Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. -Exodus 15:20-21
Little high school and college Rachel Ann liked to dance. A lot.
I danced in theatre class between assignments to “Moving Clocks Run Slow” by We Were Promised Jetpacks. I danced in the car to “Sprawl II” by Arcade Fire. I danced on the roof of my university to “While You Wait for the Others” by Grizzly Bear. If I found a deliciously vacant, large conference room, “Fineshrine” by Purity Ring. I even danced in bed (“Sycamore” by Songs of Water).
This profound—and sometimes inconvenient—love of dancing naturally spilled into my devotional life. It was no unlikely thing to see my little unshowered, soft-butch self gettin’ down to “Heartbeat” by Bellarive in the back of a worship service. Fortunately, I always found myself in spiritual communities that were welcoming of such behavior, but usually I was: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FG1NrQYXjLU.
I mentioned this frustration in a paper for a college dance class, and my professor suggested I check out ecstatic dance. Ooh baby.
Ecstatic dance was everything I ever wanted—and usually didn’t get—out of going to the club. It is the practice of free-form movement to music in a public setting. It is the unfiltered, unmitigated movement that we train ourselves at an early age to ignore.
Unlike the performance arts, ecstatic dance is only for the benefit of the participants. It’s movement for the sake of movement, and there’s no "right" way to do it. The only parameters are that the participants follow through with precisely what their bodies naturally want to do. It is the dance you do "when no one's watching,” but other people who are also dancing like no one’s watching are maybe watching.
It wasn’t long after that I realized that ecstatic dance could be an incredible practice in Christian spirituality. Ecstatic dance is an ideal discipline for embodied spirituality for a number of reasons:
1. It incorporates your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Ecstatic dance serves as the physical embodiment of spiritual and mental experience. Through dance it is easy to unify every element of human life. Physically speaking, no one part of the body or muscle group is prioritized as may be the case with running, weightlifting, or similar activities.
2. It’s an invitation to delight in the creation of God.
In the same way someone may go on a reflective hike to marvel at the works of God, in explorative dance the dancer may marvel at the work of God that is their very self. Through this practice the dancer may better understand and luxuriate in their created self and better understand and luxuriate in their Creator.
3. It fosters community.
Dance provides a means through which one may express oneself and interact with others in a nonverbal manner. While the majority of human interaction is based upon conversation, ecstatic dance allows for its participants to curiously consider other methods of communication. Not only does this feed the imagination, but it also serves as a refreshing and unintimidating communal platform for those with verbal disabilities or social limitations.
The public setting of ecstatic dance serves many ends. Throughout the session, individual participants “push the envelope” of free movement, and therein is a mutual, exponentially reinforced invitation for everyone else to continue digging. Observing a companion’s lack of inhibition inspires further inhibition in the observer. This functions as a picture of—and is an actual occurrence of—the interdependent nature of humans in God’s kingdom. Through ecstatic dance the children of God may gather together in unity within themselves, with one another, and with God with the intent to explore, create, and delight in God. Dancing as a group also serves to keep each individual’s energy up, much in the same way that group exercise classes create an accountable, encouraging environment.
4. It literally accomplishes the goal of the Christian life.
Ecstatic dance is a joy-filled end in itself. If the purpose of the Christian life is simply to relish in unity with Christ in the presence of God, dancing may be a way to do just that. Dancing is a receptive, harmonizing, and responsive act. In dance we embrace our bodies, interact with the musical, human, and spacial blessings around us, join these blessings on their own terms, and contribute new creation in return.
Fratres Dei offers FREE Ecstatic Dance at People House Denver on 2nd Thursdays 7-8:30pm. Check here for more info. Please contact Rachel Parsons at (720) 534-9491 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to inquire about private sessions.
November 27, 2018 | Denver, Colorado