Allan 1 Rachelle Allan Cathy Black Dance 460 28 November 2011 A Time to Dance Religious leaders throughout the

ages have claimed that dance is evil, the “devil‟s own activity” (Wagner 9). But why is dance considered so evil? Dance is a way that can bring people together in festivals and celebrations. And like Pam Musil, a contemporary faculty member at Brigham Young University said, it can “inspire and touch hearts and communicate something that perhaps can‟t be communicated in any other medium…there are some things…that can only be expressed through the body, through movement” (Hollingshead). If this is the case, why has there been such a stigma against dance especially in the religious setting? Like many other arts, dance has become a way to push the envelope, to create a discussion about things that are going wrong in the world. Dance movements can also be perceived as suggestive or sexual. It is safe to assume that most churches do not want the worldly influence of dance in their sacred meeting houses. Yet dance was not always as immoral as it can be perceived as today. In fact, people of the 21st century may find it difficult to look back on the kinds of dancing that were abhorred back in the medieval ages and renaissance period and call them suggestive by today‟s standard. Certainly the ritual dances that have evolved into today‟s folk dances could not be suggestive or offensive enough to be banned. Yet they were considered suggestive and we cannot judge the decisions of leaders from hundreds of years ago based on today‟s standards; that would be unfair. In Adversaries of Dance: From the Puritans to the Present, Ann Wagner poses many questions about the opposition against dance:

Allan 2 “Even the mildly curious mind must wonder at the tenacity of dance opponents for half a millennium. Is dancing so evil that it has merited the constant barrage of allegations for centuries? Is there something in the nature of dance that provokes such fierce attacks? Or are there cultural characteristics that evoke antidance sentiment? Do all kinds of dance elicit antagonism?” (Wagner xii). The stigma against dance started hundreds of years ago and Christians carried out the strongest opposition against dance. Before Christianity became a major world religion, dance existed as a form of worship throughout the world. In Prehistoric times, “dance served as a medium for magic and religion through ritual and ceremonies, integral parts of early human societies” (Kassing 29). In Egypt, “dance was an important part of religious and life-span events as well as a popular form of entertainment” (Kassing 45). In Greece, “dance was widespread…and performed for every occasion (Kassing 53). Interestingly, dance was even deeply rooted in the Hebrew religious traditions, so it seems natural that religious dance would continue with the Early Christian church and down through the generations. Dance was in fact a part of the Early Christian church, but that soon changed. Dance predominantly became a form of entertainment in the Roman Empire, and unfortunately for faithful Christians, that entertainment was not always moral and church leaders were appalled by the dancing that was being done in society. In an article entitled “Worship God in Dance,” Lucinda Coleman explains that the church leaders decided to “purify the dance by expunging all traces of paganism from the intention and expression of the movement” (Coleman). Dance appeared in Christian worship as long as the intent was sacred and holy. According to Coleman, “the purpose of liturgical movement was to bring glory and honor to God, and take the focus off the self” (Coleman). Disciplined and ritualized liturgical dances were performed in the churches by bishops, priests,

Allan 3 choirboys and nuns. Common people did not participate in religious dances that were performed inside the churches and cathedrals but they did take part in the religious celebrations and festival dances. The church put strict restrictions on what could and could not be done in the church regarding dance so that the sacredness of the church would not be desecrated. However, even the faithful clergy members felt the worldly influence on their dancing traditions. During the Feast of the Fools for example, lower clergy and choir members would shout, sing, and dance nude around the church. Surely, this is not the way dance should be done in a religious and sacred setting, yet it went on for two hundred years before it was abolished by Charles VII (Kassing 74). So, even with the attempted purification of religious dance, immoral secular influences still seeped into the movements of church members and “the pagan element that was present [in dance]
and the undisciplined mass participation made it difficult for the consecrated and controlled religious dance to continue” (Clemente).

It seems to be these secular and pagan influences that caused the most antagonism against dance. Wagner discusses much of this opposition in Adversaries of Dance. She quotes many religious leaders who were very open, public, and fierce in their hostility towards dance. Many radical reformers in the medieval era claimed that “dancing [was] the devil‟s own activity” (Wagner 9). Alexander Carpenter Fabritius, author of the popular religious work Destructorium viciorum, claimed that “when [people] enter into the Dance, they go in the Pompous Procession of the Devil” (Wagner 9). Fabritius and other religious leaders even claimed that dancing broke the Ten Commandments and baptismal covenants (Wagner 10). Dancing also presented a problem to church and local leaders because it did not provide any necessary material goods and took time away from things valued in the society like “study, work, worship, family, and friends” (Wagner xiii).

