There are innumerable preconceived notions about what dance is; they could be anything from ballet dancers flitting across the stage, to hip hop dancers battling on the street, or even to preteens awkwardly swaying at a middle school dance. Whether from personal experience or from the media, it can be overwhelming to think about all that is encompassed by the word “dance.” It may be hard to imagine how one can find commonalities amongst all different types of dance, let alone an underlying theme. However, this variety is not something to be intimidated by; rather, it is something to be embraced and celebrated. While all dances have the same core rhythmic movements, the diversity of dance lets each dancer express his/her own individuality. There is more depth to dance than an observer can see, both physically and spiritually. Dance can be a challenging process, a form of communication, and ultimately, a way to become closer to God.
In the first movie in the Step Up series, the ballet and hip hop dancers are consistently getting into fights, as many of them come from different backgrounds. The main character, Tyler, is given the opportunity to learn and perform in a ballet showcase, but he struggles to adapt to the new style. Several scenes depict him clumsily trying to follow along while sweating, and he even encounters some pushback from his fellow hip-hop dancers. Despite these challenges, Tyler puts on an amazing performance, develops a beautiful relationship with his fellow dancer Nora, and reconsiders his rebellious life path (Fletcher, 2006).
In Dirty Dancing, the main character, Baby, volunteers to dance in place of the main dancer, Penny, so that she could receive necessary medical care. The scenes depict Baby struggling to execute the dance properly, even with the help of Penny and her partner Johnny. In fact, during her first performance, she misses the finale jump. However, through practice and a closer connection to her partner, Baby is able to successfully perform in the final talent show (Ardolino, 1987)
Dancing with the stars
In the reality TV show Dancing with the Stars, clips of practices where the celebrity is profusely sweating and arguing with the professional are often played before the final performance, but the viewer can also see the growth of the celebrity dancer from the beginning of the season to the end (Rudzinski, Heyes, & Register, 2005). This TV show demonstrates the challenges someone encounters while dancing for the first time.
The try guys
the YouTube-famous Try Guys on BuzzFeed created a video where they learned the basics of ballet. While taking a class from a professional ballerina, they learn about the behind-the-scenes of dancing, including the intricate dance moves and the havoc ballet can wreak on the body (Fulmer & Habersberger, 2017).
CHOREOGRAPHY, PRACTICE, PERFORMANCE
All types of dance involve these 3 components. Even spontaneous freestyle dance has these same pieces, just not in that order. It seems as if it is being made up on the spot, and it can be hard to understand how practice relates to that instantaneous creation. Despite the seemingly effortless flow during freestyle, practice and hard work form the foundation for great freestyling. The practice comes from dancing often and learning from others, and eventually a better ability to choreograph, perform, and express a message on the spot can develop. Learning dance from other people can not only help add additional moves to an existing arsenal, but it also challenges the dancer to think more creatively. One dancer may only be able to compose a finite amount of movements, so exposure to others’ styles helps the dancer to step out of his/her comfort zone to add new meaning to his/her choreography.
Additionally, similar to language, dance provides the freedom to express thoughts, feelings, and experiences. As Bannerman (2014) puts it, “dance like poetry is rich in associative or connotative meaning” (p.69). It is not expressing a direct message, but rather an interpreted one. Consequently, there may be some discrepancies between the expression and the interpretation. The message is unique to each dancer and viewer because the viewer draws on his/her own experiences to interpret the meaning of a dance. However, this does not detract from the overall feeling. In fact, there is beauty in this diversity of meaning. For example, at the University of Scranton, the Urban Beats Crew hip-hop dance team performs at the school’s annual Relay for Life event, an all-night fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. While learning the dance, each dancer is instructed to think about whom he/she is relaying for, whether it is someone whom has been affected by cancer or someone he/she wants to dedicate the dance to. The team practices while focusing on any emotions that arise in response to the dance in order to best portray them on the day of the event. While the dancers’ expressions have been molded by hours of practice, the audience, on the other hand, is still able to experience these intense emotions during the performance. This is because this dance encourages a deep reflection of sadness for many people, which is a theme that runs parallel between the dancers and the viewers. This joins both the dancers and the audience together and creates an emotional connection between the two.
Watch beginning at 7:30
In Ecclesiastes 3, dance is directly referenced in opposition to mourning. It reads, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (3:1-2,4). Dance is cited as a type of celebration or elation. To this day, dance is still present at events like birthday parties and weddings in order to joyfully honor the occasion.
Dance is also signified as a sign of joy in 2 Samuel when David was dancing to thank the Lord for bringing the ark of the covenant to the City of David. It reads, “Wearing a linen ephod, 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” (6:14-15). David was happily praising God, and although he was later criticized for it, he never felt ashamed. In fact, he took pride in his public reverence for God.
In a similar manner, dance as a form of praise is mentioned in Psalms as well: “Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp” (149:2-3). Through these examples of praise dancing, it is clear that not only is dance a way to express a message or become more in-tune with the world, but it can also strengthen a relationship with God. Furthermore, it is a way to directly show respect and love for God.
