Friday, March 02, 2007

Everybody Get Footloose!

I had to smile when I just read this article in the NYTime's Arts section today (my emphasis added as encouragment for the inhibited).

Recently we had a moment of "dance" in our worship service. Tomorrow one of our members is leading a dance/movement workshop at our church. I'm sure there will be more opportunities to express ourselves in this way. I'm not sure what I want out of this experience or what I expect. We should be open to many ways to experience and worship God. Music and dance are very important primal ways to do so.

Paul wrote the Corinthians about the dangers of talking in tongues...I wonder what he'd have to say about dancers? I think we can all be "gifted" in this simple way of expression of our faith.

Moved by the Spirit to Dance With the Lord

Joe Fornabaio for The New York Times
Members of Praise Movement Ministries performing at Bethel Gospel Assembly, a Pentecostal church in Harlem where dance is a regular part of services.

Joe Fornabaio for The New York Times
Bethel Gospel Assembly in Harlem was initially resistant, but dance has now become a regular part of its services.
“We thank you, God, that you created the dance and you made it pure. Father, we want to dance your words through our limbs.” Wendy Heagy’s voice rises as she leads the circle in prayer. She is the founder of Raise Him Up Praise Dance School and Ministry, and she is about to start her Saturday class.
“We thank you for our physical bodies, for lining up every muscle and every joint,” Ms. Heagy continues. “We don’t want to just be dancers. We want to be ministers of you, Lord God.”
The class, mostly African-Americans ranging in age from early 20s through mid-60s and clad in warm-up clothes, several with scripture written on the backs of their T-shirts, answers loudly, “Amen.”
Ms. Heagy begins by leading what appears to be a very secular warm-up: head rolls with feet in parallel second position while an upbeat jazz version of the Lord’s Prayer plays on the stereo. She is a soothing yet demanding teacher, “Pull in your tummy and squeeze your bum,” she chides. “What are our arms doing? Our palms?” she asks, as she paces the front of the room. “They’re open, because we are praising him.”
Praise dance is a form of worship that seeks to articulate the word and spirit of God through the body. Though it is far from a new phenomenon — in biblical times, dancing was embraced during celebrations and worship — it was forced out of the Christian church during the Reformation, and has been fully welcomed back only in the past 20 or so years. In recent years praise dance has become an increasingly popular part of church services across the country, particularly among America’s growing Pentecostal movement, and it has emerged in New York too, where experts say one in 10 people is Pentecostal.
Depending on the history and denomination of a particular church, a praise dance may be a choreographed balletic piece in the middle of a service or an improvised riff in the aisles, and the practice draws from a hybrid of movement vocabularies, from jazz to modern to African. Many praise dance ministries also include American sign language to sign out scripture during a song.
In New York more and more churches have added praise movement ministries to their worship services, from the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Jamaica, Queens, which has a powerful dance ministry with more than 400 dancers, to other churches in or near the city, including Mount Calvary Holy Church on Staten Island, City Gate International Church in East Harlem, Perfecting Faith Church in Freeport on Long Island and Bibleway Healing Assembly in upstate Henrietta, to name just a few.
When Ms. Heagy founded Raise Him Up a decade ago, she had just 10 students; the number has now grown to more than 100. They attend conferences, go to prisons like the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and the Rikers Island Prison Complex, minister at concerts throughout the country and have traveled as far as Germany.
Closer to home Ms. Heagy’s choreography — a mix of modern, African and jazz movement that she says comes to her through prayer — is featured at more than a dozen churches around the city, including the Praise Movement Ministries at Bethel Gospel Assembly, a Pentecostal church in Harlem, where it has become a regular part of the services.
In today’s class she is guiding her students through a short piece, which they will take back to their churches and minister to their congregations. The words they will dance from the song “He’s Been Faithful,” by the contemporary Christian singer Vicki Yohe, are blessing, honor, glory, power, wisdom and dominion. For blessing, both hands start at the mouth and the arms then fan out in a sun shape; for power, arms are raised equal distance apart with fists clenched; for wisdom, fingers touch the temples and come to meet in the center; and so on. Ms. Heagy urges her students — like IfĂ© Watson, 66, who danced as a child and now works the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at the Hotel Pennsylvania — to be emphatic. “Don’t minister in the heels,” she says at one point. “Don’t be self-conscious. God’s called you at this time to do this.”
Encouraging broad gestures, she explains, “We serve a huge God.”



liberal pastor said...

Some of us move outwardly and some of us move inwardly. God loves us all ;)

ProgressiveChurchlady said...

Of course! :-) That truth is what got me thinking about Paul's caution to the Corinthians...(which you educated me about on another related topic).

We all need to get outside our heads and get outside our comfort zones to more deeply experience/praise God. These are when our most moving spiritual experiences occur.

There are many ways to do this. Dancing is only one way. People at the OC (and other churches) have tried a few and continue to want to "sample".