Allan 4 Church leaders were also worried about church member‟s dancing intent. Astesanus de Asti wrote a summa about dance that asked people to consider their “motive and frequency in participation” in dance (Wagner 7). Were they dancing to praise God? Were they dancing to exercise their bodies and stay healthy? Were they dancing to elicit sexual desires in others who watched them? Church leaders seemed to assume that most people were dancing for immoral reasons and wanted to abolish dance altogether from Christian life. Although some church members probably were not dancing for moral and righteous reasons, it may also be true that faithful members had a righteous inward intention in their dancing that was not outwardly apparent to church leaders who perceived it as unrighteous and immoral. In an article by theologist and researcher Kimerer LaMothe entitled “Why Dance? Towards a Theory of Religion as Practice and Performance,” LaMothe explains that many non-dancers who try to understand the meaning behind dance “attempt to read bodily marks as clues to an inward transformation so as to provide a rational justification for the bodily action” (LaMothe 15). In other words, they approach dance as a text that they can read and understand in one sitting. However, dance is not something that can be understood that quickly, and it is not something that can be understood in a passive way. Although for entertainment purposes, dance can be more easily “read” by the audience for comprehension, religious dances and rituals may not be fully comprehensible from an outsider‟s perspective and must be embodied for full appreciation of the movement. These church leaders tried to dictate what movements were right and wrong for people without embodying them and finding out for themselves if they were truly moral or immoral. Despite the strong opposition to dance, some still supported dance and found it a worthy form of exercise and recreation. Unfortunately, their voices were drowned out by those who severely opposed it. As a result, religious dance disappeared from Christian worship.

Allan 5 However, it seems contrary to God‟s wishes for this to be the case. In Psalms 150:4, King David writes: “Praise him with the timbrel and dance.” Are we, then, commanded to dance as a form of praise and worship for the Almighty God? Even in the latter days, the Lord has shown his approval of praising Him through dance. In Doctrine and Covenants 136:28, the Lord tells his people: “If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.” If the Lord approves of dancing, why is it not more a part of our worship? Even though religious dances were done away with, it is still possible for dancers today to praise God through dance. The infamous modern dance pioneer, Isadora Duncan, believes that dance can in fact “renew „religion‟ by generating new ideals of a human relation to the constitutive forces of the universe—ideals of god, beauty, and love; and it does so when a dancer moves from an awakened „soul‟” (LaMothe 16). An awakened soul seems similar to a term that floats around the dance world—“flow.” Flow is the ability to transcend oneself in order to achieve the greatest level of performance. In a religious mindset, a dancer would achieve “flow” by consecrating her performance to a higher power, namely God. There are a couple of ways that a dancer could achieve “flow” in a performance: A dancer could be placed outside herself and lose herself in the movement, or a dancer could surrender her own sense of self to project a new sense or image of self (LaMoth 22). Just like ancient rituals and dances, one needs to negate oneself to be brought closer to God and “flow.”

From the Latter-day Saint perspective, dance has always been viewed in a positive light and as “normal and healthy recreation” as long as it is done in a wholesome environment (Wagner 182). Dancing was an integral part of the Saint‟s life in Nauvoo and continued as the early Saints crossed the plains and the Rocky Mountains to the Great Salt Lake. Dance was even

