In recent times in some Christian congregations it has more and more become a fashion also to dance in the service. Words like "sacred dance" or "praise dance" have developed. On the contrary other denominations are completely against dance and consider it even as coming from the devil. In other cultures, especially in Africa, it has always been completely natural to dance during the services.
So, I am now wondering: What does God think about dancing, or what does the Bible say about dance?
For everything there is a season, and a time for very purpose under heaven:
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
What profit has he that works in that wherein he labours? (Eccles. 3, 1+4+9)
In the Bible there are quite few passages only that deal with dance. This is one of them, and he who wrote this is putting a similar question as we do.
What advantage do we have in dancing? Does God think it is good when we dance, or should a Christian rather not dance?
Further passages that deal with dance we find in 1. Chronics 15,29 and 2. Samuel 6,14 and 16. Those that are pro dance usually come up with these passages. They don’t only advertise dance in general but they mainly promote sacred dancing, praise dance or whatever you may call it.
And David danced before Jehovah with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. (2Sam 6,14)
King David was so happy that the ark of Jehova (the most important sacral object of the Israelites) had been brought into his city that he rejoiced aloud, that he ordered timbrels to be played, well and that he also danced.
The following sentence is this:
And it was so, as the ark of Jehovah came into the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out at the window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before Jehovah; and she despised him in her heart. (2Sam 6,16)
There is no further explanation why Michal despised king David. Yet considering the whole story we may assume that probably Michal did not dislike David’s dancing as such, but that she considered it ridiculous that the king danced so joyfully and in such an ecstatic way just because this not very pretty "box" had been taken into the city. This shows that sometimes one person might not understand why another person rejoices, and thus also might not understand his reason for dancing.
In the books of the Psalms, too, we read about dance. It is recommended to us not only to praise god with songs and musical instruments but also to praise him with dance.
Let them praise his name in the dance: Let them sing praises unto him with timbrel and harp. (Psalm 149,3)
Praise him with timbrel and dance: Praise him with stringed instruments and pipe. (Psalm 150,4)
But let us also listen to the arguments of the opponents of dance in church. They mainly have the opinion that dance in it’s basic meaning is of erotic purpose, and such things have definitely not got anything to do in church. In the Old Testament in the book Judges e.g. we find the following passage:
...and see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. (Judges 21,21)
The situation is obvious. Stimulated by the girls’ dances the men shall come out of their hidings in the vineyards, and each of them shall take one of the girls to make her his wife.
The best known passage concerning erotic dance in the Bible for sure is that in the New Testament in Mathew, chapter 14 and Mark, chapter 6 when king Herodes gave a big party. His wife’s daughter danced there in such a gracious way that full of excitement the king promised to grant her whatever she wants. She then wanted the head of John the Baptist, and consequently king Herodes had John executed.
When dance has such kinds of consequences, can it then be permitted in church?
Let us discuss some important questions: What is dance? What is the use of dance? Why do people dance at all? What consequences can dance have?
Basically we have to distinguish between
- improvised dance, when a person is dancing in order to express his or her feelings of this very moment,
- set dance for everybody with certain fixed steps, e.g. folkloric dance or ballroom dance,
- artistic dance, where a choreographer fixes the steps that have to be performed, and in general professional dancers show them.
In Musicals we distinguish between three steps of how to express feelings: First there is communication by way of speaking. In order to express feelings and sentiments in a more intimate way music and singing is being added. The next step is dance, when dancing feelings can be in expressed in the most intensive way.
This is a general fact that has not got anything to do with the specific kind of these feelings. When speaking you may say good and evil words, you may curse, and you may bless, and in the same way, just more intensively, you can do this with dance.
Of course, erotic dance exists very well, and with this the dancer tries to draw attention and to stimulate another person, possibly with the goal to deceive him or her. It is commonly thought that in particular women have these kinds of intentions when dancing.
By the way have you ever noticed that with animals with sexual desires it is precisely the other way round? There mainly male animals dance in an erotic way in order to draw attention to the females.
Erotic dance or rather the fact that many men try to find the erotic part in every kind of dance is one of the main reasons why in many churches dance is not being accepted. Another fact is that in various other religions sacred dance is very well erotic. Just think of the dancers in all kinds of temples and specially the girls that served and danced in the temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love during the time when Christianity came to be in ancient Greece.
This also is a reason why many men and women still have the absurd opinion that ballet lessons would be suitable for girls only.
But isn’t it extremely simple minded in all kinds of dance always and only to look for the possible erotic component! Dance is much, much more, just as life consists of much more than sex only.
