The Theology of Dance

March 2016By Joseph Cornwall

Joseph Cornwall and his wife, Denise, raised their family in Providence, Rhode Island, where he practices architecture and she paints. They have four children and a grandchild.

There are over thirty references to dance and dancing in the Bible. Dancing is always an expression of delight, though not always an expression of God’s pleasure. When the Jews flee Egypt and are safely removed from the grip of Pharaoh, Miriam utters the first scriptural song of verse and rejoices by dancing with timbrel in hand. All too soon this dancing in God’s joy gives way to dancing before the idol of the golden calf. Centuries later, King David astounds and delights with his victory dance into conquered Jerusalem. Centuries after that comes the haunting contrast of Isaiah’s vision of satyrs dancing in fallen Babylon.

Since biblical times, traditional and folk dancing have codified forms of communal dancing. Mazurkas, Morris dancing, and Yiddish dancing are examples of dances to celebrate marriage and feast days in a manner that gives rise to the joy of the occasion without excess sensuality. These types of communal dancing preserve a truly human activity for the good of the whole without veering into prurience.

More recently, we have seen the development of partner dancing — ballroom, Latin, swing, and country, to name a few. Partner dancing exists between the extremes of erotic dancing on the one hand and communal dancing on the other. Though it is sensuous, it has strict rules and formats. If we stop to consider partner dancing, it offers insights into the relationship between men and women. In fact, partner dancing gives artistic expression to a primal, foundational relationship: God created man in His own image, male and female he created them.

For the newcomer to partner dancing, it can be jarring to learn that men always lead and women always follow. The cultural ether in which we move offers no clue that modern women heartily submit to this condition. In the tired jargon of our day, one would think it is profoundly sexist. Yet the terms for violating this rule, “back leading” and “hijacking,” speak to its strong proscription.

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Ah, yes, the days of reciprocity! Today it's each person for themselves – and as equals no less! This well-written article reminds me of times spent camping, usually in the backcountry in western Colorado, where I live, and how I invariably noticed the difference between men and women on emerging from their tents in the mornings.

It was as noticeable as it was impossible to ignore. Women generally observed nature and nearby surroundings; men were more intent on weather patterns and distant landmarks as signposts. Beautiful wildflowers might enchant a woman but men might see it as a sign of a nearby water source or a clue as to downhill direction via a draw (gulley).

It is not that women are incapable of these things obviously. In all, though, I think men lead in dance for the same reasons they led in other matters: for the good of society. Today those who urge radical abolishment of the family and genial relationships between the sexes have no use for time-proven traditions of well-being.
Posted by: j17ghs
April 06, 2016 01:47 PM EDT
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