Dance in the Liturgy

(ii) Sacred dance of the faithful

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(ii) Sacred dance of the faithful

This second tradition of Sacred Dance was mostly performed in the processional form and at times in the ring dances. These dances took place not only in the churches but also in the Church yards and in the surrounding country side. They were performed during pilgrimage, processions, weddings, festivals, funerals and other fitting occasions. These dances were often vigorous and spontaneous. As already cited earlier, from the 6th century onwards the church tried to discourage, regulate and prohibit these dances. However, the Church did not succeed in controlling these dances as much as it regulated the Sacred Dances performed by the clergy. By the dawn of the 12th century there were extensive miracle plays mostly based on the lives of the saints. "These displayed a romantic, even sensationalist, slant and were performed in the vernacular outside the church building itself in an area established as a theatre in the round. More and more in the reading of these plays, directions for movements and emotional expression were included in the texts. English craft guilds, with Church support, presented the famous Corpus Christi cycle of plays from 1379 to the 16th century. Also called Mystery plays, these plays were performed two months after Easter and involved pageantry, Bible stories and legends and miracles. Actors were paid, minstrels were employed and elements of farce and comedy were included. The increasing independence of drama from Church liturgy and control was becoming clearly evident. In the late 14th century morality play developed, a theatrical genre wholly outside of the Church itself. These plays told the story of a single Christian in allegorical terms based on the conflict between good and evil. The devilish figures once again contributed humor, slapstick and satire with the Church itself often the butt of their mimicry."37 32.

The process of Sacred Dance becoming a social and entertainer were apparent in these gradual developments. With the starting of the reformation in 1517, the Sacred Dance receded further from the Church and its liturgy. The leaders of the Reformation were highly critical of the Sacred Dances in the Church. At this juncture the Church authorities were firmly emphatic regarding cessation of all dances. Therefore "dance barred from the Church and the churchyard, began to manifest itself either as a theatrical entertainment or as a folk art. It was only in isolated areas that dance remained a part of religious worship of the people. Thus it was that the dances of "Los Seises" in the Cathedral of Seville or the Processional dance around the Altar at Echternach, Luxemburg which existed into the present century as remnants of medieval Christianity"38 Dance which was a religious expression of faith became a source of light entertainment for the people. In the villages dance became a means of socialisation and unification in the form of folk-art. The increased industrialisation and urbanisation took the people further away from the spontaneous expression of one's faith. The religious celebrations deteriorated to a mere ritualised form which was anti-festive and joyless in spirit. As a result, dance became a means of entertainment for the urban people and it traveled from the Church and churchyard to the dancing-halls and ball-rooms. In the background of this state of the society a movement called Shakers was started in the Church.

Shakers: It is a common name given to the group which styled itself as "United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing." These Christians used dance as a vehicle for greater spirituality. This group of the Christian community was started in New York in 1776 under the leadership of Ann Lee. "By 1823 the songs, music and dances used in Shakers worship were inseparable forms expressing praise, joy, need or union with God.... All the movements of the dance, the shaking, falling, rolling and whirling were a means to loosen the bodily ties, the sins, and the faults to cause a purification and simplification of the spirit."39

Hasidism: By the 17th century Judaism, the parent religion of Christianity and Islam also had lost the use of dance in their worship and prayer. It was only in the beginning of 18th century a revivalist religious movement in Judaism led by Ball Shem Tov, called Hasidism stressed the use of dance and singing in their prayer and worship. This movement which was started in Poland spread throughout Eastern Europe, was in opposition to a very scholarly Judaism which preceded it."40 "Hasidism shifted the emphasis from study to prayer, from head and thought to heart and emotion. As such it developed a technology and a psychology of devotion unparalleled elsewhere in Judaism. Central to this methodology was the use of movement in prayer.41 "The worship dances were led by the Rabbi of the congregation by way of gesture and voice modulation. The circle dancing or 'Mechol' which symbolised the circular relationship between man and God, did not always necessarily move counter clock-wise and there was no limit to its participants. When the circle became too crowded another circle would form on the inside; when there was no room for a massive circle dance, the movements would switch to a 'rikud', jumping up and down in the same place symbolic of ladder climbing, until the whole room would pulsate joyously".42 This movement was very active in the 18th and 19th centuries and brought about important changes in the religious life and attitude of the Jews. Sacred Dance in the 20th century