Scientists discovered that that dance in three quarter rhythm produces hormones of joy in the human brain. So when moving to such a music a person becomes happy. Consequently happiness can especially well be expressed when dancing to music in three quarter rhythm. This has not got anything at all to do with erotic feelings! There are many other reasons why a person can be very happy and rejoice.
Special music and songs for soldiers which definitely not have got anything to do with erotic feelings either, on the contrary help soldiers to strengthen their inner courage and thus makes them more energetic when starting war and fights. Do you enjoy walking? It is easier, and it helps you moving when you sing while walking. In may cultures there exist specific war dances that are meant to motivate and strengthen the soldiers in view of the upcoming battle.
These are just a few examples of what can be done through dance. In the case of emotional diseases there exists dance therapy. Yet also for generally healthy people dance may enrich life and may open new aspects and horizons of feelings.
With dance you may express every kind of human feeling – provided you are at all capable of dancing.
The question whether a person is able to dance or not is a question of education. Every human being has the basic ability to speak. However, when a child never hears any kinds of words, it cannot cultivate the ability of speaking. The most extreme examples are those of children that grew up in wilderness and isolated from all other human beings. Having never had any contact with any human they have not developed any kind of human language. Yet after such a contact they were very well able to learn a language. Every new born baby has the ability to learn all sounds of all existing languages. Depending on the country that he or she is being brought up in, the child will then continually practise certain sounds, and other will diminish without being noticed because the child never hears them.
The more and the wider the variety is that a child is being put into contact with speech, the more intensively a certain language will be learnt, and the more eloquently the young person will become able to express his thoughts, feelings an sentiments through speech.
Precisely the same applies to dance. Every healthy child has the basic ability to learn how to dance. The more intensively dancing is being cultivated by giving dance lessons to the child, and by encouraging him or her to dance, the better will the child be able to express his or her feelings and sentiments through dance. Just as in speech, of course, there are different kinds of talent. Yet every child has the basic ability to learn how to dance.
Unfortunately many children, especially those that are brought up in very conservative Christian families, never get into contact with dance. If at all, then it is during or after adolescence that they get the idea of taking dance lessons. Usually such a decision is taken because the young person thinks that thus he or she might have a better chance of getting into contact with a person of the other sex. When being properly able to dance, it might be easier to get into contact with somebody. This means that in such a situation dance is being reduced to the mere possibly erotic expression that it might show. As such thought have for centuries been common in certain parts of our society, we must not be surprised that the idea of dancing has been refused by many churches in central Europe. They have for ages been considering it as something serving nothing but erotic purposes.
In many central African countries on the contrary children have been learning how to dance from early childhood on, just as they are being taught to speak. Thus it also is natural that in church people dance as well. People praise God by dancing just as they do it by singing, playing music instruments or by mere speech. In church they even dance more than at other occasions because with dance they are able to express their praise in the most intimate and intensive way.
Most people from central Europe are not able to follow those kinds of expressions. Due to their education lacking dance this is just logical.
Have you ever been in the company of people that speak another language? Somebody is telling a story, everybody is listening, and suddenly everybody is laughing about the joke, just you are sitting there, and you don’t understand anything. In order to understand the joke it is by far not enough that you know a few words in this other language.
People who have never had any contact with dance would feel in the same way when suddenly being confronted with such a way of moving. They might admire the physical abilities of the artist on stage, and they might applause with admiration.
When being in a joyful fellowship you might be able to join in the movements of a simple folkloric dance, and after a short period of exercise you might be able to hop around with the others. This might be fun, and you might discover that it is generally possible to express joy by means of dance.
Yet is it possible to praise God with such dance in the way the writer of the Psalms is suggesting it? How is it possible that somebody praises God from the depth of his heart when at the same time he is busy concentrating on putting the right foot into the right direction in the right speed according to the music? When never having learnt how to play a musical instrument, then I am not able to take one and right away to praise God with it. This would not work.
Even when you are used to singing, as soon as you are learning a new song you first concentrate on the words and the tune, and only after a while will you be able to really put your feelings into that song in accordance to what the words mean.
Our bodies can be compared with musical instruments. We can and we may very well praise God with them. Yet we will only manage to do so when just as in the case of musical instruments we will steadily practise all the various exercises. Thus we will gradually gain more and more abilities and skills until we will be able to fully control our movements. Only then will we really be able to express our feelings and to praise God from the depth of our hearts.
Let us hope that some day all children of the world will have the possibility to learn how to dance from early childhood on. Thus they would not only be able to express their feelings with their bodies, but due to the physical training they would be able to keep their bodies fit an healthy and would thus improve the quality of their lives.