Rejoice . . . and Dance!

Picture a young child ripping open a gift—something he’s been longing for. What does he do? Does he sit quietly and smile? If he’s like most kids, he’ll more likely clasp his hands and raise his shoulders in excitement. Maybe he’ll even give the giver a spontaneous hug before throwing his arms up in the air. Physical expressions of celebration and rejoicing flow naturally from young children.

But joyful movements aren’t just for kids.

When the Israelites crossed safely through the Red Sea on dry ground, Miriam’s natural reaction to the Lord’s deliverance was to dance:

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea” (Ex. 15:20-21).

Later on, we read of David’s joyful response to the arrival of the ark of the Lord in Jerusalem:

David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets (2 Sam. 6:14-15).

David’s spontaneous reaction was to dance before the Lord: he worshiped the Lord in complete authenticity.

Those of us who live with the promise of the New Covenant also experience moments when we are so overjoyed with the good news that it bubbles over. When that happens, I want to dance—and share God’s promises with those who have not heard. The apostle Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). We have a reason to rejoice, for we have heard the good news.

Dance has the power to heal and to transform.

This past summer, I traveled with a group of other artists to Turkey. There we had the opportunity to share the gospel by our words, music, and movements more than three times a day for an entire month.I was the dancer of the group.During my initial outreach with the team, I realized that I was trying to control the situation too much. This was supposed to be about the Lord—not about who was watching or any other worry that crossed my mind. Once I had completely given up all control, my dancing and worship improved. I felt freer—and throughout each dance number I was constantly offering­ prayers of intercession for the people we met.

I had never before experienced the power of the arts in that way. One Muslim woman came up to me after an outreach my team had just done. She told me that she could see the light of Jesus through me. Someone who did not believe saw Jesus through me, and she wanted to know more. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! We have every reason to rejoice.

Maybe you’ve experienced the inner excitement of the gospel in a way that made you want to raise your hands or face to the heavens, even dance. If that’s true, you might have been restrained by the cultural pressures we feel, pressures that place too much emphasis on what we look like or what others might think. Our Creator knows us inside and out—it doesn’t matter what we look like when we are in front of our Creator.

Dance In WorshIp

Educating people about the power of dance is important, because it allows God’s people to be free to rejoice in God’s presence. Every worshiper is called to bring his or her gifts for the strengthening of the church. Dance, like other forms of art, has the power to change lives, to heal and to transform. Why then have we so often left it out of the church, depriving ourselves of its power? Are we afraid of the spontaneity of dance? Dance does not have to be spontaneous. It can be choreographed artistically and carefully and executed with excellence. Worship is a covenantal dialogue between the believer and God; dance is a physical and visual expression of that conversation. And because God deserves excellence, and nothing less, we need to continually strive to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

As worship leaders, we deal with the issue of excellence before the Lord. Can anyone whose heart is in the right place lead us in dance? We need to walk a fine line here. Dance is a response of the heart, but we don’t expect someone who has never taken piano lessons to accompany the congregation in song. The same is true for dance.

I like to think that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who heard the good news of Christ’s resurrection did not just hurry right off to tell this exciting news. Maybe they danced. And when they met the risen Lord on their way to tell the disciples, “they came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him” (Matt. 28:9). As a church relishing the resurrection of our Lord, shouldn’t we too rejoice . . . and dance?

Julia K. Start Fletcher is a dance instructor for training and collegiate programs in West Michigan.

Reformed Worship 100 © June 2011, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.