Op-Ed: “Sacred” Dance
We’ve never called it sacred snare drum, or sacred piano. Those mediums stand on their own two feet; no rationalization required. So, why do we feel the need to clarify what kind of dance we are doing in the church? Sacred dance. Worship dance. Liturgical dance. It all sits on the tongue in a way that makes my face sour. Could it be, our lingo has gotten a little jumbled and we’ve complicated what could be quite simple?
The word sacred is defined as, * “connected with God or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration.” So yes, we are absolutely doing sacred dance. There is, however, a heavy load that comes with that word. It implies much more: tradition, religious-ness, formality… Deciding that all dances performed with a Christian message are classified as sacred makes the dancer feel as though they must do a slow moving arm dance in the white spandex dress (and we all know how I feel about those). Most SA dancers I’ve spoken with aren’t fond of this terminology, and would like to see it kicked to the curb with a swift battement. I happen to agree with them.
For me, worship dance would not purposely take place in front of people. It would be between the dancer and the Lord and that’s it. Worship dance is an opportunity to freely praise ‘in the spirit’. A physically improvised act of submission. It might take place alone in a room, or while worshiping in a congregation. It’s not rehearsed. It’s not for a viewer. It’s for the Lord. Meaning, dance for the strict purpose of worship is not intentionally exercised for an onlooker. It’s a line, straight from the dancer to God, and back to the dancer.
But, do we need to call it worship dance at all? Do we need to make the distinction?
Now, liturgical dance feels the heaviest of all, right? LIT-UR-GI-CAL. It sounds like something you have to be in robes to do, but this word is probably the one we are looking for:
*“relating to liturgy or public worship”
Dead on, right! But words carry more than their textbook definition. Liturgical dance is a mouthful. It’s not kind to the ear. Who wants to go see a liturgical dance? The more I say it, the more it’s beginning to sound like a medical procedure. We certainty have never needed to clarify when we do a drama or timbrel routine that it is of liturgical nature. That goes without saying. Ecclesiastes 3:4 does not read, “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to liturgical dance,”
Rehearsed dance (though no one ever calls it that) placed in a service for the congregation’s viewing is a much different story. While it is surely still worshipful in nature, the dancers have been tasked with connecting the congregation with the Father through choreography. It’s a triangle: God connecting with the dancers, dancers connecting to the audience, and then the audience connects back up to God. Do you see it? Just as a pianist, preacher or band would rehearse leading up to a presentation of their craft on a Sunday morning, the dance is prepared and ready. If it were not thought-through and performed with dancer’s best technique and effort, it would fall flat. The message would be lost. The triangle would be broken.
No matter what style of dance you’re doing in whatever context, and with whatever intention… can we just call it…dance?
No pretense. No prefix. No box. No implications. It tastes sweeter somehow, don’t you think?
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,
not for human masters
Kathryn Higgins Dance Ministries Specialist/
Kroc Center Creative
*Definitions sourced from dictionary.com