Modern Dance: A Sermon

This is the text for the sermon I preached this past Sunday. It's what I call a topical sermon, viz. the exegetical, expositional, narrative, etc. As per usual, what ends up in spoken is 10-15% embellished from the text (especially second service where I couldn't stop being goofy). I have reems of research sitting in folders on my computer, but only a small fraction of it ends up in the sermon.

I found it all a very satisfying experience. More details on the weekend forthcoming.

August 27, 2006
w. david o.taylor
Dance and the Christian Life

Opening comments:

1. Question: How many of you remember Tim Diehl, the dancing MBA guy? How many of you secretly wanted to join him? Our fears about dance: internal (self-conscious) and external (it’s not our culture or our culture is against it).

“Where there is dancing, there is the devil.” ~ John Chrysostom (AD 345-407)

2. But what if in our church culture we didn’t sing. What fears would we have then? That people would sing out of tune or loudly or in disregard of others or that instruments would be off or that worship leaders might not lead well. My response: anything good in this world can be abused.

My point today: Dance can be a way for us to enter more fully into our knowledge of God and our experience of this world.

Three questions this morning:

1. Is there a biblical basis for dance? We as Christians are a people of the Book. What does the good Book have to say?
2. Is dancing good? This is the theological question. What does dancing have to do with God?
3. How can dancing enhance our knowledge of God? This is the devotional question, with both an individual and corporate dimension.

A. A Biblical Consideration

1. King David dances: 2 Samuel 6:12-23.

a. His gender: he’s a man, a male. Dancing is not women’s work, it’s all our work.
b. The ark symbolized the presence of God at its greatest intensity.
c. He dances “before the Lord” (v. 16), in both its specific (religious) and general (our entire lives) sense.
d. His dancing viewed as “undignified” (v. 22). Here we have the upside-down kingdom at work.
e. Michal: punished with barrenness for her judgment.

My main observation: Nowhere in Scripture are David’s actions, his dancing, condemned. Nowhere. We have to remember that.

2. The Psalms: Pss. 149:3 and 150:4 enjoin us to dance.

“Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp.”

“Praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with strings and flute.”

The great Christian hymnal, the Psalter, commands us to dance.

3. What about the future, our life in the new Kingdom? In God’s prophetic word to Israel, in Jeremiah 31:4, about the day in which He would redeem her fully, He says:

“I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.”

Does He mean this literally and not just figuratively or spiritually? Yes. Why? Because Scripture is not against dancing. It may include examples of dancing done for evil purposes or to false gods, but the Bible doesn’t prohibit dance.

My point here: Nowhere in Scripture is dance forbidden. Nowhere. From Miriam’s dancing in Exodus 15 to the dancing that takes place upon the return home of the prodigal son, dance is exemplified, extolled, and commanded.

So let’s put to rest a bit of heresy: The Bible is neither silent nor disapproving of dance. Period. And there’s a good reason for that.

B. A Theological Consideration

1. God is the First Mover and is appropriately described in the language of dance. How so?

a. Perichoresis: this was a term that the early church fathers used to described the inner life of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as a kind of “mutual interpenetration” = to dance (choresis) around (peri).
b. The Scottish theologian T. F. Torrance puts it this way:

“Far from God being inactive in his inner Trinitarian being, it belongs to the essential and eternal nature of his being to move and energise and act.”

Basic to the inner life of God is the movement of love and all of creation is meant to be an expression of this movement.

2. Our bodies were made for expressive movement

To be human, made in the image of God, is to be indivisibly body-soul. A bodiless human is not a fully human person according to Scripture. My body is not something I possess, it is who I am: I am a somebody.

In Genesis 1 God declares our bodies good. In the resurrection of Jesus he declares our bodies eternally good.

And so it is through our bodies that we express our true selves, our thoughts, our feelings, our desires. It is in and through my body that I am David. I cannot be fully David apart from my body. In heaven I will have a resurrected, immortal body. I won’t be a ghost.

LET ME ILLUSTRATE: Let’s take a relationship between a man and a woman. A man and a woman can communicate with each other through verbal, mental, emotional, spiritual means, but if there is no physical communication, then the communication between them cannot be described as full, or even for that matter true. EX: touch. Why? Because God never intended for us to live a physical-less life.

