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Thursday, July 6, 2017

"Shall We Dance?"

Almost every baby moves to music. He might bob up and down to the rhythm—or not quite with the rhythm. It’s so cute!

I have a life-long love affair with music, especially classical. When I was in junior high, I would put on Tchaikovsky and twirl around our living room. I was a prima ballerina! I could float! When someone entered the room, I’d quit immediately in total embarrassment. (I’ve never had ballet lessons.) But, I remember the pure joy of moving to the music.

Just a few years later, when I was a teen, I heard lots of preaching railing against certain sins. Smoking and drinking topped the list. After those: going to theaters, “mixed bathing” (meaning men and women swimming in the same pool at the same time), dancing, women wearing pants, and playing cards with a regular card deck. This list always rankled me. I have never smoked or drunk alcohol. I don’t play cards or gamble, and I prefer skirts. But dancing? What was wrong with dancing? What was the big deal? After all, in the Bible, we read:
  • They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance (Job 21:11).
  • Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp (Psalm 149:3).
  • Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs (Psalm 150:4).
  • A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4).
  • Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow (Jeremiah 31:13).
It seemed to me like dancing was one of the ways people praised God and expressed their joy. I was right! Consider these passages:
  • And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul's daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD (2 Samuel 6:16a).
  • Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness (Psalm 30:11).
  • Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing (The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:25).

What kind of dancing was this? What dancing is God-inspired? How does a Christian—did believers in the Old Testament—show joy and worship in dance?

Perhaps it would be easier to understand what it wasn’t:
  1. Dancing for God wasn’t sensual. You can be sure that pure, joyful, holy dancing didn’t mean moving the body in a sensual way. It might have been similar to Israeli line dancing or holding hands in a circle. David was actually leaping in joy. But, this dancing was not anything like what we usually think of when we hear the word dance. It was probably more like shuffling and hops than sinuous movement.
  2. Dancing for God wasn’t performed in revealing clothing. How do I know this? Biblical dance pleased God, and He wants us to be modest.
  3. Dancing for God wasn’t choreographed. It was an expression of spontaneous joy. I may be reading between the lines, here, but in all the instances I remember of dance in the Bible, the people merely expressed their joy in dance. Miriam led the women with a tambourine in her hand after God had led the Israelites over the Red Sea on dry land. David danced before the Lord when the ark was returned. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, there was joyful dancing at the party for his return. You don’t see these people planning out their movements; they just moved joyfully.
  4. If there was music with biblical dancing, it was beautiful and honored God’s holiness. What did it sound like? I have no idea. Maybe it was like Hebrew folk music. But, you can be sure that the rhythms and melodies were beautiful and God honoring.
Only one time have I ever been in a church service where liturgical dance took place. I was a teen, and my family was visiting an aunt. With her, we attended the nearest church of her denomination. They celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and there was a segment with dancers. They were modestly dressed—in long, white robes—and their movements were similar to classical ballet, lots of arms swaying and walking across the platform with graceful strides. All the dancers were women. At the time, I thought it was the strangest thing I'd ever seen. It felt like a performance and out of place.

So, we ask the question: can a Christian dance and please God?

Personally, I believe dance should be in two separate categories: secular and sacred. While I see nothing wrong with many folk dances—they wear modest clothing, and the movements are fine—I’m not sure I’d want to see folk dancing in a church service. In the church, I believe it’s debatable that dance can serve a purpose. In Acts and the New Testament, the beginning of the church era, you don’t see dancing in the services. There’s singing, praying, and preaching, but you never see dance. Does a performance of dance actually add to worshipping God? I’ll let you decide.

Can your child take ballet or participate in folk dancing? You can make up your own mind about that, based on the criteria of modesty, music, and movements. Pray, and ask God to help you decide.

Should Christians attend "dances"? I don’t think so. Let me share why. (These are all true stories.)
  • Years ago, a dance club decided that only married couples should dance together. Within a short time, the participants weren’t even interested any more. Why? Obviously, there was more to the dancing than the dancing.
  • A church began having non-alcohol dance nights for their teens. Most of those teens aren’t even in church today.
  • Christian teens attended community swing dances. The kids wore very short skirts and had lots of physical contact between the sexes. Some of these teens are out of church and dating unsaved friends that they met out dancing.
  • Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing With the Stars, and other popular TV contests never feature perfectly clean, non-sensual dancing. The women’s costumes are immodest. How can you say you love the Lord and participate in something like that?
  • Most music that people dance to is sensual. There’s a beat that just begs a person to move his hips and slip his spine.
  • When a friend of mine was a teenager, her girlfriends convinced her to join them at a discotheque. She was a new Christian at the time. She told us, “When I entered that place, I could tell I left Jesus outside.” What she meant was that the atmosphere negated her identity as a Christian. She soon made an excuse and left.
I still haven’t figured out how to praise the Lord in the dance, though I'm sure our Old Testament examples actually did. I don’t see that dancing has a role in biblical New Testament church worship.

But, I sometimes watch folk dancing, Fred Astaire, The Sound of Music, and Gene Kelly. I don’t have any issues with modest, non-sensual dancing in a purely secular context.

What do you think? Shall we dance?


  1. Thanks for this informative article, Lou Ann. It is really a thorough list for consideration.
    My daughter is on a dance team at her church and, though it's mostly choreographed, she and her team mates really are dancing for the Lord. She is a godly woman with a husband and children who love the Lord, they just view dancing differently than most baptist. Their dress is modest and the music unpretentious. When I've seen their presentations it does not seem in any way sensual.
    You have a good point about the absence of dancing in the New Testament. Certainly that is something to consider when meditating on the choices for the individual family.

    1. Thank you, Heidi, for your thoughtful comment! God bless you!

  2. Very well-written, as usual. I'm very familiar with the "list of sins" you gave. Unfortunately, the WHY of that list is never (or hardly ever) given. There is a reason that each of them is discouraged. Each has the potential to activate addictive behavior, especially smoking and drinking (gluttony isn't often on that list--probably because most of us partake in it-- but should be, as evidenced by our bulging bellies and chronic health issues). I will admit, before Christ I partook of the dancing. There was nothing God-honoring about it. My flesh still loves the music and the movement, so I personally HAVE to avoid both. Bottom line, if the messages that condemn those behaviors explain WHY they are discouraged, tender hearts will respond. Example--years ago my preacher "preached on pants". But he wasn't preaching about pants; he was explaining how men respond when they see women in immodest pants (I'm convinced that I was the reason he preached that sermon--my pants were "painted on"!) He explained that even though men are responsible for their own sins, women very often provide the visual stimulus that will promote evil thinking. My heart responded to the fact that I didn't want to be the cause of anyone else sinning, especially a brother in Christ. God bless your biblical wisdom and how you present things!

    1. Thank you for your input, Carol. Yes, I think you're exactly right. If the reason isn't given, then it becomes a legalistic list, and no one will respond to that. For me, a biblical reason is the most convincing. What does God say? Then, apply it to my personal life. God bless you!


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