'm so happy to know there are others who share my passion and joy for this type of worship, and I hope to be an instrument of praise someday in my own church. Maybe even start a dance ministry :o)

I started dancing a few years ago and I would be interested in your tips for dancers. I really enjoy my dance teacher; we start every class with scripture and prayer.

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