|Agnes de Mille (niece of Cecille B. de Mille)
The burden to write about dancing, however, came several weeks earlier when I met the woman who ran the dance academy where my daughter-in-law is a ballet instructor. This director told me that after becoming a Christian she gave up her dancing career, because her church considered dancing a worldly behavior. But after almost 30 years of missionary service, she discovered that such condemnation was not Scriptural. Realizing that she had been a victim of religious legalism rather than sound Bible teaching, she returned to dancing as an avenue for Christian ministry.
|Compass Dance Academy, Tyrone, GA
Yet as I began to write, I recalled watching another sad episode of how this widespread legalistic censure against dancing played out at a Christian gathering. Several decades ago, I was at a men’s retreat sponsored by a strongly evangelical denomination. During an activity where talented people had an opportunity to show their skills, a man in his early thirties, dressed in gym shorts and a tee shirt, danced for us. After briefly introducing his theme, he used his body’s creative movements to emotively express that theme during nearly fifteen minutes of energetic dancing.
As he ended his dance, sweat soaked his outfit and was dripping from his face. But an uncomfortable silence reigned in the meeting hall. The sound of his heavy, rapid breathing should have been drowned in applause. But if there was any clapping, it was so brief, scattered and weak that it did not register in my memory. I felt sorry for the fellow but not enough to withstand the peer pressure of the unspoken consensus. Although I hesitated to applaud him, I now believe Jesus was clapping loudly. I could kick myself for not joining Him, but my rear-end is too far away in the past for my foot to reach it. Instead, I hope this article will somehow make amends for my cowardice.
Dancing on the Dance Floor
Long before that men’s retreat—and despite my own denominational background’s religious aversion to dancing—I named my talk on chaste relationships between guys and gals “The Dance of the Sexes.” The dance metaphor was too perfect to pass up. Every day, on many dance-floor environments (schools, jobs, churches, neighborhoods, various gatherings), we are routinely in a social dance with those of the opposite sex. To regulate behaviors and boundaries in those opposite-sex interactions, God has only one standard: marriage. The main thrust of my talk was to show that God’s holy and healthy rule for both marrieds and singles is an exclusive pre- and post-marital fidelity to spouses.
|A Video Talk on YouTube
To dramatically illustrate how that spousal fidelity was possible, even on an extremely intimate dance floor, I used myself as an example. As a male L&D nurse, working mostly with female co-workers and helping many thousands of young moms deliver and breastfeed newborns, I had no problem remaining 100% faithful in thought, word and deed to my dear wife, to whom I had vowed marital loyalty. Whether my audience believed my testimony or not, I was telling the truth.
It was only later, after intense research, that I discovered solid reasons why women’s bare anatomy did not distract or stumble me sexually, when my religious training unanimously insisted that it would. But in that research, my biggest discovery was that the sexual objectification of the body creates a sex-focused society. The church’s prudish perspective on the body is actually a pornographic view that has unwittingly fueled the fires of our presently porn-addicted culture.
I immediately began writing about the evils of body shame and its antidote in a wholesome, godly, Creator-honoring body acceptance. But now I see from those same discoveries why the rhythmic bodily motions in dancing have been religiously banned in the past and are still shunned by some Bible-believers. Sadly but undeniably true, many Christians in Western culture are indoctrinated with an overshadowing sex-focus on human anatomy. With eyes mentally glazed over by this obsessive fixation on the sexual dimensions of the body, they see in the movements of dance a shameful display rather than a creative expression of God’s design.
Dancing: the Dirty and the Delightful
There is indeed dirty dancing. A Scriptural example of it is the dance by “the daughter of Herodias” which so allured Herod that he agreed to behead John the Baptist (Mat 14:6-11). And yet merely because it is exploited lewdly, dancing itself is not turned into a form of lewdness. Just as the body has been misused to promote pornography, so wayward choreographers have employed willing dancers to participate in burlesque obscenities or in manners suggestive of sexual gratification. But, whether the concern is the anatomical bare body or the expressively dancing body, guilt-by-association is unethical and fallacious, no matter how popular its practice.
