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Christian dancers: all ballet and no brains?

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Peter Hothersall
04:51 PM ET (US)
Firstly I have to disagree with you Andrew when you say 'A lot of evangelical Christianity today is anti-intellectual and anti-theological, which is a dangerous place theologically to be'. That is simply not true in my experience. There may be a loud segment that is such but it is not necessarily 'a lot'. In my experience Evangelicals are encouraged to think and indeed have to think, in a way that more traditional styles have not encouraged, to be able to come to a decision about there faith. They are not encouraged to take things on lightly.
My church is similar in attitude to Johanna's for which I am grateful.
There is an element of both using your brain and letting go to dance worship. We do need to come to an understanding of why we dance and how it expresses God's love, the prophetic and our relationship to him, but there is also a big element of simply letting go and worshiping freely. Just expressing out inmost feelings through dance.
I would ask if we are by nature dancers then are we better at expressing our faith and worship through movement and not as good at expressing it in words. Not that we shouldn't be able to contribute to a conversation or form an argument, we should, but we are just not as good as other arts that use words as an expression.
Deleted by topic administrator 02-23-2016 02:00 AM
Johanna Cardinal
12:27 PM ET (US)
Canada has Corps Bara Dance Company in Calgary, AB. This is a professional and Christian dance company.
As for so few discussion contributors, not all are drawn to the same social media platforms. This is one of so many and "yet another cyber space" to have to check among the several in my day to day. There are likely others who are in the same situation with time constraints, as in my case. I cannot say this is due to any disinterest or apathy but simply time, choice, and social media platform priorities. Put these same people in a room and the discussion will be engaged / deep... like in older days.

Thanks for sharing.
- choreographer, blogger, dancer, worshipper
Edited 09-10-2014 12:30 PM
  Messages 14-12 deleted by author between 08-15-2014 10:14 PM and 02-23-2016 02:00 AM
Johanna Cardinal
01:40 PM ET (US)
Christian dancers do not check their brains at the door of a church or conference. Neither are all Christian dancers ballerinas, though ballet is something I study for grounding as a base for other forms of dance, and many ballet lovers are also believers of Christ.

It's all about culture, and whether that culture allows a dancer's "voice" to be expressed or not. Is the culture "top - down" meaning power comes from authorities set in place? or is it "grassroots - up" meaning those on the ground actually have a say and are heard. My home church is a mix of both, there is freedom to exercise giftings yet a balance of respecting timing and the how.
01:39 PM ET (US)
Lucy, a brief reply:

I'm fully aware that there are various examples of dancing within Christianity throughout the past 2000 years, however, these have been lost in the midsts of time and I don't think they have any bearing on the church today. My own background is protestant / evangelical (like most people involved with Christian dance) and, as I am sure you know, the historic view in this wing of the church was that dancing is a sin and therefore not for Christians. Whilst that is now a minority viewpoint, it continues to have some influence, along with the prevalent Greek mindset that faith is a matter for the mind and the body is of no consequence.

Protestant christianity has been around for about 500 years (the reformation is normally dated to 1517), and I would suggest that for the first 450 years, it was opposed to dancing in general, and certainly didn't see dance as having a role within faith or worship. The only group of note that danced was the Shakers, who were a small fringe sect with some very strange beliefs - if anything, they reinforced the anti-dance views of the mainstream churches.

There are probably a few examples of dance within Roman Catholicism in the modern period, but nothing widespread, and I'd reckon nothing whatsoever within Eastern Orthodoxy. If my understanding of history is wrong, do correct me, but it all adds up to a huge tradition of christians not dancing that has proved difficult to change.
Lucy Jarasius
04:53 PM ET (US)
I thought I might add something interesting in response to Dancer’s observation that “dancing is not something that has been historically linked with Christianity”

Students of Christian Dance History are often surprised to discover that it’s more a case of the links being lost. Here is an example of some of those links long lost (MIA perhaps?)