Analysing and explaining the state of Sacred Dance and its place in society at the beginning of the 20th century, Nancy Brooks Schmitz writes, "Sacred Dance was nothing more than a relic of the past and a hesitant awaiting of the future. To most people dance was inconceivable as an expression of the holy. Elements of dance appeared in the Church preserved only as relics of the past. These elements were rituals devoid of real meaning. In fact, life itself, so fractionalised between the spirit, the mind and the body, was devoid of real meaning. With this disintegration of the personality, man had lost an important key to happiness-his humanity. The dualism of medieval Catholicism and the Reformation Churches had given impetus and energy to the development of a higher, more refined culture at the expense of the individual personality. Modern man, a hollow shell, his body, mind and spirit were no longer connected, he was dehumanized and isolated not only from others, but also from himself. Thus man of the 20th century strongly yearned for unity of life, for harmony. It was this search for unity which helped him rediscover the true essence of the dance as an expression of the spirit".43 With this background dance as religious expression failed to get its impetus and birth from any religious group. Contrary to the past, this time Sacred Dances received the impetus and rebirth as a way of escape from the existing theatre and classical ballet of the West. Isadora Duncan was the one who actively brought religion into her classical ballet dance and demonstrated that dance could be a 'Holy pursuit of the highest beauty' and a means to develop higher spirituality. She considered dance as the highest expression of religion".44

In the second and third decades of the 20th century Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn gave a fresh release of life to religious dance not only by bringing it on the concert stage but also into the churches. Already in 1917 Ted Shawn presented entire Church services in choreographic patterns. In 1947 a dance school, "Church of the Divine Dance" in Hollywood was founded for imparting training in Sacred Dance and for the promotion of it in the society. This new development also paved the way for the modern dance in which the dancers hold that dance is not only the expression of the religious life of man but total being of his. Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Martha Graham, Jose Limon, etc. are a few of the many who have developed the above trend under the banner of 'Modern Dance'

Mormonish: The Mormon Church which was founded by Joseph Smith in 1839 is formally called the 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'. Dance was so prominent in this group of Christians that a 'Time magazine reporter in 1959 called them the "dancingest denomination."45 They aim at the increasing of spiritual heritage of dance, art, music, literature, dramatics, etc. and experience and share the same with others. Brigham Young, the successor to Joseph Smith wrote, "If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, music, dancing and with prayer of praise and thanksgiving." There are many active groups from this denomination like Mutual Improvement Association (MIA) who started the dance festival in 1928 which is continued to the present, the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA), the Brigham Young Academy of Dance, Provo Utah started in 1890 which became a University in 1913. 33.

Besides many performing groups like BYU International Folk Dancers started in 1956 by Mary Bee Jensen, "Ballroom Dance Team" in 1960, "The Theatre Ballet" in 1968, "Dancers Company" in 1976 under Dee Einterton and Pat Debenham have all originated from the "Brigham Young University". Sacred Dance of the Mormonism is related to the total man and not just on one aspect on area of his life, i.e. social psychological, religious etc. However, the stress is being laid on the religious life of man. At present this denomination of Christianity is still active in the United States of America.

Sacred dance in the contemporary Church

As already cited earlier, Sacred Dances began to be accepted in the Christian circles from the beginning of the 20th century. The Protestant Church authorities indirectly accepted the use of dance in their worship and prayer by the very fact that it was tolerated, at times encouraged and even participated in by them. As early as 1925 these Churches began experiencing the return of dance in their worship.46

The Catholic Church too with the Vatican II (1965) has thrown open the doors of Sacred Dance. Commenting along this line, the Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Social Communication points out that the "artistic expression both for its own excellence and for what it does for man should be highly appreciated. Of itself, beauty ennobles the mind that contemplates it. The work of the artist can also penetrate and illumine the deepest recesses of human spirit. It can make spiritual reality immediately by expressing it in a way that the senses can comprehend. And as a result of this expression it is a way that the senses can comprehend. And as a result of this expression, man comes to know himself better. This is not only a cultural benefit, but a moral and religious one as well."47

