“What is the purpose of dancing?”
GREAT question. One I’ve actually been thinking through a lot lately; why do I see so much value and find so much purpose in dancing? And through the mess of pre-conceived ideas about how dance is defined and the purpose that it serves, and the fact that dance as a whole can be a very misunderstood art form, I want to make an attempt at bringing some clarity to the confusion by articulating an answer. And, as I set the stage (HA…), I want to acknowledge that I realize that, for the believer, there is no secular/sacred divide. I can’t compartmentalize my life into the “secular” parts and the “sacred” parts—everything I do must be rooted in obedience to the reality of God. So I want to examine my answer to the question of the purpose of dance through the lens of the sacred—the reality of God. And I’m going to attempt to do that by using words to describe the purpose of an art form that is purposed to communicate in a way that is mostly independent from words. The irony…
Okay, to start, I have to go back to the beginning…no, seriously. THE beginning. In the third verse of the bible, Genesis 1:3, we get introduced to the Holy Spirit, and the very first description we get of the Spirit is that He moves. “The Spirit moved over the surface of the waters.” So, as individuals created in the image of God, we know that we are created for movement. And, when we come into the Kingdom, all of our movement is purposed to be yielded to the authority of the Holy Spirit, The One Who Moves, in order that He might release His power through our obedience to move in the ways that He leads us to move.
All movement serves a purpose. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, every movement that we make is speaking to something about who we are, because God specifically designed us as physical beings. Honestly SO THANKFUL the Father decided to create us with bodies vs creating a bunch of spirits (currently envisioning a world where everyone is Peeves, the ghost from Harry Potter). He intentionally made us in the image of His Son, Jesus—with a physical body. So, even in the ways that we move, we have the power to either represent or misrepresent the person of Christ. Therefore, there is divine power in movement.
Bill Johnson, the Lead Pastor of Bethel Church in California, talks about the fact that, particularly in western culture, so often many areas of our lives get reduced to an inward feeling rather than a physical action. “I feel humble, why bow? I feel faith, why take risk? I feel joy, why dance?” In Exodus 17:11-12, the stipulation for the Israelites gaining victory in their battle was that Moses kept his hands raised. The spiritual release of victory was brought about by a physical action of obedience—not simply an inward feeling. The spiritual discipline of fasting also carries a similar type of significance. In Daniel 10, the Lord granted favor and spiritual breakthrough to Daniel because of his choice to make a physical sacrifice of something desirable (food).
We are tripartite people (soul, body, and spirit), modeled after a tripartite God (Father, Son, and Spirit). And in the same way that the Father, Son, and Spirit are each distinct in their functions but equal in the significance of their roles as a part of the Trinity, so the soul, body, and spirit are distinct in their functions but equal in the significance of their roles as a part of the individual. The power of the soul, body, or spirit can be neglected neither in their relationship to each other, nor in their responsibility to reflect the nature of God.
An element of the power of the body through dance that I’ve experienced is that, as a language, it allows me to have a voice without ever opening my mouth. And though I strongly believe in the value of equipping people with knowledge through providing insight into sorrow, or joy, or bondage, or freedom, or hatred, or love through speech and words, I also believe that for some there is at least equal, if not more, power and value to obtaining knowledge through seeing or expressing the physical embodiment of sorrow, or joy, or bondage, or freedom, or hatred, or love in movement. Dance and movement have the ability to speak when words cannot—to express the emotions and ideas that a person might not have the ability to verbalize. In my experience, dance that has been yielded to the authority of the Holy Spirit as The Ultimate Mover Behind The Movement is supplied with equally as much divine power for breakthrough, healing, and revelation as an inspired word—for both the mover and the observer.
The power of movement is interwoven throughout the pages of scripture. In the Bible, there are a total of seven Hebrew words used for “praise”—and the definition of four of those seven words involve movement. So, when the Lord commands us to praise Him, it is obvious that there is an element of giving Him glory that can only find its completion in expressing itself through movement. And, not only does the gift of movement in worship give Him glory, but it also gives us joy. C.S. Lewis summarizes it in this way: “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”
We are commanded to “praise His Name through dancing.” Why? Because there is obviously some aspect of ascribing glory to the Lord that can only be done through the physicality of involving our whole bodies in expressing praise to Him. The art isn’t the glory, but it does describe His glory. It is a visual representation of Jesus. We sing of Him, we hear of Him, we play music of Him, we see pictures of Him, and we express movement of Him. Dancing is another one of many ways for the believer to know and experience the glory of God.
One of my favorite verses that speaks to the beauty of using our bodies as an act of worship is Romans 12:1: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” There is something significant to God about offering our bodies in worship. Something significant about offering to God the great embodied art form of dance in praise of the great God-man embodied in flesh.