Dance in the Christian Tradition, an Excerpt from The History of Dance in Christianity, by Marilyn Daniels, Paulist Press 1980

"During the early Middle Ages in Western Europe] Christian carols and hymns were sung and danced in stanza-chorus form. To carol means to dance. The division [suggests] the shape the dance would have taken. During the stanza, which means stand or halt, the worshippers stood generally with their attention directed to the center of the circle and what was celebrated or believed. If it was a line carol the focus would be on the destination of the dancers. During the repeated choruses the people would dance, using a three-step or tripudia. The tripudium was done both at a slow and medium speed, usually in an attitude of joy or jubilation. (Jubilate is another translation for tripudia.) The step [which can be traced to ancient Rome] involved three steps forward and one step backward, and was used in ring dances, line dances and processionals. It came to signify man's humility - 'I go forward, yet I falter' - and was an act of reverence. It is the basis for genuflection still used in Christian worship.

During this early medieval period of Christian corporate worship, the priests and other holy dignitaries danced with the parishioners. Within the dances of the liturgy the movements of the individual soul were lost to the to the majestic rhythm of the Church. This dancing symbolized and suggested a sense of equality.
During the eleventh and twelfth centuries the rising clerical hierarchy began an effort to separate themselves from the common people. Priests would only dance with other priests on certain days, deacons would dance with deacons and the people were left to dance with themselves in holy worship. The bishops would sit alone, above everyone. Certain bishops, however, joined in the dancing of the people, this tended to threaten the authority of the Church and inadvertently led to the creation of new edicts and legislation against the use of dance in its various Christian forms."
Lucy Jarasius
04:53 PM ET (US)
Andrew, you have put a lot of thought and work into this topic (as with all previous topics)
Unfortunately, due to going through a very busy patch, I have read your posts with great interest, but not been able to post responses. However, a quick note on this one is now possible!

I do agree with a lot you have said, and particularly like your point that "Dance needs to find its voice, but it also needs to re-find its currency as an renewed emerging and thinking minority determined not to remain that way in obscurity as a Christian ministry, by rediscovering its mission purpose and voice in relation to today's world situation an finding new ways to articulate speak out about it"

Dance is often considered a language of its own, and exists in many forms, or could we say, "dialects"? Its "voice" might not always be heard, but interestingly enough, dance is a "voice" that is seen, or "viewed"... a paradox of sorts (opposites that are simultaneously true... another fascinating attribute of my "beloved artform"!

I also appreciate your response to the interesting points raised in the post by 'Dancer'. I agree that although we may be in the minority, that we should not necessarily remain in obscurity. Along with dancers, I think the majority of "the Church" should rediscover, reclaim, and rejuvenate its missional purpose and voice and I add that we need to do this to be true to our call to "follow Jesus", to join Jesus' living, moving, being mission, partnering with God in the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. Many people think the new heavens and the new earth are in the sweet bye and bye, a time to come, but that is only partially true. We are COmissioned to spread the GOOD NEWS and do the deeds in the NOW and the not yet. Dancers are particularly gifted to demonstrate the incarnate (embodied) word/message of the Gospel Jesus preached and lived.

Thank you, Dancer, for telling us about your perspective of dance in the American context (correct me, if I'm wrong, but I think you are referring to the USA part of America?). Be great to hear from others in different countries, too. It's probably true of other countries, as well, but it's a bit sad to think that in America and quite likely, in Australia, also, "the number of christians with any sort of interest in dance is very low". Add to that Andrew's idea that the number of Christians with any sort of interest in "thinking" is way too low, and we do have a dual problem, indeed!

Is there a solution?
I think one of the solutions to that doubly worrying question is, in fact, a good question!
I have been dancing, poetically and probably, prophetically, about the good question found in Ezekiel 37... Can these bones live??? My performance poetry presentation postulates that CPR could be a solution... a particular kind of CPR... Christ-Partnered Resurrection... READ EZEKIEL 37 and you'll be inspired to speak living words, call for winds of change that will rattle a few cages and bring some skeletons out of the theological closet. When we get some sinews, flesh and skin onto those dry bones and truly become Christ's BODY of people on earth, a lot of transformation is possible for God's world, beginning with the transformation of our very selves in the process. I can't help being hip-hop happy about that... crunching anti-God sentiments, popping anti-theological parameters, waltzing in with radical discipleship, leaping over institutional obstacles and breakdancing through entrenched intellectual barriers... to a more faith-full, more hope-full and more fully-loving humanity.