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of America in 1978 had the following paragraph in one of the documents: "processions and interpretations through bodily movements (dance) can become meaningful parts of the liturgical celebrations if done by truly competent persons in the manner that benefits the total liturgical action."48

With the direct or indirect approval and encouragement of the Church authorities and clergy, a new impetus and active involvement by the people in the worship, the need to express freely the religious experience of the faithful has led to the increasing use of dance in the Western, Australian, African, Asian and other Churches of the present day world.


The historical survey shows the development, growth, decline, use and misuse of Sacred Dance down the centuries both in the East (India) and in the West. There are many important similarities and differences. The original aim, purpose and goal of Sacred Dance in the East and West is Spiritual. Dance was centered around the Sacred places (i.e. temples in India and Churches in the West). The sanction, approval and disapproval of these authorities affected the practice of Sacred Dance in the Socio-Religious context. Though Sacred Dance was mis-used in India Religious authorities wouldn't condemn or forbade it because of its structural context, whereas in the West this was done by the Church authorities which had the power and sanctioning authority. Whereas solo dance and prominence in the East, the West stressed on group dancing. This trend is in keeping with the theological understanding, that in Judaism and Christianity, God encountered his people in a congregation i.e. salvation is achieved in a congregation; worship is conducted in a congregation. Hence Sacred Dance tended to be exteriorised. Whereas in the East salvation is personal i.e. God encounter each devotee personally. As a result of this, Sacred dance in the East has become very personal and interiorised besides highly religious. Hence the East retained its dedication and religiosity inspite of the misuse and degradation and the West lost the same to a great extent. In India the different areas of human life, i.e. social, philosophical, spiritual etc. are closely knit, whereas in the West they are compartmentalised. This is another reason that the original vitality and spirit of Sacred Dance was lost. Sacred Dance in the West having the above characteristics tended to be more social and entertainment oriented. In the East though Dance was used at times for entertainment, due to its intrinsic qualities the dedication of the Dancer and the socio-religious context of Indian Society, it retained its sacredness. As pointed out earlier, in the 20th century there is a marked trend to look to the East in order to turn Sacred Dance into a more interiorised and religious experience. In other words, to have the oriental spirit and aura in and around it. Catherine Golouini Valerie Henry from the West have stressed this aspect of inferiority in their solo presentations. What is needed at present is not copying 'East or West, but to dance or sing what we have experienced. For experience what we believe, we believe what we live.


1. Sachs C. World History of the Dance New York. Wsd. Norton & Com. Inc. 1963.

14. Nancy Brooks Schmitz, The Changing Relationship of Dance & Religion. Ed. Dennis J. Fallon & Mary Jane Wolbers, Focus on Dance, (AAHPERD, Virginia, U.S.A. 1982)

15. Ida F. Chadwick, Dance, an agent of 'Ekstasis' Ed. Dennis J. Fallon and Mary Jane, op. cit., p.6

16. Stromata 7,7; Patrologia Latina, Ed. J. P. Migue, 16,508 B.Eng. Trans Luchan Deiss & Gloria Weyman, Dance as Prayer (World Library Publications Inc. Chicago 1979)

17. For details refer Doug Adams op. cit. pp. 32-36

18. Eusebius Pamphili, Historic Ecclesiastique, X.XI.7. Also see G. Bardy in Eusebe de Cesaree. Historic Ecclesiastique, Coll. Sources Chretiennes, 55 (Paris: Le Cerf.1958) p 120 Eng. Trans. Lucian D & Gloria Weyman op.cit.p.15

19. Oratio 11, 5; Patrologia Graeca, Ed. J. P. Migue 35, 837 C. Eng Trans. Lucian D & Gloria W.op.cit.p.15

20. Oratia 35, 1, Patrologia Graeca, op.cit.36.257 B. Eng. Trans. Lucian D & Gloria W.Op.Cit.p.15

21. De Virginitate, 25, Patrologia Graeca op.cit.28, 281A.

24. Lynn Matluck Brooks, The Catholic Church and Dance in the Middle Ages, Ed. Dennis J. Fallon & Mary Jane Wolbers, Focus on Dance X Religion & Dance (AAHPERD, Virginia, USA, 1982) p.9


25. Ibid p.8

26. Nancy Brooks Schmitz, Who dances not knows not the way of Life, the changing relationship of dance and Religion Op. cit. p.13.

