Dauncing in the Kirk! -
  • I have just read an article on the internet concerning dancing in the Church. Of course, Augustine and all the early Fathers of the Church discouraged or forbad dancing because of its prevalence in pagan rituals. This continued throughout the 'classical era', but seems to have changed as the middle ages dawned. Among examples of dancing in the Bible is the account, known to all, of David dancing naked before the Lord (his humbling by means of regal nakedness prefiguring that of Christ). Throughout the mediaeval era dancing in church became quite common as an expression of joy in the Lord's presence and in imitation of the redeemed in heaven, who were thought to be in a perpetual state of joy expressed though dancing. Several saints are on record as having said that dancing will be a constant state in heaven. This is recorded in many art works up into the XVIth century - notably in Fra Angelico's Last Judgement. In many places the men would perform elaborate dances around the labyrinth (a common feature of mediaeval church floors) at Christmas and Easter. (One saint, one of the Bridgets, is even on record as having said that heaven will be eternal jollity around a great vat of beer. How 'earthy' some of our saints were!) This all seems to have come to a sudden halt around the time of the Reformation and its accompanying rather puritan mindset. It is noteworthy, though, that many of the movements of the French organ mass, up into the XVIIIth century, were heavily influenced by baroque dance forms and that people of those times associated dance with the joys of heaven. Since then, dancing has been and remains a feature only of some African-American worship and some fringe Christian sects. There is also the sacred and famed dancing of the Muslim Dervishes, a Sufi order of mendicants, known popularly as the 'Whirling Dervishes'.

    Not that all this was universal, but that it seems not to have been uncommon. It is interesting that worship and dancing went hand in hand quite often in the mediaeval era, fell into oblivion in more modern times, and today is unthinkable to most of us. A few have tried resurrecting so-called 'liturgical dance' in recent times, but their rather theatrical, self conscious, and formalised (one might even say 'kabuki-like') efforts have not seen general approbation. One must say that these efforts do have a decidedly 'pagan' tinge to them.

    It might be suggested, though, that 'dancing before the Lord' may have been one of the better activities of the faithful in church. It was sort of taken for granted that during mass the people 'out there' would be talking loudly, transacting business, animals would be running about, and only the sanctus bell, which was introduced for this very purpose, would warn them to give due silence at the most important moments of the mass. So, they would all stop to 'see God' lifted up on high but would rarely if ever receive him.

    As dealing with a subject unusual for our Forum, this does explore some activities in the Church's earlier times which may have involved less than sacred music of the day and would seem utterly disrespectful if not blasphemous to us today.

    I myself have never been one for dancing, no matter the context, but many seem to derive great joy from it - except in church.
    Thanked by 2ServiamScores Elmar
  • Carol
    Posts: 688
    What an interesting topic! As a child my mother was raised in a very strict Baptist home and so she had no knowledge of dancing. Once she and her sister were walking near the town's hotel and, looking through a distant window, they saw people who were dancing. They went home and described this comical sight of a bunch of adults all hugging to her parents and visiting grandparents. The grandfather congratulated his son and daughter-in-law on raising the children to have never even heard of dancing!
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • I picture this as individuals dancing about in joy before God. Not the more modern dancing, baroque or recent, with couples embracing and performing a particular dance step. - But I could be wrong.
  • Carol
    Posts: 688
    Yes, I can see it in my mind as you describe it- nothing formalized, just impromptu leaping for joy!
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,217
    My music degree came from a Southern Baptist university. No drinking, no dancing, and no gambling. There was no joy in Mudville those years, but the the music instruction was excellent. Can't have everything.

    My only exposure to Catholic dancing was an older woman and her daughter some years ago. They tried dancing at the most liberal parish in town, then the bishop forbade it. There was the usual left-wing wailing and gnashing of teeth but no one has tried to bring dancing in the liturgy back. A good thing.
  • Mudville? Ha! Why would one expect dancing or any other jollity at Mudville?

    The attempts at supposed 'liturgical dance' revival do not in any way resemble the sort of impromptu dancing of a whole congregation as related in my above comment.
    Whatever they did in the middle ages, it wasn't anything like what our chic modern folk are imagining with their so called 'restored liturgical dance'. The one or two examples of this that I have (unfortunately) seen featured six or eight mostly young men and women garbed in some sort of gauze-like flowing fabric, usually in pastel colours, making a number of highly choreographed 'dance' movements - all led by a person in exotic costume holding in his uplifted and outstretched hands a large bowl of incense, the smoke wafting up into the air. I have even seen this spectacle at a large pontifical mass many years ago in Houston, so large that it was held in one of our huge public colosseums. The overall effect was that of approaching a huge idol of, say, Baal, or some other pagan deity. We may be thankful that this sort of thing didn't catch on - and from which, considering the times in which we live, we may narrowly have been spared. It certainly has no precedent in Church history. One of these dancers just happened to speak to me after the mass and said something to the effect of 'it's alright if it's tastefully done. You just have to do it right' - 'tastefully' and 'right' meaning, of course, that whichever manner that the speaker and his group did it. Others, you understood, don't do it 'tastefully' and 'right'. A pox upon the whole business.
    Thanked by 2Carol bhcordova
  • Carol
    Posts: 688
    I was once at Mass for many Catholics who had recently migrated from Ghana. It was concelebrated by younger Ghanaian priests. The music was joyous and accompanied only with drums. Everyone sang and each person brought forward their collection offering in a dancing procession. It was striking in how unselfconscious the people were and how much joy they had in their worship. For most of us, it would not work, but it was definitely both worshipful and joyous.
  • Indeed, Carol! Cultural context is everything. Those who try to import features of other cultures into Western heritaged masses are only creating spectacles. We have no need to apologise for our culture any more than anyone else does his - or hers.