By dancing, we are putting ourselves into sync with the rest of the world’s rhythms to joyfully experience what the world has to hold and what God is trying to communicate to us. According to Paul Fiddes, the God he envisions fits well with images of dance precisely because he thinks of God as a creator "who makes the world in which complexity arises from the indeterminate and the uncertain, in which chance plays a major role, gives considerable to creation: such a God gives the world its own freedom to be self-organizing and self-creating. This means giving the world freedom to make its own mistakes and to develop its own tragedies A God like this must be patient and vulnerable, willing to work with the long, painful process of growth and to have at least short-term purposes frustrated. The action of such a God will not be unilateral but cooperative" (Seeing the World, 161). Since God cooperates with our full-bodied innovations, Fiddes says God works within that rhythm to attract the person to God's vulnerable way of life. "To return to the vision of Trinity I proposed earlier, this divine persuasion is based in attraction, in the attractiveness of movements of love, rhythms of a dance into which we are swept up, so that our actions follow the same divine purpose. We are offered, or presented with, aims through our being engaged in the purposeful flow of the divine love" (ibid.).
Chinese praise dance
Using dance as a way to praise God not only affects people’s spiritual well-being, but it can also be beneficial to their emotional/psychological well-being. A recent study that looked at the effects of praise dance on the quality of life of Chinese women demonstrates this relationship (J. Chung, Wong, Chen, & M. Chung, 2016). The participants attended the praise-dance class 3 times a week for 12 weeks, and eventually the researchers followed up with a questionnaire. They found that the participants “showed significant improvement in the psychological well-being of the participants, regardless of their religious background” (p. 1013). These results emphasize the importance of engagement in dance, even for the common person. Praise dance is not something that is strictly reserved for Chinese women; in fact, a majority of the participants were Christian. Dancing is something that can easily be employed in one’s everyday life to bring him/her closer to God and benefit his/her overall well-being.
In addition, dance can be used as a type of therapy. For individuals that are sick or suffering, dance can be used to improve the person’s emotional state and bodily awareness. In fact, in a recent article, researchers explain how dance therapy is used to establish the body as a home space for the homeless and for refugees. One researcher argues that, “working with the metaphor body as home in the context of DMT [dance/movement therapy] could promote individuals’ sense of security, control, and comfort, encouraging healthy attachment, authenticity, and an improved body image” (Dieterich-Hartwell, 2017). Dance teaches people that the body, mind, and spirit are all interconnected and emphasizes the idea of “embodiment” and discovery of the self, which is an idea that Fiddes addresses as well. He states, “The human subjective spirit is becoming objective in nature and history, through physical embodiment, and creation of artefacts, and the progressive development of social and political institutions. Through this objectification, the mind or spirit is coming to full actualization and awareness of itself, returning to itself as enriched through its exposure to what is not itself” (Fiddes, 2013, 36). Therefore, by learning more about the body, more is understood about the self. This self-actualization is extremely beneficial to those without homes because they can learn to create a home within themselves, which provides them with a sense of stability, even with turbulent surroundings (Dieterich-Hartwell, 2017).
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche also experienced the spiritual and psychological benefits of dance. Throughout his entire life, he was plagued with an undiagnosable illness that resulted in symptoms of headaches, nausea, and extreme fatigue. On the days that he was able to, he enjoyed walking and dancing, which helped spark his creativity. Kimerer LaMothe (2006) describes his feelings by stating, “And when he felt the dance welling in him, Nietzsche loved life, all of it, even his sickness” (p.18). Nietzsche then went on to describe dance in a multitude of ways in his philosophical writings. He argued that dance connected the body to the human spirit and helped people redefine their faith. Nietzsche had many followers throughout his life, including professional dancers Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham, that helped portray his philosophy through performance (p.152). Duncan went on to argue that dance is a religion, and it is necessary for our “expression of life” (p.109). Graham, on the other hand, “made dances that present dance as the activity in and through which the symbols and ideals that comprise our religious lives have meaning for us at all” (p.152). By observing the impact Nietzsche had on these two dancers, it is clear how integral dance can be to one’s own spirituality and how one person’s spiritual experience with dance can affect so many others.
Another sign that dance is evidence for God’s existence is the inherent desire to dance within each person. When a catchy beat comes on, it often evokes a physical response from a person, whether that be a more overt expression, like the creation of freestyle choreography, or a more subtle one, like the tapping of a foot. Dancers are not the only ones who experience this feeling; in fact, those with little experience can still feel compelled to dance when their favorite song plays. For example, in Footloose, the main character’s best friend lacks natural dancing skills. However, when an upbeat song comes on, he is still seen tapping his foot to the beat. Therefore, it is evident that he has the desire to dance, but it is simply the fear of judgement that keeps him from doing so (Ross, 1984). This desire to dance is seen starting from a young age; even toddlers know how to move to a beat, and they do so without the fear of falling or failing. Therefore, this universal desire to dance is, arguably, placed within us upon creation. In giving humans this desire, God encourages people to dance as a way to connect with others, the environment, and Him.