I trust that this theological, exegetic exercise is sufficiently mentally gymnastic to boost my balletically trained body to the heights of the new heavens, Andrew. It has certainly given me a new earthly perspective. Thank you for the opportunity to articulate about how I stretch my brain to shape my body of dance work.
  Messages 7-6 deleted by author 08-01-2014 04:54 PM
Andrew D ParkPerson was signed in when posted
05:28 AM ET (US)
So am what I am advocating here an overly intellectualized and academic sort of high brow approach to the faith, and more directly, the arts.

Certainly not.

Some of the stupidest, most arrogant and ignorant people I have ever encountered in life were the most educated, and most high degree-statused figures in society. Whereas, some of the wisest and most accomplished in mission, theology and in life were the least academically qualified. But what stood those latter folk apart was their capacity to reason - to develop a theologically reasoned approach to the Christian faith - the sort of reasoning which captivated the founding Apostles of Christianity who had among their number fishermen, rough-house rednecks and tax-debt recovery agents among their number as well as learned scholars and a Pharisee.

My own mentor in the faith - a man of incredible wisdom and theological nous, highly respected by all who know him (many) - left school at age 8 to become a mechanic, soldier and motorcycle stuntman in early life - and later a highly respected elder-statesman of the faith to many within God's Squad Christian Motorcycle Squad and so many others who later became leading figures in the Aussie church today and in the past.

So I am talking about the capacity to develop a "reasonable" or "reasoned faith", of the kind that fishermen and mechanics can grasp, which places them in equal stature before the throne of Christ with learned scholars, and sometimes provides them with far more credibility and capacity to reason and communicate our faith to others.

I just thought it might be important to qualify this alongside my previous comments in my last post.
Andrew D ParkPerson was signed in when posted
04:16 AM ET (US)
Hi Dancer. Good to have you in this discussion.

I agree that there are Christian dancers who do think theologically about what they do. An organization like ICDF would not have survived for nearly 4 decades without that occurring. And numbered among the dancers I know are quite a number with higher degrees in theology as well as the arts.

But there are not enough speaking out theology artistically. To be heard - especially where there are so few of them - means you need to actually say something! And not enough are today, which surprises me given the prophetically subversive nature of the arts in articulating truth being effectively spoken out through other genres such as slam poetry, drama and music.

Most of the current leading art genres are new forms, which began as minority movements as part of `alternative culture', but as demonstrated through their passionate speaking out about their core issues refused to remain minorities, and then became mainstream influences on emerging society and culture.

For instance, slam poetry 5 years ago was an obscure street culture art form. But today, if you check out the vast number of posts on YouTube there are many taking up that art form - including some Christians - and using it quite effectively to speak out about important social issues, reimagining a better society, using it as cathartic release to self-express, expression of political dissent, affirming and truth-telling, and in some cases reasoning with audiences highly effectively and theologically about contemporary issues to do with mercy, compassion, justice and faith.

Dance - and in particular Christian dance - does not have to remain in the minority. But it needs to re-find its voice - in particular its theological relevance in relation to the society it occurs in, which should not just be on the stage as a pretty and novel side-effect for 10 minutes within the occasional worship service.

Dance needs to find its voice, but it also needs to re-find its currency as an renewed emerging and thinking minority determined not to remain that way in obscurity as a Christian ministry, by rediscovering its mission purpose and voice in relation to today's world situation an finding new ways to articulate speak out about it.

Christian dance also needs to re-find its counter-cultural activism in a world where the dominant abiding metanarrative is anything but Christian. And in doing so re-explore what it means to be representative of Christ's radical alternative vision and hope for the world's future and how to effectively communicate that to people through its art. That necessarily involves thinking, questioning and reasoning theologically `in community' (the "F" for `Fellowship' in ICDF) with others both within and outside the artistic genre.

A lot of evangelical Christianity today is anti-intellectual and anti-theological, which is a dangerous place theologically to be.

Paul said "we are renewed through the transformation of our minds", which is decidedly pro-theological reasoning by implication.