Churches are right to ostracize the unwholesome exploitation of dance for sexually wayward ends. Yet they are deeply wrong to allow occasions of its abuse to jade their vision, blinding them from seeing its divine origin. Unfortunately, when the sex-focus of porno-prudery permeates religious thinking, such a mistaken perception may seem not only logical but supportive of maintaining that condemnatory focus.
That sex-focus is a shame-focus with philosophical roots in the exaltation of spirit over matter in ancient Gnosticism. Although resisted strongly by the early church, the Gnostic heresy unfortunately tainted later Christian thinking and still persists today with many socially destructive effects. Any Gnostic denigration of the material world and of the fleshly body is an attack on “the Maker of heaven and earth.” Praise God for the strong voice of the late Pope John Paul II in his landmark Theology of the Body. He not only dismantles Gnosticism but refreshes our forgetful memories that any true spirituality we manifest on earth may start in the heart but is only seen and practiced through the body.
Down through human history, people in almost every culture have developed customary expressions of delight and exuberance through rhythmically synchronized motions. These rich dancing patterns did not develop as bodily activities to advertise lewdness but as wholesome ways to celebrate aspects of life. Joyous social dancing surrounded birth, milestones of growth, weddings, harvest times, sacred days, anniversaries of special events. Whether celebrating some form of public success or merely bringing a happy gathering of families to a delightful culmination, the dance included all, from eager children imitating dance-steps to the elderly moving slowly in reminiscence of their youthful vibrancy. But as a cross-cultural phenomenon of the human race for thousands of years, dancing was blasted or belittled by church leaders who failed to take a theological look before making a non-biblical leap.
The Divine Dance
Dance, by definition, involves bodily motion. When several dancers produce a choreographed composition, the bodily movements are rhythmically coordinated. Astrophysicists, studying our incredibly humongous universe, molecular biologists, investigating the city-like complexities within living cells, and all other scientists working between those two extreme dimensions, often become poetic when describing the amazing phenomena of movement and rhythm in all of nature by using the word “dance.” The interactive relationships at play in creation, the fine-tuned performances of atoms and galaxies, reveal a choreography that is dynamically organized.
Skeptic materialists blindly deny that this dancing creation points to a Divine Choreographer. But Christians may also be blind, failing to recognize that God manifests Himself—especially His nature as a Triune Godhead—in His handiwork. There is such an eternal unity in the divine dancing of the Trinity that Father, Son and Holy Spirit have forever been working together as one Triune Dance Team. Many years ago, I was inspired to write a free verse poem about this:THE DANCE
Three great pairs of loving hands
Firmly grasped in joyous dance,
Spreading brilliant, sparkling orbs
Around a universe of void,
Filling worlds with nature’s gems,
Moving newly-fashioned minds
With awe until they bow in praise!
Years go by. . . the brilliance lasts;
Yet creatures imaged from the Three
Forget the awe, count commonplace
The dazzling, artful universe
And dwell upon their meager meals
Of human wisdom’s pride and boast.
Break out, Three Dancers! Dear God dance!
Hit the pew, on pulpits dance!
Turn classrooms to a whirling reel,
Melt hardened hearts with prancing fire
To spread the flame throughout the world
And shine to all, this tale to tell:
The Three still live! The Three still dance!
Come join them for eternity!
— David L. Hatton, 7/30/1984
(from Poems Between Heaven and Hell ©1991, 2014)
Imaging the Dancing God
“‘We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not weep.’” (Luke 7:32)
A Concluding Finale
Investments in falsehood won’t get into Heaven. While I don’t believe in a place called Purgatory, I can envision a mind-cleansing obligation that Christian dance-deniers might face in the afterlife. Perhaps their naked souls will have to dance their way through the pearly gates, jumping and twirling forward after having wept tears at a devastating sight outside. Prior to entry, a consuming fire will incinerate all “wood, hay, [and] stubble” with flames that “will test each one’s work” (1 Cor 3:11-15, KJV). Will those who legalistically maligned dancing witness their efforts being consumed? If, after reading this, they adamantly reject what I’ve written here, I’m sure they will consider this article itself as part of the “stubble” destined for that fire.