“Let them praise His name with the dance; let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp. For the LORD takes pleasure in His People; He will beautify the humble with salvation.” Psalm 149: 3-4 (NKJV)
There has been much discussion within various denominations over the years, as to whether or not it is appropriate for a Christian to dance. I grew up in a fairly liberal Baptist denomination where dancing, while not encouraged, was not particularly discouraged. I have memories of a few awkward high school dances where I stood along the wall while my fellow classmates were doing their best to imitate the popular dances of the 1970s. I don’t recall having much fun at those dances. It seemed to me like so much wasted time and effort as people gyrated in the dark in hopes of having a good time. I am sure many of my classmates would have disagreed with me, but these dances always left me feeling socially awkward (which I was) and dissatisfied when all was said and done.
I have had some experience with dance since then. My daughter began her ballet training at age 3 with Ballet Magnificat in Jackson, MS. I did not know then that ballet would play such an important role in her life, or that God would call her to it. I only knew, from the first time she could pull herself up to stand, she stood on her toes. I have a picture of her doing an arabesque in her crib at age eighteen months or so; another premonition of what was to come, although I did not recognize it as such.
The director of Ballet Magnificat attended the same church as we did at that time. Kathy Thibodeaux saw her dancing and playing in the nursery one Sunday and spoke to us about bringing her into the studio for ballet classes. They were offering a one week summer ballet workshop for three-year olds and we felt it would be a great way to see if our daughter had any interest or aptitude. The rest, as they say, is history.
God’s original purpose for dance was to worship Him. There are many examples in Scripture of dancing before the Lord. In fact, King David was severely criticized by his wife as he danced with abandon in praise to God. She paid a tremendous price for that contempt.
“Then David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. . . Now as the ark of the LORD came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. So they brought the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it. Then David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. And when David had finished offering burnt offerings and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. Then he distributed among all the people, among the whole multitude of Israel, both the women and the men, to everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins. So all the people departed, everyone to his house. Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, ‘How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!’ So David said to Michal, ‘It was before the LORD, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the LORD. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.’ Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.” 2 Samuel 6: 14, 16-23 (NKJV)
David’s dance before the Lord, honored and pleased Him. And yet we have not, until recently, included dance as part of our worship services. Like the other creative and performing arts, we have largely abandoned dance to secular influences; its purpose has become to entertain, entice, and seduce.
About three years ago, we took our daughter to see a ballet performance of “Carmen.” My husband has always enjoyed the music and, as this ballet was performed by a premier Russian ballet company, we felt it would be a wonderful gift to our daughter. We paid the added price for premium seats so Hannah would have an unobstructed view of the stage and the dancer’s feet.
We found this was not a traditional rendering of the story, but a contemporary one; not totally unexpected, but somewhat of a disappointment. In fact, most of the music we enjoyed was not even in evidence. The storyline of “Carmen” is one for the mature anyway, but we felt that since our daughter was an adult, and this was a classical ballet company, it would be treated with some measure of finesse and discretion. To say we were mistaken would be a gross understatement.
The first act of the ballet wasn’t too bad. We didn’t particularly enjoy their interpretation of the story, but this was more of a stylistic difference, as the dancing was superb. The second act however was completely different. As the second act opened, the male and female principal dancers entered the stage in nude body tights. We knew that this did not bode well, and we were right. They proceeded to dance in a way that almost anyone would have considered pornographic. We sat there in shock and disbelief at what we were seeing, not quite knowing what to do. What we should have done was to get up right then and walk out, but we were in prominent seats and were hesitant to stand up and leave in the middle of the performance (always considered to be extremely rude in dance world etiquette). Hannah shut her eyes, as did I, and then, in what seemed like an interminable amount of time, the act finally ended and we walked out of the theater. We were not alone. We saw many others getting up to leave as well.
For me, this is a prime example of what the dance world has become. It doesn’t seem to matter which of the dance genres we are talking about, the rapid slide into moral degeneration seems to be evident everywhere in dance and the wider world of the arts. Age doesn’t seem to be relevant either, as many dance schools across the country are teaching very young girls to dance like pole dancers at a “gentlemen’s club.” The competition dance circuit is rife with this practice.
As our daughter was considering where to continue her dance training in college, this became a primary concern. There are many highly regarded dance programs all over the country, each training dancers with excellent technique, but few with much respect for modesty or propriety. After much research and prayer, Hannah narrowed her choice down to Belhaven University located ironically, in Jackson, MS, where she began her dance training. In fact, when she was first taking class at Ballet Magnificat, Belhaven’s dance program was in its infancy, offering only a dance minor. Their dancers took class at Ballet Magnificat. Now a full-fledged, highly regarded program, Belhaven University is training dancers to change the world of dance, honoring God with excellence in all they do.
We must restore dance, and all of the creative arts, to what God intends– a vehicle for worship. Christian dance companies are now forming all over the country and beginning the process of restoring beauty, grace, and worship to dance. Churches in many denominations are now including worship dance in their services with increasing regularity.
As in all endeavors, the secular dance world should be taking their lead from the church. As Christians, we should be setting the standard in the dance world, not the other way around. We need to be impacting our culture through the arts, not taking our cues from culture as to what is acceptable. As Christian dance companies seek to maintain the same technical and artistic proficiency as their secular counterparts, the dance world will begin look to the church for excellence, innovation, and leadership.
The creative arts are a gift from God and were meant to be an avenue for the expression of worship. When we don’t use the arts to worship Him, this worship defaults to the enemy. There is no neutral territory in this, or in any other area of our lives. It is time for us to take an unyielding stand for righteousness and return the arts to their original purpose: an expression of deep, heartfelt worship. While I am not advocating all artistic expression must be overtly Christian, there is no room for cultural tolerance or acceptance for that which does not honor Him. God did not suggest that we worship and honor Him in all that we do, He commands it.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
Christian Ballet/Dance Company Links:
Ballet Magnificat; http://www.balletmagnificat.com/
Ballet Emmanuel; http://www.balletemmanuel.org/
Ad Deum Dance Company; http://www.danceaddeum.com/
Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
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