Why is dancing important in worship? Most American and Asian churches have no tradition for dancing in worship. But for many African and Hispanic churches, dance is commonly practiced. In Ethiopia, it is very normal to dance for over an hour straight with many uninhibited and exuberant worshipers participating. In these countries, if Americans and Asians were to sit passively in their service, they would look out of place. In every culture, people dance, but in most church cultures, people do not dance.
A Common Theme in the Bible
Miriam, a prophetess and sister of Moses, led “all the women [of Israel]…with timbrels and dancing.” What a scene, thousands of women pounding the timbrels and dancing before God (Exodus 15:20).
Psalm 149:3 exhorts all “to praise his name with dancing ….”
King David uninhibitedly danced before God as they brought the ark of the covenant back into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14).
The church should be the leader in dancing, but the world is leading the dance instead. Jesus said the music is playing but the church is no longer dancing (Matthew 11:17).
Ephesians 5:18, 19 says, “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” The word “melody” in Greek means to “twitch and twang,” which can be translated “dance.”
Prochorus is a Christian and deacon in the early church, whose name means “one who leads in the dance” (Acts 6:5).
God dances over us. Zephaniah 3:17 says that “The Lord your God … will rejoice over you ….” The word rejoice can also be translated “dance, skip, leap, and spin around in joy.” If God is dancing, why is the church not dancing?
History of the Church and Dance
For centuries, the Western church has grown up with a culture that God doesn’t dance. Translations of the Bible have replaced many themes of dancing with simple verbal expressions of praise. Dance is often seen as being too emotional, physical and not sacred. For whatever reason, dancing in church is seen as inappropriate and often forbidden. The Biblical history of dance has been replaced with a church history which has mostly eliminated dance. Restoring dance to the church will restore a biblical concept and a God-given human expression.
The elder son in Luke 15:25 is similar to many in the church who “heard music and dancing” and grew jealous of his prodigal brother. Today, the church is divided and would rather highlight our differences than enter into the party.
Japan and Dance
Japan has a long history of dance. For centuries, the Buddhist and Shinto religions have been releasing the spirit of dance in Japan. The Awa Dance Festival attracts 1.3 million visitors every August. The Awa odori (dance) has its original roots in Buddhist history and was done to celebrate the spirits of the ancestors visiting their relatives.
The Awa chant done with the dancers is: “The dancers are fools, the watchers are fools, both are fools alike so, why not dance?” This chant expresses a universal need to lose one’s inhibitions and experience freedom. There is a lot of truth in the question, “Why not dance?” This is the same question that Jesus asks in Matthew 11:17, “Why is the church not dancing?”
There have been some studies suggesting that Japanese have Jewish roots. There are many similarities between Jewish and Japanese customs. One interesting connection is between David’s dance (2 Sam. 6:14) and Awa odori. The word awa /וּמֵעַוָּ֤א/avva is mentioned in 2 Kings 17:24, as one of the locations where the children of Israel were taken during the exile.
Is it possible that the Awa odori has Jewish roots and that the Buddhists simply adapted an ancient dance? No one really knows, but if true, this has many implications for the church in Japan. Imagine if the church had discovered Jewish roots of the Awa odori and had adapted a Christian theme before the Buddhists did? Imagine 1.3 million people coming out every year to celebrate the dance of the King of Kings?
At a Japanese baseball game, the spirit of dance is seen throughout the game. Every inning people are singing, chanting, clapping and waving their hands. When a run is scored, the crowd jumps to their feet, sings and waves a towel. The stadium looks like one big dance.
Starting in 2012, the Japanese government has made dancing mandatory in middle schools. Every student is required to learn how to dance,either folk, creative or street dancing. The stated purpose for the dance is communication between peers and to have joy. The government of Japan understands that dance is a universal expression of joy and a norm that needs to be developed.
God never intended that the Buddhists, baseball fans, government or any one group have exclusive rights to release dance. The Christian church in Japan also has the divine right and privilege to release dance. God has given the human race the ability to dance as a creative expression that we can release back to Him.
The Purpose of Dance
Dancing is biblical, a divine expression and should be normative for Christians.
Dance is worship. A deeper examination of the Bible shows that dance is physical, spiritual and sacred. As we present our physical bodies as a living sacrifice before God, we engage in spiritual worship (Romans 12:1). Worship is about praising God with our voices and bodies.
Dance restores the freedom that Adam and Eve experienced before the Fall. When humankind fell, people were ruled by their minds (by the tree of knowledge). When Jesus died on the cross, he freed us to enter into the joyful freedom of the Holy Spirit who wants to work in and through us. Dance allows us to move past our traditions, inhibitions, rational limitations, and physical restrictions.
Dancing brings pleasure to the heart of God. Like a parent watching his children dance with joy, the Father in heaven rejoices over the dance of his children. God calls us to be like little children (Matthew 18:3).
Dance is spiritual warfare. Often, dancing is a celebratory expression displayed after a victory but it can also be a prophetic and preemptive victory dance where we declare that God has already given the victory in present and future battles.
An American high school football team faced a highly favored opponent. At halftime, the underdog team led by 20 points and a player turned up the volume of his music and the locker room–a place where players are normally quiet, resting or discussing strategy–turned into a place of joyful dancing. Players beat on the lockers and went crazy with the joy of anticipated victory throughout the whole halftime. Players who had never danced before were dancing wildly. The team ended up winning and celebrated again.
In the Bible, King David danced wildly, not because the ark was in Jerusalem but in anticipation of the moment.
Dance is moving in intimacy with God. Dancing is moving to the heavenly sounds as we join the heavenly angels that have been dancing since the beginning of time. Dancing with God means feeling his heartbeat. Dancing with God is moving through the torn temple curtain into the presence of God.
Dance releases joy. It is almost impossible to dance with a depressed or negative attitude. Dance changes the countenance of the participant into one of joy.
Dance because God seeks a dance partner. Zephaniah 3:17 says that God is dancing. Since God is dancing, He calls you to dance with Him. If you are unable to dance, He invites you to step on His feet and He will lead you.
Dancing is also a corporate form of worship. Corporate dance creates a multiplication of God’s pleasure and purposes. In a corporate setting, God does far more than He can do in an individual setting. The corporate dance of the church can beak territorial strongholds.
Jesus calls his church to be one and will return to earth to greet his bride, the church. Corporate dance is a prophetic victory celebration that anticipates the marriage supper.
Dance because it is Biblical. Dance because we were created to dance. Dance because God is dancing