27. Congregational Dancing in Christian Worship, op. cit. p.35

28. Lynn Matluck Brooks, The Catholic Church and Dance in the Middle Ages, op. cit., p.10.

29. Nancy Brooks Schmitz, Who Dances Not Knows Not the Way of Life op. cit. p.14

30. Ibid. p.13

31. Lynn Matluck Brooks, The Catholic Church and Dance in the Middle Ages op. cit. p.10

32. D. Attwater, Ed. A Catholic Dictionary (New York 1962)

33. For details refer Kirstein L. A. Short History of Classical Theatrical Dancing, N. York, Dance Horizons, 1969. Also Bevington D. Medieval Drama, Boston Houghton Mifflin Co.1975.

34. Nancy Brooks Schmitz Who Dances Not Knows Not the Way of Life the changing relationship of dance and religion op. cit. p.14

35. For details refer Backman E. Louis, Religious Dances in the Christian Church and Popular Medicine, London 1952, Allen & Unloin p.51.

36. Ibid

37. Lynn Matluck Brooks. The Catholic Church and Dance in the Middle Ages, op. cit. p.11

38. Nancy Brooks S. Who Dances Not Knows Not the Way of Life, op.cit.p.16

39. Ibid pp.16-17. Also refer Andrews Edward Dening. The Gift to be Simple. (J. J. Augustin N. York 1940)

40. Milgrane, Abraham, Jewish Worship, Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1976, p.507

41. Clifford Trolin, Movement in Prayer in a Hassidic Mode, sharing Company, Texas, 1979

42. Laraine Catmul, Jewish Religious Dance, op. cit. p.42 Also Lapson D." The Hasidic Dance The Jewish Dance compiled by Fred Berk, N. York, Exposition Press 1965.

43. Nancy Brooks Schmitz, Who Dances Not Knows Not the Way of Life op.cit.p.18

44. For details refer Duncan Isador’s "Dancing in Relation to Religion and Love, Theatre Art Monthly 11, August 1927 pp. 584 - 93

45. Dancingest Denomination "Time", 22, June 1959. Also for details refer Georganna Ballif Arrington, Dance in Mormonism, the Dancingest Denomination Ed. by Dennis J. Fallon and Mary Jane Wolbers Focus on Dance, Religion and Dance (AAHPERD, Virginia, 1982) pp.31-35.

46. Taylor Margaret. A Time to Dance, Philadelphis, United Church Press, 1967

47. Pastoral Instruction Communio et Progressio 1971 p.55

48."Environment and Art in Catholic Worship", Washington D.C. American Conference of Catholic Bishops 1978.

[I was tired of correcting spelling and other errors in the above piece to make it readable. For example, I don’t believe that there’s a term “Mormonish”, see page 33, for the Mormon sect]

Fr. Francis Barboza appeals to every shred of religious dance evidence that he can find, from the Hasidic to the Early Church, from the Mormons to the Shakers, in order to bolster his case for dancing in the Church. But the Mormons and the Shakers are sects and not even proper Christian churches. Again, the priest’s assertion that “a movement called Shakers was started in the Church”, page 33, is intentionally misleading. The Shakers or Quakers had nothing to do with the Catholic Church.

And, despite his extensive research, Fr. Francis Barboza has not been able to provide evidence that at any time in its 2000-year history the Catholic Church unambiguously approved liturgical dancing. There were certainly NO pagan dances and NO “solo” dancing permitted in the Church, both of which are the specialties of this priest. In fact he himself provides us with more evidence of the Church coming down heavily on religious dancing than the opposite.