My point: Our bodies, though currently fallen, are God-given, God-blessed means through which to grow into a fullness of maturity, and dance is a way to flesh out the relationship between body and heart. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Let all that is within me bless His holy Name. Let us offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, and in all these ways train our bodies to live in accord with the character of God and to allow them to teach us things that we could not learn apart from our physical selves. EX: sadness and tear ducts; joy and tear ducts
How do we do this? We do it by re-acquainting ourselves with our bodies.

CONGREGATIONAL EXERCISE: led by Susan and Gabriel Bienczycki.

C. A Devotional Consideration

In what ways can dancing strengthen our devotional life, both individually and corporately?

1. Individually, when we make the decision to start dancing, whether alone or with others, we begin to deal with the things that cripple our spiritual lives. In dance we discover the damage that is being done to identity: our insecurities, self-hatred, body-hatred, fear of failure, perfectionism, performance-driven habits, emotional atrophy, isolationism, a debilitating self-consciousness, the fear of other people’s opinion of ourselves, the fear of disapproval, the fear of ridicule, the fear of making mistakes, the fear of rejection, the fear of not being in control—in sum, the fear of man instead of the fear of God.

All of these things, to a smaller or larger degree, rob us of the freedom to be wholly open before God. They rob us of the opportunity to be fully human.

EX: Celeste (Schroeder) Snowbar and dancing anger or grief.

EX: Jack’s hopping up and down.

My point? Our individual experience of dance, as we allow God to release us from fear and to make us wholly alive in our bodies, can become a way for God to make us more integrated. Dancing can be a means of divine healing.

2. Dance can also serve our corporate devotional life.

A Shaker principle:

Sing a little, dance a little, exhort a little, preach a little, pray a little and a good many littles will make you a great deal.”

a. Dance can illustrate and interpret a biblical story or idea. EX: Advent dance of Elizabeth, Zechariah and Angel—vicarious participation in their lives.
b. It can become the sermon: through the language of dance the Word is preached.
c. It can accompany prayers and songs and other art forms
d. It can proclaim the gospel. EX: Gwandara-wara, a tribe that was reached through the language of dance, when everything else had failed.
e. In dance we improvise, we try things out, we take risks, and so we embody the actual life of faith. Dancing requires the same kind of sensitivity to the Spirit that we need in all aspects of our spiritual lives.

“The life of faith does not go in a straight line but turns, falls, sinks, pulls, pushes, releases, clings, pauses, leaps, and dances.”
~ Celeste Snowbar

How do we put this into practice? It’s not easy. You don’t want to contrive something. You don’t want to be false or manipulate. Excess is always a danger. What may seem to be perfectly good to one person may be received as obnoxious and distracting to another. Who decides what’s too much or too little? That’s a hard question.

It reminds us, though, that dancing is fundamentally social. Dancing is a way of relating to other people. So are you going to bust out dancing at the big church down the road where nobody dances? No. That would be un-loving.

The sadness many of us live with is that we, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, don’t belong to a social culture or a church culture that values dance or that has developed patterns for dancing which we can all learn at a young age and then worry no longer what others think of us because everybody else is dancing too. Not so in African-American culture.

But I do want to illustrate a kind of dance that we could try out.

GROUP EXERCISE: Kareen and Co and a Jewish circle dance.

D. So how shall we then live?

1. I invite you to pray into these things.
2. I invite you to act upon these things.

Ultimately it’s an invitation. It’s not a demand. There’s no pressure. No one can force you to do anything. Why? Because we’re all in this together. We need each other. We need each other’s encouragement. We’re all afraid. Start with baby steps. Start in your bedroom. Start simple. And laugh at yourself often because it is funny. Try things out at least once. Keep praying that God will free you from the fears that you don’t have to be captive to.

You may not be a dancing queen and that’s ok. Very few of us are Annettes or Cecis. But all of us can move. And Christ invites us to move into freedom and grace and power, that power that comes from a life wholly consecrated unto God, a consecrated soul, a consecrated body.

And you know what? When you start dancing, it releases freedom into other people’s lives. When you dance filled with the love of Christ, the joy of Christ, the truth of Christ, you dance with the angels and your dancing becomes a powerful invitation to the freedom of the children of God.

Bishop of Caesarea (AD 407) ~ “Could there be anything more blessed than to imitate on earth the dance of angels and saints?”


Dear rkrumel: thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I couldn't agree more with them!

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