Allan 6 considered necessary by church leaders in “building and maintaining morale if the people were to endure the hardships of travel” across the United States (Wagner 183). Once the saints settled in the Salt Lake Valley, many buildings and halls were built for the main purpose of dancing and entertainment. Wagner points out that the Latter-day Saints were the first religious group to construct buildings for the sole purpose of dancing (183). Dancing schools also became common in the valley. Though the Saints seemed to stand out as a religious people in their opinion of dance, church leaders still had similar concerns as religious leaders elsewhere. In fact, Brigham Young cautioned the saints that “if they could not serve God with a “pure heart” when dancing, they should not dance” (Wagner 183). The pattern that seems to exist in our dance past and present is the concern about dancer‟s intent and purpose in movement. In the Strength of Youth, Latter-day Saint leaders have counseled that dancing “can be fun and…it can be misused” (Music and Dancing). Latter-day Saint youth are counseled to avoid full body contact with their partner, avoid movements that can be perceived as suggestive of sexual behavior, and attend dances in wholesome atmospheres where the Spirit may be present (Music and Dancing). Like most other good and wholesome things, the adversary has altered and manipulated dance to become something that can be used for evil purposes. Faithful Christians must decide if they dance with moral intentions or immoral intentions. Unfortunately, the way young dancers are being taught in their studio dance classes is not always the moral way. And although some Christian denominations have slowly started to allow dance in their worship services, the dancers for these meetings have “no other option but to bring the types of dances that they know (their learned, studio dances) into the church—a bringing of the secular world into the sacred space” (Clemente). Because this often happens— since dance has not been taught in a religious setting since the middle ages—it is not surprising

Allan 7 that dance is not included more often in religious settings. Most dance forms would bring too much of the world into a spiritual and sacred setting. It is regrettable that dance is not considered a pure and wholesome art form that can be used in sacred settings the same way that music and art are used. However, from an LDS perspective, although dance is not used in our sacrament meetings and Sunday school classes, dance still plays a role in our religion. Just like the early Saints, today‟s Latter-day Saints can dance in temple celebrations (honoring the most holy and sacred places on earth), temple pageants, ward road shows and talent shows, stake dances and other church sponsored theatrical productions. It is reassuring that dance is approved by our church leaders, just as long as it is done with a righteous spirit and righteous intent. The decisions that medieval church leaders made hundreds of years ago affect more than our worship services. It is interesting to contemplate how forms of dance that exist today evolved out of the dances that existed during the middle ages and renaissance. Karen Clemente explains to her students that medieval dances “had a form of control attached to them—a nonimprovisational quality that allowed very little room for exploration” partly due to Church leaders attempt to strictly purify them (Clemente). Her class then discusses how this pattern of control in dance forms and genres has affected their own dance experience—limitations in creative freedom. With the exception of contemporary or modern dance, most dance genres have very strict codified techniques that do not allow dancers much creative freedom. It is interesting that a decision made by church and civil authorities over 400 years ago would still affect dancers today. We cannot change the past and adjust the way dance is viewed by religious communities and the world but we can share our beliefs in God and the gospel through dance. For now, maybe

Allan 8 that is all the world audience will be able to comprehend and appreciate. One pastor, who has begun to incorporate dance with his sermons explains: “The audience/congregation may very well be unsophisticated about dance and the arts in general. But they will know when dance or music or drama is powerful and compelling— and when it is not. They will know that difference between watching out of charity, and being drawn involuntarily out of themselves by the truth and skill of the presentation” (Clemente). It is also important to learn to appreciate the religious dance that is being done throughout the world today. We may not understand or relate to all of it, but that will be because we are trying to “read” the dance rather than embody it to fully understand the connection the dancers are making with God. If faithful Latter-day Saint dancers cannot appreciate various forms of religious dance, there is not much hope for the rest of the world. Though dance is not a universally recognized form of worship, it can still be used as such. Religious dancers can use their talents to praise God just as artists use their talents to beautify churches and cathedrals and musicians fill sacred spaces with songs of praise. Dancers may not always be able to be as public in their praise, but they will still be recognized by the Almighty God.

Allan 9 Works Cited Clemente, Karen. "The Sacred Or The Profane." Journal Of Dance Education 8.2 (2008): 62-72. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. Coleman, Lucinda. "Worship God in Dance." PastorNET's Australian Christian Home Page. Web. 30 Nov. 2011. <>. Hollingshead, Todd. "From Frank Lloyd Wright‟s House to the Dance Floor." BYU News. 7 Nov. 2011. Web. 03 Dec. 2011. <>. Kassing, Gayle. History of Dance: an Interactive Arts Approach. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2007. 25-58. Print. LaMothe, Kimerer L. "Why Dance? Towards A Theory Of Religion As Practice And Performance." Method & Theory In The Study Of Religion 17.2 (2005): 101-133. Religion and Philosophy Collection. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. “Music and Dancing.” For the Strength of Youth. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Web. 08 Dec. 2011. <>. Wagner, Ann Louise. Adversaries of Dance: from the Puritans to the Present. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1997. xi-183. Print.

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