Interpretive Dance

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For our look at the role of dance in worship, we look at what the Bible says on the subject.

The following is a letter written on the subject from Tim Davis who introduced the class at music camp for the first time.

Despite the controversy surrounding the issue of dancing, I chose to offer this as a ministry elective during Music Camp. Even though there were some concerns among the camp board, they permitted me to give this a try.

There are many Christians that would contend that dancing of any kind is rooted in paganism and is only intended to "arouse sexual behavior", or "damages the fabric of our moral and spiritual nature", or "is associated with drinking, drugs, filthy stories and talk",or even "causes us to support the ungodly". While many of the types of dancing we think of today could fall into these categories, that doesn't prove that all types of dancing is evil or paganistic. Nor does it nullify all of the biblical examples of dancing. Yes, there are occasions in the bible where dancing was connected to an ungodly event or immoral people(See Exodus 32:19-21,31; II Samuel 30-16; I Kings 18:26; and Matthew 14:6-8). However, there are other biblical passages that show dancing was not always sinful or immoral. It appears to have been an acceptable practice and was sometimes connected to worship and praise to God (See Exodus 15:20,21; Judges 11:34; II Samuel 6:14; Psalm 30:10-12; 149:3; 150:4; Ecclesiastes 3:1-4; Luke 15:22-25).

To be fair, there are a few passages in the bible wherein "dance" could be translated differently. One example is the Hebrew word machowl. Among some scholars, the word is translated as a musical instrument, or "lute" (RE: Psalm 30:10-12; 149:3; 150:4; I Samuel 18:6; Jeremiah 31:4,13; Lamentations 5:15). However, more scholars preferred the translation as "dance", or more literally, "a round dance". As a reference, I checked 12 different bible translations of Psalm 149 & 150. Eleven out of twelve translated machowl in one of the following ways: "in the dance", "with dancing", "in a dance", "and dancing", or "and dance". The exception being the DOUAY-RHEIMS BIBLE, which translates it as "in choir" (Ps. 149) or "and choir" (Ps. 150).

A New Testament passage in which a translation of "dance" is in question is Luke 15:22-25 (Prodigal Son). The Greek word choros is believed by some to be translated as "choir", though many scholars prefer to translate it as "a round dance". I checked 14 different translations on this one and they all used the word "dance", even the DOUAY-RHEIMS BIBLE.

Many people argue that there is no evidence of dancing in the early church, therefore it should not be incorporated in our worship and praise of God. The following information came from an internet article written by Lucinda Coleman entitled "Worship God in Dance". In the first five centuries of the Christian church, "dance was still acceptable because it was planted deep in the soil of the Judeo-Christian tradition" (Gagne 1984:43). Both Justin Martyr in A.D. 150 and Hippolytus in A.D. 200 describe joyful circle dances (Daniels 1981:13). In the early church, dance was perceived as one of the "heavenly joys and part of the adoration of the divinity by the angels and by the saved" (Gagne 1984:36). Over the following centuries, dance continued to be a part of worship. Unfortunately, immoral influences introduced by Greek and Roman cultures began to change liturgical dance and thereby corrupting it. Beginning with the Protestant Reformation, dance began to be banned altogether from many churches. However, Martin Luther himself (C.1525) wrote a carol for children entitled "From Heaven High" in which two stanzas support the role of song and dance in worship. The English church leader, William Tyndale, in a prologue to the New Testament, wrote of the roles of joyous song and dance and was happy to use the words daunce (dance) and leepe (leap) when he considered the joyous good news of Christianity (Adams 1990:26). In the post-Reformation period both Protestant and Catholic churches "firmly attempted to close the door on creative expression of dance in the liturgy" (Gagne 1984:59).

If there is a biblical precedent for dancing, and historical evidence of it in the early church, why are we so quick to condemn it? Personally, I think we should be more concerned about churches that put up Christmas trees in their buildings. There is no doubt this custom is rooted in paganism. Not only that, but how about Easter? (Not to be confused with Ressurection Sunday) Many churches, even within our own brotherhood, host Easter egg hunts. Are Easter eggs not based in paganism? Of course, we have "Christianized" these symbols connected to pagan holidays and have incorporated them into our church traditions, which now makes them O.K., I guess. But we look at dance, which was part of our spiritual history, and say it's not O.K.

And what about teaching our kids VBS songs, etc., which incorporate all kinds of "dance" moves. Is it O.K. for children but not for adults? What about the churches that offer aerobics in their church buildings, where they use different dance-type body movements in time with music? Is that aerobics or dancing, or both? And let's not forget many of the songs we sing at camp and in our churches that use movements during the singing. There are several songs I know of which there is even jumping and leaping. Would that not be a form of dancing?

I probably could have expounded more on the subject, but I only had two pages! I'm, sure this issue could be debated until Jesus comes back. Again, the thing we have to remember is that dancing was used as acts of worship in the Bible and even in the early church. I believe if all dancing in the Bible was considered immoral, God would have addressed the issue at some point. I feel strongly that as long as we keep interpretive dance (and dancing in worship) free from appearing seductive, suggestive or provocative in any way, then we have the freedom in Christ to express ourselves in such a way as to please God and edify the church.

Sincerely- in Christ, Tim Davis-Dean of Music Camp

Different ways "dance" can be interpreted from the Hebrew and Greek: Twist or twirl in a circular manner, a round dance, leap, spring, move in a circle, spin around, stamp, spring about, jump, skip, jump for joy, hop, dance.

For those who disagree with this article, we would recommend that you read Galatians 5. There, Paul was addressing the problem of legalism entering the church. It seems that every group comes up with their own little doctrine (set of rules) but we must remember that we are free in Christ. That freedom includes glorifying God through interpretive dance.

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