He deftly dodges the Vatican II Document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy note that the Church “sometimes even admits ... into the Liturgy” only “[w]hatever in their way of life is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error”, see page 2. Without the slightest shred of doubt, Bharatanatyam falls into the category of superstition and error, or worse.

Fr. Francis Barboza also very convenient avoids reproducing any of the strong post-Vatican II condemnations by the present Pope himself and a few Cardinals of dancing both in the Liturgy as well as by an ordained priest as we have seen in this article, pages 1 to 13. Dancing, religious or otherwise, “cannot even take place in strictly liturgical areas, such as the sanctuary.”

But from the photographs above, we have already seen that these very same abuses are being perpetrated in parishes all over the world and that priests themselves are, more often than not, the dancers; or it is they who invited the performer[s] or permitted the abuses despite having a mandate to prevent/stop them. Not only is the sanctuary of the church violated by laity and priests alike dancing around the altar, one may witness people dancing on the altar itself, see the photograph on page 15. In the following pages, we will meet other Francis Barbozas, Indian priests who do Bharatanatyam recitals in the sanctuary. 35.

Watch Fr. Francis Barboza on YouTube do the Bharatanatyam in front of the high altar

14.6 Francis Barboza ensemble

At Musica Sacra International Marktoberdorf 1996, "dancing the life of Jesus with Hindu Bharata Natyam Dance"

The record is clear and straight: Fr. Francis Barboza SVD “adapted Hindu customs and rituals”.

He performed in temples and gave recitals on Hindu themes, as comfortable with the avatars of Vishnu as with Shiva [the Chidambaram temple, the deity Nataraja, and the “OM”].

The Bombay Times of April 7, 1995 carries a photograph of Fr. Francis Barboza SVD in a dance pose and quotes him as being resolved within that Krishna and Christ are but two forms of one god.

Despite that, Fr. Francis Barboza was well supported by his SVD fraternity as is evident from an article on him published in their mission magazine Word India, issue of January 1999.

At their Gyan Ashram in Andheri, Mumbai, and at their centre, Atma Darshan, Fr. Francis Barboza used to teach Bharatanatyam till he left the priesthood, married a Hindu, a dancer herself, and settled in the US.

Fr. Francis Barboza literally danced his way out of the priesthood [and presumably the Catholic Faith], so much for his "“ministry” being “effective” in evangelization through Bharatanatyam" [pages 21, 22].


3. Fr. Charles Vas SVD, Sangeet Abhinay Academy and Gyan Ashram, Mumbai, Maharashtra.

A bhajan singer, he directs an SVD institute where priests teach and perform temple dances like Bharatanatyam and Odissi; Enneagrams and eastern meditations such as yoga and vipassana.

1. Rev. Dr. Charles Vaz wins Kalakar Puraskar [Mangalorean Catholics November 1, 2008]

MANGALORE, October 31, 2008: Rev. Dr. Charles Vaz who is an exponent of Mumbai has been selected to receive Kalakar Puraskar Award given by the Goa based Thomas Stephen Konkani Kendra, Karwal Gharanem and Mandd Sobhann of Mangalore jointly. The award carries a purse of 25,000, a citation plaque and a memento.

Fr. Vaz is the founder of the Sangeet Abhinaya Academy of Mumbai and is a music director... Fr. Vaz is a well known scholar of music and is also an academic. He joined the Society of Divine Word in 1959 and became a priest in 1976. He later continued his study of divinity in Pune. He also continued his education in Music and learnt Guitar and Piano. He also mastered the Hindustani Music under the tutelage of Pandit Vishnu Digambar and his disciple Ramakrishna Joshi.
Fr. Vaz attained his doctorate in philosophy from the Miraj based All India Gandharva Music University* for his theses "East Meets West". He also has a degree from the Trinity College London in Western Music.
He has produced more than 39 cassettes and CDs in Konkani, Hindi, Malayalam and Telugu. The Sangeet Abhinaya Academy he fathered has now been merged with the All India Gandharva Music University in Miraj. He now teaches music and dance to several hundred students.

He will be conferred with the Kalakar Puraskar at Kalangann in Shaktinagar in Mangalore on November 2.
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