Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Dancing in the Aisles

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Dancing in the Aisles

Article excerpt

I watched the people in my Parish dance at Mass last Sunday. No, they didn't boogie in the aisles or cha-cha around the altar. They simply did what they do every week, but this time, I watched them with different eyes.

The idea of liturgical dance has been around for several thousand years in Judeo-Christian history, at least since King David leapt and danced before the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6). But some religious traditions have a stronger history of dancing in worship than others; think of the whirling dervishes, for example, or the Quakers, Shakers, and nature dancers among Native Americans.

In recent years, some Catholics have tried to revive dance as a way of expressing a joy that goes beyond singing, but they haven't had much success. Here and there, at an experimental liturgy or special Mass, someone will try to dance before the Lord. I have to admit that it usually looks rather odd for women (I have yet to see a man do it), often dressed in diaphanous robes, to prance balletically around the church, and I know I'm not alone in that assessment. But then I wonder: Is our hesitant, even scornful, reaction the dancers' problem, or the scorners'?

Why is it strange for someone to dance in church, but it's not strange to break into song? Aren't these both ways of physically expressing feelings of love of God, happiness in worship, and involvement in the liturgy? When Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers switch from singing about their love for each other to dancing about it, no one finds it puzzling. So why should it be disconcerting for us to watch as someone uses her body in motion to display her affection for God? Maybe we would be more receptive if we realized that dancing of a less formal sort goes on all the time in church, as I discovered when I opened my eyes at Mass recently. All of us are dancing in the pews already, using our arms and legs in rhythmic motions, often to music and sometimes a cappella. If you don't believe it, then look around you next Sunday. You will see:

* People rising in unison from their seats as the Mass begins, the way a line of dancers leaps together in a ballet;

* Catholics moving their arms and hands in graceful (and grace-full) gestures as they make the sign of the cross together, their limbs moving in arcs around their bodies;

* Parishioners touching their foreheads, lips, and hearts at the gospel, tracing a line of small crosses along their upper torsos like Balinese dancers;

* Congregants reaching out at the sign of peace the way square dancers perform a do-si-do, their arms outstretching and their bodies leaning;

* Worshipers rising, kneeling, sitting, and rising again throughout the Mass in a series of choreographed maneuvers that unite them physically and spiritually. …

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