Without first "thinking" under the leading and impulse of the Holy Spirit and reflecting about the Biblical text theologically and interpreting it into today's situation, there will be a lot less effective `doing' missiologically through our artistic expressions, however passionate we are about them as practitioners.
Edited 08-01-2014 04:28 AM
Andrew D ParkPerson was signed in when posted
03:02 AM ET (US)
Going to add a quote from Michael Hardin, a Facebook friend who posted this today: "God gave us all brains. We can either use them or not. Some people I meet are either intellectually lazy and make excuses or need someone to teach them HOW to think (not WHAT to think). Intellectually lazy people want to be told WHAT to think. They are happy to claim they don't listen to 'man' [sic] but only to God when in fact all they do is parrot others. Irony of ironies. I am reminded of MLK Jr. "Nothing pains some people more than having to think."
05:34 PM ET (US)
Yes, in my experience Christian dancers do think theologically about what they do.

But compared to other art forms, we are not well known. Most dance ministry happens at the local church level. If you went round asking churchgoers in America to name the two biggest dance ministries in their country, you'd get blank looks from almost everyone (I'd suggest they are Ballet Magnificat and Dance Ad Deum - feel free to disagree). I'm not sure that there are any others of comparable size or profile. Compare that to, for example, the number of authors, pastors, and musicians, and the level of awareness that they enjoy.

But is this not true about dance in general? How many national-level dance companies are there in America? Not many.

And, of course, dancing is not something that has been historically linked with christianity, and even today I would guess the number of christians with any sort of interest in dance is very low.

So perhaps the feeble response to your posts reflects the minority nature of what we do, rather than any lack of intelligence on our part!
Andrew D ParkPerson was signed in when posted
04:21 AM ET (US)
Christian Dancers: all ballet and no brains?

I’ve been doing this (running this discussion board) for half a year now and have found that while there have been large numbers of unique visitors looking at the posts, there have been way too few of those looks translated into posts.

I find that quite strange.

There are certainly a great number of other Christians who are engaging with assorted Facebook blogs I am part of. And quite often the original blogs and those responding are not of the low content “Tehehehe, LOL” sort, but often characterised by well thought out and articulated and sometimes quite wordy contributions. And some of those posts run up well over several hundred responses within 24 hours. In fact, some of my more well-known friends only have to wait a few minutes to see large numbers of posts added.

Most of my favourite bloggers in Facebook are extraordinarily busy people in off-line ministry and missional life, as well as in the on-line lives. And many also run fairly busy websites as well.
I know or have met all of them personally as well. So our friendships are not just some sort of excarnate version of relationship that only occurs from behind computer keyboards and screens.

Almost all are directly involved in discussing contemporary theology, the arts, contemporary politics, social justice and issues, but very few among their number happen to be from the Christian dance community.

And the same with their many friends and followers on Facebook, who also meet up often in face-to-face life and collaborate frequently in innovative mission projects. This is not some sort of disembodied social media network who will only communicate with and meet up with each other exclusively through the impersonalized circuitry of their IPADS, Tablets and PC’s.

They are poets, singers, worship leaders, youth chaplains, passionate social justice activists, thinkers, philosophers and visual artists, besides the many who have undertaken some sort of theological training or formation. Yet others, are not theologically trained, but are prepared to robustly state their opinions about theology, mission and general life as it unfolds.

These are not shallow thinkers either. I often feel quite challenged by what they have to say about many issues. And often I find God also speaking there, and inspiring me through the conversational processes involved.

Just do a Facebook search on Michael Hardin, Brian McLaren, Michael Frost, Alan Hirsch. Karina Kreminski, Beth Barnett, Mary Fisher, Matt Stone and Curious Christian, Matt Anslow, Jarrod Saul McKenna and you will witness some of these artist/theologians/social justice prophets in action, and just how many responses they get to a huge range of art/mission topics. I know many, many more bloggers getting similar numbers of large responses, but have listed names you may have heard of before more than others.

But as I said before, very few of them are Christian dancers. Too few, in fact! And I have been quietly wondering to myself, “Now why is that so?”

So I now need to ask, “Do Christian dancers think theologically about what they are doing before, during and after they dance? Or do they just see themselves as like performers trying to create the next [worship] `Wow moment’ to captivate crowds, similar to what secular reality TV competition programs like to produce with all their sensational acrobatics and gesticulations?

If you don’t think Christian dancers are all ballet and no brains, then tell me why? And don’t be afraid to hold back on expressing your opinions. I’m a big boy, and I can cop honest criticism `on the chin’, if you need to head your comments in that direction.
Edited 07-21-2014 04:29 AM
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