    We have in Houston a very large Viet-Namese presence. I have noticed (with glee) that their masses are always and without exception sung - every last imaginable word except the homily. Priest and people alike know these chants from memory and need no books. It is quite pleasing to witness. Our people? You give them books and they still won't sing. To be fair, there are some exceptions to the 'won't sing' congregations - I have heard an uncommon few times some very impressive singing at Catholic churches.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Carol
  • Carol
    Posts: 688
    We have a large church built in the mid-60's and a small old "mission" church that seats around 80. The small church has always had great singing, even at times when there has been no organist. The lector would bravely start hymns a cappella and the PIPs all join in. I think a few large families that have been coming to this little church for 60 or more years set the expectation that all would sing, so they do. This is OF and the little church also has the most generous givers. During covid the little church has been shuttered and I suspect it may not reopen when all restrictions are eased. This is going to upset the little church stalwarts, but I believe they will continue to be faithful to the parish.

    Even local culture can dictate participation.
  • KARU27
    Posts: 151
    It seems to me that medieval people would know some sort of folk dance. So possibly these were round dances of some sort? Is there an era when Catholic churches had separate areas for men and women?

    I'm having a hard time imagining it, but I have heard all kinds of things about the medieval church, such as that people brought their animals into church with them.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,692
    separate areas for men and women? Yes, Killarney Cathedral, within my memory, 1955, and no doubt many churches in that area.
    Plenty of dogs in Dutch paintings of church interiors from the mid 17th century, Catholic and Protestant.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 630
    Even some protestant churches in Brazil, as well as some of the traditionalist Catholics (especially in rural areas) sit with men on one side and women on the other.
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 630
    For that matter I've spied more than one middle aged man or woman bringing in their dog to Mass. Sneaking, so they must know it's not suitable.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • Yes, but do they dance?)
    Very interesting, Catherine. I had no idea that there was anyplace in the world (at least within Christendom) where such segregation of the sexes in church was still to be found. Of course, St Paul would be pleased - so, have we progressed or departed? I should like to think that we have progressed.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,362
    When I was infiltrating the Sacramento Turmverein it always surprised me to see men & women go to opposite sides of the hall at break time. Many came from Transylvania and the USSR; it took a Gorbachev to make it possible for married students to live together in Russia, he & Raisa having been kicked out of each other's apartments at curfew during their early years (btw, kanopy.com, available with a public library card, has Werner Herzog's Meeting Gorbachev).
  • Separate seating for men and women perhaps was not an act of discrimination towards women (as certain chic feminists would screech about while polishing that chip on their shoulders), rather, it was the very spiritual concern to avoid having minds attracted and distracted by inevitable amorous thoughts and inclinations when one's mind, body, and soul was supposed to be wholly focused on God. This is really quite sensible. I once had a choir of which one member was a sensitive young Viet-Namese man who was studying for the priesthood. I had him seated next to a young lady and he came and implored me to allow him to sit somewhere else, obviously because of serious distraction by normal carnal impulses and thoughts.
    Thanked by 1CCooze
  • madorganist
    Posts: 744
    I had no idea that there was anyplace in the world (at least within Christendom) where such segregation of the sexes in church was still to be found.
    My impression is that it's still typical for the laity at Orthodox monasteries and in all the churches of the Russian "Old Believers," even in the diaspora. I attended a Coptic liturgy once where the congregation was segregated, men on the left, women on the right - the opposite of the Western and Byzantine way. I know of one TLM chapel (diocesan, separate building from the main church) that segregates for weekday Masses only. A friend says he's encountered it in rural Austria at otherwise typical novus ordo Sunday Masses. The only remnant of the practice in most of our churches today is the bridal party at a wedding. I recall reading that in the reforms proposed by St. Charles Borromeo, not only were the sexes to be entirely separated, but a partition was to be erected down the middle of the church. I don't know whether that was ever implemented. [Thread drift alert:] Segregation would have obvious effects on antiphonal congregational singing, but I suppose it would be in octaves on the men's side because of unchanged boys' voices.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn